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February 13th, 2013

Mark is a prequel to Romans.

Mark 1:21-28

Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Learning again for the first time

Every once in a while a light bulb goes off in my head due to a fresh insight into the Bible.  My first thought is, “That’s so cool.  I never realized that before!”  My second thought is, “I wonder if I should tell everyone else this is new to me, because it’s really, like, ‘Duh!’  They probably already knew this and they’re going to think I’m a really dumb pastor because I just figured it out.”  My third thought is, “I wonder if I already knew this and just forgot.”  This is a benefit of getting older – you can get amazed all over again about learning you already knew. 

Here’s the background for my new insight.  For the last few weeks, we have been studying Paul’s letter to the Romans here at Corinth.  When we designed the sermon series, we wanted to take our time through Romans, but we also figured we would break it up a bit.  So far in Romans, the name of Jesus has come up a LOT – but only his name, his death, and his resurrection – i.e.. nothing about his earthly life.  Since Lent starts today, we thought we would take a few weeks off between Romans 5 and 6 and study one of the Gospels to review some of those key events of Jesus’ life as we move toward Good Friday and Easter.  We chose Mark, for no other reason than that we’ve studied Matthew, Luke, and John since we studied Mark on Sunday mornings.

As I transitioned this week from Romans to Mark in my own study, I picked up my trusty study Bible, the Archaeological Study Bible, and read the introduction to Mark.  It said that the Gospel of Mark was most likely written in Rome by John Mark, in the late 50s or early 60s AD.  At that point the light bulb went off in my head!  If Romans was written from Corinth to Rome in about AD 57, the Gospel of Mark is to Paul’s letter to the Romans what the Hobbit is to Lord of the Rings.  Mark is a prequel to Romans!

Here’s what I think happened.  Paul wrote his letter to Rome, a city he had never visited, where there was a small but growing Christian community.  His letter talks a lot about Jesus – Paul is a servant of Jesus Christ, declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection.  Paul’s gospel is one of faith in Jesus who died for sinners to reconcile us to God and give us eternal life.  If we died with Christ, we will also live with him.  He is the Judge, but nothing will ever separate us from his love.  You must follow and serve him.  Paul says all these things about Jesus Christ our Lord, but tells you virtually nothing about his life on earth except that he died and rose again.

If you’re living in Rome and reading Paul’s letter, aren’t you a little curious to know more?  Don’t you want to know where Jesus lived, what he did while there, whether people knew anything about him at the time of his life, whether he ever wrote a book or taught anything memorable, and whether people’s lives were changed when they encountered him?  I think the Christians in Rome started asking those questions.  One of the believers who undoubtedly lived in Rome during that time was Peter, one of his disciples in Galilee and Judea during his public ministry, and the leading apostle after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  They began pressing Peter to tell more of his stories and even to get them in writing so that if anything happened to him, like being crucified upside down by the crazy Nero, the stories wouldn’t die with him.  But Peter wasn’t much of a writer (remember, he had been a fisherman by trade, and literacy was not his strong suit), so he worked with John Mark – who was also an eyewitness and also a traveling companion of Paul – to record these stories to fill in the gaps in their understanding of this amazing person, Jesus.

Do you want more evidence that Mark is a prequel to Romans?  Look at how it begins!  The first word in Greek in Mark’s gospel is arche, beginning.  This is Mark’s version of Julie Andrews singing, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”  The NIV says, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Amazed

So we come to the reading we chose for tonight, Mark 1:21-28.  I’m going to leave it up to Pastor Paul to unpack this story for you, but one word, used twice, captured my attention: “amazed.”  This is the first time Mark has told us that Jesus taught the people, which he did in Capernaum, a small town on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee that became his adopted headquarters.  He went into the synagogue – I’ve stood in that same spot – “and began to teach.”  Mark says in verse 22, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as teachers of the law.”

His teaching amazed them.  Then he did something even more astounding.  Every religious community or gathering, because it is an open place, not somewhere you get screened or approved to join, is vulnerable to hecklers, those who are mentally ill, and/or those who are possessed by the devil to disrupt.  As Jesus taught, there was a man who was all three of those things.  Jesus cast out his evil spirit, and verse 27 says, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this?  A new teaching – and with authority!  He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”

“Amazed” is one of my favorite words.  Considering it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I should tell you it’s also the title of one of my favorite love songs to sing to my wife:  “Every little thing that you do…Baby, I’m amazed by you!” (Lonestar)  It’s great to still be in love and be amazed by the little things of this woman 35 years later.

The two words for “amazed” are different in v. 22 and v. 27.  Verse 22 uses a word that means to strike or blow or hit something so that it moves violently and suddenly.  Metaphorically it means to be struck with amazement or astonishment.  Our comparable idiom would be “blown away.”  When Jesus taught, the people were blown away.  They were used to religious teachers who quoted the rabbis before them, who in turn were quoting those who preceded them.  Mark doesn’t tell us at this point any specifics of what Jesus is teaching, but it’s fresh and penetrating.  They are blown away.

The second “amazed” is closer to the idea of being frightened or terrified to the point of being immobilized.  It’s the “deer in the headlights” kind of “amazed.”  When Jesus casts out the evil spirit, the people are stunned to the point of inertia.  They can’t move.  They’re speechless.  They don’t know what to do next.  They have never heard or seen anything like this.

This is such a perfect prequel to Romans.  In the letter, Paul declares who Jesus is, the Son of God with power, and patiently explains why his death and resurrection matter.  Those are the big things.  In the gospel, Mark starts at the beginning and wants you to be blown away and stunned by every little thing he does.

That would be a great goal for Lent.  I want you to be amazed by Jesus between now and Easter.  I want you freshly intrigued by him, astounded by him, blown away, speechless, immobilized.

How you get there is between you and the Holy Spirit.  There are some suggestions listed on your bulletin insert (also pasted below, including other background on Lent).  Don’t try to do them all; pick one or two.  Don’t focus on giving up one little thing here or there to make yourself feel better that you observed Lent. Lent isn’t about that.  Lent is about going back to the beginning of the Gospel, or back to the beginning of your relationship with Christ, and becoming amazed again.

I pray by the end of these 40 days you can sing, “Every little thing that you do, Jesus, I’m amazed by you!”

Questions and Answers About Lent1

What is Lent?

Lent is a period of six weeks preceding the anniversary of the Savior’s death and resurrection, and is set apart as a season of discipline, confession, and prayer.

Why is it called Lent?

The old Saxon word lent means “spring” (when the days lengthen).

With what remarkable event in Jesus’ life does this season correspond?

                The forty days he spent fasting in the wilderness.

Why is the first day of Lent called Ash Wednesday?

In some traditions, priests place ashes on the foreheads of Christians on the first day of Lent as a symbol of humility and sorrow for sin.

Are there any examples of this in the Bible?

Daniel (9:3), Job (42:6), and the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6). Our Lord alluded to this custom in Matthew 11:21.

If Lent is only forty days long, why does it begin forty-six days before Easter?

There are six Sundays in Lent, and all Sundays during the year are days of celebration for the resurrection – even during Lent. Sundays are always “feast days,” never “fast days,” even during Lent.  (A Lenten fast may be broken on Sundays.)

 How should Lent be observed by Christians?

This is a personal matter, but the following suggestions should be considered prayerfully. Choose those that the Holy Spirit prompts in you:

*  Write a prayer every day during Lent.

*  Renew my personal commitment to follow Jesus Christ

*  Share my faith with at least one other person:  _______________

*  Fast from solid food on the following day each week:  ______________

*  Fast from the following food or food group during Lent:  ____________

*  Commit to greater care of my body through regular exercise

*  Give $ _____ to ___________________as an act of mercy

*  Spend ___ hour(s) each week in solitude and silence

*  Invest one hour per week with a spiritual director/mentor

*  Read the following book for spiritual growth:________________

*  Attend Sunday worship regularly during Lent

*  Attend the following small group/Bible study:  ______________

*  Serve the poor and needy by _____________________

*  Attend special services: ___ Maundy Thursday  ___ Organ Recitals (12:30 Fridays)  ___ Community Lenten Services (12:10 Wednesdays)

*  Other:  _________________________________________

*Adapted from Richard Lobs III, as outlined in. The Services of the Christian Year, by Robert E. Webber.

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