Who Are These Guys?

If you want to win the gold medal for basketball in the Olympics, you can’t get much better than the 1992 USA “Dream Team.”

This group of men would go down in history as “the greatest sports team ever assembled.” After a disastrous 1988 run at the Olympics – losing to the USSR and settling for bronze – the USA recruited professional players for the first time ever. This hall-of-fame lineup included Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Scotty Pippen, Patrick Ewing, and Carl Malone. They were a force to be reckoned with, to put it lightly.

Needles to say, the Dream Team put the US back on top by winning the gold medal in 1992. And it wasn’t even close – the closest game happened to be the gold medal game against Croatia and was won by 32 points (117 to 85).

The sheer dominance of this team, their performance and teamwork, cannot be understated. They took the world by storm and are now a thing of legend. They were the best of the best of the best.
___________________
If you want to assemble a team to begin a world-changing movement that would alter the course of history as we know it, you can’t get much worse than the Twelve.

In Mark 3 we see that Jesus is amassing a following. His movement is growing and gaining momentum. He could have stayed in the spotlight and enjoyed being the sole leader of this revival. But he knew that wouldn’t work in the long run. Countless others have tried that. And when the leader dies or leaves, the movement dies with him.

Jesus, as a Rabbi, chose twelve men to be his disciples. These men would spend all their time with Jesus. They would eat with him, sleep by him, travel with him, and hang on his every word. The goal of a disciple was to teach like his rabbi, speak like his rabbi, eat like his rabbi, interact with people like his rabbi – even, and this is true, relieve himself like his rabbi. The Rabbi-Disciple relationship was one in which the disciple was becoming more and more like his rabbi every day.

Jesus knew the importance of his mission and the sheer scope of what he was trying to do. You would think he would try to assemble the “Dream Team,” right? I can imagine him going to the synagogues, the Temple, the places of learning and religious devotion to recruit the brightest and best young men with the most potential. I mean, that’s what we would do.

But of course, that’s not what Jesus did. He looked out at the crowd that had gathered and made his selection then and there.

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
(Mark 3:13-19)

We don’t know much about these men, but we do know some things. We know from the start that these were not the religious elites. They weren’t already disciples of another Rabbi, which means they hadn’t made the cut when they were younger.

These weren’t just the worst players in the NBA. These were the guys that got cut from their high school teams.

James and John were fishermen. Their father, Zebedee, owned his own fishing business with several boats and other hired men. Simon/Peter and his brother Andrew were probably business partners with James and John. They were uneducated blue-collar workers. How were they going to change the world?

Matthew, also called Levi whom we met earlier, was a tax collector for the Roman government. The other man named Simon came from a group of assassins and guerrilla warriors known as the Zealots. The Zealots hated Rome with a passion. They were commonly regarded as terrorists whose sole purpose was to drive the Roman army out of their territory. Simon would have tried to kill tax collectors like Matthew.

We don’t know a lot about Judas Iscariot, but he was probably from a wealthy family. He was the one in charge of the money. He had problems with greed. He didn’t like the way Jesus was going about his mission, and so Judas would betray him to the Jewish officials.

Nobodies. Fishermen. Tax Collectors. Assassins. Swindlers and Conmen.

Are these the men with which Jesus was to inaugurate the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth? Are these really the guys who would help Jesus overthrow evil, defeat death, and bring about a whole new world order?

Apparently.

Twelve disciples. One Rabbi. Three years.

Go.
_______________________________

Who Is This Guy?

We just finished the Christmas season. One of my favorite Christmas hymns is “What Child Is This?” From his conception and birth there was something different about the one they called Jesus. But who is he? What makes him so special?

-WHO IS JESUS?-

I believe that is the most important question you will ever have to answer. And believe me – everyone has an answer for that question. Every single person in the world has their own answer, even if it’s “I don’t know.”

So who is Jesus to you?

You might give the good Sunday school answers: Savior, Messiah, Christ, Lord, King, Son of God, Holy, Perfect, God with Us, Prince of Peace, Friend, Brother, The Word.

He is indeed all this and more. However, do we really understand what those titles and roles actually mean? Probably not. It’s like when you first began to be curious about your dad’s job. When you were young, you probably asked your dad what he did. And he probably told you, but you as a four-year-old had no idea what a proctologist or a regional manager or a vice president of finances was. But you would tell your friends just to impress them.

Hopefully in the coming weeks we will begin to actually understand what those titles actually mean.

-WHO DO PEOPLE SAY THAT I AM?-

There’s an interesting conversation Jesus has with his disciples right in the middle of Mark’s Gospel. He asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:27-28)

Who is Jesus from a worldly point of view today? If you were to ask the average Joe off the street what they thought about Jesus, what might they say?

He’s a good teacher. He’s a myth. He’s a prophet. He’s a religious zealot who got himself killed. He’s a Jewish rabbi who became a legend. He’s a nobody.

Basically any answer you would get could start with the word “just.” He’s just ________________. But as we take a look through the Gospel of Mark, we will see that Jesus isn’t just anything. He isn’t even just the Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God. He’s all that and more. Jesus is more than we can ever really grasp. That’s why people had such a hard time figuring him out. Even his closest disciples and friends – even his own family – didn’t really know what to make of him.

-JESUS IS…-

So who is Jesus? We’re going to dive into Mark’s Gospel to find out. But since Mark isn’t too patient in his writing, he spoils the whole thing right off the bat.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…
(Mark 1:1)

Every word of that sentence is loaded. “The beginning” automatically takes our minds back to Genesis 1 – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Mark wants us to know that something new is happening. Creation 2.0 is underway.

“The good news” is a very specific phrase that Mark is using. Our word “gospel” comes from the Old English phrase “good spell,” meaning a good word/news. It’s rooted in the Greek word evangelion, from which we get the word “evangelism.” This was a very familiar concept in the Roman world. Whenever a Roman general was victorious in battle, they would send messengers into the surrounding territories to tell the “good news” about the victory over their enemies. Or if a new emperor took the throne, messengers would go throughout the empire proclaiming the “good news” about the new Caesar, often hailed as a “son of the gods.” Mark uses that word intentionally, signaling that a great victory has been won and a new king is on the throne.

“About Jesus…” Did you know that wasn’t his name? Jesus comes from the Greek-ified (or Hellenized) version of the Hebrew name Yeshua. In English that would be the name Joshua. It was a super common name back then, and it’s still a super common name in our culture. But it’s a powerful name. It means “YHWH saves.” His name is his mission.

“The Messiah” is a term that means “anointed one.” This refers to an anointing ceremony that would set a person aside (sanctify) for a specific purpose – to become king or to achieve a specific task for God and his people, etc. This word is also translated “Christ.”

“The Son of God” is a phrase taken directly from Psalm 2, which was a coronation song in Israel commemorating the crowning of a new king in Jerusalem. In the middle of Psalm 2 God says, “You are my son, today I have become your Father.”

Mark makes it clear from the very beginning who he thinks Jesus is. He’s stating his thesis, and everything to follow is meant as evidence to back up his thesis. This gospel account is crammed full of people trying to figure out who Jesus is, and inviting the reader along on the journey of discovery.

Take the first chapter, for instance. That’s where we will begin. Grab your Bible or Bible app (or click on this link) to read Mark 1:4-39. Try and spot all the times we’re told who Jesus is or what he is doing. There’s also one big question asked about Jesus in chapter 1.

Who is Jesus according to Mark 1?

  • One more powerful than John the Baptist, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:7-8)
  • God’s Son, with whom God is well pleased (1:11)
  • Rabbi, calling his disciples (1:16-20)
  • The Holy One of God (1:24)
  • Exorcist (1:27)
  • Healer (1:30-34)
  • Traveling preacher/miracle worker/exorcist (1:39)

What big question is asked about Jesus in Mark 1?

“What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
(Mark 1:27)

When he commanded the demon and drove it out, the people had never seen anything like that. They were completely astonished at Jesus’ authority. You see, it’s one thing to claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God. It’s another thing to back it up with actions that others can see and report on. (We’ll get deeper into that in chapter 2.)

-BE LIKE JESUS-

Mark’s gospel also focuses on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We are introduced to Jesus’ first disciples in chapter 1 – Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These two sets of brothers were also professional fishermen. Jesus, a rabbi, called them to be his disciples – and they dropped everything to follow him. The rabbi-disciple relationship was quite unique. We don’t really have anything like that in the US. A disciple was a student, the rabbi was a teacher. But the goal wasn’t just to learn what the rabbi knew. The goal was to live as the rabbi lived and to do what the rabbi did.

Disciples of Jesus should strive to BE LIKE JESUS. Not necessarily to perform miracles and drive out demons. But there are things we can learn from Jesus and imitate in our own lives as his followers. Here’s what I see from chapter 1.

BE BAPTIZED.
Jesus was baptized. His disciples were baptized. He commands others to baptize and be baptized. You should do it, too. In my understanding, the journey of discipleship doesn’t really begin until you commit your life to Christ in the waters of baptism.

KEEP THE MESSAGE SIMPLE.
So often the biggest hinderance in sharing our faith with others is the fear that we don’t know enough. I would disagree with that. Jesus’ first message was as simple as it comes – “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” You don’t have to deliver a doctoral level thesis paper in order to share your faith with someone. Invite them to church. Tell them what God has done in your life. Let them know that Jesus loves them and that they can experience grace and forgiveness. Keep it simple.

TAKE TIME FOR PEOPLE.
Jesus invested in his disciples. He chose them, he called them, and he shared his life with them. He also took time for people like Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever. Jesus took her by the hand and healed her. Jesus was never too busy, never too rushed, never too hurried to stop and spend time with people who needed him. Take time for the people who matter most to you. Invest in those relationships.

VALUE YOUR ALONE TIME WITH GOD.
Even in the hustle and bustle of his life, Jesus made time to spend with God. He had to get up very early in the morning to do it, but he prioritized it. Jesus knew that he couldn’t make it through the day without spending time in prayer and worship with God. For so many of us, time is our most precious resource. We just don’t have enough of it. So make sure that God and others are getting the “first fruits” of your time.

DON’T GO WITH THE CROWD.
The disciples found Jesus praying alone and kind of told him off. “Everyone is looking for you!” But Jesus didn’t take the bait. He could have gone back to the crowd, amassed a following, grown in his popularity and celebrity status. But he didn’t. He kept his mission small. I can’t help but think of our culture today. If it could be summed up by one phrase, I think “everyone is looking for you” would be a really good one. We are expected to be available 24/7 via text, Snapchat, or DM. If we get a notification, we better check it and respond immediately. Jesus tells us not to take the bait. If you always give in to the notion that “everyone is looking for you,” then you are giving other people way too much control over your life.
___________________________________

For an excellent introduction to the Gospel of Mark, check out this video by The Bible Project.


Greater Things

Who was your favorite teacher?

Think back to your high school and college years. I’m sure there are 2 or 3 teachers/professors who had a profound impact on you. They didn’t just tell you what to think, they taught you how to think. They shared their stories, their insights, their knowledge, even their lives with you. You view the world differently because of them.

You wouldn’t be the person you are today without them.

Their influence doesn’t stop in the classroom. Their influence reaches the farthest reaches of the world because of you. You take their teachings with you wherever you go. Their influence is in fact greater now than could ever be while you were still in the classroom. I’m sure there are things they taught you that didn’t even make sense until later in life. Now that you have more experience and understanding, you really get what they were trying to do.

A good teacher’s influence is only constrained to the white board, the worksheets, the tests, or the four cinder block walls while the students are in the classroom.

In John 14:12, Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus is not saying that they will do more impressive, more astonishing works than he did. How could anything be more amazing than raising Lazarus from the dead? What Jesus means is that a new era is dawning. At his resurrection everything he has said and done will make sense. While Jesus was performing his earthly ministry, people were unable to understand why he said and did certain things. But with the resurrection, all was made clear.

The disciples, Jesus says, will now be able to do what Jesus did and even greater things precisely because he is leaving them. He will be with the Father. But he is sending his Spirit to dwell in the believers. And whatever they ask in his name, according to his will, he will do.

Look through the book of Acts. Countless more people accepted God’s salvation after Jesus left than did during Jesus’ ministry. The gospel had much greater reach and influence in the post-resurrection era than it did before.

These “greater works” could not be accomplished while Jesus was still with the disciples just as a teacher’s influence cannot spread while the students are sitting in their desks.

Jesus Called Them One By One

My wife and I were talking the other day about how to make the Bible more relatable to teenagers. The go-to Characters seem to be Joseph, David, and Timothy. These three started out their journey with God early in their teen years. But after awhile, these stories tend to lose their novelty and their impact.

Then we got to thinking, what about the apostles? Most of our lives, we have viewed Jesus and his apostles like this:

Not only are they white (??), but they’re all old. Two even have gray beards!

But really, how old would the first disciples have been? Probably between 17-25. Barely old enough to have beards, much less gray ones!

Peter and Matthew were probably the oldest, given that Peter was married and Matthew was an established tax collector. But the others were probably not much older than high school seniors when Jesus called them. Jesus himself was only about 30. Why would he go calling disciples as old or older than he was?

Even Paul was probably not much older than 25 when he was called.

Granted, a 17 year old in 1st century Palestine was not exactly the same as a 17 year old in 21st century suburbia. But the simple realization that many of the disciples and many of Jesus’ friends (Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and others) would have been in their late teens or early twenties makes the story of Jesus that much more accessible.

Yes, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” But he also called teenagers and young adults.