Thursday, September 15, 2011

Close Encounters of The Jesus Kind (Part 1/Mark 1:1-9) Are You Prepared to Encounter Jesus?

A few years ago I preached a long series on Mark's Gospel. I've been rereading it recently as part of  preperation for looking at parallel passsages in Luke's gospel with people at our "Worship on Wednesday" and I am going to post a highlights package over the next month or so (along with other bits and pieces on my blog, in the hope that it may help you to have "A Close Encounter OF The Jesus Kind"

- Blessings

Howard Carter

Leonard Sweet starts his book “Out of the Questions and into the Mystery”, ironically, by asking the question ‘how could we have got the point and missed the person?’ He maintains that Christianity has allowed  itself to become a religion of creeds and belief statements and even rules, rather than relationship. We talk a lot about Jesus, we sing a lot about Jesus, we confess a lot of things about Jesus but at our very heart do we know this Jesus? We live in a world that is crying out for genuine authentic relationship and it will not be satisfied with knowledge about a person they will want to meet this person, introduced by people who know him well.

 In this series of posts I want to work my way through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s son that Mark wrote.   Mark himself calls his book the good news of Jesus the Christ, Son of God.  The series is called ‘Close Encounters of the Jesus Kind. The tile comes from the 1977 blockbuster film ‘close encounters of the third kind ‘. A Stephen Spielberg movie about making contact with beings from another world, a close encounter of the third kind is a face-to-face meeting. In the movie it was a meeting that transforms the life of the main character played by Richard Dreyfuss. My hope is that as we look again at Jesus and his life and death we will have fresh close encounters of the Jesus Kind we will meet Jesus in new ways that will transform our lives.

I chose the gospel of Jesus Christ that Mark wrote for several reasons. Firstly out of all four gospels it seems to be the one that we know the least, most of What Mark tells us is repeated in the material that Matthew and Luke uses and we are used to hearing Jesus words as recorded by Matthew in particular and Luke or the unique approach of John. Hopefully as we look at Jesus in this book it will allow us to get some fresh insights.

Secondly, Mark focuses more on what Jesus did and peoples encounters with Jesus. It’s why I hope that as we read and work our way through these encounters it will lead us to encounter Jesus a fresh for ourselves. 

The third reason that I want to use Mark is that apart from the strong affirmation of who Jesus is in the preface here in Chapter 1:1-13 people who encounter Jesus are left rather dazed and confused as to who Jesus is. I love mystery novels and Mark is like a mystery novel. People have referred to the ‘Messianic Secret’ in Mark: That apart from here, where we are let in on the secret from the beginning people are left wondering “who is this Jesus”. Even when Peter as spokesman for his disciples makes his great affirmation  ‘You are the Messiah’ in chapter 9:29 Jesus tells them not to tell anyone and then after he talks of the messiah having to suffer and die he has to tell Peter to get behind me Satan because Peter’s understanding of the Messiah doesn’t line up with his. ‘Who is this Jesus’ is a question that will lead us to fresh insight.

Mark chooses to start his Good News of Jesus Christ Son of God, not with an introduction to Jesus himself, but to two witnesses to Jesus, firstly the scriptures. He quotes from the prophets.   While he is writing to a predominantly gentile audience Mark starts with the fact that to understand who Jesus is we need to have the God Frame that the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament)  provides. You get the idea that there is both continuity and something new, and as the Old Testament affirms, before God does a new thing he declares it to his people.

We are then introduced to a second witness the rather enigmatic person John the Baptist. The way John is described his clothes, his habitat in the wilderness and his diet are meant to paint the picture for us of an Old Testament prophet in the vein of Elijah. The Jews have from a long time back believed that Elijah would be the one who was sent as a forerunner for God’s salvation of his people. At their Passover feasts they leave a seat vacant and an extra place setting for Elijah.

John's message was two fold he calls people to repent and turn back to God and proclaims the one who will come after him. One who is greater than he is. Luke fills this out for us by saying that the one who comes after John is greater because he has come before him, he has been pre-existent but Mark leaves us with the idea that the one who comes after him is so much greater that John wouldn’t even be worthy to untie his sandals, the most menial act of the lowliest servant. This is a veiled reference to Jesus divinity. He goes on to say that while John baptises with water the one who would come after him would baptise with the Holy Spirit’. Here John is telling his listeners that this one would do what only God is able to do fill people with God’s own spirit. For his Jewish listeners there was the expectation that the messiah would bring in the kingdom of God, which would be a time when God would pour out his spirit on all who believed. It looks forward to what Luke would write about in Acts Chapter 2.

As I read this passage what Jumps out at me is ‘prepare ye the way of the LORD’ it raises the question ‘Are we prepared to encounter Jesus Christ? I want to share six thoughts on how we can be ready to encounter Jesus.

1. We need to be looking to turn afresh to God. 

AS you can tell from the quotes in the order of service today many people find Jesus fascinating and appealing. However John called people to be prepared themselves by turning to God and repenting this gives us the attitude we need to adopt. It’s realising that we are broken sinful people who need God’s love and forgiveness. In Jesus own words  ‘Blessed are the poor of heart for there is the kingdom of God’.

2. We need to be willing to confront our preconceived images of Jesus.

In his title Mark calls Jesus the Christ, the Son of God and we have almost lost the sense of this being a title for Jesus and it has simply become his second name. Jesus Christ or as some will want to profane Jesus H Christ. Christ is the Greek word meaning anointed one, the Greek version of the Hebrew word that means the same thing Messiah. It encapsulates the idea of priest and king. Even the term Son of God has been one we use so often in our songs and confessions that we often say it with out thinking about it. Jesus doesn’t use these titles of himself in the book, he prefers the title son of man, into which he can infuse his own meaning. To get ready to encounter Jesus afresh we need to be able to go beyond these familiar words and our own images of him. .

Philip Yancy in his book ‘The Jesus I never knew’ says that he has had many different images of Jesus in his life. He at one time had a Sunday school image of Jesus in his mind. Associated with pictures like the one on the cover of the order of service today. He identified Jesus with flannel graphs, weak cordial, sugar biscuits and gold stars for attendance. Later in life he found himself with images of a cosmic spiritual Jesus encapsulated by a picture of Jesus as disembodied spirit emblazoned in the sky above the UN building in New York. He was at a very conservative Bible College at the time and would later reflect that Jesus was always shown as having Long hair and a beard both of which were banned in that institution. Then in the height of the Jesus freak movement of the late 1960’s he said he had an image of Jesus as a social radical very much like those he was surrounded by. The book ‘the Jesus I never knew’ was written as he again wanted to rediscover Jesus. If we are to be ready to encounter Jesus afresh we need to be ready to allow Jesus to grow past the images of him we already have.

4. We need to be open to new vantage points on Jesus.

Brian Mclaren in his book Generous Orthodoxy talks of meeting seven Jesus in his life.  Not like my Sisters ex partner who was on the emergency psych team in West Auckland who told me that he could not believe in Jesus because in the course of his work he’d met him four Jesus, along with five Elvis’s and Jimmy Hendrix and he wasn’t that impressed. But Brian McLaren talks of meeting different understandings of Jesus from different strands of the Christian faith. He says he was enriched at being able to look at Jesus from the traditions of Protestants both liberal and evangelical, from Pentecostals and Catholics, eastern orthodox, Anglican and Anabaptists. It was as he began to appreciate those different viewpoints a fuller richer picture of Jesus came into focus for him. The question are we ready to encounter Jesus invites us not only to realise that we come to Jesus with our own set of images and from our own context but to be prepared to hear the voices crying in the wilderness and have our relationship with Jesus enriched and deepened by the reflections and understandings from all our different brothers and sisters. Even then Jesus is so much more that the sum of all this.

5. We need to be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit.

It is only with the help of the Spirit that we will encounter Jesus. The one who is coming will baptise people with the Holy Spirit. The Same spirit that had been looking forwards to his coming in the scriptures of the Old Testament and had inspired John the Baptist to preach and baptise has been sent on us as Jesus says in the gospel of John to lead us into all truth. It is openness to the Holy Spirit that makes us ready to encounter Jesus; A willingness to let the Spirit work in our lives and to touch us with the very hands of Jesus.

6. We need to be ready to encounter Jesus today.

Many of us have followed Jesus most, if not all our lives, and I don’t want to sound like I’m saying we don’t know him, my hope is that as we look at Jesus we are ready for Jesus to meet us today. He will meet us at our points of need, just like in the gospel narrative. He will meet us at points of challenge, where we may need new insights and strength for the next steps in our journey as disciples.

I want to say right here at the start of this journey through this gospel by reiterating what Mark says first about Jesus: that Jesus is good news. Jesus is good news for all of us. In  Jesus there is Hope for those without hope, Light for our darkness, purpose for life, new beginnings, forgiveness and wholeness, healing for body and soul, strength for the future, challenge and the power to be transformed and bring transformation, and eternal friendship with God. This is truly good news "Prepare ye the way of the LORD."  

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