Archive for April, 2016


Rolling Fevers

needleIt’s been a rough couple of days. I had a night of high fever a couple of nights ago, topping out at 39.8 deg. They’ve been pumping me full of red blood cells and platelets as my counts have bottomed out and continue dropping. That’s left me feeling vaguely unwell at times, and shaking like a leaf at others. I’ve just found out that my PICC line has to come out from an infection risk, so I’m looking forward to a few days of non-stop needles ahead. Not so flash. But that’s life, and we continue to walk the journey that the Lord has put ahead of us, knowing that somehow it’s all for my good (Rom 8:28), even if it doesn’t seem so at the time.

Reflections on Mark 6:1-13 Read the passage

It’s a strange division to make, as 6:1-6 really belongs to the previous material and 6:7-13 belongs, probably as a sandwich, with the following. But let’s just notice a few things.

Jesus is treated with contempt in his home town because they’ve known him since a child. They know his social status (carpenter) and family connections (related to Mary and brothers and sisters). They recognise the amazing nature of his teaching, but they can’t bring themselves to believe that the boy who grew up as a carpenter in their village could really be the Messiah. Jesus is unable to do much, not because his unlimited power is dependent on their faith, but because his miracles and exorcisms are markers of the progression of the kingdom, and his own home town are rejecting the kingdom.

Familiarity is a great spiritual danger. Ironically, one of the greatest blessings: growing up in a Christian home, decades spent in church, can also be a great spiritual danger. We can become so familiar with Jesus, with the stories, with the gospel that it loses its power to surprise us, to delight us, to inspire us. That’s a very dangerous place to be.

Jesus then sends out the twelve with bizarre restrictions. Some have seen this as a permanent prescription for ministry, particularly the Franciscan monks. One need only notice that there are several different prescriptions for ministry in the NT, and many different practices, to see that this is a specific instruction to specific people at a specific time. Why does Jesus do it? Perhaps to teach his disciples radical dependence on God. If that is the case they are slow learners, as we’ll see in the two mass feedings still to come in Mark. We in the West are extremely poor at depending on God. We take few risks, believe that our finances provide us ‘security’, and generally follow the same career paths and decisions that everyone else in Australia take. What we fail to realise is that none of these things actually keep us safe. If anything, they endanger us to join the spiritual apathy of our country, who consider these things normal. It’s only when we’re willing to break from the ‘normal’ and take risks for Jesus that we really can be safe in a way that counts: having our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. I suspect our society will help us in that task, as Christianity gets more on the nose and soft persecution of Christians grows.

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Losing My Religion

41hnqvwfill-_sx324_bo1204203200_As I’ve done in the past, I want to offer some reflections on this book which I just finished reading. After big reviews from Rob at church I was very much looking forward to reading this book. It’s an assessment of unbelief in Australia and I’ve learnt plenty from reading it. Tom Frame attacks the idea of unbelief from several different angles, including historical, philosophical and theological. This approach has strengths and weaknesses. The strength is that if you’re relatively unfamiliar with philosophical influences, theological trends and overseas authors, he gives you a well-rounded appreciation of some of the factors in the mix. The weakness is that he spends less time actually focusing on unbelief in Australia.

Particularly insightful was Frame’s historical sections. I didn’t realise how pragmatically atheist Australia had begun. Religion really didn’t become a major part of the cultural landscape until close to Federation, when rising affluence led to a desire to express greater respectability. Religion was a key way to be respectable. Really the religious highpoint of Australian life was the first half of the twentieth century. The claim that this is a Christian nation is a debatable point. It didn’t start much that way and it doesn’t seem too much that way now, but there were some decades when it seemed so.

Another enlightening historical discovery was Frame’s reflection on more recent history. The terror attacks of 9/11 and the Bali bombing turned Western, and particularly Australian opinions on religion. Though the attacks were both perpetrated in the name of only one religion (Islam), religious ignorance (aren’t all religions much the same?) led the blame for such attacks to fall on religion in general (every religion has its extremists). Given that the vast majority of religious people in Australia are Christian, rather than Muslim, a lot of the heat and suspicion generated in response to such threats has been turned on Christians, who in many cases are the only ‘religious’ people someone might know. That seems a little unfair, but that’s the air we’ve come to breathe.

Given the strength of Frame’s historical work, I would have liked to have seen more of it. It seems to me, and maybe I’m being a bit too controversial, that there were significant sources of influence since the latter twentieth century which deserve some historical analysis for their part in promoting unbelief in Australia. The media comes immediately to mind. Have the media pushed a secularising agenda or is it just perception? Were there key players along the way that shaped media output in a particular direction? Was it the Christians fault for disengaging from media at some key stage? What about the effects of feminism on belief patterns? Has feminism been religiously neutral or has its widespread influence affected belief patterns? Were there particular feminist personalities who also pushed particular positions on belief? I have the same kinds of questions about the LGBT lobby. What about the rise of the Christian Democrat Party and Australian Christian Lobby? How do they play into the mix. These are controversial questions I know, but this is the kind of historical analysis I would have loved to see in this book.

Frame’s book is worth a read. Some sections might interest you more than others. I sense a certain defensiveness in his writing (or pastoral sensitivity), wanting to counter the voices of unbelief that he reports, which might leave you cheering or frustrated. But as a general introduction to unbelief in Australia he covers the bases well.

Rock Bottom

b52bc420e853ca8e176228b9aefa2a89My counts, that is. I’m pretty much on the minimum for all my blood counts. My immune system is zero and red blood cells and platelets are at minimum levels before a transfusion. I’ve just been told to expect a platelet transfusion today, so I guess the top up cycle has begun until my bone marrow recovers enough to do this job by itself. I feel a bit shaky and weak today. I never know whether it’s psychosomatic or the real effects of my blood levels. Either way it’s good to know I’m in good care here at the hospital, but even more so in the sovereign and loving arms of God.

Reflections on Mark 4:21-34 Read the passage

Honestly I find these parables tricky to work out. Not because they are hard to translate, but because they feel really vague. There seems to be so many possibilities, how can we know which one is right? The temptation is to parrot a ‘stock’ interpretation that I’ve heard before. The risk here is that some of the symbology (such as light and lamp) is quite common. It would be a mistake to assume a light or lamp always means the same thing, however. We have to work harder than a mere cross reference if we want to work out what Jesus means here.

All very dramatic, but I’m not overly confident I really know how to take these parables. Let’s start like always, by assembling what we know. We know the wider context is the inside / outside division of parables from chapters 3 and 4. We know that division is based on attitudes to Jesus, perhaps summarised by Jesus’ catchphrase ‘If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.’ (4:23) We know that God desires fruitfulness, but people have different responses to the word. (4:1-20)

What do we make of 4:21-23? We have a plain statement to work with: v22. What is hidden is meant to be revealed. It suggests that things are hidden only for a time, their ultimate purpose to be revealed. But what is he talking about? The kingdom? People’s behaviour / status?

V24-25 focus on Jesus’ listeners. The way they listen / judge will be the way they are judged. This suggests that the thing they have in v25 is knowledge / connection to Jesus. Those who push to the inside receive more knowledge of Jesus (just like his disciples 4:10).

v26-29 is clearly about the kingdom. It seems to grow by itself, just like a farmer’s crop. The growth leads to a time of harvest, which is often in Jesus’ parables a symbol for judgement. Given the tone of judgement in the previous verses, that seems like a reasonable assumption to me.

v30-32 Here the emphasis is on the growing kingdom. It starts small, but quickly becomes massive.

v33-34 wrap up the parable section. What can we say then? I think these parables are about where our days are heading. While things are unclear now: who is in/out of the kingdom, the greatness of the kingdom, etc., things will clear up at the end of this age. There will be a great judgement, the kingdom of God will be finalised and people will be divided along the lines of their response to Jesus.

What does this mean for us? First, the biggest decision you’ll make in your life is what you think about Jesus. Nothing could have a greater impact on your eternal future. Push into Jesus, therefore. Leave no stone unturned in getting to know him more. Second, the church, which seems to grow weaker and more pathetic each year compared to other institutions like the government, AFL, multinational companies and media organisations, will actually be the most powerful thing on earth one day. In fact a day is coming when, if you’re not in the church of Jesus Christ (the spiritual reality, not an earthly denomination), then you won’t live. As John says of heaven in Rev 21:27 “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Don’t despise your local church. It is the local outpost of heaven’s future glory. The church is the future and those who join in the very trendy activity of pouring scorn on ‘organised religion’ may just find themselves cut off from the very one they claimed to be on closest terms with. Jesus is all about his church, and all who call themselves Christians ought to be as well.

Countdown

countdownlogoMy counts have dropped even lower. It looks like I’m in for a while and the hope of a quick cycle turn around is evaporating. That’s ok. The family’s coming to visit today and I haven’t been ‘stuck’ much in hospital so far this round. It’s really just a mental battle, not a physical struggle, to make the most of the time I’ve got.

Reflections on Mark 4:1-20 Read the passage

Mark introduces us to Jesus’ teaching ministry with one of his most famous parables, the parable of the sower. I want to suggest that it’s one of the least understood passages in Mark, however. The stock way to explain parables is that Jesus uses earthly pictures to explain heavenly realities. That is, parables help people understand. But is that true? How does Jesus explain his use of parables? “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables” (4:11). We get a hint here again of the ‘inside / outside’ division of the previous chapter (no surprise really given that the chapter divisions were never in the original). On hearing the parable of the sower there is an immediate division between “the Twelve and the others around him” (4:10) and “those on the outside” (4:11), and Jesus says that this division is a deliberate result of his parable-teaching mission. That is, Jesus teaches in parables to make it harder for people to understand, and to require them to come to him for the truth. Those who don’t have “ears to hear” (4:9) reject the parable as a pointless statement of the agricultural obvious. Those who do have ears to hear move near Jesus to find out what it means. This divides people based on their attitude to Jesus, and it is still true today, even in the hospital ward. There are those with cancer here who look forward to joining Jesus in heaven, those who appreciate prayer, and those who are angry at everything, especially God.These responses are heartfelt and run deep.

Jesus says that the parable of the sower is the key to understanding all parables (4:13). What are we to make of it? Many approach the parable by trying to work out whether they are in or out of the kingdom, but I’m convinced this is a mistake. Jesus doesn’t tell this parable to help us work out if we are saved, but what we’re saved for. The point is not that you can go to church your whole life but miss out on the kingdom (which is true enough). The point is to live a fruitful life for Jesus. That is why we are saved. Salvation is not a box-ticking exercise that gets us over the line so that we can go back to doing what we did before. Salvation is a life transformation. We now have a whole new point to life: to be fruitful.

What will rob us of fruitfulness? The soils warn us of the dangers. Soil 1 (the path) reminds us that we must respond first to the word. Satan is at work trying to restrict the spread of the word because he knows that it is key to the spread of the kingdom. Clearly we should be people who value the word, trying to spread the word.

Soil 2 (the rocks) warns us that we can have a shallow understanding and expectation of Christianity. We can expect that life will get better when you become a Christian. We can live for this life now rather than the one to come, put all our eggs in this basket (just as Australian society does). This will fly back in our face most profoundly if we end up suffering for the gospel. How can we suffer for being a ‘good Christian’ if Christianity was meant to make our life better? I suspect the soil is shifting in Australia, and a lot more (soft) persecution is coming our way. Are you ready? Do you expect to suffer for Christ? You’ll never be fruitful if you’re not willing to suffer.

Soil 3 (the weeds) is perhaps our greatest struggle. What is the danger here? “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things” (4:19). The worries of this life (like cancer) take our eyes off eternal things and have us trying to live our best life now. This means we become selfish, not able to give to others, not able to miss out. The fear of missing out is a paralyzing concern in Australia today. This fear is based on death being the end of life, not a belief that Christians share. Friends, this should make a difference to how we live. The deceitfulness of wealth is also rampant in Australia, especially as our wealth continues to increase. Wealth lies to us, tells us that nothing can hurt or harm us, that we need only keep getting wealthier and we’ll be happier. Despite the fact that all these claims are statistically (not to mention anecdotally) disprovable, they are largely assumed to be true in Australian society. Don’t be a fool, don’t be deceived. Last, the desire for other things, especially material things, is the panacea of our day. Retail therapy and the entertainment industry distract us from things that actually matter. The endless junk mail that fills our letterboxes, the adds that choke our TV, give our lives a ‘focus’ as useless as the cancer that inhabits my bone marrow. Do you know the next purchase you’re saving for? Why? Don’t you have enough already? One of the freeing things about being stuck in a cancer ward is that it seems kind of pointless to read the junk mail and save up for my next purchase. We have more than we need. Let’s stop accumulating and start giving. After all, Jesus said ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35) Do you believe that? Then give.

These things hold us back from fruitfulness, but what is fruitfulness? Mark is unpacking this through his gospel. It begins with the gospel message (1:14-15), rightly recognising Jesus and coming to him (ch 3), and following Jesus (ch 1 and 2). It involves taking ‘the word’ and sharing it with others (4:14). Mark will continue to unpack fruitfulness right through to the end of his book. What’s the point of our salvation? To be fruitful. Fruitfulness is not a burden we carry through this life, it’s what we were made for. To be fruitful is to be free. Find your true freedom in fruitfulness for God.

 

Wings Clipped Again

parrot-clippedAfter three days of consecutive day leave my neutraphils have clipped my wings again. When they fall below 1.0 (they’re currently 0.9), I’m classified as neutrapenic and not allowed out of the hospital. It’s been great to get out for three days in a row and I don’t feel too cooped up yet. The whole family’s coming tomorrow so I’m looking forward to that and I had a surprise visit from Steve Williams, which was a real treat. One thing I’ve found to keep me busy on the ward is to go visiting. I had a roommate named Harry from China (not his real name) who moved upstairs for a big operation. He came across from China for treatment and has been in hospital for months now. He and his mother became Christians recently, so I’ve enjoyed reading the Bible with him each day, when I get the chance. There’s a few other cancer buddies that come and go from the ward as well which I go and chat with, do some laps of the ward and when I get the opportunity, pray with. Most of those interactions are pretty light on the spiritual side, but I hope over time that we can dig deeper into Jesus together. Evangelism is still hard in hospital.

Reflections on Mark 3:20-35 Read the passage

Here we have a Mark ‘sandwich passage’. A story on the outside is interrupted by a story on the inside. The ‘bread’ of the sandwich passage is about Jesus’ family. They hear that Jesus isn’t eating properly, and like good Mediterraneans assume that he has gone insane (3:21).

The action then switches to the ‘meat’ of the sandwich, which is an assessment of Jesus by the ruling spiritual elite, the religious experts from Jerusalem. What’s their verdict? Jesus is possessed by Satan (Beelzebul) and uses Satanic power to cast out demons (3:22). What’s Jesus response? Simple logic. It makes no sense for Satan to cast out demons because it would be shooting himself in the foot. It’s friendly fire. No kingdom can win a war when they are going around killing their own soldiers. Then Jesus gives them his interpretation of what they’re seeing in the driving out of demons: a rescue operation (3:27). In driving out demons Jesus is doing a hostage rescue operation. He’s releasing people from the power of Satan (the strong man) by overpowering him.

Then comes the verses that understandably worry lots of Christians (3:28-29) – the idea of an unforgivable sin. What is this unforgivable sin? To answer this we’ll have to look at what the religious leaders are doing. They’ve declared that Jesus’ ministry is Satanic. The work that Jesus claims is that of the Holy Spirit, they say is the work of Satan. Jesus warns that this attitude will lead to a state where forgiveness is impossible. Is it a one-off sin, or a continual situation? I think the clue is v30. The Jewish leaders were continuously saying that Jesus has an impure spirit. It was their settled, continuous position. If they persisted in this assessment then they were rejecting the one through whom they could have forgiveness. Hence it was an unforgivable sin.

Last of all we see the second ‘bread’ of the sandwich. Jesus’ family arrive, his mother and brothers (an embarrassing verse for the Vatican who claim Jesus never had brothers or sisters). Notice they stand on the outside (v31) and stay there. They are outsiders to Jesus, even though they are family. Who are the insiders? Those who do God’s will. Connection with Jesus doesn’t come from blood relation, but from following God’s will, from repenting and believing (1:15) in response to the gospel. It was only after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when his mother and brothers believed, that they two became insiders.

A sandwich passage does more than just break the flow of one story with another. The two stories talk to each other. How do these stories talk to each other? On the outside we see a story about being on the inside or outside with Jesus. We learn that biological connection won’t put you on the inside, only following the will of God. The inside story tells us that being on the religious ‘inside’ doesn’t put you on the inside unless you assess Jesus correctly, as the king of God’s kingdom come to defeat Satan and set the captives free. Their ‘insideness’ is irrelevant while they blaspheme the work of the Holy Spirit, despite the fact that they follow on in the Law of Moses. To be an insider with God we must come to Jesus in repentance and faith.

The same is true for us. A family heritage of church-goers, connection with a church over years or decades, being an ‘evangelical’, being a good person, not harming others, giving money, and more will never put us on the inside track with God. As good as all those things are, the only way to be on the inside track with God is to repent and trust Jesus. He is the source and certainty of our forgiveness. Leave that out and you are an outsider. Ultimately our ‘insideness’ is a gift that God gives us, as Jesus rescues us from the ‘strong man’ and gives us true freedom.

Some of the sights of Fitzroy

Just some of the buildings that struck me while walking around Gertrude St, Fitzroy.

facade1facade2mural

the-waiting-gameSorry for the long gap for those following this blog, but the internet has been particularly bad in hospital lately. Chemo is over for this round and now we’re back to playing the waiting game for my blood counts. This was the ‘b’ cycle, which I didn’t do well with last time. Things seemed like they were heading down the same path initially. My first does of Cytarabine, which is the chemo drug that makes me nauseous, led to a pretty bad night. I was nauseous all night, and although they gave me every nausea drug they had I still vomited. The next day they tried something different. They gave me a steroid and an anti-depressant, which have, as side-effects, nausea suppression. They worked a treat! That night I was right as rain and haven’t felt too bad ever since! Praise God.

I got out of the hospital yesterday for a walk through Carlton Gardens and a take away coffee from my favourite coffee shop in Fitzroy. It was a great mental break. I’ve been reading ‘Losing My Religion’ by Tom Frame and thoroughly enjoying it. Stand by for more reflections when I finish it. It’s hard to know how long I’ll be in this time. I think my blood counts have been artificially inflated by the steroids, and I suspect the counts are really still on the way down even though they seem quite stable at the moment.

Reflection on Mark 3:1-19 Read the passage

In the first story we see the dreadful danger of legalism. Jesus has been teaching about the coming time when the OT law will be obsolete(2:18-22),  replaced by the new covenant in Jesus. Jesus taught that the whole OT law can be summarised in just two commandments: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’,  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (12:30-31) These commands are radically different in nature than the legalism of the Pharisees. While most of the 10 commandments were negative, Jesus commands are relentlessly positive, and impossible to fulfill. (Can you ever go to sleep at night and say, ‘Well, it wasn’t the best day, but at least I loved God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength today’?) The Pharisees show just how hard their hearts are. As Jesus heals a man with a shriveled hand, they begin to plot with their political enemies (the Herodians) how they might destroy Jesus. No wonder Jesus is angry (3:5). This highlights the powerlessness of legalism. Following law can never change the heart, just outward appearance.

The next two stories tell of Jesus’ phenomenal popularity and his response to it. People are willing to walk a week to see Jesus, many in the hope of receiving healing. Jesus heals all those who come to him, though he has a boat ready in case the crush gets too much (3:9). But what is Jesus’ response? To commission 12 preachers, who will take the message of the coming kingdom to the world, driving back the kingdom of Satan as they go (hence driving out demons, v14-15). That the twelve were commissioned preachers and were sent is important. The word for sent is the word we get ‘apostle’ from, or the Latin translation ‘missio’ from which we get the English word missionary. From the start the followers of Jesus were missionaries and so are we, who follow Jesus in their footsteps. We follow not in empty legalism, but because we love our neighbours. Like Jesus we show compassion and seek to do good as we go, but like the twelve we are also on a mission to declare to all the gospel and see the kingdom of Satan driven back. God help us.God give us a thirst for Jesus like the crowds who would travel a week just to touch him, and God gives us a drive like the twelve, who began the task of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Back on the weight rollercoaster

wpid-coasterskatesbar_450x300Well it’s day 3 in hospital now and I’ve already slapped on 5kg of fluid, had the fluid tablets and urinated my way back down again. The chemo has been going for 21 hours, but the bad stuff (Cytarabine) starts this afternoon. That will be 4 bags over 2 days. Once I’m through that I’m basically just waiting around for my levels to tank and recover.

In other news, I have an admission date for my transplant: 27 June. That means I’ll finish this cycle (2b), have a short break and then do my final chemo (3a) before the transplant. I say final chemo, but the transplant will have the grand-daddiest chemo of them all, apparently. The doctor’s 90% confident it’ll be a cord-blood transplant (taken from the stem cells in donated umbilical cords from newborn babies). That’s good news. What I also discovered is that all the immunities I built up will be lost in the transplant. After my immune system recovers I’ll have to go through a vaccine schedule just like a newborn baby. More needles!

Reflections on Mark 1:21-45 Read the passage

Here we see Jesus’ authority both in teaching and over the demonic world (v21-28). We also see this interesting contrast between Jesus’ popularity (v32-34) and his mission (v38). While Jesus healed all those who came to him, that’s not what he was on about. He was first and foremost a preacher. His message was not well understood though. That’s why Jesus didn’t entrust his message to Jewish men like the healed leper (v40-45). Endless reports of his miraculous abilities would not actually help his mission. In fact it does the opposite. Because of the leper’s disobedience Jesus is unable to enter towns, but has to preach in the countryside, where crowds still come from all directions.

This picture is very different to the focus of some churches today. There are some that teach that God intends to heal all the sicknesses of Christians, and that those who fail to be healed lack enough faith. What we see here is Jesus leaving behind people who need healing in order to conduct the ministry he came for – the ministry of preaching. Like yesterday’s blog, we notice that Jesus’ priority is the gospel. Jesus heals because he is compassionate, but he’s driven to preach. This is a great balance for Christians to notice, I think. We ask God to heal because he’s compassionate. We do acts of love to help other because we’re compassionate like our Lord. But we’re driven by the gospel. At the end of the age it will be the spread of the gospel that will have been the most important thing we participated in in life. More important than sicknesses we were cured from, bridges we built, poor people we fed, lawns we mowed or patients we nursed. These are all good things and even contribute to evangelism, but they are not evangelism, and it is only the gospel that will save. We all have different gifts to offer, but regardless of our gifts, if we follow our saviour we’ll be driven by the gospel, just like he was.

Back in hospital

220px-st_vincents_hospital_melbourneIt’s been a funny journey back to hospital. It took three days of ringing up before there was a bed available, so I got two bonus days at home. While driving around Fitzroy, heading to park out front of the hospital there was a car ahead at the lights with its reverse lights on. The kind couple who gave me a lift decided not to drive too close because who knows what’s going to happen? When we got alongside the vehicle the driver called out that he didn’t know how to drive a manual! I jumped out and headed around to the drivers side of his Mini Cooper and volunteered to help. The guy was about 20 years old, worked in a garage and they’d given him the car to drive. It took me a couple of goes before I managed to find first (the gearbox was fairly compact) and then drove it up to the top of the hill, where the bloke was more confident he could get to where he was going. Bizarre!

When I got to hospital I was assigned a single room. Boom! I knew it wouldn’t last. I’ll be lucky to last a day. 60 minutes later I was moved! Then 2 hours I was moved again, but this time to a window seat. So here I am back again ready to start cycle 2b. Cycle 1b was a bit of a disaster, with 4 days in a row of nausea and vomiting, but this time I’m coming in without the complications I had last time. Cycle 2b is the exact same drugs, but this time I’ve got a good idea of how my body will react. I’ve caught up with a few friends in hospital already and met some new room mates. I’m still waiting to hear about the transplant, but hopefully will know by tonight. Pray for Simone and the kids. Simone’s mum has come to stay. Pray for happy harmony at home as they work out everyone’s new roles. 2 of the kids have chicken pox. Pray that no one else at home get it, and the same for me.

Reflections on Mark 1:1-20 Read the passage

One thing that strikes me about Mark is the breathless pace of his narrative. The stories are short and sharp and you roll through them very quickly. Very different to John’s Gospel, where the narrative is seamless and flowing. Richard Bauckham, in the book Jesus and the Eye Witnesses gives a good reason for this. John was an eye witness and wrote an eye witness account. Mark wrote from Peter’s preaching and wanted to be as accurate as possible when passing on Peter’s testimony. So he doesn’t add anything to what Peter said, but stitches Peter’s short sermon sections together into a bigger story. It was Mark’s careful intention to preserve the eye witness testimony as accurately as possible that has led to the different style of Gospel.

A lot happens even in the first 20 verses of Mark’s Gospel. Mark introduces his book with these words: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For some reason the NIV obscures this straightforward translation, so I’ve linked the ESV for a change. Really it’s not Mark’s Gospel, but it’s the Gospel according to Mark. It’s Jesus’ Gospel. It’s the gospel about Jesus, and it’s the gospel that Jesus preached. Mark records a summary of Jesus’ gospel message in 1:14-15. The gospel is about the kingdom and the kingdom being fulfilled. The response Jesus called for was repentance and faith. Some of Jesus’ first disciples show the kind of faith that Jesus calls for. Simon, Andrew (1:18), James and John (1:20) leave everything to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is key because he is the second member of the Trinity. He’s God (1:2-3, Jesus is ‘the Lord’ of the OT, whom John is preparing the way for) and he’s God’s son (1:11). He’s also the Christ (Messiah in Hebrew), the promised king of God’s kingdom, the suffering servant (1:11 quotes two passages from the OT: Ps 2:7 (a psalm about the Messiah) and Is 42:1 (about the suffering servant who will die to save God’s people)), and he’s the perfect Israel and the new Adam (1:13 Israel was tested in the desert for 40 years, Adam was tempted by Satan in the garden). That’s a lot to jam pack into just 20 verses, but Mark is very compact.

If the gospel was central to Jesus’ mission and ministry, and Jesus is all who Mark says he is, then we also ought to be on about the gospel. It ought to be the centre of our ministries, our lives, our identities. Churches do many good things, but if they stop preaching, believing and living the gospel then they’ve lost what it is that makes them a church. Christians do many good things, but if we stop sharing, believing and living the gospel then we’ve lost what it is that makes us a Christian. Do you know what the gospel is? Do you believe it? Do you share it? Do you live it? The world will never applaud Christians for doing these things, but these are the exact things that please Jesus.

41wj1wgyn5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_This is the latest book I’ve read, and been wanting to read for some time now. It’s a biblical theology of the temple. Beale begins in Revelation 21 and points out that while in v1 John sees a new heaven and new earth, in v2 he sees the holy city Jerusalem coming down from heaven. In v9-27 the city is described using a series of temple images. Beale contends that all three are referring to the same thing. The new heavens and earth are the new Jerusalem which is a temple. The whole cosmos is pictured as a temple city. This, says Beale, is the consummation of an expectation that flows through all of Scripture, of an expanding temple project that would eventually cover the whole world.

Beale then goes back to Genesis 1 and 2 and traces that expectation throughout Scripture. In Genesis 1:28 God says to humanity, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” Then in Genesis 2:15 Adam (and Eve) are put in the garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. How do we bring those two commands together? An ever expanding garden of Eden until it covers the Earth, filled with an ever-growing population, says Beale. He also makes connections between the garden of Eden and Israel’s tabernacle and temple. One interesting approach Beale takes is to notice the similarities between Israel’s temple and other temples of the Ancient Near East (ANE), and to investigate the symbology that ANE cultures saw in them.  The three part temple was common in the ANE, representing various parts of the cosmos. Beale points out those parts of the temple that likewise evoke images of the cosmos.

Beale points out the OT passages which expect temple growth. Is 4:5-6 and Jer 3:16-17 predict a temple that extends over all Jerusalem. Ezek 37:26-28 and Lev 26:10-13 expect the sanctuary to cover the entire promised land. This temple expectation is met in the NT by Jesus, and by the church which is his body, a temple of the Holy Spirit. Temple growth equates to world mission by his holy people. This returns us to the final consummation of this mission, in Revelation 21, a cosmos which is a garden temple.

Beale points out that this is a new idea. This ought to give us pause for thought as theology should not be about novelty. Beale throws up a wide variety of lines of investigation, some compelling and some tenuous. Does he make the case in the end? Well, you’ll have to read the book to decide for yourself. Personally I think the core of his case stands, even though I don’t follow him at every point. The book is well worth the read for the purposes of understanding biblical themes better, but not much outside the core of his thesis would be preachable. Often the points are made through highly technical connections that evade English translations and probably most Christians who sit in the pews. The core thesis, however, I think has value at a number of points:

  1. The connections made between the garden of Eden, tabernacle, temple, church and Revelation are a superb example of how Christ fulfils OT expectations. They challenge some of the limits people place on OT exegesis, limits which the NT writers seem to be serenely unaware of.
  2. Dispensationalism is fairly common in some church circles in Victoria. Beale’s biblical theological approach puts paid to many of the OT interpretations and predictions favoured by dispensationalism, and shows how Jesus is the divine ‘yes’ to all the promises of the OT (2 Cor 1:20).
  3. If the temple, the holiest place on earth, was put there by God with the intent of growing to fill the world, then holiness cannot be disconnected from evangelism. Holy Christians are also those who are engaged in Jesus’ mission. Churches that have lost the priority of evangelism have lost the big picture of what God is doing on earth right now, until the return of Jesus.

This is probably a book for pastors and super-keen Bible study leaders. Beale often assumes a theological education and some familiarity with the original languages, but someone well read could probably still navigate his book without missing too much.