Why Jesus?

Why Jesus?

We begin the season of Lent tomorrow evening with a special Ash Wednesday service in the sanctuary at 6:30 PM starting our forty-day journey toward Easter. Sunday, we start a new sermon series focusing on Mark’s gospel called “WHY JESUS?”

In the coming weeks, I challenge you to read Mark’s gospel on your own, in its entirety. It’s the shortest of all four gospels and was the earliest to be written, dating somewhere between 65 to 70 A.D., roughly 35 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Luke, get much of their information from Mark’s gospel. In fact, we only find 24 verses in Mark that do not also appear somewhere in Matthew and Luke.

The gospel of Mark does not appear first chronologically in the New Testament canon because Matthew’s gospel happened to be more popular in the first century as it incorporated many of the common Jewish practices of the time. But when you read Mark’s gospel, you must remember that you are reading the earliest account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

The author of this gospel is a young man by the name of John Mark. He grew up in Jerusalem, which was the center of the early church. As a young man, Mark was used to seeing the original disciples of Jesus come and go in and out of his home because he was very close friends with Peter. In fact, Peter even refers to him as, “Mark, my son.” (I Peter 5:13), leading some to conclude that Mark may have been Peter’s scribe who recorded his sermons. Many believe that Mark’s primary source of material was Peter’s preaching, which is why his gospel is considered by most scholars to be the closest thing that we have to an eye-witness account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, that eye-witness, of course, being Peter.

If you read Mark closely, you will notice that there are many specific and vivid details that could only have been recognized and recorded by somebody who was actually there. And we don’t see these specific details and descriptions in the other three gospels. In Mark chapter one, we have the words of John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord. Then we have Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, and God’s approval: “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Then Jesus immediately goes to the wilderness where he is tempted before beginning his ministry and calling the disciples. To James and John who are fishing, he says “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And ask any minister, fishing for people is fun, challenging, and it’s anything but boring.

Why do we follow Jesus? What does it mean to follow Jesus today? These are questions we need to ask and explore. Not what does it mean to be a church member, but what does it mean to follow Jesus? Jesus says, “the kingdom is at hand… it is here and now… it’s not some time in the future… it’s not some time after we die… but it is right here and right now in this world.”

Other translations of this text tell us that the “kingdom is among us,” or the “kingdom is within us.” In other words, it’s not something that we just look forward to one day but it’s something that we experience right now in this life. And it’s fundamentally different from what the world has to offer.

All of us have things in our lives that we need to repent from. Maybe it’s anger. Maybe it’s greed. Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s resentment. Maybe it’s lust or envy. It’s not that we’re terrible people. It’s just that part of being human means that we do things that are not pleasing to God and if we are honest, we are not necessarily proud of ourselves. And so Jesus says, repent, change, acknowledge what is wrong, and stop doing it – whatever IT might be. Ask God for help.

There is nothing worse than somebody who thinks they are perfect. We are all imperfect. We’re all works in progress. And Jesus calls to us to repent, change, and leave our former selves behind. Earnest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” And guess what? This is an ongoing, lifelong process.

Following Jesus is anything but simple and easy. Often, it’s not convenient and lots of different people have different ideas of what it means. In a book that I am also recommending titled Why Jesus?, Will Willimon says, “Jesus holds little interest for people who are at ease with themselves here, living their lives as the world tells them, content as pigs in mud. Jesus tends to come to people where they are but rarely leaves them as they are.” This should be an exciting journey in the coming weeks!