I've spent about 12 hours on the train in the last two days. Not overly exciting but a real joy to be meditating on Mark's gospel as I've travelled. I've been going over some material I'd put together for new Christians and beginning to develop that into a series of talks that I'll be using in the autumn.
It strikes me that Jesus is much loved. Understatement. Wherever you go, however unpopular his church sadly is, people love Jesus. But which Jesus? What looks like it's genuine love is often just echo-chamber devotion to Jesus - a Jesus that suits us, a Jesus that fits our aspirations. This is often a far cry from the one who is the image of God. Often the Jesus people love is made in the image of our sinfully marred selves.
Coming to Mark's gospel we find Jesus on his own terms, stating 3.5 times the purpose of his coming (three times is first coming, and a bit about his second coming). The first centres on Jesus who came to preach. He also came for sinners and came to die. Each of these has profound implications for us and our living in his world.
From Jesus the Preacher introduced in Mark 1 with stunning authority, announcing the kingdom and the fulfilment of the prophets it's a small step to come and listen to Jesus in to Mark 4. Mark 4 is one of those places where having an American Red Letter Bible is superficially useful - a glance at the page shows me that Jesus is the one speaking, a lot. Looking at words themselves we find again and again 'And he said'. Jesus stated purpose and what he does clash hard against those who today would say no to preaching. All the more when we see the effect of the word to produce a great harvest, something observable when we read Acts too - the word is preached, disciples are added.
In the way of hearing are satan, suffering and the siren songs of the world's pleasures. Enemies and obstacles that impede my listening yet which cannot be used by me as excuses. Demonic doctrine comes along to deceive us and pander to our sinful desires. We need some healthy self-suspicion to ward of these lies and feed on the genuine word of God. Surrounding pressures (suffering) threaten to draw us away from God. The guys from CCEF call this Heat. Sin seizes on heat as an excuse for self-defence but it is no excuse at all - only let us listen. And siren songs attempt to lure us after other 'pleasures' into abuse of God's good gifts for false purposes. The sirens tell us we're entitled to much, fueling our pride, rather than humbling us at the sound of Jesus words.
The word of God isn't just for comprehension. It strikes at the human heart and must be engaged with at that level. Giving us a new heart. Renewing our heart. Cutting away at our false motives and idols, leading us to new tastes and to great awe as we see Jesus revealed. Let my heart be inclined to his word, let me have ears and eyes and heart to listen. When the ruling-life-giving word of Jesus penetrates my heart there is vast harvest. Jesus give me a repentant heart that loves your rule, that loves the kingdom you bring, that loves your coming to your people. No wonder Spurgeon would say of choosing a church, don't go where the architecture and music (and food) are, go where the word of God is taught. That's where the life will be found. Lloyd-Jones adds, 'Come to the word of God'.