Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Gospel of Mark: It All Boils Down to This

Suppose you knew the world would end in a matter of days. Not in the religious sense—as if Jesus is coming back. What if you knew that an asteroid was going to hit this planet in a very short time. Scientists told you, “The earth will not survive the hit. It is all over!” What would you do? How would you spend your remaining days? Would you continue to go to work? What would you do? That is the premise of a movie that came out a few year ago, appropriately titled: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Watch this clip.



So, what would you do?

It really comes down to a fundamental question, doesn’t it? “What is life for?” Have you ever asked that question? I fear that many of us live life so quickly that we don’t stop long enough to ask that question often enough. But all of us have asked that question, or, you will find yourself asking that question some time in your life. And for us, people who profess faith in Jesus Christ, that question is even more important. Why has God placed us here on this earth?

Now, it should come as no surprise to you that Christians have answered that question in all sorts of ways throughout history.
God placed us here to live moral lives.
God placed us here to be an example to the world.
God placed us here to worship…and in the right way.
God placed us here to challenge the empires of the world, including our own.
Christians have answered this question in all sorts of ways. But suppose we had the chance to sit down with God and ask him to boil it all down for us, to tell us what was most important! Imagine that God Himself were sitting here in human form. We had a stool for Him to sit on, and we had the opportunity to ask him this question:

“God, why are we here?”

Church, wouldn’t you just love to hear God answer that one question?

Read Mark 12:28–34 CEB.

Well, if you have ever desired to hear God answer that question, there you go! When asked by a religious leader of His day, “What is the greatest (most important) commandment, Jesus answer was clear and unambiguous:

Love God. And love each other.

This answer is so much more powerful if you understand what is happening all around Jesus. This encounter of Jesus and this scribe comes after a series of questions posed to Jesus by all of the religious leaders of the day. The chief priests came asking Jesus about authority in chapter 11. The Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus to settle a church and state question in the beginning of chapter 12. Just before the encounter we just read, the Sadducees came asking Him about the Resurrection. I’m convinced that some things never change! If Jesus were to appear in the midst of the 21st century church, I’m sure we would have our questions ready too.
God, what will the end of times look like?
God, how should a Christian interact with culture?
God, what do you think about war?
God, who is going to heaven?
God, do you plan to vote for a Republican or a Democrat in the next election?
God, how should we worship?
God, what should church look like?
I’m convinced that if Jesus showed up, we would have our long list of questions to ask Him.

But if one of us finally asked Jesus this “question of questions,” like the scribe did that day, I can just imagine Jesus perking up, like He’d been just waiting for us to ask Him a question that really mattered, a question of substance! “What is most important, Jesus?”

Love God. And love each other.

This encounter between Jesus and the scribe is pretty interesting. Jesus answers his question. And then the scribe responds to Jesus saying, “I agree with You. To love God and your neighbor, that’s more important than anything else, including how you worship!” Now, listen, don’t let that statement get away without realizing who said it! A scribe! A religious leader who specialized in making sure worship happened in the right way, and he is the one who says: all of this is so much more important than even worship! Jesus is so impressed with his response that He does something quite unusual. He says to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” This is the only time in the entire Gospel of Mark that Jesus gives a compliment to a religious leader.

There is a reason Jesus gives him a compliment. Because this guy gets it. The religious people of His day were so busy being religious, engaging in their religious arguments, making sure they know who is in and who is out, making sure all of the laws are followed—all of the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted, from the midst of a busy and distracted religious world, this guy gets it. This scribe understands why we are here. I think he understands much better than I do sometimes.

I had a heart to heart conversation with one of my good friends recently about life. More specifically about the Christian life and ministry. I told him:

“I feel like I spend so much time maintaining the structures that we’ve put in place to do church that I forget what it is all about.”

I grew up in a Christian home and I have been taught what “being a Christian” is all about. It’s about coming to worship. It’s about going to Bible class. It’s about staying away from certain places and people. And after I became a Christian minister, I learned what it meant to be a Christian minister. It meant writing lessons for classes and sermons. It meant trying to design an appealing worship service that would maintain your attention and even attract new people. It meant maintaining office hours and maintaining a building. It meant organizing potlucks. It meant challenging you to get up early and come to Bible class. It meant making sure this system that those who came before me put in place continues to run smoothly so that my children will be able to step in my place and continue to maintain the system.

From the midst of this system, from the midst of my life, I must ask this question: What is being a disciple of Jesus Christ all about? What is most important? In my more cynical moments, I’ve wondered, if our ultimate goal is to love God and love each other, if we were to start over today with only those goals, what would we do differently? Would our system look the same? I think some things, maybe many things, would. But I pray that we will never become so wed to our way of doing things that we wake up one day to find that we have more allegiance to our system, to our institution, than we do Jesus’ mandate that we love God and love each other. May we never believe our methods are more important or more holy than the One toward whom our methods have been created to bring us.

Throughout our study of Mark, we’ve asked the question: “What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?” So, what do you think? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Well, at the end of the day, it all boils down to this. Disciples of Jesus Christ love God. And they love each other. And in loving God and loving each other, we do not turn our backs on the rest of God’s laws. In loving God and loving each other, we, in fact, fulfill the entirety of God’s Law.

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