Repent and Believe, part 8 (Mark 11-12)

Dr. Rachel Coleman

We’ve been on a challenging, encouraging, and sometimes surprising journey with Jesus and the Twelve through Mark’s Gospel. We’ve been tracking the real-life implications of answering the grand gospel invitation, “repent and believe,” and responding in obedience to the costly gospel imperative, “leave and follow.” (See the previous parts of the series here.) As Jesus and his disciples move into Jerusalem, with the shadow of the cross looming darkly over them, what it means to “repent and believe” takes on sharper edges.

In what is almost like a Shakespearean aside, Mark throws in a conversation between Jesus and the disciples about faith and prayer, sandwiching it between some big, public controversies. In Mark 11:22–25, Jesus teaches the disciples that a prayer life shaped by “repent and believe” will be grounded in three inseparably woven strands: trust God unreservedly (v. 22), ask boldly (vs. 23–24), and forgive extravagantly (v. 25). Asking boldly and well flows out of the relationship of confident trust in God and the disposition to forgive others.

The longer Jesus hangs out in Jerusalem, the more he finds himself in sharp conflict with the religious leaders. And for most of Mark 12, the disciples sort of fade into the narrative background as Jesus and his hostile opponents stand at center stage. Maybe, just maybe, “repent and believe” means that sometimes you have to step back, keep your mouth shut, and just watch and listen as Jesus does his thing, learning from him how to respond to hostility and opposition.

At the very end of Mark 12, there’s another wonderful little aside, with Jesus stepping back from the public stage to have a very intentional conversation with his disciples. Jesus’ words about “the widow’s mite” (12:41–44) make painfully clear that “repent and believe” means giving God the best, the fullest, and the necessary, rather than the leftovers, the “discretionary income,” or the expendable portion of our treasures, talents, and time. It means the kind of giving that expresses not just gratitude but dependence—a total reliance on God that will almost certainly look like foolish risk-taking in the eyes of the world.

Questions to consider:

  • Of the three strands that weave together a strong prayer life—trust fully, ask boldly, forgive extravagantly, which is the “weakest link” for you, and how can you strengthen it? What might change if you do?
  • Where does Jesus’ “conflict management strategy” impact your life? And where might he be calling you to “zip the lip” and let him speak into that situation?
  • How’s the level of risk-taking dependence reflected in your giving?

 

Repent and Believe, part 7 (Mark 10)

Dr. Rachel Coleman

“Repent and believe, leave and follow”—Mark’s Gospel is giving us an extended look into the real-life implications of the gospel’s invitation-imperative package. (See the previous parts of the series here.) In this installment, we’ll consider some of those implications from Mark 10. Warning—these come with a serious “ouch!” factor.

In Mark 10:13–16, the Evangelist gives us a glimpse of something that makes Jesus angry. Mark observes that Jesus becomes “indignant” (v. 14) when his people put up barriers to keep the powerless, the humble, and the vulnerable (like children) away from him. “Repent and believe” means recognizing that we bring nothing of power or privilege or status to the table—the invitation we have accepted is sheer grace. Out of that “graced” reality, we fling wide the gates and clear a path so that other “unworthy” sinners have direct access to Jesus. We don’t have to “keep Jesus safe” from the unruly, rambunctious realities of the human condition.

On the heels of that encounter with some of the “least” in that culture (children), Jesus meets a representative of “the greatest”—a very wealthy man who is contemplating the gospel’s invitation and imperative (Mark 10:17–22). Jesus loves this man who is enslaved to his possessions, and his heart must have broken when the man allowed his wealth to stand as an insurmountable barrier to intimacy and commitment. “Repent and believe” means the deliberate act of releasing ourselves from self-imposed bondage to other masters; it means resolutely relinquishing any other loyalties that would keep us from honestly acknowledging Jesus as Lord.

As the rich man goes away submerged in a grief of his own making, Jesus makes this disconcerting announcement: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23). The disciples are dumb-founded—isn’t material wealth to be interpreted as a sign of God’s blessing? In that kind of worldview, if the rich can’t get in, what hope is there for the un-rich? And what are the implications for disciples who have given up everything to follow Jesus (v. 28)? Jesus offers them a promise—whatever security or relationships or possessions they have left behind to “leave and follow,” they will receive from him an extravagant abundance in return. “Repent and believe” means embracing the “different abundance” of the kingdom, which is only possible when we lay aside the world’s definitions of success and greatness to accept the cross-shaped path of service and humility (see Mark 10:32–43).

Questions to consider:

  • How am I involved in putting up barriers that keep “those people” from entering into relationship with Jesus? What will “repent and believe” look like for me at this point?
  • Are there “little loyalties” that I have allowed to become lords in my life? What will it take to de-throne them so that Jesus is truly Lord?
  • Am I willing to embrace the different kind of abundance that Jesus offers? What are the obstacles to that choice?

 

“Repent and Believe,” part 6 (Mark 9)

Dr. Rachel Coleman

“Repent and believe, leave and follow”—the grand invitation and costly imperatives of the gospel. We’ve been tracking what they look like in Mark’s Gospel, and asking about the implications for discipleship in our own here and now. (See the previous parts of the series here.) In this part of the series, we’ll look at how “repent and believe” looks in Mark 9.

At the end of Mark 8, we hear Jesus telling his disciples some really hard words about the cost of following him. Phrases like “deny yourself, take up your cross, lose your life for my sake” are echoing in their ears. The very next episode Mark narrates is a literal mountain-top experience (we call it the Transfiguration), but he introduces it with a little phrase that caught my attention: “Six days later” (9:2). Between the costly imperatives and the astonishing glimpse of glory, Jesus gives them some time to ponder the truth of who he is and to do some hard thinking about what it means to follow him. Sometimes “repent and believe” means taking time to process the gospel’s invitation and to consider the cost. The initial bold enthusiasm must be paired with serious reflection that cements and anchors the commitment in a robust and resolute decision rather than in a momentary burst of emotion.

At the end of that glorious mountaintop scene, the already-stunned Peter, James, and John are further awed by a voice from heaven (Mark 9:7). “This is my Son, the Beloved,” declares the Father. “Listen to him!” There’s no punctuation in the Greek text, but I’m sure that if Mark were relating this on Facebook or Twitter, he would have written: “LISTEN.TO.HIM!” Sometimes “repent and believe” means that, in the midst of swirling confusion, awe, fear, and questions, the number one choice we make is to listen to Jesus, to hear his voice and heed his authority.

Wouldn’t you expect that the next episodes in Mark 9 would show the disciples living out that kind of listening? Unfortunately, by the end of the chapter, Jesus has to take advantage of a teaching opportunity provoked by their refusal to pay attention to the kind of life he is modeling for them. When he catches them in an argument about power and position, Jesus drops this word of correction into their shame-faced silence: “Whoever want to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (9:35).  “Repent and believe” means giving up any jockeying for power, position, or privilege.

Questions to consider:

  • Have you taken time to “count the cost” of following hard after Jesus, on a path that is inevitably cross-shaped?
  • How are your ears? Are they tuned to Jesus’ voice—and is your will set to obey what you hear him saying?
  • Where are you clinging to a “me first” mentality or to the sneaky, subtle temptation to promote your interests over the interests of others? (Paul gives us a beautiful, Jesus-shaped corrective to this tendency in Philippians 2:1–11.)

 

“Repent and Believe!”, part 5 (Mark 7-8)

We started this series by asking what it really means to “repent and believe,” since this is the fundamental invitation given by Jesus in the Gospels. (See the previous parts of the series here.) The parallel way to describe “repent and believe” is “leave and follow”—and in Mark’s Gospel, both sets of imperatives clearly involve the whole life of the disciple, with sometimes radically challenging implications. In this part of the series, we’ll look at how “repent and believe” looks in Mark 7—8.

In Mark 7:1–23, Jesus has some pretty sharp confrontations with the religious folk of his day. He renders a sharp indictment against them: “You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” (v. 13). That’s a serious charge—that their religious traditions actually “nullify” (cancel, disregard, render void) the word of God, by setting up other standards and norms that obscure the clear desires of God for his people. The call for those of us who would “repent and believe” is to examine our own cherished religious traditions under the ruthless, piercing laser light of the Holy Spirit, in order to discern where they point people to God and where they actually obscure a clear view of God’s character and will.

And then, just in case we might be tempted to set ourselves safely outside the scrutiny of institutional or organizational behaviors and values, Jesus gets uncomfortably personal (Mark 7:17–23). “Repent and believe” means a willingness to allow that same ruthless laser light of the Holy Spirit to illuminate our “inner yuck”—the sinful attitudes that are the seedbed of sinful behavior.

It’s probably no coincidence that in the wake of these tough conversations with religious folk in his own homeland, Jesus takes the disciples on a ministry trip into “foreign lands”—Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis (Mark 7:31–8:9). “Repent and believe” and “leave and follow” mean going with Jesus across social, ethnic, and cultural boundaries to offer grace to people who are outside our tribe. And it also means sighing and groaning with Jesus (7:34) over the distortions, diseases, and disorders that bind the lives of the human beings we encounter in those uncomfortable places.

Finally, in that great juxtaposition of scenes at the end of Mark 8, we discover that “repent and believe” means allowing our “head knowledge” about Jesus to translate into a perspective on life that is fully shaped by Jesus’ identity and Jesus’ purposes. In that wonderful scene in Caesarea Philippi (you’d hear music building to a great crescendo here if this were playing out on screen), Peter makes a resounding declaration of knowledge about Jesus—“You are the Messiah!” (8:29). But almost immediately, Peter turns around and acts out of a totally contradictory perspective, asking Jesus to please do the Messiah thing in a way that will be more comfortable for his followers (8:31–33). Jesus’ rebuke to him (“Get behind me, Satan!”) is probably the sharpest one uttered in the Gospels. Jesus clearly diagnoses the root of Peter’s problem: “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (v. 33, NLT). Ouch! “Repent and believe” means relinquishing my right to define what is good and right and necessary, and submitting to Jesus’ definitions.

Questions to consider:

  • Have you taken the risk to set your religious traditions alongside the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to see where and if they align? What might be keeping you (and your faith community) from doing so?
  • Will you risk the same Spirit-illumined examination of your own inner attitudes and beliefs?
  • Where might Jesus be inviting you to cross some uncomfortable boundaries with him?
  • What will it take for you to relinquish the “right to choose” what is good, right, and necessary, and submit to Jesus’ definition of those things?

 

“Repent and Believe,” part 4 (Mark 6)

 

Dr. Rachel Coleman

“Repent and believe” is the central invitation that Jesus offers in the Gospels, sometimes formulated as “leave and follow.” As we’ve been tracking this through Mark’s Gospel (see the series here), it is strikingly clear that accepting Jesus’ invitation will leave no corner of our lives unchanged. Mark 6—8 offers us more glimpses into the implications of stepping into this whole-life invitation.

We haven’t seen John the Baptist for a while in Mark’s narrative, but in Mark 6:14–29, he makes his final appearance. John demonstrates here the hard truth that “repent and believe” can sometimes mean losing your head—literally! When Jesus-followers who are shaped by kingdom values and kingdom priorities run up against the desperate honor-seeking and power-grabbing of the dominant empire, it often results in danger and sometimes in death. (See here for stories of places where Jesus’ followers confront this reality on a daily basis.) The good news is that Herod—the representative of “empire” in this situation—is presented as penultimate and peripheral in comparison to the ultimate, central reality of the kingdom of God.

Mark 6 is full of evidence that “repent and believe” plays out in ways that make us supremely uncomfortable, because it strikes continual blows against our self-focused lives. John’s experience tops the chart, but the disciples are also strained by other aspects of following Jesus. When he sends them out on a mission to do his works, they experience resounding success (6:6–13). They report to Jesus with enthusiasm (v. 30), but he seems to recognize that they are about to sink into a post-ministry let-down moment. (Think of your pastor’s need for a Sunday afternoon nap!) So Jesus invites the disciples on a retreat (v. 31)—and then promptly lets his compassion for other people interrupt their rest (v. 34)! “Repent and believe” includes allowing Jesus’ compassion toward lost, hungry people to turn unwelcome interruptions into miraculous opportunities. It means living, as Jesus did, out of the fullness of the Holy Spirit rather than the emptiness or strain of our own human limitations.

Jesus went on to add fuel to the fire of their discomfort. Not only did he allow their cherished retreat time to be interrupted, he handed them a crazy task in the midst of their weariness. Jesus looks at the thousands of people who have crammed into what was supposed to be their get-away space; then he looks at the overwhelmed disciples and says, “Okay, boys, give them a meal” (v. 37). When they make a feeble protest, he asks, “What kind of resources do you have available?” (v. 38). And here’s where we see that the whole accumulated experience of “repent and believe” has radically impacted these frail followers. They look at the problem and identify their meager resources with clear-eyed, hard-headed realism; what goes unstated is the obvious insufficiency of five loaves and two fishes to feed 10,000 people. But there’s something about following Jesus that allows them to set these ludicrously small resources before Jesus and not fall to the ground laughing (or crying!) when he tells them to “set the table” 9v. 39). They stay with Jesus in the massive gap between the need and the resources, and they trust that he will be the bridge to connect the two.

Questions to consider:

  • Where might following Jesus lead you into confrontation with the honor-seeking, power-grabbing values of the empire?
  • How is Jesus calling you to replace impatience over interruptions with his compassion for the interrupters? What are your biggest barriers to following Jesus at this point?
  • Where are you struggling to set meager resources alongside massive need? What might Jesus do if you stay with him in the gap between the two?

 

 

 

“Repent and Believe,” part 3 (Mark 5)

 Dr. Rachel Coleman

We’re continuing to track the call to “repent and believe” through Mark’s Gospel—and it is increasingly clear that this is no innocuous, “safe” invitation that Jesus is offering us! Mark 5 provides some more glimpses into the radically life-shaping invitation to repent and believe. Far more than mere intellectual assent to a set of beliefs about Jesus, this call requires hands, feet, head, and heart. (Click here to read Parts 1 and 2 of this series.)

Another gospel invitation that parallels “repent and believe” is “leave and follow.” Part 2 of this series finished with Jesus’ perplexed disciples following him across the stormy lake into a scary confrontation with a demon-possessed man (Mark 5:1–20). Now as we watch Jesus bring transformation and wholeness to that tormented soul, we see the healed man learning two necessary aspects of his new identity as a Jesus-follower. First, he sits with Jesus (v. 15)—the proper posture of one who has received powerful grace. In his gratitude and joy, he sits with the Joy-giver—can’t you just picture him seated at Jesus’ feet, leaning against his knee, gazing up into his face, listening intently to his words, quietly marveling at the peace that has eluded him for so long? But Jesus does not allow him to remain there indefinitely; he sends him out to tell his friends and family about the grace he has received (v. 19). Sitting with Jesus in grateful quiet and going out to tell of his goodness to us are inseparable parts of true repentance and belief.

Almost immediately in Mark’s narrative, we see that “repent and believe,” when put into action, sometimes involves following Jesus even when the route he sets is not straight and clear, but full of zig-zags and double-backs. What is up with all this criss-crossing of the lake (Mark 5:21), the disciples must have been wondering? It’s pretty obvious that the encounter on the far side of the lake was neither accidental nor incidental; Jesus had a plan for crossing the lake in the first place, and he left redemptive transformation in his wake. Sometimes “leaving and following” take us to places or along routes that make no human sense, but if Jesus is setting the course, there is absolute certainty that redemption will happen along the way.

Still in Mark 5 (what a chapter!), we discover that “repent and believe” means learning to see the situations of life through Jesus’ eyes. Here the “leave” in “leave and follow” means leaving behind common sense and reason as the only acceptable lenses through which to view life. Jesus takes his disciples into a scene of grief and asks this startling question: “Why all this commotion and wailing?” (v. 39). (Do you sometimes wonder if the disciples responded to Jesus’ odd questions by staring at him and muttering in embarrassment under their breath, “Well, duh, Jesus!”?) A little girl had just died; common sense and reason assessed this as a situation of irreversible tragedy, which led to weeping and wailing. And when Jesus challenged their perspective (“she is dead,” the observation of reason) with another (“she is asleep,” the declaration of hope rooted in power), they mocked him. When Jesus turned their understanding of reality on its head, everyone in the room—including, presumably, the three disciples—was “overcome by amazement” (v. 42).

Questions to consider:

  • Are you “sitting with Jesus” on a regular basis? And do those times of sweet fellowship spill over into “going to tell” about what he has done for you?
  • Is Jesus leading you on a zig-zagging path in this season of life? What glimpses of his redemptive purposes can you see along the way?
  • Where is Jesus calling you to lay aside reason and common sense as your primary lenses, and to put on a new way of seeing? Are you ready to be amazed by what you will see him do?

“Repent and Believe”–musings on Mark’s Gospel (part 2)

(Part 1, https://bumcdayton.wordpress.com/2018/08/30/repent-and-believe-musings-on-marks-gospel/ )

by Dr. Rachel Coleman

Let’s pick up with Mark 3:31, and continue exploring what kind of “teeth” Mark gives to the over-arching command to “repent and believe the gospel.” What does “repent and believe” actually look like in practice, as people leave behind their old lives and follow Jesus into newness of life? (“Leave and follow” is another big-picture way the Gospels describe “repent and believe.”) Here are some musings on the nitty-gritty content of “repent and believe” in Mark 3—5.

First, another big-picture synonym for repent and believe in Scripture is “doing the will of God.” In Mark 3:31–35, a central aspect of doing God’s will is simply being with Jesus. In that sharply uncomfortable little passage, Jesus looks around him and identifies the doers of God’s will as those who are “seated in a circle around him” (v. 34). All the small enactments of repent and believe/leave and follow/do God’s will have their roots in being present with and for Jesus. The question: How are we practicing being with Jesus? How are we offering him our presence and enjoying his presence?

In the beautiful story of the wild storm that is calmed (Mark 4:35–41), a couple more insights come to the surface. Repent and believe plays out when we take Jesus into the boat with us (v. 36). And a key little phrase follows that action by Jesus’ disciples: they took him along in the boat, “just as he was.” Oh wow! That’s a bit of a zinger! Are we welcoming Jesus into our lives “just as he is,” or are we trying to force him to fit a mold that might be a bit more comfortable, a bit less risky for us?

In that same story, we see that the life of discipleship that begins with repentance and belief includes trusting Jesus to bring peace in the midst of our storms. When the boat was bobbing wildly from side to side, nearly submerged by the waves, the disciples cried out, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38). Jesus’ response was a startlingly effective rebuke of the wind and waves, followed by a plaintive question about their continued anxiety and anemic faith (vs. 39–40). It seems clear that “taking Jesus into the boat” as an act of repentance and belief is an invitation to trust that he is both good enough and powerful enough to be all we need in the midst of rocky seas. Where are the cracks in our faith that allow anxiety to trump peace? Where are we doubting either Jesus’ goodness toward us or his power to keep us?

Right on the heels of the storm, as soon as they landed on the other side of the lake, Jesus led them straight into another faith-making situation (Mark 5:1–8). From a scary natural phenomenon to a terrifying psycho-spiritual encounter, Jesus leads them straight from one “impossible situation” to another. It seems that part of a life shaped by “repent and believe” is a willingness to go with Jesus into impossible situations. In both the storm and the encounter with the demon-possessed man, all it took was an authoritative word from Jesus to bring order and peace out of chaos and terror. Where do we need to invite Jesus into our “impossibilities,” to heal us, still our storms, cast out our impurities, or cast down our strongholds?

Mark, it seems, has a great deal to teach us about what it means to live a life shaped by the decision to repent and believe! And we’re only five chapters in—what new insights might lie ahead as the remaining 11 chapters unfold?