The “Inner Circle”
Aside from a few weeks over the Easter period, our sermons at The Billabong have been focussed on the opening few chapters of Mark’s gospel. The end of Mark chapter 3 closes out a section focussed on Jesus ministry and the various reactions to it, before we start to hear Jesus teach and tell a few more stories (parables) in chapter 4. And the last few words of chapter 3 paint a picture of Jesus ‘inner circle’, gathered around him to listen and learn.
This ‘inner circle’ includes, but is not limited to, the twelve he chose to be “apostles” a few verses earlier. It’s actually a pretty packed house, but some, like his blood family are very clearly on the ‘outside’. And Jesus makes a surprising statement when they ask to see him: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he looked at those around him and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)
He even defines those sitting and standing around him as his family. Families, by definition are exclusive. You don’t just invite yourself into someone’s family! But the almost paradoxical thing about Jesus’ “inner circle”, those he now calls his “family”, is that it’s open to all. You don’t need to have special birthright or be connected to the right institution or religious system - faith in Jesus is all that’s required (I encourage you to read Romans to learn more about this - especially chapter 9).
Are you in Jesus’ “inner circle”? The good news is that you don’t get in because of special privilege, status or birthright - in fact those who think those things give them access to Jesus actually find themselves on the outside. All that’s required is a sincere desire to be with Jesus, to learn from him, to walk closely with him and bring yourself, fault and all, to him. Anyone can join the circle. Anyone is welcome into the family of God.
Jesus is Lord
One of the themes we find in the gospel of Mark is the unveiling of the authority Jesus has been given by the Father. This is an authority over the spirit realm, the physical world and sickness, authority to forgive and to speak on behalf of God, authority over laws and biblical mandates, authority over all things. Jesus is becoming Lord of all. The crucifixion, which we will remember, in just a few weeks time, is the climax of this story. But it's not the way we'd expect someone to be 'crowned' as the one who has been given authority and dominion over all of creation.
The words of Jesus in his final hours are staggering. This man who is being revealed as Messiah - promised King of the Jews, is humiliated in every way possible. Yet he submits himself fully to God and accepts his humanity, not using his divine authority to escape the pain but saying "I thirst". Having declared the entry into this world of God's Kingdom, he lives what he has preached this Kingdom to be about when he prays "Father, forgive them". And to a man with no opportunity to prove his faith in Jesus through good works, he sees the heart of a repentant criminal and declares "Today you will be with me in paradise". In the midst of his greatest pain, he still cares for his mother saying "behold, your son", he takes the weight of the world and cries the words of the Psalmist "why have you forsaken me", and having obeyed God to the end without fault, shouts "it is finished" and "into your hands I commit my Spirit".
For me, Lent, Holy week and the Easter weekend are times to reflect on the staggering 'other-worldliness' of Jesus and be reminded of the reasons we worship and serve him as Lord. In this world, submission and suffering does not equal power and authority. But his Kingdom, which will have no end, is established through an extravagant love like no other. And it's this sacrificial love, his life given up for us, that is the final stamp of his authority over all things. Even death itself.
So it's with praise thanksgiving that we say Jesus is Lord! Not anyone or anything else will be our Lord and Master with love, grace, kindness and mercy. And not anyone or anything else is worthy of our worship, devotion, service, time or attention. He alone is worthy. The cross proves it.
May the worship we express with our whole lives return wholly to Jesus this Easter as we declare that he is Lord.
The Controversial Jesus
This year we're journeying through the gospel of Mark on Sunday mornings, and as of mid March are just starting to read about the words and actions of Jesus in his 3 year ministry. Mark (or 'John Mark', the writer of this account) focusses a little more on the events of Jesus' life and less on his teachings and parables. It's the shortest of the 4 gospel accounts, one that challenges us to simply observe the life of Jesus and consider how our lives might look different if they are modelled after his.
Some of what Jesus did and said may be surprising to us, even (or especially) in the church world, but still quite comforting and reassuring. For example, the fact that Jesus started off not with a bang but walking along the beach taking an interest in some ordinary fisherman reassures me that he's interested in ordinary folk like myself and will choose the least likely for his great purpose. But much of what Jesus did and said is not just surprising, it's controversial. Sometimes, it's downright scandalous!
The chances are that if we are not challenged by the life of Jesus to speak and act in ways that don't feel "right", we may be following Jesus from a distance. Jesus challenged the assumptions of people in his day about marriage, money, the Bible, God, forgiveness, and most importantly himself. I suspect that the differences between the 1st century culture and ours today are not that great, and that Jesus would still be a controversial figure.
But I don't think Jesus is the same kind of controversial figure as various political or cultural commentators in our world today. Jesus is different, whilst the pattern of his life does (or should) make us uncomfortable as he calls us to change, we are simultaneously drawn to him and want to change because we know his heart for us is deep love and compassion. Some may be repelled from Jesus and his followers because of the controversial things he says and does rub them the wrong way, but only if there is no knowledge of his pure motivation of love.
I pray that over the course of this year you will be made uncomfortable by the controversial Jesus and simultaneously be drawn closer to him as you understand his motivation of love in moulding your heart and mind to become more like him.
Grace and Peace,