Mark 1:23-28

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

Recognise What is True

I was expecting this spirit to be a demon in the Greek (“daimon”). Mark does mention demons later, but this is a “pneuma”. That feels much more intimate, much more part of me.

I have had a lot on suddenly (work explosion and family medical red alert — now on yellow) but I think I’ve been avoiding confronting this passage. Partly perhaps as, with all this sudden pressure and excitement, my own unclean spirit has been given free rein (who by?).

The unclean spirit speaks, not the man, and it calls itself “us”. It recognises Jesus — before Jesus has been recognised generally in this Gospel.

Jesus had power over the unclean spirit, forcing it against its will out of the man.

Thought to take

The Gospel doesn’t relate what state the man was in once the unclean spirit had been wrenched out of him. I imagine he was weak and drained, disgusted and ashamed of what he’d been doing, and of his weakness in being taken over by the unclean spirit. He would have wanted nourishment and comfort. I fantasise that Jesus comforts the man and offers forgiveness but I’m struck that the Gospel is silent on that. The man is not important once the unclean spirit has been pulled out of him.

I imagine having the unclean spirit wrenched out was as painful for the man as it seemed for the unclean spirit itself.

However fearful it seems — having that unclean spirit wrenched out of me; wondering what will be left behind — my main two over-riding images from this passage are:

TtT

  • the unclean spirit drowns out my voice, dominates me
  • Jesus’ voice has complete power over the unclean spirit

Help, Yield

#fail. I’ve rather ran away from this passage this past week or so.

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Mark 1:21-22

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

(NIV)

Recognise What is True

Did Jesus wait until the Sabbath to go and teach? Was it expected to have teaching on the Sabbath (or the reverse)? I don’t know the significance of that verse.

Some teachers teach following a textbook, some are teaching just to pay the rent, some want the status or are preserving a status hierarchy. Some teachers have an intimate relationship with their subject, care about their subject, and take care when sharing this subject with new people. I think of Jesus as this kind of teacher. The people listening to Jesus in verse 22 were used to and expecting the former kind of teacher.

Though to take

I want to be the Jesus kind of teacher. That means (a) being an example of what I’m trying to teach, and (b) caring about the student and how they are moving towards the real example (Christ). I think this approach can apply beyond ethical teaching to teaching work skills (I am supposed to be “senior”). All the time in fact, … which is hard.

TtT

  • Recognise Jesus’ authority
  • Teach Christ’s teachings, and be what I teach

Help; Yield

With this verse 22 I have been thinking of myself as a student and as a teacher. That has guided my responses to others and it is starting to guide my behaviour — the way I carry myself normally.

Mark 1:16-20

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Recognise What is True

Jesus has proclaimed his arrival and the beginning of the new age, now he gathers his disciples. Immediately he called to them, they followed him.

In my imagination Jesus does not enchant or hypnotise these men, or put a spell on them. They see clearly who Jesus is (though they might not realise it themselves — I don’t know if I’m getting ahead of myself), and they understand rationally that following the call of Jesus is their best choice. The best life that they can lead is to follow Jesus.

With the line in verse 17 — “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” — Jesus is saying two things to Simon and Andrew.

First he is saying, if we follow Jesus, we will in turn lead other people to follow Jesus (I don’t necessarily mean as an explicit activity, perhaps by example).

I think he is also saying, the skills we already have are heightened and transformed, and we use those skills in our new life. I think. I don’t quite know how I can serve Jesus with statistics.

Though to take

  • Following Jesus is the best life, the rational choice.
  • Following Jesus does not mean turning my back on my former life; it means heightening, purifying, and transforming my former life.

Help; Yield

I am beginning to feel this new life grow on me, to feel stronger. I am beginning to notice my positive side and my stregnths, and to see them as part of the part of me that is with Jesus.

Mark 1:14-15

Welcome the Lord, Observe the Scripture

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.”

Recognise What is True

In verse 14, Jesus waits until John has been arrested before coming into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God. Jesus is not rushing, he is waiting for the right time. Jesus doesn’t want to overshadow the good work John is doing.

In verse 15, Jesus says: the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. Jesus is proclaiming the new age to the Jews of Galilee. This simple statement told the Jews that they were freed from the burden of the dead Law.

But, …

Though to take

… that was 2000 years ago. How is this verse relevant to me? How can I use this verse to help me today?

  • the time (to act) is now. I can make a change now — to the world, to myself — that can make a difference.
  • Where is the kingdom of God? I am in the wilderness, but the kingdom is within reach. I don’t think of life after death, but I do think of the angels helping me, and I do think of the state of well-being that comes with living and acting in harmony with the Lord.
  • “repent and believe in the gospel”. These two go together: believing the gospel gives me a motivation to repent, gives me a positive replacement for sin, and gives me the strength to see repentance through to redemption (I hope!).

TtT

  • Act now.
  • Believe in the gospel and repent.

Help, Yield

I read this passage last Friday, when I was feeling angry and anxious (for separate reasons). Although I didn’t think so explicitly at the time — at the time I thought, “let’s see what next week’s reading should be” — I /turned to scripture/ in reponse to these feelings of anger and anxiety.

I have had verse 15 in my head all week, pondering on what it means, and it has helped me train my attention and lift my mood.

Mark 1:9-13

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

[No pic this week :(]

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.

Recognise What is true

Verse 9: Jesus comes out to John to be baptised. Baptism is about repentance and forgiveness. If Jesus is without sin, why does he seek baptism? Is baptism important even without sin? Perhaps, although Jesus is without sin, he doesn’t “assume” he is without sin, or claim entitlements on that basis.

Verse 11: I enjoy saying this phrase about my son, only half in jest because it is true. I also wonder about God saying it to me (& by extension to everyone, or at least to those who have sought and received baptism). A confirmation of my intimate relationship with God, and of his continuing love and support.

Verses 10 & 12: The Spirit acts immediately on baptism. In verse 10 it descends on the baptisee (?), then in verse 12 it drives the baptisee out into the wilderness. Seeking and receiving baptism is an invitation to the Spirit. More mundanely and practically, I could see myself being filled with enthusiasm after such a landmark event.

Verses 12 & 13: Why does the Spirit drag me off into the wilderness to face trials? What does that mean? (In this passage I am seeing Christ as a kind of everyman, and this episode as a description of baptism.) The Holy Spirit objectively knows the best path from where I am now to salvation, and will pull me along that path. Being pulled along that path will force me to face certain obstacles and confront certain weaknesses. Thse confrontations will be the ones that are necessary, whether I like it or not — not the ones I would chose. The Spirit confronts Jesus with the Devil himself.

From a more psychological perpective: when I am enthused and inspired by baptism and the Holy Spirit, my internal battle becomes stronger — not just to forego indulgence today, but to become a new kind of person. As well as my desire to be good and to follow Jesus, I have these other desires and weaknesses — lust, anxiety, sarcasm, … I have to own up and admit I enjoy these things. These demons (which are part of me) will put up more of a fight when they know I am trying to give them up for good.

Though to take

I am very struck that even Jesus seeks out and receives baptism, even when surely he needs no forgiveness. That speaks of a profound humility, which I love.

I haven’t taken baptism but I do feel that my struggles have heightened since I’ve been thinking of myself as Christian. I had been experiencing those struggles as personal failures. Verse 13 tells me (I think) that the Spirit is dragging me to face these challenges. These are the things I must overcome and leave behind. I must make that decision now rather than later.

TtT

  • Seek and receive baptism
  • The Holy Spirit brings challenges as well as guidance

Help, Yield

Over the past few weeks, remembering that the Holy Spirit brings challenges has helped me push myself through difficulty, resist indulgence, and give attention and affection to others (even when I am struck down by Man Flu!).

Mark 1: 7-8

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

Recognise What is true

Like Mark points away from himself towards the Gospel, John points away from himself towards Christ, and the forthcoming real baptism.

I struggle to imagine what being baptised with the Holy Spirit would be like. In being baptised in water by a person, I am taking part in a ritual that stands for something else; being baptised with the Holy Spirit by Jesus would be real forgiveness, real acceptance and real empowerment.

In my imagination baptism has a strong sensual aspect too (although I’ve never knowingly been baptised) — immersion in water, washing away sins. I can’t help wondering about sensual aspects of the Holy Spirit.

Though to take

These puzzles possessed me so much I failed to see the most important point. Just like the people from Jerusalem went to John seeking baptism and forgiveness, I must go to Jesus, and repent, and ask for forgiveness.

TtT

  • Go to Jesus, repent my sins, ask for forgiveness

Help, Yield

I think I’ve been running away from that thought this last week or so.

Regime

I realised too late that today was actually Friday and not Thursday. I had written out the week’s verses (Mark 1:7-8), and I have been pondering productively through the week, but I didn’t have time to write up and publish (after I realised that it was indeed Friday). And I shan’t have decent writing opportunity (this doesn’t count) until Sunday evening.

Part of me thinks, “What have I got myself into? I’ve got too much to do already!”

A stronger part of me thinks that this is not an onerous task, it will do me a lot of good, and the discipline will have a beneficial effect on other parts of my life.

So the weekly plan is still the aim.

Mark 1:6

[Office internet was down last Friday hence late posting.]

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

Recognise What is true

John is an outsider — part of the wilderness.

The points raised here are not held against John. They are used to show that John is not worldly or graceful.

This lack is worth pointing out because it shows that John was focussed on more important things: his mission as baptist and forerunner.

Though to take

John knew his mission was important so he kept his focus on that and was not distracted by worldly temptations. I am not good as resisting distractions. I can be better at that by having more faith in my mission — not as grand as John’s, but in some ways the same. My real mission, over and above providing for my family, is preparing the way for the Lord, bringing Him closer to earth and earth closer to Him.

TtT

  • Be clear about what my mission really is
  • Have faith in my mission

Help, Yield

This positive message has helped keep me on the straight and narrow.

Mark 1: 4-5

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

Recognise What is true

Mark does not think John’s background or history are important to relate. What is important is what John is doing now.

John is baptising “in the wilderness” — away from the hurly-burly of the town, away from the established churches, away from where people live and work normally. People are “going out to him” — John is not baptising where people are already, they are taking a journey to go and meet him.

Irrelevant perhaps, but I can’t help recalling that “in the wilderness” is where Jesus is taken and tempted by the devil (verse 12, a different bit of wilderness perhaps).

Baptism involves: going out, confessing sins, repenting, and receiving forgiveness. Forgiveness is not given by the person baptising, but by the higher authority (?). The confession is public, at least in the sense that it is given to another person.

Though to take

This process of confession and repentance — including having that process recognised — will free me from the sins I have committed. Free me from guilt and remorse, and more importantly, free me from the demonic pull to sin again. It doesn’t seem to be something I can do alone … and it’ll be a long time before I can confess anything to anyone IRL.

Confession in prayer is not effective: it is irregular, it is separated from the moment, it feels fleeting and ephemeral. By the end of the day (when I pray) I often have more than one thing to confess (!) and I will generally dwell on one of them. At bedtime I’m mostly thinking about my family and my wife.

An apology is a bit like a confession. An apology is recognised like a confession is. An apology is about something specific. I shall be eager to apologise when I sin against people around me.

I want to confess failures promptly. One way I can do this is with written confessional prayers. Opening my diary and writing down the confession will take me out of my day. The writing and addressing the confession to God will challenge me to be specific and sincere, and to reach out for the help I need. Receiving forgiveness there and then, in the aftermath of shame, will help attach the forgiveness to the sin and help me remember and avoid next time I am tempted.

TtT

  • Confess and repent, and receive forgiveness.
  • Confess in the moment, confess specifically.

Help, Yield

I had a bad relapse last Friday (in fact last week was a very relapsy week) and read this passage soon afterwards. Remorse and my failure to extricate myself were very much in my mind. Reading these verses exacerbated that.

This week these verses have weighed on my mind, and that has kept me from failing in the same way.

This week I apologised promptly to my sister for a fairly gratuitous slight.

This morning I had a little victory over myself, opting for the right actions and ways of thinking.

Mark 1: 1-3

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

Recognise what is true

The other gospels open with a rhetorical flourish (Matthew’s genealogy, Luke’s letter to his patron, John’s allusion to Genesis), but Mark is relatively plain and to the point.

Verse 2 quietly asserts the relevance of the Old Testament to Christians — not just as prophecy, but also as interpretation and commentary.

The quotation prepares the reader for the introduction of John the Baptist in the next verses.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord” was the opening song from a musical called Godspell, that my mother was a big fan of in the early 70s.

Thought to take

Reading now, I want to be such a messenger — preparing the way of/for Christ, and leading others to do the same. That must include settings an example of how to live, as well as explicitly promoting the Gospel. I also want to be a messenger for Christ to myself, to make my own paths straight — or, to make the Lord’s paths straight by walking them myself.

I shall be a good messenger for Christ. Always be ready to receive messages from Christ, listen and watch. Take and treasure messages and deliver them carefully, to others and to myself.

I shall not run for messages from other sources. On receiving a bogus message (profane prompts, sinful urges) I shall hit pause, and look to Christ for resolution.

TtT

  • Be a messenger for Christ
  • Make His paths straight

Help

The slogan “Make His Paths Straight” has been useful for the most trivial things and the most foundational things — motivating me to keep my time organised at work, to carve through drudgery efficiently and cheerfully, to get up if I wake early instead of dozing listlessly. Although I am tired and anxious about work, this slogan has urged me to (try and) put that aside when my wife or our son are near, and to give them my full attention.

Yield

Receiving a message from Christ would be an honour and a joy. Unfortunately, my receiver works rather intermittently. It’s quite good during quiet times or prayer times, the rest of the time I need to work on picking up His signal over my internal noise.

It’s easy to say I am pulled aside by temptation, but I choose to follow those signals.

I pray this study course will bring Him closer to my heartbeat.

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