Mark Session 1

Mark Study

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Introduction // The Son of God

A year ago, if you’d asked me to put together and lead a Bible study on Mark, I’m absolutely certain I would’ve just laughed. Mark has always been the gospel I struggled with the most because I really didn’t understand its structure and themes. To me, it seemed like a jumble of stories about Jesus that didn’t really fit together. Then, last fall I signed up to attend a women’s Bible teaching workshop, not knowing what book of the Bible we’d be studying. Of course, it turned out to be….Mark. I was nervous and intimidated at first, but, as I prepared for the workshop in the weeks leading up to the event, the book seemed to unfold in a new way. It blossomed with beautiful truth and depth that I had never seen in it before: truth about who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. Mark and I have come a long way! I'm excited to have the opportunity share what I learned with you, and for us all to learn more as we study it together.

To start, we need to get an idea of where this book came from and what its original purpose was. Even though the Bible teaches and speaks to us today, every book of the Bible had a different audience before us. We need to pay attention to the history of the book so that we can understand it better. Otherwise, we might try to squeeze ideas out of it that it could never have communicated to its original audience, which would be false. 

Everything we know about the author and purpose of Mark is based on scholarly research and tradition going back to the earliest part of church history. Some of what we know is based on the written testimony of an early church bishop named Papias, who got his information from two of the disciples of apostle John. Papias’ record tells us that the gospel was written by a man named Mark who was an interpreter and assistant to the apostle Peter during his ministry in Rome. Although it can’t be proven conclusively, it is widely accepted that this Mark is the man called John Mark in several places throughout the New Testament. The book of Acts tells us that John Mark traveled with Barnabas and Paul off and on during their missionary journeys. 1 Peter also corroborates the story that Mark assisted Peter in his work in Rome (1 Pet. 5:13).

Tradition holds that the book was written to make an account of the apostle Peter’s recollections of Jesus’ life and ministry that could be shared with all believers, but particularly with the gentile believers in Rome. This is why Mark often describes Jewish customs in a lot of detail, like he is explaining them to an outsider.

For some time, Biblical scholars didn’t think much of Mark. They assumed it was one of the last gospels written and was just a shorter, less detailed, imitation of Matthew. This all changed in the 1800s. Most Bible scholars now believe that Mark was actually the first gospel to be written, and that the other gospel authors (especially Matthew and Luke) used Mark as a reference and expanded on it. The book was most likely written toward the end of Peter’s life, or shortly after he died: sometime in the 60s A.D, about 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

It’s important to know that this book isn’t written as a chronological narrative of Jesus’ life: it’s more like a collection of stories that are grouped together topically to show the reader who Jesus was and what he taught. 

Chapters 1-8 features Jesus’ miracles and teaching that point us to who Jesus is: the Messiah, the Son of God. Chapters 8-10 focus on conversations between Jesus and his disciples about what it means for him to be the Messiah, and how they are to follow him. Mainly, that Jesus would suffer and die for sin, but then rise again in victory, and that his disciples would also pay a heavy price in persecution by following him. Chapters 11-16 detail how Jesus became the Messiah: they describe his time in Jerusalem in the week of his betrayal, death, and resurrection. 

During our meetings together, we’re going to spend a lot of our time in the first half of the book, looking at different aspects of what Jesus told us about who he is. We’ll also cover his teachings on discipleship, and his betrayal and then death and resurrection. 

Today, we’re going to look at the aspect of Jesus’ identity that is the most central to everything Mark wants to teach us about Jesus: the fact that he is the Son of God. Everything in this book (and really, everything in the Bible) falls apart if we don’t understand and believe that Jesus is God’s son: fully man and fully divine. This idea is so important that Mark opens the book with it. Let’s take a look at today’s passage:

Mark 1:1-15
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way,
3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”

4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark starts out clear and to the point in verse 1: this book contains the gospel (or “good news”) about Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. It is the continuation of a story that began in the Old Testament: the story of how God is keeping his promise to send the Messiah to save his people and all of creation from the deadly, destructive consequences of sin. 

Beginning in verse 2, Mark points us to a passage to Isaiah, which tells of a “messenger” who would prepare the way for the Messiah. John the Baptist was that messenger. He called people to be cleansed of their sins through repentance and baptism. Luke 3:15-16 tells us that the power of John’s ministry caused some people to even wonder if John was the Messiah himself. John knew that he wasn’t even worthy to be a lowly servant of the Messiah. He told them plainly that he was just the messenger who was preparing them for the coming of someone who was more than just a prophet: he was their Lord. This Messiah was coming to completely wash their sins away forever: giving them new life and filling them with the Holy Spirit. 

In verse 9, Jesus comes to John to be baptized. Matthew 3:14-15 tells us that John initially objected to this, saying to Jesus, “‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15 But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’” and then John agreed and baptized him. 

Jesus was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” not for himself (because he had no sin), but to be a righteous example for future believers. Christians are baptized in obedience to God as an outward symbol of the inward change that happened in them through Christ when they repented of sin and believed in him. 

Jesus’ baptism is rich with symbol and deep theological meaning. Let’s look at that section again: “when (Jesus) came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Here, we clearly see the presence of all three members of the trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and they’re present at the same time. They are distinct, yet unified. The Holy Spirit dwells with the Son. God the Father authoritatively testifies that Jesus is his righteous son. He says, “‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” God the Father repeats this statement again at the transfiguration in Mark 9, when he says, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Mark wants us to see that this isn’t rumor or speculation: God himself told us that Jesus is his Son.  Jesus himself also confirmed it when he was on trial before the High Priest. Throughout the rest of the book, we see, too, that even demons cannot help but tremble and proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God. When Jesus died on the cross, even one of the Roman centurions, who were his enemies, could not help but see the Son of God for who he really was. 

After his baptism, in verses 12-13, Jesus responds to the prompting of the Spirit, who drives him out into the wilderness among wild beasts where he is tempted by Satan and tended by angels through his trial.  The paradox of Jesus’ complete humanity and divinity is on display. God cannot be tempted (James 1:13), so God became a human man who could be. Yet he had to be fully God too, because only God, being perfect in righteousness, could endure temptation without sin. God could not die to pay the penalty of blood for sin, so Jesus became a man so he could die on our behalf. Yet, his full divinity could not be contained by the grave, so he rose again on the third day, giving us victory over sin and death with him. Jesus is the sinless, obedient son that we cannot be. His death on the cross allows us to receive the righteousness we could never attain on our own.

Finally, in verses 14-15, Jesus’ ministry begins. He starts to travel around Galilee preaching the gospel, saying, “‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” His message is this: “The time has come! God keeps his promises. His kingdom is here! Believe in the Messiah. Turn away from sin and turn toward the Son of God.“

I think there are three takeaways for us from this passage. First, God keeps his promises. Jesus coming was the fulfillment of God’s promises going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sinned and their relationship with God was broken: marred by their sinful rebellion. Yet, even as God told them about the curse they had brought upon the world, and the fatal price that their sin required, he also gave them a promise of future hope. There would be a seed, a son, who would come to destroy evil, though he would be wounded in the process.

In Genesis 12, 18, and 22, God repeatedly promised to Abraham that the single child God enabled him and Sarah to conceive would become a nation of descendants as numerous as the stars. All of the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abraham’s seed.

In 2 Samuel 7, God told David that his house, kingdom, and throne would be established forever through his offspring, who would be God’s beloved son. Jesus was the “son” of Abraham and of David: the perfect fulfillment of God’s promises. As you saw in your study guide, Jesus was David’s son, yet also his Lord.

Also, throughout the old testament prophets, including some passages you read on your own, God promised that the Lord, the Messiah, would come to reconcile his sinful people to himself and reveal his glory to the world. God has always kept his promises to his people in the past, and he continues to do so today. He hasn’t promised us an easy life, but he has promised to be with us, and to work all circumstances for our good and his glory, always.

The second takeaway is this: because Christ was God’s son, we are able to become God’s sons. Even as women, we receive Jesus’ righteousness and become like firstborn sons along with him: co-heirs of God with Christ. We have an inheritance of eternal life on the new earth, which will be recreated in perfection for God’s people, where we will enjoy him forever. This is a treasure that can never be taken away from us. 

Third, Jesus’ mission is now our mission. We need to bring glory and honor to God by sharing the gospel with others. We are called to go and make disciples in our homes, workplaces, and communities. It is our duty and our joy to share the good news of God with others: to tell them of his unending faithfulness, and his rich mercy in sending his son to die for our sins even though we have rebelled against him. We should be praying for opportunities to show others God’s love through our actions and to tell them how they can be set free from their slavery to sin and be welcomed into God’s family through belief in his Son. 

I think a lot of Christians, myself included, become numb to the absolute miracle of the incarnation. God took his infinite power and his glory and wrapped it up in finite flesh. He did it all to glorify himself by faithfully redeeming sinful, rebellious people and restoring his creation to perfection. We are those rebellious people. Through Christ, we have become a part of God’s family through no goodness of our own. We are given new life and a new purpose: to glorify God by telling others about his justice and his mercy.
 

Secure in Christ: Our Good Shepherd

Secure in Christ

Adulting is hard. I often wish I could go back to a time in my childhood when I wasn’t responsible for anyone but myself. I didn’t have to worry about preparing meals, maintaining a home, or making sure bills were paid. I was able to live carefree because I was blessed to be a part of a family where I was always safe and provided for. At the time, I took that for granted. 

No matter how old you are or what kind of home you grew up in, I’m going to guess that you have a deep desire for this kind of security too. Even the most independent among us rest a little easier knowing that someone who cares has our back when we really need them.

In the passage we’re looking at today, we’re going to see that God provides the security we long for. He is not indifferent or unfeeling toward us but faithfully offers us just what we need. He cares for us lovingly, like a shepherd tending his sheep.

John 10:1-18 is a continuation of a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees that began in John 9 after Jesus healed a man who was born blind. The Pharisees became angry and kicked the man out of the Temple because he wouldn’t denounce Jesus. They overheard Jesus speaking to the healed man later and started arguing with him. Jesus told them they were guilty of sin because they seen him and not believed. That’s where chapter 10 picks up.

Here, Jesus employed an extended metaphor to contrast himself against the many corrupt leaders of Israel who had used their positions to lure the Israelites down a path of defiance against God. In the Old Testament, the corruption of Israel’s rulers splintered and weakened the nation. The Promised Land was conquered by foreign invaders and God’s people were taken into exile. Only a small remnant ever returned to their homeland. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were just the latest in a long line of corruption. 

To make this contrast, Jesus used symbolism that appears frequently throughout the Bible: the shepherd and the sheep. Shepherding would have been familiar to the people both as a common occupation and as an analogy for God’s tender care for his people (as in Psalm 23). In this passage, Jesus (the door, the good shepherd) rebukes the Pharisees (the stranger, the thief, the hired hand) for their corruption, and teaches us how he cares for believers (his flock). As the door and the good shepherd, Jesus gathers, provides for, and sacrifices himself for the security of his beloved people: his flock.

He Gathers His Sheep

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

A sheepfold was a protective enclosure for the different flocks of sheep in a community. When a shepherd came to collect his sheep from among the other flocks, the watchman would recognize him and let him in. His sheep would know him so well, they would hear his voice and come when he called. This idea continues in verses 14-16

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 

Just like the sheep in this illustration, believers are people from all walks of life who hear and respond to Christ’s call to follow him and be a part of God’s flock. Faithful Christians come from all nations, races, and languages (Revelation 7:9) and are united in their desire to follow Christ together. They don’t just respond to Jesus at conversion but follow his leading for life. 

As believers, we must memorize the sound of our Good Shepherd’s voice so that we will hear and respond to it. As we grow in godliness through the work of the Holy Spirit, our knowledge of God will increase so that we can distinguish truth from deception. This won’t just happen passively. Just as you would never be able to get to know a friend or your spouse better if you never listened to anything they said, a Christian cannot expect to know God if they ignore his primary means of communication to us: the Bible. False teachers want to trick believers with lies about God that will trap them in sin. Believers must arm themselves with a deep knowledge of the Word so that they can discern right teaching from false teaching and not be misled. We also need to ask the Holy Spirit to make our rebellious hearts obedient, so that we desire to follow and obey our shepherd.

He Provides For His Flock

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 

The caring shepherd acts as a door for the sheep between their enclosure and the pasture. When danger is present, the shepherd gathers the sheep into their pen where he can protect them. When it’s safe, he allows the sheep to go out to the pasture to graze in lush meadows by quiet streams. The shepherd is concerned for the well-being of his sheep and wants them to thrive in his care. 

The thieves are false teachers, who distort God’s word for their own gain. They twist up the truth at the expense of others’ souls. They tell us that God loves us more when we follow a strict set of rules and less when we fail. If we’re struggling, they say we just don’t have enough faith. Try harder. They whisper that maybe we’re just not good enough, or God doesn’t even care. Why bother? These are lies that can be taken down with knowledge of God's word, but we also need to believe the truth of found in the Bible so we can abide in the security it offers.

Jesus cares for his flock of believers and provides for all of our needs. We can trust the promises of God’s Word and rest in the knowledge that nothing we need will ever be withheld from us (Psalm 84:11). We need to believe that that's true. Sometimes, in dark seasons we may wonder if God has abandoned us. In those times, we need to pray for God to give us the faith we lack. We need to go before him and say, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

He Sacrifices Himself For His Sheep

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

God cares deeply for us because we belong to him. Satan prowls like a wolf waiting to pounce on the weak. False teachers are like hired hands who scatter at the first sign of trouble, but Christ is our good shepherd. Without compulsion or coercion, he willingly gave himself up for us when he died on the cross for our sins. As God’s beloved son, with authority over life and death, he rose so that we can have new life in him, free from the bondage of sin. The sheep shouldn't repay the shepherd by turning around and playing chicken with the wolf. We must respond by putting our sin to death and worshipping Christ with our obedience. We need to live in the freedom we've already been given. We should hate our sin and run from it, not see how close we can get before it snatches us up.

Even though I still have to do adult things and care for others, I am secure in the knowledge that Jesus is our good shepherd. He teaches believers to hear his voice and respond to it and gathers us into community with all of his sons and daughters. He gives us everything we need and never holds back anything good from us. He lays down his own life to save us from the deadly trap of sin. 

Precious Father, thank you for being our shepherd. Thank you for calling us to be a part of your family and giving us security in your provision and protection. Thank you for freeing us from our slavery to sin through Jesus' death on the cross. Grow in us the desire to seek you and hear from you through your Word, and give us the faith we need to trust your promises. Holy Spirit, transform our hearts so that we can gratefully and joyfully worship you in obedience. Amen.


Respond

What verses do you turn to when you need to remember the goodness of our shepherd? What other ways do you remind yourself of the security we have in Christ?

Set Free by Christ

Set Free by Christ

I feel like I used to be better about remembering things, but something about regular sleep interruptions and living with a tiny, adorable tyrant makes me feel like my mind is about as sharp as a cotton ball, not a tack. I spend an inordinate part of each day searching for my lost keys, cell phone, or chapstick.

Recently, one of the things I’m most forgetful about is turning the hose off. My husband set up this nice irrigation system for our garden so we can just leave the water on for about 15 minutes and all our plants are watered. I usually just set a timer to remind me to turn the hose off when it's done. It’s been really awesome, except for the part where I’m busy when the time is up, so I stop the timer and then forget to actually turn the hose off. I think the longest I’ve left it on for so far is about...3 hours. Now, it’s been unusually hot here for the last few weeks, so the plants haven't been complaining about the extra moisture! Our water bill, on the other hand, is probably not going to be pretty. We will, quite literally, be paying the price for forgetfulness.

Spiritual forgetfulness is another problem that's easy to slip into as a believer, and it comes with a price. When we don't meditate on the promises of God's Word, we lose sight of the core doctrines of who Jesus is and live as slaves when Christ has set us free.

When we’re struggling with sin and feel discouraged that we’ll never have victory over it, we’ve forgotten that Christ has set us free from sin so that we’re free to obey God. When we allow other people, or our successes or failures, to define our identities we’re buying into Satan’s lies and forgetting that Jesus has freed us from such deceptions so that we can believe the truth of God’s Word. When we live only for today, or in fear of tomorrow, we’ve failed to remember that Christ has set us free from finite lives that end in death so that we can live for eternity. 

We’re continuing our series on the “I am” statements of Jesus from the Gospel of John. Today, we’re looking at John 8:30-59, where Jesus declared, “Before Abraham was, I am,” to remind ourselves of the freedom we have given because of who Christ is.

Free From Sin

30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

This passage begins with a group of people who had heard Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees in the temple from v. 12-29. They found Jesus’ words compelling in some way and “believed” him, but, as we’re going to see, their belief was incomplete. It wasn’t the responsive, transformative faith of salvation. These people who “believed” began to question Jesus and quickly became just as antagonistic toward him and his teachings as the Pharisees had been:

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

These Jews couldn’t see that, although they weren’t enslaved to people, they were still enslaved to their sin. They were descendents of Abraham, but they lived like children of the Devil because they were trapped in their unrighteousness.

Being united with the Son allows us to remain in the house of God as his adopted children forever. Believers who have been saved and received the Holy Spirit live according to the teachings of Jesus: our lives are transformed by the truth of who he is. We are seen as blameless before God and are free to obey him. We no longer have to live as slaves to sin, so we are free to obey God. We still live in a fallen world and will struggle with temptation, but the Holy Spirit is always at work, transforming us into the image of Christ and changing our hearts to desire to obey God.

Free From Deception

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

The Jews were proud to be descendents of Abraham, but their physical heritage was not enough. They were drawn in by Satan’s lies, so they could not receive Jesus as the Son of God,. They persecuted him instead, making pointed comments about his possibly illegitimate parentage, and, eventually, carrying out a plot to have him killed. If they were Abraham’s children, they would have loved Jesus and received his teachings.

As believers, we have the Holy Spirit at work in us so that we can see the truth, Satan will still try to deceive us with lies. We could be tempted to believe that God doesn't care about us, or that we're better than other people. We might feel the pull to live for whatever makes us happy, regardless of what God calls us to. These are evil lies, and, because we've been set free by Christ, we don't have to believe them.  We no longer have to be deceived, and are free to believe the life-giving truth contained in God’s Word.

Free From Death

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

If you got to the part of this passage where the people pick up stones to throw at Jesus and were confused about why they were so angry, you need some context from Exodus 3:13-15. There, God called out to Moses from the burning bush and told him he would use him to save the Israelites from their enslavement in Egypt:

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

When Moses asked, God told him that his name was “I am” (which is also sometimes translated as “I am what I am”  or “I will be what I will be”). This is God’s most holy name, the meaning of which is meant to represent God’s eternal nature: he has and will always exist without beginning or end. When Jesus said “...before Abraham was, I am” (v. 58) he was claiming the same eternal existence that God had revealed about himself to Moses. God the Father, Son, and Spirit have always existed in perfect oneness: before Jesus’ incarnation, before God appeared to the Jewish patriarchs like Moses and Abraham, and even before the creation of the world. But the crowd did not receive what Jesus taught them and were filled with rage because of what he said. They believed he was blaspheming against God, so they tried to stone him to death.

In Genesis 12:2-3 and 22:17-18, Abraham heard and received the promise from God that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through his offspring, and he was filled with joy at the thought. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of that promise that was made to Abraham. Through Jesus, all believers, from all nations (not just Israel), can become a part of God’s family and receive eternal life. Because Jesus is the Son of God and is God, he is able to offer a path to eternal life to those who believe in and follow him. The Son knows the Father and keeps his commands with perfect obedience.

When we receive Christ as our savior, we believe in Him and receive Christ’s perfect righteousness and the hope of eternity with God. We no longer have to fear death, so we are free to live for eternity. We are given a purpose: to live in obedience to God to love, honor, and glory him. We serve others, not just our own desires because we know that rewards will await us in heaven. We have hope because we know that Jesus will return to right the wrongs and make all things new.

It's all too easy to fall into a season of spiritual forgetfulness. We can slide back into enslavement to sin, deception, and death without even realizing it. If you've been stuck in one of those seasons, take a moment to thank God for the freedom you have because of Christ. Ask God to give you a desire to meditate on and be transformed by his Word, so that you can live joyfully as his beloved child.

Father, thank you for sending your Son so that we can live, not as slaves, but as your beloved children. Thank you for freeing us from our captivity to sin, deception, and death. Help us to remember Christ's sacrifice in our place, and to live like we are truly free. Please give me a desire to meditate on your Word, and transform my heart through the work of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Resource

A helpful primer for meditating on the Bible:
"5 Steps to Meditating on Your Bible" by Kristen Wetherell for The Gospel Coalition.


Respond

How would your life change if you meditated on the truths contained in this passage regularly? How will you intentionally remind yoursel of them? 

Hope in Christ

Hope in Christ

Over these last few months, even as I’ve been enjoying my new role as a stay-at-home-mom to our son, I’ve been heavily burdened by the darkness and injustice of the world we are raising him in. It seems like I’m being confronted daily by new evidence of prejudice and animosity in the world. It’s hard not to fall into a trap of pessimistic thinking and lose hope for the future.

You may be in that place too: struggling to find hope for an uncertain future for yourself, your family, your community, or the wider world. Hopelessness is a real temptation, but, as Christians, we have an unshakable hope that is built on the cornerstone of Christ. When we’re on the verge of despair, we need to plunge into God’s Word to soak in the reality of who Jesus is. We must receive the hope that the Gospel offers to a world broken by sin. 

The passage we’re looking at today, John 8:12-30, is a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees, which reveals essential, hope-giving truths about who Jesus is. 

After Jesus’ bold declaration in John 6 that he is the Bread of Life, the Jewish people became divided over his teachings (John 7). Some people believed him and began to follow him, but many of the other Jews thought that he was a heretic who was leading people away from the truth. The Pharisees fell into the latter group. They were so enraged by his public ministry that they wanted him dead and were plotting to have him killed. On many occasions, they publicly debated with Jesus over his teachings, attempting to discredit him.

In John 8:12-30, Jesus reveals foundational truths about himself that should inspire faith and hope in the Christian: Jesus sets us free from darkness, his authority is from God the Father, and to know him is to know God.

Jesus Sets Us Free From Darkness

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 

Jesus certainly wasn’t pulling any punches here, was he? He boldly proclaimed something John previewed for the reader back in chapter 1: Christ is the source of life and of light in the world which will never be overcome (John 1:4-5). The powers of darkness can never truly kill those who have been filled with the new life he offers through his death on the cross, and the light of the truth of the Gospel can never be snuffed out. Followers of Christ are reborn and filled with the Holy Spirit, enabled to trust and serve God and becoming more like Christ as they prepare for eternal life after death. 

Jesus' Authority is from the Father

When the Pharisees responded, they totally bypassed the substance of what Jesus said and instead question his authority to make such a statement about himself at all:

13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”

The Pharisees were trying to trip Jesus up in something he said before: that his testimony about himself could not be true unless it was corroborated by another witness. This happened during another conversation they'd had about Jesus’ authority back in John 5. There, Jesus said, “30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. 31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true.” The religious leaders were trying to discredit Jesus by throwing his words back in his face, but (once again) their hearts were blind to the truth and they missed the most important part of what he was saying. In John 5:30-47 and again here in 8:12-30, Jesus’ openly acknowledged that his authority doesn’t come from himself, it comes from God (5:36-37, 8:16,18,28-29). Christ knew that he had been sent by God to live on Earth and that he would return to him after his death and resurrection (v. 14) to reign with him forever in eternity. While the Pharisees judged people according to their own standards and self-imposed rules, Jesus’ judgments (and his authority to make them) are just and perfect because they originate from God (v. 15-18, 26, 28-29). 

To Know Jesus is to Know the Father

19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 

Without equivocation, Jesus tells them that if they really knew him, they would know God too. John already primed us for this idea in 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.” The Father and Son are in perfect unity with one another. To know one is to know the other. When we have eyes to see the truth of who he is, the Son will help us to see the Father as well. Through faith in Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, we have a relationship with him and are able to truly know God and be perfectly known by him. 

The Pharisees were woefully blind to all of these truths about Jesus, and he warned them of the consequences of their unbelief:

21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 

Because they did not believe that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, the Pharisees were destined to die in their sins without access to eternal life with Jesus. As the religious elite of their day, they were pretty shocked and confused by his teaching:

25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

Everything Jesus said and did was in obedience to and for the glory of God the Father. Though the Pharisees were blind to this, Jesus knew that they would understand the truth when he was lifted up: at his death and resurrection and through his glorification at the Second Coming. The Pharisees hearts were too hard to receive Jesus' teaching at that time, but many other people who heard him responded and believed (v. 30). 

It’s easy to become discouraged and even filled with despair when we put our hope in relationships, material security, or world affairs. As believers, we have hope because we know that Christ has brought light into the darkness of our wayward hearts, rescuing us from our slavery to sin. He was sent by God with complete divine authority to heal the world's brokenness for his own glory. Christ's death took the punishment our sins deserved so that we could be redeemed and restored to fellowship with God, knowing and being perfectly known by him

Heavenly Father, thank you for your Word. We too often take for granted how blessed we are to be able to read and study the eternal truths found in the scriptures. Thank you for sending Jesus to deliver us from the darkness of sin, redeeming us so that we could be a part of your family. Thank you for the everlasting hope we have because of your goodness. Amen.

Resource: 

I am the Light of the World” by John Piper on Desiring God.


Respond

How do you remind yourself of these truths about Christ's identity when you are tempted to give up hope? Which of these is most encouraging to you right now, and why?

Craving the Bread of Life

Craving the Bread of Life

As a new stay-at-home mom with a newborn to care for, I find myself constantly battling against chronic tunnel vision. It’s easy to get so focused on caring for and bonding with my son that I forget about important things like doing the laundry (never mind folding it), responding to important emails, or even eating meals. 

This tunnel vision impacts my spiritual life as well. During the long days and nights of caring for our son, I might sporadically toss up a few quick prayers for strength, energy, or patience when we’re having a rough day, but I neglect to devote time and energy to seeking God in prayer and asking Him to change my heart in areas where I’m struggling with sin. I’m so focused on trying to make it through the day and balance my priorities as a homemaker that I mostly seek God with immediate needs and rarely with a desire for sanctification or worship of the Father.

You don’t have to be a stay-at-home mom (or any kind of mom at all) to feel the same way. Job stress, a hectic schedule, health problems, or even the monotony of the daily grind can cause us to lose sight of the transformative work that Christ has done, and is continuing to do, in our lives through the Holy Spirit. We have been given abundant, eternal life because of the Cross, and yet we plod along, day to day. We seek God for what he can do to make our lives easier now and forget the value of what he has already done.

“I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35, 48)

Today, we’re continuing our study of the the “I Am” statements of Jesus in John, meditating on Jesus’ as our “Bread of Life,” as he describes himself in chapter 6 of this gospel. Like us, the crowds of people Jesus was teaching were so focused on what Jesus could do to improve their daily lives that they couldn’t comprehend the eternal, priceless value of the Gospel.

This teaching took place just after Jesus had miraculously fed the five thousand (6:1-14). The Jewish crowds who had witnessed this miracle were stirred up into a frenzy. They planned to declare Jesus their king, which likely would’ve led to all-out war with the Romans authorities who occupied the land at the time. Jesus and his disciples had evaded the mob and then split up. The disciples started across the Sea of Galilee in a boat first and Jesus followed them, walking on water in the middle of a storm to meet them near the middle. After recovering from their initial shock and fear, the disciples gladly took Jesus into the boat, then found that they had suddenly reached land on the other shore. 

The crowd continued to pursue them, however; they caught up with Jesus the next day and began to question him: 

22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 

Jesus didn’t even acknowledge their question, but scolded them for materialistic motivations they had for following him:

26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 

Instead of recognizing the spiritual significance of the miracle of the bread and fish, the people who had been there were looking for more free food! They were so focused on their stomachs, they couldn’t see how Jesus’ miracle revealed his divine identity. 

Jesus continued admonishing them, saying:

27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 

He encouraged them not to focus their earthly efforts on obtaining literal food (which will eventually rot and can only sustain a person for a short time), but to seek eternal “food” from the Son of Man, Jesus. This is not to say that they were to stop working entirely or stop using their earnings to buy bread. Instead, Jesus is encouraging them to their focus from acquiring material security and put their hope in God's eternal provision in Christ.

Once again, the crowd misunderstood what Jesus had said:

28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

The people mistook Jesus’ reference to “work” to mean that they needed to please God with works in order to earn this eternal sustenance. Jesus corrected them, stating that the “work of God” is to believe in the One he sent: Christ. God offers us the treasure of everlasting life which he freely gives to those who simply believe in the Son and receive the forgiveness of sins that he offers. We will still have to work to put food on the table and a roof over our heads, but our hope and security will be in God's provision, not the labor of our hands.

Finally, the crowd caught on to the fact that Jesus was telling them to believe in him as the one sent from God. Apparently, however, they had been underwhelmed by the feeding of the five thousand, because they immediate demanded more miracles as further "proof" before they would believe in him:

30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 

The Jews pointed out that miraculous food was nothing new to their people, whose ancestors had eaten manna from Heaven during their wanderings in the wilderness. They challenged Jesus to produce a greater miracle, since feeding a crowd of people for one meal on a single day seemed small compared to an entire nation being fed for 40 years.

Jesus responded:

32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus reminded them that the manna their ancestors ate in the wilderness was from God, not from Moses, and that the manna in the wilderness was a sign to point them to the true bread that God would give them from heaven. That true bread came in the form of a person: “he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (Spoiler alert: it's Jesus.)

Of course, the Jews were still thinking with their stomachs, so they thought he was talking about the kind of food that sustains the physical body. Instead, Jesus was offering himself as the eternal nourishment they needed for their bodies and souls:

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 

Jesus taught them that belief in God’s Son leads to eternal life (v. 40), and that the bread he would give to the world was his very flesh: his body, broken on the cross for the sins of the world (v. 50-51). To believe in Jesus and receive his sacrifice on our behalf is to partake of Jesus' flesh and blood and be filled with life and with the Spirit:

55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 

Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Christ abiding in us), believers have the opportunity to learn more of God and continue to be sanctified: remade into the image of Christ, God's perfect son. We abide in Christ, filled with the peace and security of our salvation and God's provision for our every need. 

When we get stuck living day to day, putting our hope in the fragile security of material plenty, we pass over the abundance God freely offers us. We choose trinkets over treasures. We fail to partake of the hope and security we have been freely given through Christ's death for our sins. We don't crave the Bread of Life.

So how do we break free? Fasting? Service? Meditation on God's Word? How do we change our focus and transform our desires so that we pursue the Bread of Life above all else?

The short answer is: we don't. We simply can't pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and change our hearts by sheer force of will. All the spiritual disciplines in the world will not transform our desires or grow us in godliness if we don't begin by asking the Father to do that work in us. God, through the Holy Spirit, is the one who does this good work in us (Philippians 1:6). The Holy Spirit transforms our sinful desires into godly ones, producing spiritual fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:16-24). Then, and only then, will we be set free from our worldly tunnel vision and begin to desire and seek Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Father, we are too easily distracted by the fleeting security this world offers us. Our hearts desire possessions and status more than they desire you, and we fail to abide in your provision. Holy Spirit, change our desires. Transform our hearts to truly believe in and treasure your Son and the truth of the Gospel. Teach us to abide in you and to trust in Christ as our source of life. Amen.


Respond

Do you struggle to desire the Bread of Life? In what areas are you putting your hope in your resources instead of in God?