From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
May the Lord bless and keep us safe in the palm of His hand!
Whatever our circumstances we will start this day giving you the praise and thanks for your Lordship. This morning we pray for our world, our nation, our city, our loved ones, and those in special need. In particular, we pray for those who have lost loved ones due to coronavirus and those who have contracted the virus. We pray for the security and peace of our nation in an extraordinary time. We thank you for your compassion in a world that often seems dangerous, cold, and unthinking. In Jesus, we choose not to be any of those three designations. We rest secure in you, Lord Jesus! Amen.
MOSES HERE SEEMS TO BE SPECIFICALLY ANTICIPATING THE LIFE AND MINISTRY OF JESUS OF NAZARETH
"...The Lord will raise up for you a Prophet like Me from among your own brothers. You must listen to Him.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers...I will put my words in His mouth and
He will tell them everything I command Him..." Deuteronomy 18:15,18
FEAR OF THE LORD IS UNDERSTOOD AS AWESOME RESPECT FOR HIM
"...the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...all who follow His precepts have good understanding..." Psalm 111:10
THE LORD CALLS US TO FREEDOM, NOT RELIGION, WHEN HE CALLS US TO RECEIVE THE MESSAGE OF JESUS
"...be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak..." 1 Corinthians 8:9
WE ARE READY TO DISCOVER YOUR AUTHORITY, LORD JESUS
"...the people were amazed at Jesus' teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law..." Mark 1:21-28
It was four years ago now...when we left Jerusalem in the south, and heading up to Galilee...after some really excellent shawarma...we arrived in Capernaum. From Peter's house (with a Catholic Church superimposed over the ancient structure) we walked down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I was strangely moved to be standing on the shore where Jesus called out to Peter and Andrew, and then, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, calling them into ministry to be fishers of men.Finally, I stood in the synagogue there, accompanied by Priscilla, my wife, and Ayesha, my oldest daughter, and David Henkin, my son-in-law. It was like "heaven" to me. Seemingly forever, I had taught Bible, and now, to be standing in the very place where Rabbi Jesus taught in the synagogue was just too much for me. I shared a few insights into Scripture with some young people and their advisors as I stood in that place...It was an unexpected "highlight" of my life...
Now, as I turn presently, to the text of the Gospel of Mark in my personal Bible, I note the following...
from Mark 1:21-27..."They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the
synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them
as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law."
I pause for just a moment to consider the meaning of the text. Although I am physically in my office in Pacifica, California, my heart and my mind are right there in Capernaum, not in 2021 A.D., but in 26 A.D., as Jesus speaks (spoke). I have the advantage of the recall knowledge of the text from the eighteenth chapter of Moses' prophecy in Deuteronomy and I am riveted...the Prophet to be "raised up" will be...like unto the Lord...and...like those listening to Jesus. He will have the nature of God, the Almighty... and He will have the nature of a human being. I wonder what else Moses could have meant in the text from Deuteronomy. The suggestion here backs up the theological notion we find in Rabbi Paul's writing and later Christian theologians that this Prophet, the Lord Jesus, is both human and divine.
The text in Mark's Gospel continues, "...He taught them as one who had authority..." Jesus didn't teach like the "teachers of the law". I wonder what the so-called "teachers of the law" were teaching. Was the problem according to Mark, (by the way, a student of Saint Paul as a mentor), that they taught simply that if you do the right thing, you'll be okay, but if you do bad things, you'll be punished...and in essence...so to speak...that's all there was to religion? ...maybe it had something to do with plain old boredom...
On one level it makes sense. However, for all of us, to be totally rational about our lives is unreasonable. We fall short of God's standard. To Saint Paul, that is normal. We sin. And to "continue on in sin" is a self-imposed prison. In like manner, so too, is attempting to be judged trying to live up to God's perfect standard. The Pharisees thought they could. Was Mark thinking more about the Pharisees when he used the term "teachers of the law"? Was Mark thinking that those teachers taught that "human perfection" was the essence of religion. The question becomes...Isn't there something more to our spiritural lives? I think so. Grace. G-R-A-C-E. (God's riches at Christ's expense.) What about this "amazing" thing called grace?
I like the notion of considering that no perfect people are going to heaven...because there really are no perfect people. I like to put that within the context of the God who loves us as we are, but knowing us well, He wants to make sure we live confidently, and eventually end up living with Him in Eternity. Surely, none of us could live up to the seemingly impossible moral standard of practicing Pharisees, because they were so disciplined in their spiritual lives. The problem of that kind of discipled spirituality is that a person focuses on one's self. The "down-side" of Pharisaic lifestyle is (was)...you become the prisoner of your imposed morality. Saint Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:1, "...it is for freedom that Christ has set us free...Stand firm, therefore, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery..."
What happens imprisoned in a sinful lifestyle happens to one imprisoned by rules and regulations. We have been called by Scripture to live as free men and women under God, fully enjoying our lives...
But...there's something else to notice in the text we have in Mark's Gospel. As we read on, Mark 1:23ff, "...just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed of an evil spirit cried out, 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are---the Holy One of God!'"
"Jesus sternly said, 'Be quiet! Come out of him!'" The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek."
"The people were all so amazed that they asked each other..."What is this?" (What's going on here? What are we witnessing?) At this point they did not question...the text includes an exclamation point, rather than a question mark..."A new teaching---and with authority! He (Jesus) gives orders to evil spirits and they obey Him..."
News about Him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
The text in Mark's Gospel talks about...A NEW TEACHING AND WITH AUTHORITY...
The idea of religion, faith, spirituality...takes on an entirely different, much more dimensional concept. What is that idea?
1. Religion has to do with being a good person. Religion has to do with keeping in line with obligations, regulations, commandments, etc. Religion has to do with personal and group moral standards. Religion
has to do with maintaining the "status quo", traditions, and "what has been and always will be." In the Bible, it is described in Micah 6:8 in this manner, "He has showed you, O Man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly...and to love mercy...and to walk humbly with your God."
I like it. It blesses me. However, it is nothing more than a moral perspective. The perspective perhaps of the "teachers of the law"...teaching, yes, but without the voice and power of authority...something that takes hold of us...and removes us from the place we've been dwelling in securely, but without excitement, amazement, inspiration, hope, and, anticipation of the good things just around the corner...
At this point, we note a departure. We need to move on up from religion...to what is FAITH...
We need to turn to Hebrews 11:1 for the best definition we have of FAITH... "...now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see..."
In like manner, Religion is somehow necessary, but we need to find ourselves journeying in Faith and not continuing to stand on Religion. Religion has all the trappings of spirituality, but it falls short, i.e., Christianity and the Crusades, Religion and Segregation. The "teachers of the law" know it well. Faith is the essence of genuine indwelling Spirituality. One eventually discovers the difference, but not "The Uninitiated". Religion is spirituality we can observe in symbols of faith, buildings, and implements of worship. Faith is spirituality we cannot see, but as, in the case of Mark's narrative of Jesus' command over the evil spirit, we see the presence of what is deep within...presence, power, and yes, authority. We need to get off the platform and get on the train.
2. We live our practical lives responsibly without thinking our faith lives include elements of the magical. However, on the journey with the chief engineer, Jesus, things start to happen which, at first, surprise us. Later on, incidences involving unexpected intervention, rescue, and shire amazement happen in our lives. We think to ourselves...faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see... and we rediscover as human beings that God is still in the business of intervention and miracles.
If those miracles and interventions don't happen when we expect them, we trust in an ever watchful, powerful, and compassionate God taking care of business in general, and taking care of us lovingly in a way that always goes way beyond our understanding. About this, Saint Paul writes: "...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength..." Philippians 4:11-13