Bible reading for Jan 29: Genesis 30; Mark 1.
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." (Mark 1:1)
What is a gospel (Mk 1)? "Gospel" means "good news", and often in the sense of an important announcement about a great historical event, like the birth, marriage, or beginning reign of a monarch. The gospel about Christ is summarized in 1 Cor 15:1-8 -- it's the wonderful announcement of the life, death, and resurrection of God's Son, Jesus. We might say that it is "the cradle, the cross, and the crown" at the center of history, which changes everything. But the term "a gospel" (e.g., Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) usually refers to a biographical sketch of the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is not really a biography, but more like a portrait. Each gospel writer was selective in what details to include (Jn 21:25).
Lights, camera, action! Mark gets right into the action. This gospel is shorter than the others, and the word "immediately" (Gr., euthus, 41x) keeps the drama moving. Many scholars believe the Gospel of Mark was written primarily for a Roman audience, since the brevity and action would appeal to readers who lived in a more pragmatic culture. From the earliest decades of church history it was held that John Mark, under the tutelage of the Apostle Peter, wrote this gospel, somewhere in the mid-50s to late-60s AD.
The kingdom (Mk 1:15, 38). Jesus said that his purpose was to proclaim the Kingdom (1:38). Messianic expectation at that time was high. This was the eager hope of the coming of the great king, a descendant of David, also called the Messiah, or the Christ. Key OT chapters that tell about the coming kingdom of God are Psalm 2, 110; Isaiah 9; and Daniel 7. This King would come and establish God's reign of righteousness over the whole world. It seems many in Jesus' day were looking forward primarily to the national and political restoration of Israel, but John the Baptist made it clear that the coming of the Christ had more to do with spiritual restoration (see Isaiah chapters 11 and 53). It would be Christ's return (the second coming) that would bring the restoration of all creation, when "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Hab 2:14).
Authority. Meanwhile, Jesus teaches with authority, and shows his kingly authority over spirits, diseases, and nature. He reveals his authority to forgive sins. And with authority he calls for people to follow him. (And they do!) The first half of Mark's gospel will show how the disciples come to realize that Jesus is in fact the Messiah, and the second half will show how they struggle to understand that the restoration of the whole world will come about through the death of Christ.
My take-away: it's good to read the gospels just like you were in the story. Read them with fresh eyes each time. Use some sanctified imagination to hear the sounds, to picture the scene, and to smell and feel and experience the drama. We always need to remember, however, that this is not ultimately a literary exercise, but rather we come to hear and bow before our great Savior-King, Jesus. We always read the Scriptures in God's presence, "coram Deo", that is, before the face of God. My response, and yours, should be to hear, to believe, and to obey our King.
"When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister." (Gen 30:1a)
Baby boom and animal husbandry (Gen 30). Meanwhile, in our Old Testament reading we see some rather strange folklore in the use of mandrakes and striped sticks. We need to remember in reading the historical portions of Scripture (aka literary narrative) that people and behavior do not become examples for us unless accompanied by a command. In other words, the inspiration of the Bible means that the events are recorded accurately, not necessarily that God morally approves or disapproves of those actions, or that we should "go and do likewise." In fact we see, at least in the case of Rachel, envy was at the root of her actions. I do not believe that the mandrakes and striped sticks had anything to do with the blessing on Jacob's family. (The "thus" in verse is 43 is a waw consecutive and is not causative, but rather, a simple "and".) God blessed Jacob's family with children and livestock not because of what they did but because God had promised to bless them (28:3).
My take-away: Reading this account, I am tempted to say that a big lesson here is to cease striving to fulfill God's promises in your life. Let go and let God do it. Jesus, take the wheel! But, that's not quite the point. Later, Jacob wrestles with an angel and receives a "hip displacement" procedure which leaves him permanently disabled. But, note this, he is told by the angel, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed" (Gen 32:28). Jacob is commended for his tenacity. For the Christian, we receive the gift of eternal life (and justification) by faith alone. It's a gift. There is nothing we can add to Christ's work of salvation -- we are wholly passive in receiving, like beggars with empty hands, or little children (Luke 18:17). But God's work of sanctification, that is, his transforming us into the likeness of Jesus, we certainly add a holy effort to our faith. (See Luke 18:1-8; 1 Cor 15:10; and Phil 2:12-13, for example.) So, it is not effort in itself that is bad, but rather, effort with sinful motives and means. More on this in chapter 32.
We are following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.