Sunday, June 14, 2009

Follow the Leader

Part 1: The Beginning

Mark 1:1-11



          How many of you ever played “Follow the Leader” as kids?  You pick a leader, everyone gets in a line behind him and tries to imitate whatever he does.  I’ve always thought that’s a pretty good picture of what it means to be a Christian.  You follow the leader.  Who is our leader?  Jesus.  When Jesus called his first disciples, the call was “Follow me.”  Mark 1:17.   Follow Jesus: this is the simplest definition of what it means to be a Christian.  The apostle Paul wrote in:

1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow me as I follow Christ.  Or, imitate me just as I imitate Christ.

Follow the Leader.  For the next 12 weeks, we are going to read the story of Jesus in the gospel of Mark and think about what it means to follow Jesus.  Our goal is to be better followers of Jesus.


Offering and announcements:

          For those of you who are tired of hearing about my amazing granddaughter, Jenna, I have good news for you: her sister, Savanna is here!  (Picture) She was born Friday, June 12 at 11:25 AM; 6 lb. 6 oz, 19 ¾ inches long, and like Mary Poppins, she is practically perfect in every way!

          Camps.  Our camp registrations are down this year, and I assume it has something to do with the economy.  If I were going to make cuts in my budget, one thing I would not cut is summer camp for my kids. 

For me growing up, camp was the most important, the most spiritually formative week of the year.  God did deep work in me every summer at camp—I never missed it.  And because of that, I wouldn’t miss sending my kids.  Both Laina and I were totally committed to sending our kids to camp every year.  With five kids, the investment was significant, but it was more than worth it.  All five of our kids went to camp every summer from third grade through the end of high school—ten years of camp for each kid; 50 weeks of camp total for all five of them—and every one of them went back and volunteered in camps after high school.  I encourage you: do whatever you have to—move heaven and earth—to get your kids to camp.  There are still openings at every camp: sign up! 

Also, if you want to help a kid go to camp who can’t afford it, you can make a donation to our camp scholarship fund.  All our kids are past camp age, but Laina and I believe in camp so much that we are giving to the scholarship fund.  I hope you’ll join us.  Write a check and put “camp scholarship” on it.

          Leadership Summit: $75 (less than half-price) for three more weeks.   If you like what you heard last Sunday, you can sign up by tearing off the tab, filling in your contact info and leaving it at the Info Center with a check for $75.



Worship and Prayer


Life Services offering:

          A word about special offerings: About four times a year, we give you an opportunity to give above and beyond to a worthy cause.  We present the opportunities, and we want you to respond to God’s prompting in your heart.  You don’t need to feel obligated to give to every cause.  If something moves you and you want to give, thank you.  If you don’t feel moved to give, don’t feel guilty.  We understand that not everyone can give to everything.  We want you to view these as joyful opportunities, not as burdens: “not another offering.”  In March, you generously gave so that the people of Adiedo could have clean drinking water, and now we have a well there!  Today, we’re giving you the opportunity to support Life Services, a Christian ministry here in Spokane doing great work. 

          Life Services focuses on these four things:

                1.  purity education for students

                2.  post-abortion support and counseling

                3.  pregnancy counseling

                4.  maternity home

          Capital campaign and monthly operating budget.



          Every summer here at Life Center, we walk our way through a section of the Bible.  The last two summers, we read and discussed the book of Acts; we called it “Truth on Fire”.  This summer, we’re going to study the story of Jesus recorded in Mark’s gospel.  We’re calling it “Follow the Leader”, and our goal is to become better followers of Jesus as we read and discuss His life.  I hope that you’ll bring a Bible each week; we’ll be pointing you back to the text often, so you’ll want to have a Bible open on your lap. 

          Mark is the shortest and oldest of the four gospels, written (we think) somewhere between 50 and 70 AD.  It was written by Mark, who was not one of the 12 apostles, but was a sidekick to them and shows up often in the gospel stories and in the book of Acts.  The early church fathers reported that Mark wrote down Peter’s remembrances of Jesus, that this is the gospel of Peter recorded by Mark.  It was written for a Roman audience, hence there are no genealogies, fewer quotes from the Old Testament, and when Jewish terms are used, they are explained.  It is the gospel of action: Mark seems more interested in Jesus’ works than His words; he records 18 of Jesus’ miracles, but only 4 of his parables. Mark’s favorite word is “immediately”; he uses it over 40 times and keeps the action moving quickly.  He wants his readers to get a clear and compelling picture of Jesus. 

We’re going to read Mark 1:1-11, and we’ll look at this in three sections; I’ll have one big idea in each section that I hope you’ll discuss in your Life Groups and put into practice. Let’s start at the beginning.


1. The beginning of the good news about Jesus.  1-3  (Pause before reading)

Mark 1:1-3 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way”—

3 “a voice of one calling in the desert,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.’ ”

          Mark’s first two words are “the beginning”.  When did the gospel begin?  Did it start with the birth of Jesus, or the preaching of the John the Baptist?  No, Mark goes back much farther than that.  He reaches far back into Israel’s history and quotes the prophets.  He says, “It is written in Isaiah the prophet,” then he quotes from Malachi 3 and Isaiah 40.  He probably cites only Isaiah because Isaiah’s quote contains his big idea, his main point. 

What strikes me is that the gospel began long ago in the dreams of God.  Long before Jesus came, God promised that He would.  God had a plan from the beginning of time; He gave the prophets glimpses of that plan; and then Jesus came and fulfilled it.  This is one reason the early Christians had such deep respect for the Old Testament: The God of the Law and Prophets is the God of the gospel.  The gospel begins in God’s heart for us ages ago.

          The beginning of the gospel.  What’s a gospel?  It means “good news”.  Something has happened—it’s “news”—and the thing that happened is good. 

ILL: Prime example: my granddaughter, Savanna, was born on Friday—good news!  (Picture)  I just had to work another picture in!  It’s good news!  So on Friday, I called and emailed family and friends with the good news—the subject line on my email was “Savanna is here”!

So what is this gospel, this good news about?  Look in your Bible; Mark tells us it is the good news “about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  It’s good news about Jesus. 

Just a word here about His name: My name is not “Pastor Joe”; my name is Joe, pastor is my title.  Jesus’ name is not Jesus Christ; Jesus is His name, Christ is his title.  The word “Christ” is the Greek version of the Hebrew title, “Messiah”, which means “anointed one”, or God’s chosen one.  The Messiah was the long-awaited Jewish savior or deliverer.  Just like God sent Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian slavery in the Old Testament, it was believed that God would send another deliverer, the Messiah, to free Israel from her oppressors and make her great again.  Mark, like the other early Jewish followers of Jesus, believed Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, so he called him Jesus Christ, or Jesus the Messiah.  Orthodox Jews are still praying for the Messiah to come; Christians believe that the Messiah has already come, and his name is Jesus. 

          “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  By calling Jesus “the Son of God,” Mark wants his readers to know that Jesus is divine.  The rest of the story backs up this amazing claim: Jesus is no ordinary man; he is the Son of God. 

  • Jesus: fully human.
  • Christ: God’s chosen deliverer.
  • The Son of God: fully God.

The good news is about this Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.  What is the good news about Jesus?  We’re going to explore that more fully in a couple weeks, but for now let me summarize it like this. 

          God has come in Christ to make all wrongs right, starting with us. (Aloud)

In a world filled with wrong—with sin, injustice, oppression, and evil—this is good news!  God has come in Christ to make all wrongs right, starting with us.  God starts with us, with the evil in me.  I need to be forgiven; I need to be transformed; I need to be made right with God.  When that happens, I can become an agent of God’s change in the world.  But it starts here, in me.  I have to be changed.  I need to be made right. 

ILL: Our first day in Kenya, we landed at the airport at 10 AM and by 2 PM we were in the Soweto Slum, the third largest slum in Nairobi, about 220,000 people crammed into roughly a square mile.  We went to a tiny church building called “Bible Fellowship Ministries” where we met Bishop Victor and his wife Mary.  (Picture) After a short presentation by the students at their small school (all from the slum), we teamed up with members of their church and went door to door in the slum, passing out loaves of bread and gospels of John, sharing the gospel and praying with people. 

          The poverty was indescribable: families jammed into tiny one-room huts, no electricity, no running water, no sewer, just poverty.  Many of the families are headed by widows or single moms.  (Picture)  This single mom runs this small store at her home to raise money; she asked us to pray for her business.

          At each home we went to, Mary introduced me and said, “The pastor has come from America to tell you the good news!”  I wondered, what good news do I have for these people?  Our meager gifts seemed so insignificant next to the need: what’s one loaf of bread in a world of endless hunger?  I told them what I told you: the good news is that God loves you, and God has come in Christ to make all wrongs right, starting with us.  God wants to forgive your sins, transform you, and change your life, including change your poverty.  As I shared it, I realized again, it really is good news.

          Later, I told Mary how insignificant our help seemed in light of the need, and she said an interesting thing.  She said that we were doing a good thing helping people meet Jesus.  She said that knowing Jesus really makes a difference, that the Christians stand out in the Soweto Slum, because they have hope.  The slum was filled with children like these (picture), who need the hope Jesus brings.

We really do have good news to share.  God has come in Christ to make all wrongs right, starting with us. 


2. John the baptizer prepares the way.  4-8  (Pause before reading)

Mark 1:4-8 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy over 700 years earlier, John comes to prepare the way for Jesus.  As you saw, John was a wild man!  Like the ancient prophets, he was a man of the desert.  He wore desert clothes, and he ate desert food.  He lived and preached in the Judean desert; his message was so compelling that people streamed out to the desert to hear him, and be baptized.  It wasn’t a feel-good message: “God loves you just the way you are.  He wants to make you happy, happy, happy!”  No, he called people to repent, to turn from their sins and turn to God so they could be forgiven—and still they streamed out to hear. 

But more importantly, John pointed beyond himself, to Someone who was coming, Someone so great that John wasn’t even worthy to untie his sandals.  John is drawing a pretty graphic contrast between himself and the One to come.  A Jewish servant was not required to untie his master’s sandals; no one had to stoop that low.  But John says, “I’m not even worthy to do that!  The One coming is so much greater than I am, that I’m not worthy to do that.”  With all the crowds streaming out to the desert to hear his message and be baptized, it would have been easy for John to get a big head.  He never did.  He understood that it was never about him, that he was just the set-up man for Jesus.  He constantly pointed people to Jesus.  John did such a good job of pointing people to Jesus that some of his followers got jealous.  They came to him and complained, “Everyone is going to Him instead of coming to us.”  Here’s John’s answer:

John 3:27-30 “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.

I’m just the best man; Jesus is the groom.  He must become greater; I must become less.  John pointed to Jesus.

          Here’s something we could all learn from John: point people to Jesus.  I can’t save anyone; I can’t heal anyone; I can’t fix your marriage; I can’t transform anyone.  And neither can you.  But Jesus can.  Jesus can!  Jesus can!  Jesus can do anything!  Our job is not to save anyone or save the world; that’s Jesus’ job.  Our job is to point people to Jesus!  Jesus can!

ILL: This illustration will date me: how many of you know what a telephone operator is?  In the old days, you dialed zero and got an operator.  I did this in college to call home…collect.  Does this still happen?  Not so much with cell phones.  But you’d call the operator and give her the number you wanted to reach—and if it was a specific person, you gave her the name.  That was called a “person-to-person call”.  What was the operator’s job?  To connect you with the person you wanted to talk to.  You didn’t call the operator to chat with her…just to connect with someone else.

John was the operator, connecting people to Jesus.  It’s something every Christian can do. Point people to Jesus!

          Look at your Bible: “I baptize you with water; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  John could do the symbolic washing, but Jesus could do the real thing.  Only Jesus can truly wash away our sins and fill us with the Holy Spirit.  This is an important part of the gospel: Jesus comes not just to take away our sins, but to give us the Holy Spirit so that we have a new power in our lives.  We are not just forgiven, we are transformed!  In John 1, John the Baptist described Jesus:

John 1:29 Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

John 1:33 …the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

The gospel is both: we are forgiven and empowered; we are forgiven and transformed.  Too often, the gospel is reduced to forgiveness only: believe in Jesus, you’ll be forgiven and go to heaven.  But Jesus is not only the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; He is also the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.  He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us to live new lives, to transform us.

ILL: Let me use an illustration from Kenya. 

          We went to drill a well because the people of Adiedo are drinking from this.  (Picture)  The dirty water is making them sick, it’s killing them—just like sin kills us spiritually.  So what do we need to do?  Get rid of the dirty water?  Yes.  But if we dry up this pond, what will they do?  Go to another pond.  If we take away the dirty water, we’ve got to replace it with clean water.  (Picture)  We’ve got to replace the water on the left with the water on the right!  So we dug a well.

          This is what Jesus does.  He takes away our sin—the dirty water that is killing us—but he doesn’t stop there.  He gives us the Holy Spirit—the clean water so we can live new lives.

Jesus said it this way:

John 7:37-39 “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

This is the gospel.  It’s both forgiveness and transformation.  If the gospel was only forgiveness, we’d still be stuck in our old dying ways, drinking the deadly water instead of the living water of the Holy Spirit.  But Jesus not only forgives our sins, He also fills us with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus can!


3. Jesus is baptized. 9-11  (Pause before reading)

Mark 1:9-11 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

For any thinking person, the baptism of Jesus presents a problem.  John was baptizing for repentance, for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus was the sinless Son of God.  So why was he baptized?  Here are several reasons:

          First, it was his moment of decision.  For 30 years, Jesus had been waiting to begin His work.  When John arrived on the scene, Jesus knew that His moment had come, and He inaugurates His work by being baptized. 

          In the same way, in the New Testament, when were Christians baptized?  At the moment of their decision.  For example, in Acts 2, when thousands heard Peter’s message and believed, they were baptized immediately, on the spot.  Or in Acts 16, the Philippian jailer believed on Christ in the middle of the night in a jail, and was immediately baptized.  Baptism is meant to mark a person’s decision to follow Jesus.

          Second, it was his moment of identification.  Although Jesus had no sin, we think he wanted to identify with John’s movement toward God, and with us in our sin.  Like a great leader, Jesus led from the middle, as one of us.  He was baptized as a man to identify with us.

          In the same way, Romans 6 makes it clear that when we are baptized, we are identifying with Jesus in his death and resurrection. 

Romans 6:3-4 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Jesus identified with us in His baptism, and we identify with Him in ours.  We show that we are dying with Jesus and rising with Jesus to live a new life.

Third, it was his moment of affirmation.  When Jesus was baptized, three things happened: the heavens were torn open (Isaiah 64:1), the Spirit descended upon Him, and God’s voice spoke: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 42:1)  In this moment, as Jesus began His mission, God gave Jesus His affirmation.  Have you ever taken a big step and had second thoughts, wondered if you were doing the right thing?  I don’t know if Jesus did, but certainly God went out His way to let Jesus know that He approved!

In the same way, when you decide to follow Jesus and are baptized, you become a child of God.

Galatians 3:26-27 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

When you believe and are baptized, you become a son or daughter of God, and I think He approves.  I know that God said this to Jesus, and it might be a stretch to insist that God says the same thing to each of us, but in Christ, you are God’s child.  I think God smiles and says, “You are my beloved son or daughter; I am pleased with you.”

          Fourth, it was his moment of empowerment.  The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus and from that moment on, Jesus lived and worked in the power of the Spirit.

          In the same way, we are baptized in water and in the Spirit, to empower us to live the life God wants. 

          What does Jesus’ baptism mean to us?  All these things—decision, identification, approval and empowerment.  Also, I think we ought to follow the leader. 

ILL: I was baptized about two months after I made my decision to follow Jesus.  I was 13, in the eighth grade, and this was all brand new to me.  My friend, Nat Stock, asked me if I wanted to be baptized.  I said, “Baptized?  What’s that?”  He pointed to what looked like a large aquarium without any fish, and he said, “We dunk you in that.” 

          “Why would I do that?” I asked.

          “Because Jesus said to,” he replied.

          So I did. 

Jesus’ command is amplified by Jesus’ example.  He was baptized to show His decision to serve God, to show His identification with God’s movement, to experience God’s approval and empowerment.  Follow the leader!

          You saw people getting baptized today.  You can be baptized at our next baptism, which is the first Sunday in August—August 2.  Follow the leader.

          Next Sunday is Father’s Day, and we have lots of fun stuff planned for Dads— including a car and bike show—and a talk on the temptation of Jesus called, “The First Battle.”  If you know a guy who usually doesn’t come to church, this will be a good week to invite him.