INTRODUCTION TO THE GOSPELS
“The Early Ministry of Jesus” (Part 1)
INTRODUCTION TO THE GOSPELS
The Gospel of Mark. (Session One)
Outline of Mark’s Gospel
i. Authorship and Date of Writing
ii. The Synoptic Problem
iii. Purpose of the Gospels
iv. Difficulties in Mark
Free to Change * Galatians 1:11-24
We live in a world of change opportunities. Browse the internet or magazine covers in the store or book titles on Google, and you will encounter hundreds of offers to change: a better marriage, be better parents, be a better you, lose weight, be happy, gain muscle, get a Beach Body, remodel your home…
One of the great freedoms we receive in Christ is the freedom to change. So many people feel that their life is “stuck” where they are:
Our own mind can tell us that trying to change is futile. A new book called Chatter written by a neurologist deals with the internal conversations we continually have with ourselves that can severely hamper us. We get trapped in ‘stinkin thinking;’ cycles of bad memories discourage us; wounding words spoken by parents or those in authority still influence us.
We have tried to change before, and it didn’t work. Our past distorts our present. Our fears raise their heads. Lies permeate our thoughts. Why make the effort? Maybe even people close to you tell you it’s useless… or you’ll always be
But the Gospel brings us freedom and power to change! And no greater example of that freedom to change exists than in the testimony of a former Jewish rabbi named Saul of Tarsus, or as we most commonly know him, Paul the Apostle.
One of the things we learn as we hear Paul’s heart and story, is the power our testimony has to impact other people. While your story may not be as dramatic as Paul’s was, (actually few are), it is still your story. You need to know that more people will respond to the Gospel by your testimony than by your efforts to argue or reason someone into a decision. People will reject your arguments. They cannot ignore your testimony, and the way that following Jesus has affected and transformed you.
In the Book of Revelation we read, And they have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (—Rev 12:11)
Paul wrote later in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “If any one is in Christ they are a new creation…old things have passed away and behold, all things have been made new.” In the passage in Galatians 1, Paul begins telling us his testimony of how he knew this was true.
TEXT. Galatians 1:11-15
The Origination of Paul’s Message
a. Not from man.
b. Began in God
The conversation that spurs Paul sharing something of his life’s experience was a challenge to his authority as an apostle. By definition, there are no “new” apostles. An apostle was a person who had spent time with Jesus on earth, who walked with Him and followed Him, and who then encountered Him in His resurrection.
The apostles, by the way, were younger men. It is thought that Peter was probably the oldest, and he was just about Jesus’ age which puts him in his early 30’s. Paul may have been a little older, but probably not by a lot.
But the early Christians knew and respected these men. They had walked with Jesus and were eyewitnesses of His ministry for three years! An apostle was one “sent out” with a message. The word “apostle” literally means “sent one.” They were apostles of Jesus, sent with His message of hope into the world. (Acts 1:21-26)
Apostles, however, were not limited to the Christian community. The Jews also had their own apostles, sent with messages into various settings and situations as they were authorized by their leaders. This maybe helps us understand Paul’s early statements that he was an apostle sent, “not from men, but from God.” (Gal 1:1)
That opened the door for him to explain how it was that he could consider himself an apostle sent from God rather than from men. The Jewish legalists were undermining Paul’s credentials and credibility with the Galatians by challenging his apostolic claims. And so the claim that his message “was not from man…but by revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1:11-12).
The Conversion of Paul
Paul’s grace story is truly dramatic and amazing. It is not, by the way, normal. It is not to be used as a measuring stick to evaluate the genuineness of our conversion. Paul was changed from a terrorist into an apostle. We cannot imagine the depth of change that had to take place in Paul’s life.
a. Our need of grace
We all need grace to change. Paul was a fervently religious man. As we learn elsewhere, he was a member of one of the most radical and highest ranking groups in Judaism. And he took his God, his religion, and himself very seriously. His testimony is the example of a person running headlong in one direction, being confronted, and then turning and going in the opposition direction.
He “persecuted (forced into silence) the church.” Even those who didn’t know Paul personally knew of his reputation. Let’s imagine for a moment, that Osama bin Laden was still living. And not only living, but still wreaking havoc through acts of terrorism. Then one day, something incredible happens to him in the desert. He has a vision of the resurrected Christ, and then he disappears for some time.
A couple of years later, we get a flyer that says, “The former terrorist, Osama bin Ladin would like to come to your church and share his incredible testimony of miraculous transformation.” This man, fervent and fanatic for the religion of Islam, who took countless thousands of lives of American people in the name of Allah, now wants to come and preach to you about Jesus. Would you trust this?
Your reluctance was the same reluctance people felt about Paul. They knew him as Saul, the fire-breathing Jesus-hating rabbi who had been authorized by the Jewish authorities to kill, imprison, torture, and harass believers…and he did it zealously and proudly. He believed he was serving God as he did this.
But now, he comes as Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ, preaching peace and love and mercy and grace and forgiveness of sins. People didn’t want to let him forget what he once was. The reality is, he never forgot. And for some, we can’t let go of what we once were. The deeper our sin, the greater our gratitude for the grace of God. We know how much we needed to be forgiven.
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:9–10)
Jesus said, “He who is forgiven much, loves much.” Paul was forgiven much. He needed grace, and found that grace given freely in Jesus.
b. God’s offer of grace
But this fervent, Jewish rabbi who was living and breathing hatred for all things Christian and who wanted to destroy anything remotely connected to this renegade Jesus, was changed by God’s grace. “But God, who caused me to be born, called me by His grace…”. “To reveal His Son in me….”
When God calls us, it’s not like you calling. You can call your children to the dinner table, and they can say “just a minute!” And in just a minute they still aren’t there. “Ill be right there…” Or you can call someone you need to talk to and get put on hold. You know what I mean.
But when God calls, you don’t say “just a minute.” It stops you in your tracks. The call and the deed are simultaneous. The strength to do what He calls comes.
What stopped Saul, the angry and violent rabbi in his tracks, was a vision of the risen Christ just outside of Damascus. Acts 9 tells us it happened in the middle of the day, the risen Lord appeared to Saul. As we understand it, only he saw Jesus…none of those with him. The appearance and power of the resurrected Jesus knocked him to the ground, and He said, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting ME?”
And because of that encounter with Jesus, Saul came away a new person with a new mission and direction in his life. He was transformed…changed by the grace of God. This is probably an opportune moment for me to ask you: Has your life been changed by the grace of God? A few thoughts occur to me from this:
Gospel Driven Change
Maybe you’ve given up on the idea of following Jesus because you’ve been hurt by the behavior of Christians or by a church. And all of this has left you disillusioned about the claims of the Bible. And yet, something inside you wants it to be true, wants it to be real. You feel empty or just feel alone in the universe.
i. Not a sermon—just talk
ii. Not complicated—be simple and clear.
iii. Not an argument—just tell your story (“Can I tell you…”)
iv. Not long—be brief. Two-three minutes. (All the useless stuff on insta) 1 billion registered users on Instagram in 2020
v. Not confusing—be logical (before Christ, conversion, life since)
vi. Not about you—glorify God! (v 24)
People aren’t coming to church to become Christ followers…they are being touched by your story…your testimony…your witness to them…the life you’re living. SHARE YOUR STORY! You work where they are; you live where they do; you go to school with them.
Gritty hope. Endurance…
i. The unlearning curve. Paul had to rethink his whole life! “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”
ii. Time in obscurity (14 years, Gal 2:1). Obscurity is a great location for a degree in following Jesus. Our day of instant notoriety for some who were famous before coming to Christ is not healthy. I’m suspicious of any leader who hasn’t spent time in obscurity.
iii. Taught by Jesus, not by men. Learn to read the Bible
“Nevertheless, not My will but Thine be done…” (Luke 22:42)
We are living through times like we’ve never experienced in our lifetime. The uncertainty of it all produces a lot of dilemmas for us. Times of crisis usually do. They are “perplexing.” They are chaotic.
Ideally, though, they force us to our knees in prayer. Maybe we need to spend more time just focused there, rather than worry about the storm blowing around us. Every emotion you are experiencing right now… fear, anxiety, anger, depression, loneliness, frustration… should be processed before God in prayer. Don’t dwell on it until you have prayed about it!
We stand in serious times, to paraphrase a famous quote of John Adams. Most of us have never seen times more serious than these. It seems almost hourly a new reality is revealed making our bad situation worse.
Let’s admit it. We do find ourselves confused, perplexed, sometimes frightened, anxious, stressed, and unsure what to do next. Sometimes that is precisely where life circumstances bring us. God knows right where you are today. He is still on His throne and He is the One we bow before.
Even as our Lord did that night in the garden. In His most perplexing moment, He brought it to the Father in prayer.
And let us ALWAYS do the same!
Coming Back to Grace” * Galatians 1:1-11
Galatians is like the balance pole that trapeze artists carried. Its purpose was to keep them from falling off one side or the other and plunging to an injury or even death. Paul was seeing the Galatian Christians lose their spiritual equilibrium…a balancing act we all have to master.
A lot of things come at us as believers that can knock us off balance if we’re not careful. On one side, we can fall off into a legalistic mindset and belief system, believing that our own work is what pleases God or is truly what He requires.
On the other side is a life of license, a disregard for the truth and standards set forth in God’s Word leaving us to determine for ourselves what good and evil are. It cheapens grace. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, it is “forgiveness without repentance, forgiveness without a cross.” These are people who consider themselves “spiritual,” but have no use for the Bible. They apply Jesus to themselves like an app on a phone that offers some inspiration on living your best life now.
So, what does the tightrope look like? How do we know we are keeping our balance? How do we know we are standing on the real Gospel, and not a distorted one? (BTW, the word “gospel” was not a spiritual or religious term…it was a word that simply meant “good news.”)
Accept the truth of reality.
We are, by nature, born into a world that will one day be ground zero of God’s judgment and wrath against sin. We are by nature children of wrath. The world we live in is broken by our sin. We can’t put it back together, and ultimately God will judge it.
Whether we are aware or not, we desperately need to be rescued, and we cannot rescue ourselves. God has done everything necessary to accomplish our rescue, by sending His Son to save and deliver us. But we’re like people who are asleep in a burning house and unaware of the smoke and flames threatening us.
(NEO/Matrix) Like the lead character in this movie, the human race lives in a kind of deluded, dreamlike existence, blinded by our sin, until by grace God opens our eyes and we see what is really happening.to us, and to the world. Every person is impacted by this, and lives with a death sentence. “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.” (Tightrope walkers find a fixed point to focus on)
Trusting that there is no other means of rescue than Jesus is what saves us. We cannot save ourselves, or anyone else. Having confidence that what the Bible says about why Jesus came and what Jesus did is true, and He really died “for our sins” a death for us on Calvary…He was buried…and He physically rose from the dead on the third day to deliver us, literally, to “rescue” us from this present evil age.
We will keep our balance if we stay focused on the simple Gospel: We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone. That is the balance we must cling to without letting go. Accepting reality helps us keep our balance.
Address the Danger of a Distorted Gospel
You know, Paul was really intolerant about this. “Let those who preach another Gospel be accursed.” Those are hard words, especially in a culture that now tolerates ANYTHING…except intolerance. Tolerance is the highest virtue and intolerance the greatest evil in our culture today. He called those who came promoting legalism “troublemakers.” He said, “I am amazed that you are so quickly turning….” This means they were changing allegiance. If your team is losing, you go out to the kiosk, but the jersey for the other team.
But think about it. Add something to the vaccine formula or take something out of it. now what? People will die. Or they will think they’re vaccinated but they’re not. Paul knew there was only one “vaccine” for sin…the sacrifice of Jesus.
The Jewish proselytizers had come to “fully convert” these new believers to full acceptance by God, they taught, by teaching them Jewish religious system; a system filled with rituals and rules and self-effort. They came and loaded the new Christians down with burdens of law and man-made rules and rituals that they themselves couldn’t keep. It disrupted the delicate balance of the Galatian Christians.
Paul’s campaign against the Jewish proselytizers was successful. But while the Jewish form of legalism doesn’t threaten the church today, other forms do. The flesh is incurably religious, and we are continually looking for ways to justify ourselves by our own works. So, we add our own “man-made” rules and treat them like they are from God, and judge others when they don’t do it our way.
“Contend” (agonize, struggle) for the Gospel…(Jude 3)
The problem of a distorted Gospel, whether we add to it or take from it. “It is not a gospel.” “No Gospel at all.”
Adhere to the Gospel You Received
THE Gospel of Jesus Christ, the GOOD NEWS about Jesus, is that He has come to rescue us and bring us salvation by grace…and we receive it through faith. If we lose that simple perspective, we will lose our balance.
1). The Gospel-centered Proposition
There is a truth to the Gospel…a rational, propositional process… that’s the only way people could “distort/pervert/reverse” it. “My truth….Oprah and Prince Harry and Meagan’s interview….telling ‘their truth.’ New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo apparently has a version of “his truth” that stands in conflict with statistics. Which is “truth?” Truth is an objective, verifiable reality…not a picture of reality we create.
Jesus did not say “I am a way, a truth, and a life…or I am my truth…” but “the truth” without which no one can come to the Father.
2). A Gospel-centered illumination
(Seeing the truth…hearing the truth….first time…It’s why when you try to tell someone what you know to be so wonderful and true about Jesus, they look at you like you’re crazy, or more…they’ll stare at you with the eyes of a corpse. We are dead in trespasses and sins.
This is how people who are not Christians can sit through a church service unmoved even though they have heard truth, heard the Gospel that can set them free. That’s how many of you did that for years and years until your eyes opened.
The first thing we begin to see is ourselves in honest light. We see our sin, and even our desperation. But then, like for the very first time, we see God for Who He is, that He loves us and stands ready to forgive us and that is what changes us….forever.
3). A Gospel-centered adoration
We love God for Who He is…want to spend time alone with Him…”Who, having not seen, yet we love…”. God pursues us…it is not because we have done good things that He pursues us, but because of His own nature and love for us.
If we are working for our acceptance and salvation, we will only love God for what He does for us…feel like that is what we deserve….forsake and be disappointed with God when He doesn’t pay up.
So maybe today you are feeling a stirring inside of yourself that you can’t explain or understand. Maybe you have begun to have your eyes opened to truths you thought you knew, but now they’ve come alive.
What do you do? You trust it. You trust it.
Blondin was one of the most famous high wire artists of all time. He had walked across Niagara Falls on a thin wire hundreds of times. Occasionally, he would up the ante and would juggle some balls or push a wheelbarrow across the wire as he walked. And then he would come back to the crowd, and ask them “Do you believe I can do that again?” They would roar back, YES! Then he would single out a man or woman, and say “Do you believe I can do it?” Again, YES! “Do you believe I could do it with a person in the wheelbarrow?”. YES! And then he’d ask, “Would you get in the wheelbarrow with me?”
Some say, “OF course I believe what Jesus did on the cross, and I believe he was resurrected.” But have you ever “gotten in the wheelbarrow?” Are you willing to stake your life on it…your eternity?
GALATIANS: “Legalism, License, or Liberty”
Are you a free person? I’m not asking if you’re an American. I’m not even asking the fundamental evangelism question “have you trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” I’m asking, “are you living out your freedom in Christ?”
In his book Traveling Light, the late Eugene Peterson wrote,
Living in the land of the free has not made us free; we are a nation of addicts and complainers. Being provided with freedom of religion has not made us free; coercive cults and enslaving superstitions still proliferate. Assembling with people in church and listening to ringing proclamations of freedom—“He whom the Son sets free is free indeed!”—has not made us free. Our churches are attended regularly by the inhibited, the obsessive-compulsive, the fearfully defensive—enough of them to provide outside observers with a stereotype.
We will begin a journey today that will take us several months to conclude. My prayer is it will lead us to a place of practically living out the freedom that is ours in Christ!
“The Letter to Galatians” is probably the earliest, meaning the first writing we have in the New Testament. It may also be one of the most important. Galatians historically has changed individuals and started movements unlike any other letter!
Like our nation’s Declaration of Independence or Constitution, it is a document that guarantees your freedom and defines what that looks like. However, even though you have privileges from this document that affect your life every day, very few Americans have ever really, seriously thought much about it…or even read it.
In the same way, Galatians is a charter of our freedom in Christ. And in the same way, very few Christians have ever taken the time to read the six chapters that make up this letter, let alone to seriously think through its implications. So, we’ll take some time over the next few months (off and on) to walk through this important book of the Bible with the goal of more completely embracing the freedom we have in Christ.
Galatians starts out as an affirmation of faith, but it is also a defense of Paul’s authority as an apostle. Though there is a doxology, there are no individuals named or well-wishes offered. Most New Testament letters start with a personal greeting. There is just this white-hot urgency to Paul’s words. He has no time and no words to waste.
Galatians was written to address a very urgent situation in a specific time. But while that is true, it has application to us today. One said that all the great love songs ever written were written to one person, yet the whole world loves them.
Paul’s heart was broken for those who had just come to Christ, found freedom in Him, but were now returning to their former ways which led back to spiritual captivity. A key statement of the letter is “for freedom Christ has made us free…why submit again to a yoke of bondage?”
In our work with prisons, we have encountered the word “recidivism.” It speaks to the rate at which freed inmates of our prison system eventually return to be reincarcerated. The rate in the US in 2020 was 50%. It tells us that many who have spent years inside the prison system never learned how to survive and flourish outside. Though the prison system says they’re free, they never really learn to flourish in that freedom.
We can find ourselves in the same spot as those returning prisoners; who prefer chains to freedom; bondage to liberty. The threats to our liberty fall under two broad headings:
The practice of legalism, which leads to frustration
Legalism, in a simple definition, is trying in our own energy and through our own rules to make ourselves righteous before God. It is adding to the Gospel. Grace says, “There’s nothing you can do to make God love you less; and there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more.” He loves you perfectly, just as you are.
But while we might agree, and we may even buy a coffee mug with that on it, far too few live like it in actual fact. We don’t believe “there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less,” so we live in condemnation for everything we do wrong. Then we set out trying to be as religiously and morally pure as possible to satisfy that insatiable voice. That’s one version of legalism. Just trying not to get it wrong, lest we lose the love and approval of God.
Others might hear, “…nothing….make God love you more,” but we don’t believe that either, and set out trying to add to the simple Gospel that says, “all that we need to do to receive the love and approval of God is trust Christ’s finished work at the cross.” So, we add lists and rules and regulations…a list of rules and dos and don’ts we try to keep…as if they were handed down by God. (The Jewish Torah added 613 rules to the law of God.) We aren’t much different. Avoiding certain activities, subscribing to the right political views, reading the right authors, doing really good things but making sure they end up on Instagram, all fall in the definition of legalism. This is the false gospel of good works.
Legalism isn’t a private thing. Legalists need others to embrace their lists of “don’t do this” or you’ll be condemned or “do that” and God will really love you in a special way. They need to be seen adhering to that list, as the Pharisees Jesus condemned who “love to be seen giving alms to the poor and being heard saying the loudest prayers and giving large sums in the offering. Legalists need you to join them in alternately feeling condemned for falling short or feelings superior for getting it right. We lock ourselves in bondage by our practice of good deeds to get God’s approval. And we never know if it’s enough.
The promise of license, which leads to futility
If legalism adds to the simple Gospel of grace which says Jesus + nothing=freedom, the promise of license takes away from the Gospel. “Jesus? I don’t believe in a God.”
Human nature does NOT like to be constrained. We do NOT want to be controlled. We want to set our own boundaries, our own priorities, and live for our own self-fulfillment. The issue of transgender (the “t” in LGBTQ) and sexual identity is one way of throwing off the constraints we feel are placed on us as human beings. “Who are you to tell me I have to be a man…or a woman…” That is called “license.” In other words, “I alone have the right to determine my life and my identity on my own terms, without the constraints of cultural restrictions or religious or moral limitations.”
You know, we are limited, finite beings. We have no control over which body we are born in, or no control of the parents or family we’re born to. You can’t control the race you are born from, or the parents you are born to, or the country you are born in…the place of your birth. “God establishes these things.”
Nor do we have control over our gender. It’s a limitation that we have now come to feel we have the right to throw off, or in reality that we MUST throw off, chemically or surgically, if we’re unhappy about it because that is how freedom is now defined. We must “live our truth” and “be our authentic self,” which almost always means going public with a hidden life of LGBTQ. But now our culture is making heroes out of those who do this. See the appeal to impressionable young people who don’t know who they are?
But this “other gospel” is secular society’s version of the good news which states “You can be whatever you say you are.” “Live your truth.” That’s the culture’s new gospel, that’s the “other gospel” that is now mainstream. But like other false gospels, it promises freedom but leads to bondage…a life of insecurity and loneliness and as one trans- gendered man admitted, “a fear of never being forgiven.” This is how it goes when we try to root our identity in ANYTHING or ANYONE but Jesus, Who created us as we are. He is the only One Who can give us identity, meaning and purpose. Anything less is a fake gospel, which leads those who follow it to futility.
A position of liberty, which leads to freedom.
There is one path between; a path that leads to liberty, a truth that truly makes us free. And that path, that truth, is embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a path of self-denial to gain true fulfillment and true freedom. There is a right way to believe this: “Who has bewitched you?” Believing correctly matters.
Another gospel won’t work. Adding to the Gospel, as we seek to do when we become legalistic, won’t work. Taking from the Gospel in license is following “another Gospel,” and not the Gospel that leads to freedom.
Paul said, “If anyone preaches another gospel…” than the one he preached….” let them be accursed.” (Another of a different kind.)
2+2=4. I think that’s still correct. So, does 2+5=4? No, that is adding to the total. Does 2+1=4? No that’s taking away from the total. While part of the formula is intact, if we add to or take away from the truth of the simple equation 2+2=4, the answer is wrong. It may be wrong by one digit, or it may be wrong by 5,000 but it’s still wrong!
The right answer is “I take Jesus; Jesus alone…add nothing to that simple equation: Not good deeds, not religious rituals, not being from a Christian family or even a church membership. Simply Jesus Christ, alone. By faith I receive Him. Jesus is our justification.
The right answer is “I take Jesus; Jesus alone…taking nothing away by living for my own fulfillment and self-actualization. Taking nothing from the simple equation: Jesus plus nothing = freedom. Jesus plus nothing=life. Trusting Jesus, and that’s all.
Well, what do I need? Nothing…but your need. We need rescuing. God did not throw a rule book into the sea as we were drowning. He sent His Son, Who was born like us, and Who died to save us.
“Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” Your hands are empty and free that you might simply cling to Jesus. That’s freedom. That’s liberty. That’s life!