When You Read The Bible (Mark 1-3)
Topic: One Truth: Your Word is Truth Passage: Mark 1:1–3:35
I. New Year, New Mind
It's a brand new year, isn't it? I hope all of you had a wonderful New Year's Eve and New Year's day. Did anyone make a new year's resolution? Almost 60% of us do. Resolutions are all about change, aren't they? We pledge to make a change in this or that area, so that things this year will be different from the previous year. Change.
Listen to how the Apostle Paul wrote about change almost 2000 years ago. Romans 12:2...
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Did you hear what Paul tells us there about change? The change we need is not being “conformed to this world”, but being “transformed”, in order to learn and live out the “good and acceptable and perfect” will of God; to walk, not as the world wants, but as God wants. But did you hear how that kind of transformation takes place? “...by the renewal of your mind”.
So... how can someone renew his or her mind? What Paul goes on to demonstrate in chapter 12, as well as the remaining chapters of Romans, is that a new mind means a new way of thinking. And to think differently, we need God's word to inform our minds. For example, Paul tells his readers in verse 14 of this chapter:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Cursing is what the world would do, because it's what we as sinners would instinctively do. But God's word through Paul tells us to bless instead. That's a new way of thinking, isn't it?!
Therefore, the very best kinds of resolutions, resolutions that produce real and lasting change, are those focused on growing in God's word. This year I hope you will join me as we resolve to study through the NT together. This new “5-on-5 Reading Plan” is available on the table on back, or online. It is a very doable (or as someone described it this week, “a very commit-able”) plan, involving one chapter each day, five days a week.
This morning, whether you are reading with us or not, I'd like to do something a little different: I'd like to provide you with or remind you of some pointers that can make all the difference when it comes to reading the Bible. Turn with me to the Gospel of Mark; Mark chapter 1.
II. The Passage: "The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus" (1:1-3:35)
If you've been using the “5-on-5” plan, then you know that so far we've read through Mark, chapters 1-3. So I'd like to use those chapters as an example this morning, an example of how to apply some of the Bible-reading principles I'll share with you this morning.
We won't be studying everything in these chapters (that would take way more time than we have), but I will highlight certain things I hope many of you already noticed or thought about when you started reading on Wednesday. So for example, when you read the Bible...
1. Read After Praying
This is exactly what we did just a few minutes ago, at the beginning of this study. It's exactly what we do every Sunday. But do you do this whenever you sit down and read God's word. Why is it important to pray before reading the Bible? Paul told his readers in I Corinthians 2:14...
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
Yes, God's word contains truth. But it is spiritual truth that is “spiritually discerned”. So can any of us understand this truth. A few verses earlier, in 2:10, the Apostle reminds them that “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”
To be clear, this doesn't mean people cannot comprehend what Scripture teaches. They certainly can. Spiritual understanding or discernment is not about comprehension. It's about confession of, about submission to, about devotion to the truths of Scripture. For that, we need God's Spirit. Without that spiritual work, we will reject such things as “folly”. And so, we should always pray before we read. But when we do read, we should also...
2. Read to 'Overhear'
This is what I mean by 'overhear': even if the writings we call Scripture were, in one sense, written for you and me, they were not written to you or me. They were written to individuals, to churches, to peoples, to nations long ago. When looking at Mark 1-3, there is a sense of this, especially given the geographical and cultural setting of the story. But if you turn over to 5:41, we find something more explicit:
Taking her by the hand he [Jesus] said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”
In this verse, we're reminded that Jesus spoke a different language (i.e., Aramaic); yes, from our language (i.e., English), but even from the language in which Mark wrote this Gospel (i.e., Greek). We find a similar example two chapters later in Mark 7:2–4...
...they [the Pharisees and scribes] saw that some of his [Jesus'] disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.  (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders,  and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.)
Here, Mark helps his readers (including us) understand some of the cultural differences by explaining some of the cultural practices of First Century Judaism. And we could point to other passages in other Gospels, like Luke 2:2 (from the Christmas story) that reminds us, “This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
That footnote not only anchors us in real history, but it also reminds us of the very different when and where of the Bible. What does all of this mean? Why is any of this important? Because when you know you are 'overhearing 'a conversation from the past, it forces you to investigate; to ask important questions like, “who”, “to whom”, “where”, “when”, and “why”. If we ignore this, we are more likely to misunderstand what is being said as we wrestle a verse out of its original context.
So when you read, ask good questions. Write them down. Be sensitive to the distance between where we are and the times and places out of which the Bible came. But let me also encourage you, that when you read the Bible...
3. Read for 'Big Ideas'
As you read a passage or chapter in the Bible, it's often not hard to spot how a word, a character, or an idea keeps popping up. Upon closer examination, it may become clear that a repeated idea is like a deliberately-woven thread, weaving its way through the whole chapter or section. There are several of these in the opening chapters of Mark.
For example, starting in chapter 2, we read over and over again about the questioning, the grumbling, the disapproval, and the bitter opposition of many of the Jewish religious leaders regarding Jesus. We find this theme in 2:6, 2:16, 2:18, 2:24, 3:2; 3:6, and 3:22. We also hear repeated references to Jesus' popularity not only with words like “many” and “crowd”, but also “all”, “every”, and “whole” (e.g., “all Jerusalem”, “the whole city”, “every quarter”).
But as you read, especially through Mark 1, it is hard to miss the emphasis on the exalted uniqueness of Jesus. There never had been, and there never will be anyone like Jesus. He is called the “Son of God” in the very first verse of the Gospel (1:1). John the Baptizer describes him as one “mightier than I” (1:7). The Holy Spirit descends on him in verse 10, and is confirmed as God's “beloved Son” in verse 11. In verses 16-20, Jesus calls men to follow him and they abandon all for the sake of his call. He teaches with such authority that everyone is astonished (1:22). He casts out demons and all are amazed (1:27). He heals the sick and the whole city gathers at his door (1:33). He heals a many of leprosy, and every town knows his name (1:45).
These are the ideas, the threads, we must look for and make note of when we read God's word. When we recognize these threads, we can better under the tapestry as a whole. And under-standing the big picture helps us to go back and understand the individual parts. All of this essential to our next point. When we read God's word, we should also...
4. Read to 'Hear'
When you understand how God worked through individuals long ago to compose the Scriptures, it's important to accept the fact that the Bible was not written as God's love letter to you personally. But that doesn't change the fact that, amazingly, He uses the Bible today to lovingly speak to each one of us. His word might not have been written to you, but it was written for you.
This is precisely why, when we understand what that ancient author was saying to his original audience, we must then ask, “God, how are you, as the divine Author, speaking to me now through what was spoken to others back then?”
For example, when reading about the exalted uniqueness of Jesus, we should be asking ourselves, “Is my life impacted by the exalted uniqueness of Jesus? Am I amazed? Am I astonished?” Or we could ask, “Just as those fisherman demonstrated in 1:18, 20, am I daily giving priority to the call of Jesus?” Or when Jesus said in 2:17 that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” do I see myself as spiritually sick and needy? Like the sick and suffering long ago, am I going to Jesus to find healing?”
What Paul told believers in Rome about the OT, is true for us in regard to the whole Bible: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4) But remember, when you read the word to hear from the God of the word, you should also...
5. Read to Apply
Look with me at the final verses of chapter 3. Verses 34–35. Mark tells us...
And looking about at those who sat around him, he [Jesus] said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
If we, after reading, claim that we have heard God, but we do not heed God, something is critically wrong. Our desire should not simply be to stuff our heads with knowledge, or hear consolations and affirmations from God that keep us focused on what we want. Our desire should be for real truth leading to real change. And if that's our goal, then, when we read, we should be thinking about how to “do the will of God”, just as Jesus emphasized. It was Jesus' half-brother James who wrote: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)
As you read, ask yourself, “How is what I'm reading challenging how I'm living? How can I put these principles into practice?” But those questions should lead us to final point. When you read...
6. Pray After Reading
In Mark 1:35, Jesus exemplifies prayerful-ness for us! But notice how #6 brings us all the way back to point #1. We should pray for spiritual understanding before we read. But we should also pray in light of the spiritual understanding God provides in answer to our prayers. For example, if God open your eyes to the idea of being “fishers of men” for Jesus (1:17), then we should also be praying for opportunities to do just that: to help draw others to Christ and his good news.
III. What's Stopping You?
Real and lasting change, the absolutely most significant change, happens when God transforms you. And that happens as your mind is renewed; that is, when you, through His Spirit, think differently in light of his word. So if all that's true, why wouldn't you join us this year in reading through the New Testament? What's stopping you? Maybe your priorities need to shift. Maybe God is calling you to give up certain things. Maybe there are lies you need to reject. Whatever the case may be, please remember a seventh point: when you read the Bible, read it in community; that is, study God's word with brothers and sisters, on Sundays and throughout the week. Ask questions. Seek encouragement. Be open to counsel. You are not alone. Let's grow in His word together. Amen? Let's apply point #6 and ask God to help us this year. Pray with me!