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About Jesus
March 2, 1997

MARK 1:14-20

There's a university coach who always begins the first practice by holding up a football and telling his players, "This is a football." After the laughter dies down, he makes his point: Good players never outgrow their need to review the basics. This morning, let's review the basics. Let me tell you about Jesus.

The Scripture lesson read this morning is from Mark. When reading the Bible for the first time, and especially when you want to read about Jesus, begin with the book of Mark. There are four books in the Bible about Jesus-- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Mark was written first. It is the shortest and tells the story of Jesus clearly and succinctly.

We think Jesus was about 30 years old when he was baptized by John in the Jordan River. After his baptism, he went into the wilderness for forty days. The wilderness is a dry mountainous area of sand and rocks, about a half mile from the bank of the Jordan River. There Jesus struggled, coming to terms with himself and his mission. There he was tempted by the devil to feed his own ego, to do things for his own glory. Jesus rejected the temptations, and prayed until he was focused and filled with power.

Jesus then walked about 60 miles north to the Galilee region. Galilee is a large lake, and fishing was a major industry. Mark tells us that Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." The time is fulfilled. The waiting period for the Messiah, the one who would save Israel, is over. The kingdom of God is at hand, near, close, you can almost see it.

The kingdom of God is where God reigns, where God's will is done on earth as it is done in heaven. The kingdom of God is where people love the Lord and love their neighbors as themselves, where sins are forgiven, the sick are made well, where those addicted to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco are freed from their addictions, where children are special, and where there is no prejudice, discrimination, physical or sexual abuse, or violence. The kingdom of God is where people live in peace, harmony, and love. Wouldn't you like to be in the kingdom of God? Wouldn't you like your family-- your home-- to be in the kingdom of God? Your workplace, Merced, our nation, the world?

Jesus preached that the kingdom of God is at hand. What does it take on our part? Repent and believe. Repent means to turn from and turn to Jesus. Repent means to feel sorry enough to change your life. Repent means to stop what you are doing, and believe. Believe means more than a head trip. Believe is more than an intellectual affirmation of the existence of God. Even the devil believes God exists! Believe means trust. Believe in the good news means to trust Jesus enough to give him your life, to trust Jesus enough to follow him wherever he leads you in the great adventure, he is planning for you. Jesus preached, "The kingdom of God is near; repent, and believe in the good news."

The first thing Jesus did was to recruit a team. He chose 12 men who were called disciples. A disciple is a learner. He made Peter, James and John his executive committee, his management team, his advisors and friends. There were women on Jesus' team as well. At this time in history, women played a secondary role in society. Jesus was way ahead of his time, and did much to liberate women. However, they still didn't receive much attention from the media (the Bible authors)! There is only one short passage in Luke. Luke 8:1-3, "Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women... Mary, called Magdalene...and Joanna...and Susanna, and many others."

Jesus eventually had quite an entourage touring with him. They traveled back and forth through the small towns of Galilee, preaching and teaching. Jesus was a gifted teacher. He told a lot of parables, and crowds gathered to hear him. Wherever Jesus went, the sick, lepers, paralyzed, deaf, blind, emotionally disturbed, and demon possessed were healed. On one occasion, he fed 5,000 men, plus women and children. He walked on water. He sent his team out in small groups to spread the word even further. Jesus loved children. He stood up for them, and Jesus stood up for women who were being mistreated. Jesus took a great deal of time out for prayer and meditation. Even Jesus needed rest and time to keep centered on God. Gradually, his team began to realize that Jesus was the Messiah, the one Jews had been looking for and waiting for.

And then, trouble. Have you noticed when things are going well, the devil starts stirring up trouble? Jesus got into trouble with the inflexible and rigid legalists who were called Pharisees. They followed the letter of the law and were fastidious about rules and regulations. Jesus violated their rigid rules against working on the Sabbath which is from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Christians later changed the Sabbath to Sunday because Jesus was raised from the dead on Sunday. The disciples picked grain and Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath which caused quite a stir. Opposition intensified as Jesus antagonized the status quo.

Jesus then began talking about how he was going to suffer, be rejected, and killed. The disciples did not want to hear this. They were in denial. Eventually, Jesus decided it was time to go to Jerusalem and challenge the chief priests of the temple. The country was under Roman occupation with soldiers everywhere. But, Rome gave the Jews religious freedom and allowed them to worship and organize as they pleased. So the power within Judaism was with the religious leaders. The political leaders were mere puppets of Rome.

There in Jerusalem, Jesus attacked the religious establishment. He attacked the sacrificial system by driving money changers out of the temple. Jesus aligned himself with Old Testament prophets who preached that justice and mercy are what God wants, rather than the sacrifice of animals and birds. That did it. The religious leaders plotted, bribed, and pressured the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, until Jesus was crucified-- hung on a cross until he died.

But, the powers of evil could not hold him. The Prince of Darkness could not defeat him. Death had no power. God raised Jesus from the dead. He appeared several times to his team, and after a period of prayer, God powered the team with the Holy Spirit, and the church was born. The church is still growing and doing God's work. Jesus was not just a man who lived 2,000 years ago. Jesus is alive and well in the spirit. Jesus calls us to be his body in the world. We are his physical body, his hands, mouth and feet, doing God's work in the world. Jesus promised to be with us always. He will never leave us or forsake us.

When I was a teenager, I met Jesus. He has never let go of me. I have let him down many times, but Jesus never lets go of me. Jesus is my leader. I follow. Jesus is my Savior. I am forgiven, and am constantly being forgiven. Jesus is my friend. He walks with me and talks with me. Jesus is my strength. I cannot live my life on my own steam. Jesus powers me to live for him and to do his work.

Jesus is here right now, and is calling you to follow. "Repent and believe in the good news."

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris