Clear Signs

Mark 6:45-52 (NRSV)

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.


By Chuck Griffin

This passage reveals much about the internal confusion the disciples faced as they followed Jesus. I feel certain that many of us struggle similarly from time to time.

Just before this walking-on-the-water event in Mark, we have an account of Jesus miraculously feeding the multitudes, demonstrating that five loaves of bread and two fish will feed 5,000 men and their families when God takes direct action.

The disciples had powerful evidence at the impromptu banquet that God was in their midst, but from the later remark that “their hearts were hardened,” we can discern they were not accepting this great truth when Jesus sent them to cross the Sea of Galilee without him.

They needed another miracle, one they could interpret more clearly.

Just as they struggled with spiritual understanding, they struggled to cross the sea, the wind against them. But what impeded them was not a problem for Jesus, walking on the water and against the wind with ease.

Once he was in the boat with them, the struggle ceased―the one who made the wind and sea had rejoined them.

Jesus’ statement, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” is particularly telling. What we translate as “it is I” can also be translated as “I am,” evoking memories of God’s early revelation of himself to Moses.

It can be difficult to recognize when God is with us. If these men strained to understand, it is no surprise that sometimes we struggle. I do not fully understand why we resist the truth of God’s presence in our lives. I just know it happens.

The brokenness of the world and our need to deal with what seem like immediate, pressing problems certainly can interfere with our perception of God.

Perhaps we also have a certain level of discomfort knowing that the presence of God calls for change, and we don’t like the idea of changing.

Those responses are rooted in fear, though—fear that if we don’t control a particular situation, no one will, or fear that in being transformed, we somehow might lose something. And if we spend a few minutes thinking as Christians about each scenario, it’s not hard to see that both fears are irrational.

Jesus often said in one way or another, “Do not be afraid.” I suppose we need to take his advice to heart if we are to develop a full and complete kind of faith.

Lord, thank you for evidence of your presence. May these experiences burrow more deeply into our souls. Amen.

The Chosen Ones

Mark 3:13-19 (NLT)

Afterward Jesus went up on a mountain and called out the ones he wanted to go with him. And they came to him. Then he appointed twelve of them and called them his apostles. They were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach, giving them authority to cast out demons. These are the twelve he chose:

Simon (whom he named Peter),
 James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder”),
 Andrew,
 Philip,
 Bartholomew,
 Matthew,
 Thomas,
 James (son of Alphaeus),
 Thaddaeus,
 Simon (the zealot),
 Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).

What an odd mix.

Among them are fishermen, a tax collecting bureaucrat, a rebel who under different circumstances might try to kill the tax collector, some loud, pushy brothers, and a petty thief who would eventually prove to be a traitor. Their de facto leader, functioning like a senior student, is one of the fishermen, good old foot-in-mouth Peter.

Other than being Jews, the common denominator in the group was that they would all abandon Jesus after his arrest. I once knew a seminary professor who referred to them as the “duh-sciples.”

Out of the larger crowd of people following Jesus, these were the 12 deemed worthy to be part of the inner circle, the ones charged with spreading the Good News about Jesus, proclaiming to the world that salvation is available.

In them, I see what has been evident far too often in me: inattentiveness, dull wit, self-centeredness, impatience, insecurity, striving, and yes, the failure to perceive what is godly and right in front of me. And when I consider these flawed men, I take great comfort.

As we assess these men charged with the role of apostleship—the spread of the Good News and the growth of the church—here’s what’s incredible: They got the job done! The fact that there are more than 2 billion people calling themselves Christians nearly 2,000 years later is the proof.

Well, let me rephrase that a little. God got the job done through them, and through many who followed them. The key, it seems, is that the apostles who remained after Jesus’ resurrection were willing to let the Holy Spirit fill them and guide their work. Grace began to pour forth from these badly cracked earthenware vessels, and it just kept on pouring.

Never doubt for a moment that God can work through any of us.

Lord, thank you for the blessing of broken people who give themselves over to you. Amen.

Four Parts of Worship: Sending Forth

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 28:1-10

At the end of each worship service, I “send us forth,” to use the language of fourfold worship. The obvious question is, “Send us forth to what?”

The answer, of course, lies in the word of God.

The Matthew text linked above is typically used as an Easter reading. Easter—the day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ—also is the key to understanding “sending forth,” however. We’re going to use Matthew’s story of Christ’s resurrection to help us better understand what we’re sent forth to do.

Jesus doesn’t appear until late in the story, but as he is the starting point for all things, we’ll begin with him. Even if you’ve heard this core story of Christianity a thousand times before, try to hear it with fresh ears today.

In the resurrection, Jesus is revealed fully as the Christ, the son of God, the promised gift of God sent to redeem the world. As we understand the resurrection more fully in the context of other holy writings, we see he is God in flesh, God among us.

We also want to consider some of the humans in the story, the two Marys and Jesus’ disciples.

The two Marys. One is identified as Mary Magdalene, a woman Jesus freed from demon possession. She was clearly devoted to Jesus. The “other Mary” is less easily identified; Matthew would never have referred to Jesus’ mother in such a way. She was likely the “mother of James and Joseph” identified as being at the cross. If you haven’t figured out by now, Mary (Miriam in Hebrew) was a very common female name in Jesus’ day and place.

What I take away from their part in the story is faithfulness, likely combined with an expectancy that something more was to happen. Unlike the other gospels, Matthew says the Marys merely went “to see the tomb,” rather than going with a specific purpose, such as to anoint Jesus’ body more thoroughly. I think that unlike many of the male disciples, the women had fully heard Jesus’ words about what was to come after his death, and hope remained in their hearts.

Through their faithful attendance to Christ, even when all seemed lost, they became important witnesses to mighty events surrounding the resurrection, standing at an intersection of heaven and earth. They also became the first humans to declare the truth about the remarkable event that changed the world.

The Disciples. Just as they were Jesus’ primary audience in his three years of ministry, they seem to be his primary audience immediately after the resurrection. The angel told the two Marys to go to them with word of the resurrection. Jesus repeated this instruction when he appeared to the women suddenly, as they ran to the disciples.

Later in Matthew, we’re told something interesting about the 11 remaining key disciples—despite seeing Jesus, some doubted. I wonder if they muttered in Aramaic, “It’s just too good to be true.” Jesus told them to go forth and spread the word of the resurrection, however, baptizing believers in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

It’s clear they finally did believe. After all, we’re here on the other side of the planet, worshiping Christ as Savior.

As people who gather to worship Christ, we have the potential to fulfill some of these roles as we go forth into the world. Where do we fit in the story?

At a minimum, I pray we’re like the disciples, following Jesus, even enamored with Jesus despite our occasional doubts. Can we do as they did and become more like the Marys? Can we declare what has been revealed to us through God’s word? Can we live as if we expect greater things to happen?

That is what we’re sent forth each week to do. Despite our current circumstances, most of us have gathered in worship week after week and equipped ourselves through the word. We’ve celebrated what has been declared.

Let’s never stop sharing the good news about Jesus Christ with those who so desperately need to hear it!

Lord, regardless of how we worship, may we always go into the world declaring Christ as Savior to all who need to hear. Amen.