Jesus in Context – One of the Most Helpful Biblical Background Books Around

JesusInContext-BockI recently came across the most helpful resources on the historical backgrounds to the Gospels that I have ever seen. It is called Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study by Darrell Bock. This book works through the synoptics and John and pulls just about any relevant extra-biblical text in full quotation to help you see what other ancient writers said about a topic, a city, a custom, etc. Reading the geneaology of Jesus? Look and see how other ancient Jewish writers did genealogies. Studying Jesus’ turning water to wine at Cana? You go to that miracle in this book and it first gives you a bit of historical background on eschatology and wine followed by relevant quotations from 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, Tobit, and the Talmud on wine and quotations from Josephus on Cana. Combine the content with Logos Bible software and you have an unbelievably powerful resource for your studies. This book concludes with multiple indices that include index by topic, by scripture, by extra-biblical reference and a huge list for further reading broken down by topic, If you are a student of the Gospels and want extra-biblical references all in one place this is the book for you. If you would use Logos and would like to have it at your disposal in a fully searchable, indexed format with clickable links with full references for you to use in your study or writing, you can get it here.

Two Questions that Are Essential For Discipleship

Last year we created an evangelistic study of Mark called Jesus 101. The study is designed to be used with seekers so that they can discover who Jesus is by studying Mark. Mark is the perfect book for that because it is a little bit of a mystery until chapter 8. At that point in Mark and in the study things start to crystallize about exactly who Jesus is. Before you can become a disciple you have to answer the question “Who is Jesus?”. What is more, this is exactly what Jesus asked his disciples in Mark 8:27-30…first Jesus asked who do people say he is and followed that up with “who do you say I am?”. We are working on a followup study on discipleship and its focus is going to be the second most important question that has to come after the first, “Who, then, am I?” In order to be a disciple you first have to figure out who Jesus is and then figure out, based on all of that, who you are. That is all very simple but for some reason it has taken a while for that to crystallize in my mind.

Matthew’s Explanation of the “Messianic Secret”

One of the big topics in the Gospel of Mark is what is known as the “Messianic Secret”. Over and over again in Mark, Jesus tells people not to tell others about who he is. This happens up until Mark 8 when Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is and Peter says he is the Christ or Messiah. It seems kind of strange for Jesus to tell others not to tell people about what they have seen until half way through the book. Some believe the reason for this is because Jesus didn’t want people to misunderstand his mission and follow him for all the wrong reasons (to receive food like when he fed the 5000 in Mark 6) (Jesus 101, p 22).

I was reading in Matthew today and it looks like Matthew actually gives an explanation as to why Jesus told people not to tell. It has to do with fulfillment of prophesy from Isaiah 42:1-4. Here is what Matthew tells us in Matthew 12:13-21,

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

God’s Chosen Servant

15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, 16 warning them not to tell who he was. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
21     In his name the nations will put their hope.”

Am I reading that right? Why haven’t I read anyone just offering Matthew’s explanation and why have so many tried so many other explanations if it is right there? Maybe this has been mentioned in commentaries dozens of times and I am just ignorant. This link seems to say the prophesy isn’t about the secret but instead points back to Jesus (in that instance) being unwilling to engage the Pharisees. I did a little more poking around and the Holman Bible Dictionary offers this as a possibility. Thoughts?

John The Baptist’s Baptism Was for the Forgiveness of Sins

You have undoubtedly heard that John the Baptist’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and that the difference between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism was that Jesus’ baptism took it a step further by adding the effect of the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Well, was anyone even reading Mark 1:4? “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” I have read that verse a zillion times and never picked up on it until this week when a good friend of mine pointed that out.

What is more, Jesus’ disciples baptized people during his ministry. John 4:1-2 says, “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John — although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.” I had always assumed this was the same kind of baptism John was doing and for the same purpose. Was this also a baptism for the forgiveness of sins? If that is what Jesus came to do it would only make sense that it was. Would Jesus baptize in a way less than what John was doing?

Honestly, this should come as no surprise. God constantly forgave sins under the old covenant. The sacrificial system itself came with the blessing of atonement and forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins wasn’t a new idea in the new covenant. The means of that forgiveness certainly changed.

Then Why Did Jesus Have to Come?
When my friend shared this with me, he said the person who pointed this out to him then asked him “Why did Jesus have to die if John’s baptism brought forgiveness?” That is a question a lot of people would ask if you showed them Mark 1:4. I believe that question shows a gross misunderstanding of the ministry of Jesus. They might as well have pointed out the verses in the Old Testament where God said he would forgive their sins and ask why Jesus had to come if God could forgive sins any other way. The Gospel we have preached is too small when people ask questions like that.

Jesus certainly came to forgive sins but Jesus did more than wipe away the bad. Jesus came to bring us abundant life. Jesus came to give us his yoke. Jesus came to show us the inbreaking kingdom and reign of God. Jesus came to be victor of sin and death so that by his overcoming of those powers he would open the door to our having eternal life with God. Instead, we have chosen to boil down the ministry of Jesus to fixing our problem of sin only. We have preached it and taught that so much that people can’t even see why Jesus came once they understand forgivness of sins was already present prior to Jesus Christ. We have a lot of work to do in helping people have a biblical understanding of the message and mission of Jesus Christ and what the Gospel is all about.

Finished A New Evangelistic Bible Study – Jesus 101

Update – I just posted the pdf in this post – Download Jesus 101

I just wrapped up writing an evangelistic Bible study that works through the Gospel of Mark called Jesus 101. The reason I wrote this was to promote more Bible study with non-Christians at Northwest. We realize on the front end that one major hang up people have in studying with others is figuring out where to start. This book is simple and non-confrontational. Instead of blasting people with facts this study has them read Mark chapter by chapter and just asks questions that helps them open up their eyes to who Jesus is. Also, this study follows the pace of Mark. They aren’t asked who they think Jesus is until Jesus asks that same questions to his disciples in Mark 8. They are asked again at the end of the study where the study turns to a discussion of what God wants from us/what is our response to the Gospel. A few other nice features of this study include a Glossary of more difficult terms and further evidence in the back of the study.

We gave out 250 copies on Sunday and hope to give out hundreds more. I am curious to find out what studies you guys use when studying with non-Christians? What have you seen work and what doesn’t work so well?

Evangelistic Study of Mark

We are about to implement a better plan to increase the number of one-on-one Bible studies we are engaging in as a congregation. In doing so we are needing material to pull this off. So I have started writing an inductive study of Mark and it is really pretty exciting stuff. What I mean by inductive is, the case is being built for who Jesus is based on certain evidence in the narrative along the way. This culminates with Peter’s confession of Christ in Mark 8. Basically, the study isn’t going to assume people believe that but walk them through the build up of the evidence so that when we get to Mark 8 (lesson 3) people are on board and their faith is beginning to take root so they can believe what Peter believes. I think this is such an important approach because we can no longer assume people know anything. You really do have to start from scratch with people and work them to the solutions. I will let you know how it turns out!

Here are some of the evidences that will come up through the discussion of the narrative in the Bible study:

  • Authority of Jesus based on his miracles, his teachings, and the testimony of others about him (including John the Baptist, God and God’s Spirit in Mark 1).
  • The mission of Jesus and his disciples against the “strong man” (Satan) of Mark 3:27 and how that theme runs through much of what Jesus does and teaches in Mark.
  • Death and resurrection predictions and fulfillment

Any more you would add?

Jesus on Discipling Young Adults – Handing Over Responsibility

So far we have looked at two stories (here and here) in Mark 9 where we learned that Jesus used the shortcomings of his disciples to help them learn and grow through those mistakes. Now we are going to back up to the beginning of the chapter and look at another piece of how Jesus helped disciple these guys. We are going to examine how Jesus delegated responsibility to them even though they were going to mess it all up and how Jesus picked up the pieces and helped them grow.In Mark 9:1-13 we have the transfiguration. What we find out in Mark 9:14 is that when Jesus, Peter, James and John went up the mountain to experience that, Jesus left the other disciples behind to take care of things at the bottom of the mountain. When the four returned they didn’t find things going so well. A man had brought his son to be healed of an evil spirit but the disciples had failed to cast it out.

On a side note, I just find the scene described in 9:20-25 really strange. Jesus goes to see the boy, the spirit convulses him and you might expect Jesus to cast it out right then…it sounds like a pretty bad episode this boy is going through. Instead Jesus asks, “How long has he been like this?” The whole conversation that follows when read in just text and not actually standing there witnessing it really sounds pretty casual given the circumstances. But the point was, just like Jesus didn’t need to know how long Lazarus had been dead because he already knew…his question was not for his own information. His question was for those who were listening. The point was Jesus’ miracle was all the greater because this boy had suffered with this not just a day or two but since he was a small child.

Jesus had given them responsibility and they had failed. Don’t you think Jesus knew this was going to happen when he left them behind? But notice that didn’t keep him from doing it anyway. Sometimes those in leadership positions don’t delegate because they fear someone will mess things up. The problem is the one delegating often gets more focused on the task to be done and done right than the person they can grow and develop by giving them responsibility. Which is more important to kingdom priorities…flawlessly performed ministries (which paid staff can’t do either) or people growing in their faith because they had responsibility delegated to them?

One of the problems many churches face is that the face of involvement is limited to what one can do one hour a week on Sunday morning. That is thinking too small. If all the church accomplishes or all we offer for people to plug into is leading a prayer, presiding over the Lord’s supper, ushering people into seats or reading scripture on Sunday we have missed the point. This involvement crisis can be seen when people place membership. Here at Northwest we have a sheet of things people can do and the vast majority of those take place on Sunday. That communicates something and it may not be healthy. It is not out of evil intent or anything like that…it just doesn’t take into consideration the bigger picture of what we are saying discipleship and involvement are all about.

Our young people today want to make a difference. If we are going to grow and our young people grow we have to hand some things over to them and accept the fact that things won’t always go perfectly. If we are honest with ourselves we would recognize they don’t go perfectly when we do them either! If Jesus was willing to delegate, accept failure, and teach them through it all we can and should as well. One thing that makes this hard is the cultural gap. The culture of the leadership and the culture of our 20 somethings is very, very different.It is hard to delegate responsibility to someone you don’t understand. So we have to get to know each other. It is important that the generations have venues to spend time with each other. I am big about creating an healthy environment for our 20 somethings where they can discuss topics relevant to their position in life but we also need to recognize their need to be rubbing shoulders with Christians older and more experienced than they are so they can learn and grow.