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.

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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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Forgiving Others with the Holy Spirit: John 20:19-23

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As the gospel writers conclude the story of Jesus’ life following the resurrection, the gospel of John includes a fascinating description of Jesus when He appears to the remaining disciples the evening after His resurrection.

While the most notable portion of this passage comes immediately after what we are focusing in on, which is when John tells us that Thomas was not with the group of disciples when Jesus first appeared, when we jump forward and focus on that detail, we miss out on what John tells us about this first visit.

Let’s read what happened the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples, this time without Thomas present. Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 20, and we will be reading from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 19, John tells us that:

19 It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Then Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

While I don’t know if Jesus disappeared immediately after this last statement, I find it fascinating that John sets the stage by telling us why the disciples were together. The disciples had locked themselves in a secret space because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Thomas might have been out getting something for the group when Jesus appeared, or Thomas might have thought it would be better to be out alone and not with the group if the Jews found their hiding place, but whatever the reason, Thomas wasn’t with the disciples.

John does not tell us the disciples were huddled together, praying, and seeking guidance on how to move forward launching the Christian movement. John tells us the disciples were huddled together because they were scared of the Jewish authorities. They might have even been planning how they would leave the city and return to Galilee where many of them were from.

But Jesus appeared to them and confirmed the rumors that He had risen from the dead. Jesus showed them His hands and His side. This detail matters because the new “perfect” body God had in mind for Jesus was not free from defects. Instead, Jesus’ resurrected body carries the scars of His sacrifice.

This might also imply that our new, resurrected bodies, while they will be perfect in every way that matters, may also carry with them evidence of our lives here on earth. I believe that in heaven, we will be as unique and varied as we are here on earth, except that we will all be perfect and focused on helping each other. Here in our sin-filled world, our temptation is to always be looking out for ourselves first, but I doubt that will be a characteristic that carries over into heaven.

After showing the disciples His scarred hands and His side, He commissions them to go. While John’s version of Jesus’ commission isn’t as glamorous or famous as Matthew’s version, it is no less significant. John’s version might even be more significant because of what Jesus does immediately following this challenge.

In verse 22, immediately after challenging the disciples to go, Jesus breathes on them and tells them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This sounds great, and it is something the disciples would ultimately receive a little over a month later, but Jesus didn’t stop there. Jesus continues in verse 23 by saying, “If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”.

This statement challenges me because it appears to place people between sinners and God. When each of us sins, Jesus has freed us to personally ask for forgiveness. Jesus pushed back at the idea that a person or group of people would be the gatekeepers between God and man. While the Jews were called to fulfill this ideal, they failed to recognize what God had set them apart for, and because of this, the New Covenant was extended to all people.

So then what does Jesus mean when He seems to give the disciples the power to forgive sins? Are the disciples the new gatekeepers?

I don’t believe this to be the case. Instead, I see Jesus giving His followers the ability to release others from the fear of condemnation because of their past sins. Jesus isn’t interested in the disciples withholding forgiveness from anyone, because that doesn’t reflect Jesus’ sacrifice. Instead, I see Jesus commissioning the disciples with the ability to encourage others that their sins have been forgiven.

We can explain this idea by describing someone coming to us who has messed up and sinned, and they are worried that they have messed up too many times for God to forgive them. Will we tell them that they are probably right, and that God cannot forgive them; or will we claim the promise that Jesus tells the disciples in John’s gospel and assure them that their sins have been forgiven. I personally would seek to encourage them, and I’m pretty sure you would too.

When the Holy Spirit is living in our hearts and our lives, we have the authority to forgive someone’s sins. This isn’t something that should make us prideful or arrogant. Instead, this is one of the highest callings a Christian can have, and we are called to forgive responsibly, and in a way that encourages others in their relationship with God.

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

Always be sure to seek God first and to place Him first in your life. Intentionally look for ways you can encourage others in their walk with God and when you see someone struggling spiritually, feel free and empowered to let them know that God loves them and that they are forgiven of their sins!

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your own relationship with God. A personal relationship with God is incredibly important, and when we dedicate time that we can spend with Him each day, we are more able to walk the path He has called us to.

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

Year 4 – Episode 49: The gospel of John includes a commission Jesus gives His followers, and this commission might be one of the most important ones we can pay attention to.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — A Message through Mary: John 20:11-18

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Near the end of John’s gospel, on the morning Jesus was resurrected, we read an amazing dialog between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. What makes this conversation amazing is that it is likely the first conversation Jesus has with someone (aside from perhaps the angel who awakened Him), and in this discussion we discover some key details about what happened and didn’t happen over the time Jesus was in the grave.

But even before we get to the conversation, we must set the stage. Several women and disciples had already been to the tomb and seen it empty. They all had left confused to return to the others to describe what they saw. But Mary stayed behind at the tomb, and because she did this, she gets the honor of being the first witness of a resurrected Jesus.

Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 20, and we will be reading from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 11, we read:

11 Mary stood crying outside the tomb. While she was still crying, she bent over and looked in the tomb 12 and saw two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 “Woman, why are you crying?” they asked her.

She answered, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!”

14 Then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who is it that you are looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener, so she said to him, “If you took him away, sir, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

Let’s pause briefly at this point in the passage. To the angels who know Jesus was resurrected, and to Jesus Himself who is now alive, the idea of crying over the loss of Someone who has returned doesn’t make any sense. However, John tells us that Mary didn’t recognize Jesus.

I wonder if Jesus simply hadn’t taken a shower or combed His hair, or maybe He simply looked different. If Jesus only had one wardrobe, and that is all the clothing Mary had ever seen Him wear, then perhaps if Jesus was wearing something different as His resurrected self, this would be enough to confuse a troubled mind with crying eyes. Whatever the reason for Mary not recognizing Jesus, we can only logically speculate.

However Jesus’ appearance isn’t completely different, because of what we read next. Continuing in verse 16 we read:

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned toward him and said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (This means “Teacher.”)

In verse 16, Jesus says Mary’s name, and this is just enough to break her out of her tears to realize that this stranger actually knows her.

Maybe Mary was so teary-eyed that she simply didn’t look up and only saw the clothing of a person she didn’t recognize, but once she heard her name, she then looked up and saw the face of Her Savior.

While John doesn’t state this, my imagination has Mary’s tears of sadness turning into tears of joy and wonder. As her face changes, she runs towards Jesus and embraces Him in a hug that she never wants to end.

What was probably longer than 30 seconds, and perhaps even a few minutes, my imagination then brings us back to where John picks up in verse 17. John continues by telling us that Jesus then said to Mary:

17 “Do not hold on to me,” Jesus told her, “because I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.”

18 So Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and related to them what he had told her.

In my mind, it would be unlike Jesus to keep someone He loves at arm’s length. In my mind, Jesus was more than willing to embrace Mary, but eventually there must be a time for the hug to end. When Jesus knew the time was right, He then commissions Mary to go and tell the other disciples what she had experienced, and specifically what Jesus had told her.

What had Jesus told Mary?

After asking Mary to not hold onto Him, Jesus told her the reason. He said this was because “I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.

I find this detail powerful.

For the whole time Jesus was in the grave, He never once returned to the Father. While most people agree with this, the message Jesus tells Mary clashes with what many people believe Jesus promised a thief on the cross in Luke’s gospel. Luke tells us that Jesus told one of the criminals who was crucified with Him that they both would be together in paradise. Most people believe Jesus to have given that promise with the time constraint of that day.

But Jesus clearly stated that He never returned to the Father while He was “gone”, and several days had passed. With this supposed contradiction, we must start analyzing the details to help us uncover how both places are sharing truth.

While some people might call the grave paradise, I doubt that is what Jesus had in mind here. While the grave is a place where we might “rest in peace”, it is a big stretch in my mind to think of it as paradise.

Perhaps Jesus’ message to the thief about being saved relates to each of us who have the assurance of salvation. From the moment we place our faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus, we can know we are saved. This isn’t because we have done any great or not-so-great thing for God. It’s because we know we cannot do anything, or give anything greater than what God has given for us – and there is no way we can truly repay the sin debt that our lives owe.

Through Jesus, God created another option, and this secondary option is by accepting Jesus’ life as a substitute for ours. When we accept this, we begin to see the world differently, and we should begin to live differently as well. Our obedience is the way we say thank you to God. Obedience is never enough to earn our own way.

From the moment we accept Jesus as our substitute, we have the assurance of salvation, and this was as true for the thief on the cross as it is for each of us today. Eternity starts when we step towards God through Jesus. However, eternal life is a reward that is saved for the New Heaven and New Earth.

Jesus’ message through Mary helps us understand how salvation works. There is an immediate reward, but there is also a future reward as well.

With all this said, here are the challenges I want to leave you with at the end of this podcast episode:

Continue living with Jesus as your substitute. Choose to live your life in a way that says “thank you” to God for what He has done for each of us. Know that your obedient life is not because you are trying to earn salvation, but instead it is the best way of saying thank you for salvation.

Also, continue growing towards Jesus by reading and studying your Bible personally. While group study is valuable, personal study is just as important. We need both a personal connection with God as well as a community connection with Him as well. The challenge here is to strengthen whichever connection needs to be strengthened.

And, as I always end each set of challenges 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 49: Cam looks closer at Jesus’ conversation with Mary on resurrection morning and he touches on a powerful idea related to how we are saved and when we are rewarded with eternal life.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.