The Gospels Tell the Story of God's Return

“The Son is the image of the invisible God…” “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…” Jesus is God in the flesh, is the beautiful proclamation of Colossians 1:15-19. In the 17th and 18th centuries, most people were what are called “Deists” who believed that God was up in his heaven and we are here on earth. If he did in fact create the world, he has retreated to his heaven and no longer has any interaction with this world anymore. This thinking about God steadily transformed into the explicit atheism of the 19th and 20th centuries. With an increasing amount of the culture claiming that God doesn’t exist, Christians have felt the need to “prove” the existence of God and in turn the existence of Jesus as God. This is a wild oversimplification of the shifts in Western culture over the last handful of centuries but I simply want to provide the context for why we mat read scripture a certain way. Within this mindset, we’ve looked to the Gospels to “prove” that Jesus is God. Scholarship spent a great deal of time sorting out that John’s Gospel presents Jesus as divine and the other three do not. The conclusion they often came to is that John was written later than therefore Christ’s divinity was a belief later added to church teaching. Thankfully, the shift in scholarship today is moving away from this kind of thinking about the Gospels. Each Gospel writer presents Jesus as divine but they often do so through a Jewish lens and we simply miss it. Instead of looking for the moments in the Gospels and pointing and shouting, “He’s divine!!” I want to encourage us to read through the Gospels as the story of how YHWH (GOD) came back to his people at last. He did so in Jesus Christ!

Monday – Isaiah 40:1-11; Malachi 3:1-5; Mark 1:1-13

-       Reading Isaiah and Malachi, who is the way being prepared for?

-       What is Mark communicating about the identity of Jesus in quoting Isaiah and Malachi at the beginning of his gospel account?

-       What does Isaiah 40:10-11 tell you about God? About Jesus? Take a moment to meditate on this image of who God is in Jesus. Sit in God’s presence as Shepherd and allow yourself to be sheep for a moment. How does this change how you view life? How does this change how you view God? Jesus?

Tuesday – Exodus 19:1-11; (ch20-23 are the exchanging of vows for the relationship between God and the Tribes) 24:1-4; Mark 1:16-20, 2:13-17, 3:13-19.

“Mark’s Jesus goes about doing and saying things that declare that Israel’s God is now becoming king – Israel’s dream come true. But Jesus is talking about God becoming king in order to explain the things he himself is doing. He isn’t pointing away from himself to God. He is pointing to God in order to explain his own actions.” – N.T. Wright, How God Became King, p.92

-       With Exodus 19 and 24 fresh in your mind, what is Mark doing in his gospel account with the story of Jesus? What would a first century Jew see in these passages about Jesus?

-       The imagery Mark is leaning on shifts the view of Jesus from being the one who leads the 12 to the one who calls them into existence and gives them their status and role. This is what God was doing in Exodus. Think about who Jesus called to be the 12. How does Jesus “calling them into existence and giving them their status and role” change their identity and their ability to follow Jesus?

-       There was nothing significant about Israel other than the fact that God chose them. They were a messed up people chosen to help redeem a messed up world. Who did Jesus choose to partner with him in redeeming this broken world? Mark 2:17 – Who did Jesus come for? Who are “sick” people that you struggle to care about?

-       You are a messed up person. God/Jesus calls you to follow him. He changes your role and your status as one who is called. Take time to reflect on your life. What areas of your life need to be shaped by this identity of one who is called?

-       Side Note: When looking at who the 12 are, or more specifically who they are not, we have often focused on the fact that they are not women. The tribes are organized by male clan leaders, which was custom in a patriarchal culture. Focusing on the gender of the 12 often draws focus away from the major point that Jesus choosing the 12 was to celebrate God’s faithfulness to Israel. This is symbolized in the 12 being chosen. Therefore, it is important when focusing on “who God did not choose” that we recognize that he did not choose any Gentiles. The focus is less on who can be in leadership and more on what the 12 symbolizes in Jesus’ mission: God is faithful to Israel and has returned.

Wednesday – Ps. 65:5-8, 89:8-9, 107:28-32; Mark 4:35-41

There aren’t just prophetic passages pointing to Jesus coming but Jesus embodies and acts in ways that point to what the Jews would expect of God to return. What was unexpected was that God would come in the form of a person. Read these passage from Psalms. They disciples would know these Psalms by heart. Place yourself in the boat with the disciples with these Psalms in mind.

-       They call him teacher but after his actions with the storm they ask, “Who is this?” What are some ways you view Jesus that need to be challenged by the actions you see him doing in the Gospels?

-       When was the last time you sat back and simply asked, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” Take a moment to ask God to open your eyes to how He is working in the world so that you will continually challenge and expand your view of who He is. My view of God is often and always too small because I limit my view to my experience. Allow the question of “Who is this?” to work on you.

-       With the “Who is this?” question in mind, read Mark 5 from the disciples’ perspective.

Thursday – Psalm 22 and Mark 15:21-41

I want to continue to echo that the Gospels are not stories to “prove” that “Jesus is God” but that they tell a story about God coming back in person to rescue his people. This is a slight shift in thinking but moves us from working out “theory” and moves us into seeing the larger narrative that Jesus is acting in. Mark doesn’t seem too concerned with giving us answers in the form of theory. We theorize about what is going on when Jesus (God-in-flesh) cries out from the cross a cry of anguish and abandonment. Mark simply invites you to pay attention to the story. He invites you to come live in it and allow the story to shift the ground on which you are standing.

-       We’ve talked about God returning in the form of Jesus to redeem his people. What are the implications of “King of the Jews” being posted above him on the cross?

-       “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – What is your reaction to this at first blush? How does your reading of it change after reading all of Psalm 22? What is Mark communicating?

-       Jesus was called “God’s Son” at his baptism (1:11) and now called “God’s Son” by the centurion. There are political implications to this which we will talk about in two weeks. The term “God’s son” would have at least four meanings for Mark and the early Christians:

1.     In the OT, Israel itself is called “God’s son” (Ex. 4:22; Jer. 31:9)

2.     The messiah, Israel’s anointed king, is “God’s son.” This seems to be the primary meaning in the baptism story (2 Sam 7:12-14; Ps. 2:7; 89:26-27)

3.     “Son of God” was a title regularly taken by Roman emperors from Augustus onward.

4.     In Jesus, Israel’s God had become present, a human, living in the midst of his people, setting up his kingdom, taking on the full weight of the chaos of this broken creation, and conquered death to bring about his new creation in the resurrection. This view of Jesus as “God’s Son” came along very quickly in early Christianity.

-       With these four views of “Son of God” in mind, what implications do you see in the centurion’s proclamation?

-       Who does Mark say is with Jesus at his death on the cross? Where are the apostles? Why does Mark go out of his way to list off all of the women who were there?

Friday – Luke 19:11-48

-       19:11-26 – Context “He went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” Read this parable with our discussion in mind that Jesus is God who has come back to Jerusalem. The meaning of the parable is that this is the time when God was coming back (in Jesus), coming back finally to see what his people have done with their centuries-old commission.

-       How does this make you read this parable differently? If Christ were to visit today, how well have we done with our commission? Also, what is our commission (try not to settle for a quick Sunday school answer)?

-       Jesus then enters Jerusalem as king. He tells the parable above to explain what was going on when he himself was arriving in Jerusalem. Jesus then enters the Temple and cleanses it. What does the parable tell you about Jesus’ actions in 19:28-48? How do Jesus’ actions shape how you read this parable? How does the parable shape how you view Jesus’ actions?

-       If you would like, keep reading in Luke’s Gospel account and see how the text comes to life with Jesus’ action as God who comes back to Israel. His acted out parable in the Temple of its destruction leads to the long discourse in Luke 21 about the destruction of the Temple (pointing to 70AD when Titus marches in with his army and destroys it).