Living Large

Mark 1:16-20

Stories of Being Little

Josh grew up in a home with a mother who was often sick, so he had to act as a caretaker for his four siblings.  Whenever he wanted to do something for himself, his parents would lay a guilt trip on him, asking him how he could be so insensitive when there was much to do and his mother was too sick to do it.  As he thinks back to his childhood, the refrain in his head is, “My needs don’t matter.”  As an adult, he continued to live out these words like a prescription, to the point where his lack of ability to care for himself cost him his job and friendships.

Ken’s father had a temper that was out of control.  One year, when his Ken’s baseball team won second place in the State tournament, after the game, his father, “Wrapped the second place trophy around a telephone pole in front of all my friends,” as Ken put it.  Because the team did not finish first, his dad smashed their prize.  Ken vowed never to be angry like his dad.  As an adult, Ken seems to be cool and calm, but he’s never figured out how to process all his emotions in a healthy way.  He has addictions, instead. The message he hears in his head is, “Conflict and emotion are bad.”  He struggles to be whole, rather than compartmentalized.  He pretty much reacts the same way to good news or bad, making him seem robotic. 

Maggie’s mom was an alcoholic, so Maggie had to take control of her family’s life.  She constantly had to rescue her mom, care for her siblings, and be a support to her dad.  As an adult, it’s hard for Maggie to accept when life gets out of control.  She will become the hero once again and attempt to manage every aspect of life, but it’s exhausting and her whole family walks on eggshells.  If they don’t do exactly what she wants, there’s hell to pay.  Maggie lives by the unconscious voice in her head that says, “If I don’t have everything under control, then my family will be embarrassed and people will be hurt.”  

How about one more? 

Adam grew up in a Christian home.  His church and family taught him a lot about “spiritual” matters, but they ignored talking about sex.  By what they did not say, Adam gathered that sex was a shameful thing.  Being sexual was something to hide from, as if it were “beneath” a good Christian.  Even though his church taught sex was a gift from God, the way everyone tiptoed around it and failed to celebrate our physical, sexual nature, sent Adam a very different message.  As an adult, he doesn’t know how to have a healthy and balanced sexual life; he tends to abstain as best he can, then when he can’t resist anymore, binges on sexual indulging. 

Magical Thinking

What about you?  What are the messages you learned as a child that you’re still living by today?  We all have them.  As a child, they were very useful; in fact, we needed them to survive.  But now that we’ve grown, these statements don’t help us, but hinder us, keep us stuck.  My needs don’t matter.  My sexuality is something to be ashamed of.  If I don’t have everything under control, then my family will be embarrassed and people will be hurt.  Some others could be, “I can’t be vulnerable” or “I’ve got to be perfect” or “Kids get in the way.”

We continue to think these messages from our childhood will help solve our problems today.  And when they don’t work, ironically, we keep trying them!   This is called magical thinking.  Somehow, magically, we think things will turn out differently this time.  Instead of abandoning our magical thinking, we double-down and continue to trust it.  

Follow Me

After Jesus ushers in the kingdom of God by proclaiming the gospel, he begins to take an ordinary walk along the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:16).  The sea often represents the soul of a person.  Imagine Jesus, walking right alongside your soul.  He usually doesn’t intrude, but he gets awfully close.  As he walks, he woos.  What does he say?  Follow me!  

“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Mark 1:16-18).  

Jesus sees the brothers, Simon and Andrew, and he commands them to follow him.  They were fishing in a boat the moment he called them.  When they heard Jesus’s invitation, they dropped their nets and came after him.  

The same thing happened in the next story.  “And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.  And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.” (Mark 1:19-20).  Jesus found two more brothers, who were mending their nets in the boat next to their dad.  But they didn’t hesitate to leave him and follow Jesus.

Immediately

Perhaps the most intoxicating word in these true accounts is “immediately” (verses 18 and 20).  We’ve already seen this word twice so far in Mark 1:1-15.  The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus immediately when he was baptized (1:10); the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness (1:12).  The writer Mark loves to use the word “immediately,” it appears about 40 times in his account!  What is the significance?  

Let’s think of the word “immediately” as the ticket out of magical thinking, and the portal to something new.  It’s for those who finally wake up and accept the fact that what they are doing is not working.  The brothers in the boat immediately followed the call of God.  Think of all they left behind!  They left their jobs, family, security, and reputations in that boat.  I’m sure they could hear the voice of their father calling to them as they left, commanding them with the old family cliches to get back into the boat.  But they dropped their nets and followed the Voice.

(Safety) Net

How about you?  What is your (safety) net?  You’re not holding onto a fishing net, but you are still clinging to other things that make you feel secure.  Maybe your safety net is magical thinking.  But you’re only avoiding taking the call of Jesus seriously.  You think the old family ways in the boat are better.  You don’t trust the rabbi walking along the edge of your soul, peering down into it like a concerned physician. 

We hold onto and continue to mend the old fishing nets, giving them yet another tired try, fishing nets such as self-pity, resentment, alcohol, reputation, career, anger, control.  We feel safe with these.  Yet nothing changes, because it’s all been magical thinking.  We keep lingering, not realizing the power and potential of “immediately.” 

The Voice

We wish to hold onto our old world, but get new results, but that’s madness.  The only way to get new results is to follow the voice of Jesus, who wants to woo you out of the old boat.  Most people live life responding to the demands of the world.  We act like rats in a maze, going for the next bit of cheese the world leaves for us.  Our motivation is “what is the world demanding of me next?”  A degree, better car, bigger house, better job, family, and so forth.  

But there are some who dare to get out of the boat in order to find out what God and their soul are up to.  

Fishers of Men

Do you know why Jesus told the brothers he’d make them “fishers of men”?  Because Jesus knew there was another fisherman out on the lake, an evil one, who wanted to destroy people.  The enemy wants to catch souls, cut them, char them, and then consume them.  But Jesus calls others out into the world to catch people first, before the enemy can get them into his net.

When they woke up that morning, the disciples thought they would only ever be fisherman, just like their fathers.  Religious work was exclusively for special members of society, who were a part of elite groups called Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots.  Simon, Andrew, James, and John would spend most of their lives on a boat, doing what was handed to them by their ancestors.  But Jesus thought they would make great ‘fishers of men,’ so he called them out of their boats into the great drama of redemption, in order to fish people out of the enemy’s nets of destruction.  

When we follow the voice of Jesus, rather than the voices that haunt us, we enter into a larger life. “Living Large” is about discerning the lies that have been keeping you small and following the voice of Jesus to the truest and most useful version of yourself.  The voice of Jesus will tell us that our needs matter, that our sexuality is very important to him, that we can make mistakes and don’t have to have everything under control, that we can show our emotions as whole human beings, and that we can serve him wherever we are in life.  If you start to listen to the voice of Jesus, your life will start to get larger, immediately.

It may seem scary, but nothing meaningful is safe.

The Breakdown

  1. What are some voices of the past that are still speaking to you today?  Are they holding you back?  What are they saying? 
  2. If Jesus were to speak directly to your soul, what would he tell it? 
  3. What do people expect of you?  What safety nets do you cling to today? 
  4. How can you “live large” today?  (Remember, you only need to take small steps in being honest with yourself and following Jesus).

Act Your Age

Mark 1:14-15

People today are talking about the world coming to an end.  Yes, there’s a worldwide pandemic, but is it a sign of the end?  We’ve got news for you, in a manner of speaking, the world has already come to an end once.  That’s what our passage is about today: the transition of one age to the next, the previous world to the present.  We’ll end our devotional today by looking at some ways to determine which age you’re really living in. 

The End of the Old Age

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand…’” (Mark 1:14-15a).  There’s quite a bit going on here, so are you ready to dig in?  Let’s go for it!  First, remember what we learned in our last study of Mark 1:12-13, The Outsider.  We learned how Jesus rebuilt the human race by becoming the Second Adam.  Jesus went back to ground zero and reenacted the drama of the Garden of Eden, only this time he got it right.  Where Adam failed in paradise, Jesus prevailed in the wilderness.  Not only did Jesus defeat the devil, but also he became a fully righteous human being.  By doing this, Jesus ushered in a new age, the age of the faithful second Adam.  This means Jesus is the first person of the new age.  The age of Adam ends and Jesus brings in the age of the kingdom of God.  If this is the case, then John the Baptist is the last person of the first age of Adam.  That’s why Mark mentions John’s arrest.  John the Baptizer is about to be beheaded, bringing the first age of Adam to a bloody curtain call.  

Elsewhere, Jesus makes a stunning comment about John, which makes sense if John is the last person of the first age.  Jesus said of John, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.  Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11).  Note, although John is the greatest person in the first age, even the lowest person in the next age (called either the “kingdom of heaven” or its synonymous phrase “kingdom of God”), is greater than John.  

To summarize, there are two ages, the age of the first Adam and the age of the second Adam; John ends the first and Jesus begins the second.

The Two Barrels

Next, take note of the curious way Jesus speaks of time.  Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled” (14).  The Greek word behind “time,” kairos, can also mean “age.”  As for the word “fulfilled,” imagine an enormous oak barrel being filled up with water, drop by drop.  This barrel is the first age.  At last, the final drop falls into the barrel, filling it to the brim.  This last drop in the “First Adam” barrel was John the Baptist.  John’s arrest and death, “fulfilled” the first barrel, or age.  In turn, Jesus is the first drop in the second barrel, or age.  The second barrel, as mentioned, is called the kingdom of God.  Ever since Jesus, drop by drop, the kingdom of God barrel is being filled-full, or fulfilled.  What happens when the second barrel is filled (which is the one we are living in right now)?  Then there will be a new heaven on a new earth, where all people and creatures dwell immediately in the presence of God.  How do we get there?  This is what Jesus begins to do in Mark 1:14-15.  Here’s a chart to help you sort things out:

Barrel 1Barrel 2(Barrel 3)*
Age of first AdamAge of Second Adam (Jesus)
John the Baptist is last personJesus is the first person
Former ageKingdom of God or heaven (began with Jesus and continues to the present) (New Heaven and Earth)
John the Baptist is the greatest personThe lowest person is greater than John the Baptist
LawGospel*for a later discussion

Jesus Takes the Baton

John the Baptizer was the great disturber of his age, which is why he was put to death.  He hated hypocrites and called all people, high or low, to confess the truth about themselves, as we discovered.  So, put yourself in Jesus’s shoes, as the first person of the new age, what do you do now?  Your friend John was arrested and soon will be beheaded for his message.  Should you “take it easy” for a while?  Tweak your message?  Not Jesus.  Jesus takes the baton that John the Baptist handed him and picks up where John left off.  

“…Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.’” (14-15).  As we learned, John called people to confession and repentance.  Jesus takes his baton and runs further with it, calling people to repent and believe in the gospel.  Can you see?  In the old age, the age of the law, you can only be made aware of your sins and repent of them.  The gospel of God has not yet been revealed; and there is no eternal hope for you in the old age.  Jesus brings in the new age of the gospel good news.  The kingdom of God has begun! 

The Gospel in a Nutshell

We’re going to take a moment to give you a summary of the gospel message.  We won’t elaborate too much on it here, but we will in future devotionals.  Essentially, think of the gospel message through these three statements:

  1. Our problem,
  2. God’s solution,
  3. Our response.

Our problem is sin; every person is born without righteousness and with a sin nature.  Sin has thoroughly corrupted every part of life, the natural world included.  Second, God has a solution for us, and his name is Jesus Christ.  Jesus will make the world right again.  Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the grave, offering to us the free gift of salvation.  Third, the gospel demands a response from us.  In order for the gift to be applied to our lives, we must have faith.  The word faith can also mean “trust” or “belief.”  That’s why Jesus calls people to repent and “believe.”  Our problem; God’s solution; and our response.  That’s the gospel message in a nutshell.  This message is the greatest theme of our age.  

Practitioners of the First Age

There’s more for us to learn from these verses, which we will do in part two of this devotional.  However, let’s take a moment to apply today’s truths to our lives.  We learned today that Jesus ushers in a new age, leaving behind the old age of Adam.  However, even though this is the case, some of us are still living in the first barrel.  Although a new barrel is available to us, we’re still swimming in the old, putrid waters of the last age of Adam. 

How can you tell?  As mentioned, the age of Adam was the age of the law.  This meant that in order to be successful in the age of Adam, you have to keep the law as much as possible.  The more you keep the law, the “greater” you are.  Think of the law as any accomplishment that makes you look good in the eyes of God or the eyes of humans.  Those who live in the first barrel are worried more about looking good than being real, because their identity and salvation are at stake.  Those who continue to live by the rules of the first age seek to impress rather than serve, gain attention rather than give affection, and use God rather than love God.  They are all about glorifying themselves.  And if they are not recognized for their efforts, then their world comes crashing down.  If you take away their false god, life won’t be worth living for them.  They constantly seek to earn approval.  They are defined by ethnicity, nation, or gender.  They think God loves them less when they sin and more when they succeed.  They judge others harshly; they judge themselves even more harshly.  

Some Lies

Even more, they fall prey to the lies of the devil.  Some of these lies psychologists call “cognitive distortions.”  See if any of these sound familiar to you:

My needs don’t matter.

I have to be perfect.

Nobody cares for me.

I am all alone.

I can never be forgiven.

Everybody is against me.

I’m really not that bad.

I made a mistake…so I’m a stupid failure.

There’s nothing I can do…

I should…I ought…I must…

If I only would have (fill in the blank) things would have turned out better.

Life owes me…

These are some of the lies of the old age, still echoing into the new age.  Everybody tells themselves these lies, but you don’t have to listen!  You can learn to fight back with the truth of the new age, the second barrel.  

The Importance of Preaching

That’s why it’s so important to see that Jesus came preaching.  “Jesus came…proclaiming the gospel of God” (14).  Jesus preached the good news of the gospel age!  These days, we don’t like to say the word “preach,” because we think it sounds too preachy.  But, you know, sometimes you have to preach the lies out of your head.  When the old age tells you “Your needs don’t matter,” then you have to preach to yourself, “God made me with needs and they matter to him!”  When the old age tells you, “You have to be perfect,” then you have to preach to yourself, “I don’t have to be perfect, but I have to be whole, which includes both my strengths and weaknesses, my successes and failures.  I have to embrace my failures, not reject them.”  When the old age says to you, “You’re so much better than others and at least you’re not like that other person,” then you have to preach to yourself, “Don’t take myself too seriously, I’m replaceable and need to learn to laugh at myself; I’m thankful for whatever God has given me and I celebrate what God has given to others.”  Above all else, you have to preach to yourself the gospel: 

I am a sinner.

Christ died for my sins and rose from the grave.

I trust him for my salvation.

Act Your Age

Some of us say we’re Christians, but we live more in the old barrel than the new.  We’re practitioners of the old age, even though we say we’re Christian believers.  You say you believe Christ, but you believe your old lies more.  If this is you, then here’s one more incentive to take the plunge into the barrel of the new age.  Once upon a time, Jesus went to a wedding celebration (John 2:1-11).  When the host ran out of wine, Jesus found some barrels of water, which were being used for ceremonies of the law.  To the disciples’ great surprise, Jesus turned this water into wine.  This is how we’re to think of the new age: it is filled with the best wine you’ve ever tasted!  The old age of the law contains stagnant water for dead rituals of self-promotion, but the new age of grace bubbles up with wine for celebration and love.  

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” —Mark 1:14-15

The Breakdown

  1. Can you explain the gospel message (according to the devotional)?  Put it in your own words.
  2. Which lies do you struggle with in particular?
  3. What would it look like to live in the new age of the kingdom of God?  How would your life change if you truly embraced the age of grace?  How would it stay the same?
  4. How does living in the age of grace free you up to be yourself?

A Father’s Approval

Mark 1:9-11

Tom was a star athlete.  When he was just a freshman in high school, he made it to the state final in Track and Field.  He ran against upperclassmen and veteran competitors.  In his final race, to everyone’s surprise, Tom finished 5th place!  Given his young age, Tom was thrilled with the result, so were his coaches.  But as he climbed onto the podium, there was just one face he wanted to see, his father’s.  When he looked up into the stands, while his mom was smiling and cheering, his dad was looking down at his stopwatch, obviously disappointed his son didn’t place higher.  He didn’t clap, he didn’t cheer, he only disapprovingly shook his head.  Twenty-five years later, and having just buried his dad, Tom tells this story with tears in his eyes.  He ran for his father’s approval, but he didn’t get it.  

In the Bible passage today, Mark 1:9-11, we want you to follow the eyes of Jesus, because they are quite telling.  It starts, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan” (9).  Although we’ve been focussing on John the Baptist, the spotlight now turns to Jesus, who has already been declared the Son of God (1:1).  Much to our surprise, the Son of God lived in a small town called Nazareth, population 120.  He left his small town to go to the Jordan River in order to be baptized by John the Baptist, just like everyone else.  As Jesus waded into the slow, muddy water, he showed us we were all in this together.  By being baptized, Jesus identified with the suffering and need of the human race.  God was one of us.

But now follow his eyes.  Verse 10 reads, “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”  Who saw?  Jesus did.  Where did he look?  He looked to the stands, so to speak, to look for his Father.  Like Tom, like you, and like me, even the Son of God sought his Father’s approval.  “…he saw the heavens opened…” because he was looking for the only Face that mattered to him at that moment.  

His Father was not looking down at his stopwatch in disapproval.  In fact, his Father couldn’t wait to show his Son approval.  The text says, “…immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”  Picture the start of a college football game.  There’s a banner at the corner of the field with the name of the hometeam painted on it.  Then suddenly, immediately, the home team comes bursting through the sign, tearing it open, rushing onto the field.  That’s like what Jesus saw.  His Father tore through the heavens as if they were a sheet of butcher paper and rushed upon the field to be with his Son.  Since God is Spirit, he had to take the form of a physically visible creature, in this case, a dove.

It’s interesting to note another scene in the Bible that connects a dove with water and a voice from heaven.  In Genesis 9, at the end of the flood story of Noah and the ark, there is a dove, water, and a voice from heaven.  All three came together when Noah was trying to determine if it were safe to walk the earth again.  Here in Mark 1:9-11, it’s as if we’re being told that Jesus is the new ark, upon which humanity can be saved.

There’s a difference, however, between this story and a story like Tom’s.  And it’s an important difference to grasp.  Jesus hadn’t yet done anything to merit either approval or disapproval.  Tom had already won his race and finished his season; Jesus had yet to start.  The race for Jesus was a difficult and dangerous course, which would culminate on a cross.  Here on the banks of the Jordan River, Jesus was at the start of the race, warming up.  His first hurdle would be his battle with Satan in the wilderness (1:12-13), which we’ll talk about next time.       

Does it surprise you, then, that his Father would call out to him, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (11)?  Again, Jesus hadn’t yet done anything.  The story just began.  Jesus hadn’t yet faced any enemies, overcome any obstacles, or performed any miracles.  As far as the story goes, he was just a thirty year old carpenter from Hicksville, Nazareth, hardly worth the applause of God.       

Typically, we believe merit should come first and then approval.  You win a race; then you get a medal.  You work hard for a week; then you get a paycheck.  You do well on a test; then you get an A.  But the mischievous Father in heaven flips it around.  You get approval; then you run the race.  You get approval; then you do your ministry.  You get approval; then you do your job.  Pretty mind blowing, isn’t it?  But it had to be this way.

How else do you think Jesus was able to do all he had to do?  He had to have his Father’s approval first.  Think of what Jesus had to go up against (all these are found in the book of Mark).  Jesus would battle the devil; choose his disciples to carry his message to the ends of the earth; cast out demons; heal the sick; preach to the masses; cleanse lepers; heal paralytics; forgive sins; argue with religious leaders; heal a man with a withered hand; calm a storm; walk on water; heal a bleeding woman; raise a dead girl; face the rejection of his hometown; mourn the beheading of his friend; feed several thousand, twice; make the deaf to hear and blind to see; be falsely accused; be plotted against; be betrayed; be forsaken; be arraigned and tried in court; be spit upon; be tortured; be mocked; and be crucified.  How in the world did he do all that?  In great part, because he had his Father’s approval right at the beginning.  Throughout it all, he could still hear the echo of his Father’s voice cheering him on, “You are my beloved Son!  With you I am well pleased!”  Then he could take another step.

And if this is how life works for the Son of God, then who are we to think we’re any different?  The only way you can make it through your difficult journey is if you know the Father’s approval first.  Otherwise, you’re sunk.  There’s nothing you cannot do or endure so long as you have the Father’s approval.  It’s all you need to get through whatever hell you’re in right now.  Betrayal?  Backstabbing?  Abuse?  Personal failure?  You can make it through your rough course if you hold on to God’s loving approval.  He says to you, “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.” 

Your good works don’t merit God’s approval; rather, God’s loving approval of you merits your good works.  Now, with the love of your heavenly Father descended upon you as a dove, go and live your life for him.

The Breakdown

  1. Carefully read Mark 1:9-11.  What strikes you the most? 
  2. What does the word “approval” mean?  Look it up in a dictionary.  
  3. Would you rather have approval before you earn it or after you earn it?  Why do you think God gives us approval first? 
  4. Pray and search your thoughts, ask yourself about the areas in your life you’re seeking the approval of others.  What would it mean if you knew God himself approved you?  What would it mean if you approved you, too?