Living with His Spirit: Mark 16:15-20

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At the very end of Jesus’ time on earth, He sends the disciples out with a commission to tell the world about Him. Last week, we focused in on one big commission we find in John’s gospel, and this week, while we could focus in on Matthew’s commission, which is the most famous one, instead, let’s look at Mark’s version.

In my own mind, Mark’s version of this event might be a little more challenging than the commissions included in the other gospels.

Our passage for this episode can be found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 16, and we will be reading it from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 15:

15 Jesus said to his followers, “Go everywhere in the world, and tell the Good News to everyone. 16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved, but anyone who does not believe will be punished. 17 And those who believe will be able to do these things as proof: They will use my name to force out demons. They will speak in new languages. 18 They will pick up snakes and drink poison without being hurt. They will touch the sick, and the sick will be healed.”

19 After the Lord Jesus said these things to his followers, he was carried up into heaven, and he sat at the right side of God. 20 The followers went everywhere in the world and told the Good News to people, and the Lord helped them. The Lord proved that the Good News they told was true by giving them power to work miracles.

This passage ends the book of Mark. I will note that this conclusion is part of the longer conclusion to Mark’s gospel, and many Bibles will include the note that verses 9-20 are not in many of the early manuscripts. In my own mind, I can understand why. Mark’s longer conclusion includes many challenging ideas.

However, the big question is whether this conclusion at the end of Mark was added by others to enhance Mark’s gospel conclusion, or whether it was tried to be erased by many early writers because it was challenging.

I will be the first to say that I don’t know. A case could be made for adding Mark’s conclusion, or for removing it.

From a removing angle, I can understand why many in the early church might not want this commission around. This is primarily because if the miracles that Mark’s gospel included ever stopped, which they did shortly after the first generation of disciples and church leaders, Mark’s gospel record would then imply that God wasn’t as closely connected with His church. I doubt this would be the case, but the longer conclusion of Mark might make a historian wonder about that.

However, when we look at what Mark’s conclusion includes, almost everything it says is validated in the first century church and the first generation of believers. While this is great evidence that God was working powerfully in the first century Christian movement, it is also a prime opportunity for a well meaning scribe, when seeing that Mark’s gospel doesn’t really end all that well, to craft his own ending with the details that he knows happened in the first century church.

The first century disciples used Jesus’ name to force out demons and to heal the sick. They spoke new languages. Paul is even recorded as being bit by a very poisonous or venomous snake and not being hurt. All these things are excellent proof that God was with the first century church, but with how everything is neatly consolidated at the end of Mark’s gospel, and when there is a little bit of discrepancy whether Mark included these details in his original version of his gospel record, a case can be made that these things were added later.

Whether a scribe added the longer version of Mark’s gospel at a later date to help give this gospel a stronger conclusion, or whether the early church wanted to remove Mark’s commission record because there weren’t as many clear miracles present after the first generation of believers, I don’t believe that either group or either case was being deceitful or acting against God. I believe both options actually desired to see God’s church glorified more.

However, what are we to do with Mark’s commission now that we live 2000+ years later?

Whether Mark included his commission or not, the rest of the New Testament confirms the challenge that Mark may have written. Regardless of whether he did include it or not, this longer ending to this gospel draws our attention onto how the Holy Spirit was moving in the first century church, and it includes a challenge that makes me think that the Holy Spirit’s presence was intended to be more permanent in the Christian movement moving forward.

I believe the Holy Spirit has been with the God’s church from the moment He came and validated Jesus’ ministry while Jesus was here on earth, and also this would include when He visibly came at the beginning of the book of Acts to the early Christians in the upper room during the festival of Pentecost.

However, while I believe that the Holy Spirit has been active and moving in the church ever since the first century, I believe that the Holy Spirit ultimately had to switch to only working behind the scenes after the first few generations. While this isn’t bad when we look at it from one angle, I don’t believe the Holy Spirit intended to become less visible.

When reading Mark’s commission, I get the impression that those in the first century church didn’t expect the Holy Spirit to become any less visible, and this is the impression I get when reading the letters from Paul and Peter as well.

This commission in Mark’s gospel is both exciting and challenging for all of us. If those in the first century lived so close with God that they had the Holy Spirit move in their lives in visible, miraculous ways; and these early church leaders did not believe that they were somehow special or exclusively picked to receive the Holy Spirit; that means that each of us, living 2000+ years later is capable of living lives that are so close to God that the Holy Spirit cannot help but show up in powerful miraculous ways.

I cannot think of a better way to conclude our four, chronological years of moving through the gospels that with this conclusion. The best conclusion we can have is the challenge for a new beginning with God, and with the Holy Spirit, and with stepping out in faith into the life God created you to live.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode and prepare to wrap up another year, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Be sure to always intentionally seek God first and intentionally move towards Him each and every day. Make prayer and Bible study a regular habit, and be so committed towards moving towards God that the Holy Spirit cannot help but impact your life.

Also, as I always say, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself because through the pages of the Bible, we can discover God’s plan, His character, and our future when we choose Him. Don’t let a pastor, author, podcaster, or anyone else get in the way of your personal relationship with God. While other people can give you great things to think about, your relationship with God must be your own.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short, back away from, chicken out of, or deviate from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year 4 – Episode 50: Discover some things we can learn from the great commission that Mark may have included at the end of his gospel. Regardless of how you believe Mark ended his gospel, we can learn and be challenged by the commission that it includes.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Riches or Relationships: Luke 16:1-18

Focus Passage: Luke 16:1-18 (NCV)

    1 Jesus also said to his followers, “Once there was a rich man who had a manager to take care of his business. This manager was accused of cheating him. 2 So he called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of what you have done with my money, because you can’t be my manager any longer.’ 3 The manager thought to himself, ‘What will I do since my master is taking my job away from me? I am not strong enough to dig ditches, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I know what I’ll do so that when I lose my job people will welcome me into their homes.’

    5 “So the manager called in everyone who owed the master any money. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe?’ 6 He answered, ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and write four hundred gallons.’ 7 Then the manager asked another one, ‘How much do you owe?’ He answered, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’ Then the manager said to him, ‘Take your bill and write eight hundred bushels.’ 8 So, the master praised the dishonest manager for being clever. Yes, worldly people are more clever with their own kind than spiritual people are.

    9 “I tell you, make friends for yourselves using worldly riches so that when those riches are gone, you will be welcomed in those homes that continue forever. 10 Whoever can be trusted with a little can also be trusted with a lot, and whoever is dishonest with a little is dishonest with a lot. 11 If you cannot be trusted with worldly riches, then who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you cannot be trusted with things that belong to someone else, who will give you things of your own?

    13 “No servant can serve two masters. The servant will hate one master and love the other, or will follow one master and refuse to follow the other. You cannot serve both God and worldly riches.”

    14 The Pharisees, who loved money, were listening to all these things and made fun of Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You make yourselves look good in front of people, but God knows what is really in your hearts. What is important to people is hateful in God’s sight.

    16 “The law of Moses and the writings of the prophets were preached until John came. Since then the Good News about the kingdom of God is being told, and everyone tries to enter it by force. 17 It would be easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest part of a letter in the law to be changed.

    18 “If a man divorces his wife and marries another woman, he is guilty of adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman is also guilty of adultery.”

Read Luke 16:1-18 in context and/or in other translations on!

Which comes first: God or money?

Is this a trick question? Not according to Jesus. He clearly states in verse 13: “You cannot serve both God and worldly riches.”

This passage also states that the Pharisee’s loved money (v. 14) and because of this, we can conclude that for many of them, money, stuff, and status were more important than God.

However, while money and God can be placed on opposite ends of the spectrum in our lives (either you are poor and with God or rich and far away from Him), Jesus does not actually make this conclusion. Instead, He pushes them (and us) to examine the motives and primary focus for what we do.

There are two baseline motives we can choose from: Serving God by serving others, or serving ourselves. When we place ourselves first, we shift into accumulation mode and we save and collect everything we can – both stuff and status. When we place serving God and others first, any accumulating we do is aimed at how this can be used to help someone else.

God loves blessing the people who view the world through the lens of how to help others. He knows that giving extra to those people is a good investment.

However, can serving God through serving others be taken too far? Yes.

If in our diligence to serve, we begin neglecting our basic needs, then yes it has been taken too far. We can illustrate this challenge with the warnings giving to those who have flown on an airplane: “In the event that there is a change in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will be released. Be sure to place your mask on first before assisting others around you.”

Is this self-centered behavior? Yes and no. It is true that you focus on yourself first, but we must ask the question of why.

If you place your mask on first only out of the self-preservation mindset – excluding the well-being of those around you – then yes, your actions are self-focused.

However, if you place your mask on first knowing that you can only help others effectively when your mask is on, the entire focus has shifted. You help yourself have the foundation necessary to help others effectively. This is helping from a position of strength, and it still retains the “other-focused” mentality.

The passage states that having money is not the issue, but the focus of the money is. We clearly read in verse 9, “Make friends for yourselves using worldly riches so that when those riches are gone, you will be welcomed in those homes that continue forever.”

Riches don’t last forever – but relationships do. Are your friendships made to support your wealth, or is your wealth used to expand your relationships?

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Opening Our Heart to God: Matthew 13:10-17

Focus Passage: Matthew 13:10-17 (NLT)

10 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”

11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. 13 That is why I use these parables,

For they look, but they don’t really see.
    They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.

14 This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,

‘When you hear what I say,
    you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
    you will not comprehend.
15 For the hearts of these people are hardened,
    and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
    so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
    and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
    and let me heal them.’

16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.

Read Matthew 13:10-17 in context and/or in other translations on!

In an unexpected part of the gospels, Jesus shares a blessing on His followers who were present while He was teaching. It is a blessing and a privilege that most of us living today wish we could have had. In Matthew’s gospel, He shares Jesus’ blessing His disciples and followers first hand, because He was there to experience it.

Matthew tells us that after Jesus shares Isaiah’s prophecy in response to being asked why He always seemed to talk in parables, He tells His followers, “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.” (v. 16-17)

I am one who would have loved to have been present to hear Jesus first hand as He taught the crowds. Perhaps you can also relate. For thousands of years before Jesus arrived on earth, there were prophets and people who looked forward to the day. There were countless people longing to be present when God would send the Messiah into the world – but they all lived before Jesus’ time.

The people living in Jesus’ day were blessed because they could be present to hear Him personally, but taking the rest of Jesus’ response into context, it would seem that even being alive during Jesus’ life could not change a stubborn heart. There were thousands of people who rejected Jesus because they didn’t understand Him, because their minds and/or hearts were closed to Him, or because they thought He set the bar way to high with many of the things He taught.

We have an advantage living centuries after Jesus. We can look back and see how God worked through His life – and we can see the cross Jesus faced in the context that He went to the cross for you and me. This is something those present during Jesus’ life, and those living prior to Jesus, were unable to connect together like we can connect these truths today.

But to really benefit from Jesus’ ministry at any point in history, we must be open to letting God lead our lives and open to obeying the truth that He has revealed to us.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Flashback Episode — Feeding Sheep: John 21:15-25

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Earlier in our podcasts this season, we focused in on Peter’s great mistake. When reading through the gospels, we see Peter as one of the main disciples, and he is the one who seems to be either their spokesman, or he may just not have a filter on his mouth – leading him to speak before thinking, which at times is a blessing, while at other times it gets him in trouble.

About a month ago, we looked at Peter denying his connection with Jesus on the night Jesus was arrested and tried. Likely in Peter’s mind, this monumental failure on his part would have disqualified him from being a disciple, and perhaps because he thought he was no longer worthy of his invitation, he decides to go back to fishing.

However, while Peter and several of the other disciples are unsuccessfully fishing one night shortly after the resurrection, Jesus is up to something on the shore. That morning, Jesus calls out to the boat, and He prompts the disciples with an instruction that leads to a catch that would have reminded them of a miracle at the beginning of His ministry when He called them to follow Him.

After pulling the nets to shore, and after eating breakfast with the disciples, Jesus and Peter have a fascinating conversation that will be the focus of this week’s episode. This conversation is found in John, chapter 21, and we will be reading from the New International Version. Starting in verse 15, we read:

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

Let’s stop reading at this point in the conversation to point our attention onto some interesting details in what was just said. In the original Greek language that this passage was written in, two different words for love are used. In essence, Jesus first asks Peter if he selflessly loves Him, and Peter responds by saying that he loves Jesus like a close friend or family member.

Jesus then asks Peter again if Peter selflessly loves Him, and Peter responds again that he loves Jesus like a close friend or family member.

Jesus then switches terms, asking Peter if he really loved Him like a close friend or family member. John tells us this third question hurt, and Peter responds that Jesus knows the answer and that what He asked is true.

But also in this three question-and-answer progression is a steadily increasing challenge. After Peter responds the first time, Jesus tells Peter to “Feed my lambs”. Since Jesus was not a shepherd in the traditional sense, this request must be symbolic of something.

The most logical group for Jesus to be referring to is the people He has called to Him – starting with the disciples, but also extending out into the early church. Lambs are baby sheep, and therefore, this distinction could represent Jesus asking Peter to focus on helping new or young believers, and this would include both young believers according to age, as well as new believers regardless of their age.

Next, following the second question and answer set, Jesus challenges Peter by saying, “Take care of my sheep.” Using the foundation we have from the first challenge, this group of sheep must have something they need help with. We could apply this challenge to helping other believers who are sick, hurting, and/or those who otherwise need help. While this could be younger or older believers on the spectrum of age, it likely could represent all of us at any given point of our time on planet earth prior to heaven. This challenge is a challenge to help others who need help.

Following the third question and answer set, Jesus challenges Peter first by saying “Feed my sheep.” In a way, this challenge is the same as the first one, because lambs are technically sheep, but I believe it is much broader in scope. In this third challenge, we have a challenge to help every believer grow, regardless of their age, the amount of time they have been a believer, and regardless of their background or past life.

I wonder if the first two challenges take a measure of selfless love, while the third challenge needs a much more relational love. Perhaps this is why Jesus used the words for love that He did.

But the conversation Jesus has with Peter isn’t finished with the third challenge. Jesus continues by telling Peter the end of Peter’s story. Reading from verse 18, Jesus continues by saying:

18 “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

Peter’s conversation with Jesus concludes with a second invitation to follow Him. This second invitation in many ways is more powerful than the first. This second invitation comes with all the history that came with the first call – and it specifically comes with the idea of unconditional forgiveness. When Jesus asked Peter to again follow Him, this invitation told Peter that Jesus was willing to forgive His past mistakes, rejection, and denial. Jesus forgave Peter for abandoning Him and for rejecting Him while in a different crowd.

Jesus also told Peter to pay more attention to his own commission and his own choice to follow, and not focus on other disciples’ missions or stories. While this started the rumor that John, who was the disciple following behind, would not die, John is quick to correct the rumor that Jesus was talking to Peter about Peter, and not really about himself at all.

The big thing I see in this conversation is a challenge for every one of us who call ourselves Christ-followers. Like Peter, who was among the first followers, we are called to feed God’s lambs, take care of God’s sheep, and feed God’s sheep – which together become a huge challenge that we can only accomplish if we work together with other Christ-followers. This set of missions can only be truly achieved when we have a love for each other and display our love in a selfless way.

Each of us is called to follow Jesus like Peter’s second call. We are called to follow with the understanding that this invitation comes with forgiveness from our past. The invitation is focused on our future with God from that point forward, and it lets the past remain in the past. Our past mistakes and sins are covered when we choose to recommit our lives to Jesus. It was this way with Peter and the rest of the disciples, and it is this way for each of us living today.

As we come to the end of the gospels, and the end of another year of podcasts focusing on Jesus’ life, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Always put God first in your life. Continue seeking to grow closer to Him and choose daily to follow Jesus. When we choose to live our lives following Jesus, our past mistakes and sins are forgiven and we can be assured of a future life with Jesus in heaven.

Also, continue growing closer to Jesus through reading and studying your Bible. While podcasts and sermons are great, nothing can replace your own personal study of God’s Word and your own personal connection with Him.

And, as I always end each podcast episode by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 2 – Episode 50: Cam takes a look at Jesus’ second invitation to Peter, and we look at the three challenges Jesus gives to Peter leading up to his second call to follow Jesus.

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