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The Seed of the Kingdom Gospel

 “It is like a grain of mustard seed… the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:31-32)

Although Mark is prominently a book of Jesus’ mighty works, recording nineteen miracles and only four parables, it is still clear that the wonderful Worker Is also a trustworthy Teacher: John the Baptist is a preacher, and Jesus also is introduced as a preacher, taking up and enlarging the message of John. Striking references are made to His originality, methods, popularity and matchlessness as a teacher (Mark 1:22). A miracle is definitely declared to be for the purpose of instruction (Mar 2:10), and the implication is frequent that His miracles were not only the dictates of His compassion, but also purposed self-revelations. Not only is He Himself a teacher, but He is concerned to prepare others to be teachers (Mar 3:13-14).

In his teaching about the main subject – the Kingdom of God – the Lord uses the illustration of seeds that are planted and result in edible fruit or large trees in ways far beyond the understanding of farmer (Mark 4:26-32). This must have made little sense to those who listened to the Lord when he was sowing this gospel seed; many Jews were not buying it, especially the leaders. How would it become a great tree? How would it survive the persecution of the Jewish authorities, let alone the Roman imperialists? Indeed the gospel has been met with adverse conditions and numerous attempts to wipe it off the surface of the earth, but it still thrives, and thrives really big today. Symbolically, the birds that come to perch nests on the large tree have even much less understanding of how the little seed grew into such a structure. Remember the ignorance expressed in parts of this hymn:

I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart,

Nor how believing in His word wrought peace within my heart.

I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin,

Revealing Jesus through the Word, creating faith in Him.

What we don’t know does not stop the reality from continuing. The seed of the gospel is potent and alive; when buried, it won’t just stay in the ground. It will sprout at some point, and beat the odds of weather and winds and grow, taking to the skies and standing firm and tall. The tree serves the farmer, the strangers who rest in the shade under it, the birds of the air, and the animals that eat the fruits falling down. Similarly, the benefits of the good news are for a wide variety of people. Our role is to spread this gospel; what we sow may look tiny and in danger, but God will bring up somehow.

But, “I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able

to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.”

 

 

Jesus Christ Is Calling You

And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.” (Mark 2:14)

 Earthly glories should never cause one to lose their vision and purpose. As Jesus gained more and more fame, he could have stopped and basked, enjoying the earthly honours – when everyone was searching for him, but he did not. And he said to them,“Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:37-38). Jesus kept his the scope of his outreach mission in focus in order not to be derailed by any distractions – bitter or sweet. In the passage in the next Chapter, observe the unity of his actions, his words, and his message of beckoning that demands a response even today, because the mission is still on.

Mark 2:13-17 records the Lord teaching many beside the sea, then calling one he found at a tax booth. He then accepted to go dine with this one Levi, whose friends were his peers at work and their friends – tax collectors and sinners. These actions speak louder than words; the Pharisees were hearing but hardly understanding what Jesus was saying through these actions. In many African and Asian cultures eating together is very significant in building and maintaining close relationships. It means deep mutual acceptance of one another. How could such a righteous Rabbi stoop that low to eat with these sinners? Levi and his friends did not ask that question; they simply understood the gesture and followed and were transformed by their new friend Jesus Christ.

The scribes of the Pharisees who dared question Jesus’ actions were given a seemingly obvious answer: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Luke (5:3-11) gives more details of what happened when Jesus called Simon Peter, “… he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’” Now another sinner has been called by the same Master. He promised Peter to be a fisher of men,and indeed he fished them – beginning with 3000 on the Day of Pentecost, then anymore, both Jews and Gentiles, from the three continents of Asia, Europe and Africa.Levi demanded from the people to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; in his new calling he demanded from the people to give to God what belongs to God. The Gospel of Matthew is his legacy to bring the same message to generations in the future.

His actions are clearly consistent with his words. Given that the mission is not yet over,Jesus still calls to send out, and He is calling you. You may see shortcomings in yourself,as did Peter and Levi, but what is required is just to trust and follow the one who calls. Like a physician that turns around the sick and sad to become healthy and happy,the Lord is able to transform the losing sinner into a loving winner – a worthy vessel to participate in this great divine mission at hand.

 

Jesus in Power and in Prayer

And they were all amazed… “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27,35)

Our Lord Jesus Christ was quickly rising to fame in Galilee due to mighty words and mighty works. His captivating preaching and conspicuous power were celebrated and sought after. His hearers were amazed then, and even his readers today are amazed. The most valuable response could only arise from a clear appreciation that Jesus’ life was characterized with a balance of power illustrated and disciplined prayer. This reflection examines why he worked the wonders, how he kept his ministry focus, and what he did with the fame.

The visitations of Jesus Christ in synagogues or in homes were great blessings with sweet words and transforming miracles. Mark 1 records Jesus teaching in the synagogue, and thereafter defeating and casting out an unclean spirit; he then went to a friend’s home and powerfully ministered to the town that evening (v.21-34). These actions attested to the Lord’s teaching about the imminent kingdom of God. The evil spirit in the synagogue was seeing more than just a man in Jesus Christ; it was seeing greater power that could expel and even destroy the powers of darkness. This is exactly what happened there and at the evening ministry – Jesus cast out many demons. People should not only hear about but also see the evidence of the more powerful kingdom that Jesus Christ represents; therefore, they should believe his words and put their faith in Him and thereby receive this kingdom.

As to how the Lord kept his ministry focus and effectiveness, one verse is helpful, yet it is almost hidden in the more amazing events: “a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed” (v.35). Prayer is the crucial discipline that characterized the life of this busy man, giving him impetus to work. We are not informed of the exact time when he went out, but it was a great while before day, maybe at 3am or earlier. Many other places record Jesus in prayer, and in some instances he prays all night! The importance of prayer in daily life and especially in ministry cannot be overstated; if the Lord himself needed it, then how about mere mortals? Prayer was the necessary fuel that kept the Lord’s ministry engine running effectively.

With all the great things happening, Jesus was in danger of being made king by force by those who longed for a political liberator. He could have let it be and enjoyed the earthly honour and glory, but he did not. And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out” (v.38). He instead went to other places, so that they may hear and see the kingdom of God. In the same way, earthly glories should never cause one to lose their vision and purpose. More on this will be shared next Sunday.

 

 

The Gospel of Mark: Good News

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

We will take time and study the Gospel of Mark in this season – the second book in the New Testament. It is the fastest gospel, bringing you Jesus in action straight, without long background and introductory remarks. Right in Chapter One, Jesus is and adult, baptized, in the wilderness, back to Galilee starting a serious preaching career, calling disciples, performing miracles of healing, praying alone, and traveling throughout Galilee preaching and driving out demons. Mark leaves us with a book full of action and energy, presenting with fine details a Worker and a Teacher. A great article in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives detailed description of this book:

A Book of Mighty Works: Judged by the space occupied, Mark is a Gospel of deeds. Jesus is a worker. He hastens from one task to another with energy and decision. It is not strange therefore that the uneventful early years should be passed over. Nor is it strange that miracles should be more numerous than parables. According to Westcott’s classification Mark has 19 miracles and only 4 parables, whereas the corresponding figures for Matthew are 21 to 15 and for Luke 20 to 19. Of the miracles 2 are peculiar to Mark, of the parables only 1. The evangelist clearly records the deeds rather than the words of Jesus.

The Worker Is also a Teacher: Though what has been said is true, yet Mark is by no means silent about Jesus as a teacher. John the Baptist is a preacher, and Jesus also is introduced as a preacher, taking up and enlarging the message of John. Striking references are made to His originality, methods, popularity and matchlessness as a teacher (Mark 1:22). A miracle is definitely declared to be for the purpose of instruction (Mar 2:10), and the implication is frequent that His miracles were not only the dictates of His compassion, but also purposed self-revelations. Not only is He Himself a teacher, but He is concerned to prepare others to be teachers (Mar 3:13-14).

A Book of Graphic Details: There is a multitude of graphic details: Mark mentions actions and gestures of Jesus; Jesus hungers, seeks rest in seclusion and sleeps on the boat cushion; he pities the multitude, wonders at men’s unbelief, sighs over their sorrow and blindness, and rebukes in sadness the wrong thought of His mother and brothers. With many vivid touches we are told of the behavior of the people and the impression made on them by what Jesus said or did. These details strongly suggest the observation of an eyewitness as the final authority, and the geographical references suggest that even the writer understood the general features of the country, especially of Jerusalem and its neighborhood.

As you study more of the book of Mark, remember the ultimate message: “The time has come; the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

 

Perseverance: Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel) – Deut 6:4-9

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” This is the blessing that Paul the Apostle prayed for his audience at the end of one of his letters. It has been adapted into a prayer that Christians use frequently; it is probably the most widely known prayer. Among the Jews, the most important part of the prayer service is called the Shema; it is recited twice daily. It is traditional to say the Shema as their last words, and for parents to teach their children to say it before they go to sleep at night.

Perseverance means continuing in a noble activity one is committed to without getting discouraged. It means persistence, determination, diligence, or insistence – a stubborn refusal to give up or even to slow down! We can well understand this by a physical attempt at work or exercise like walking or running a long distance. This perseverance is required even in loving and serving God.

The words Shema Yisrael’ (Hear, O Israel) are the beginning of this famous passage which is taken from Deut 6:4-9. It consists of an affirmation of belief in God’s unity and in His sovereignty over the world, an unconditional love of God, and a commitment to the study of His teachings. It emphasizes the religious duties to love God, to teach the Word of God to one’s children, and to talk of the Word at every possible time. As an effort to remember and recite the Shema and in order to fulfill the Biblical commandment to inscribe the words of the Shema “on the doorposts of your house” (Deut 6:9), a mezuzah is affixed to the doorframe in Jewish homes. The mezuzah is a piece of parchment (often contained in a decorative case) inscribed with specified Hebrew verses (the Shema Yisrael). When one is getting into or out of the house, they touch the mezuzah and recite the Shema.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, he quoted from this very Scripture: “love the Lord your God…” It would be obvious that Deut 6:4-9 is among the most widely known scriptures among the Jews; we learn from their practices high discipline of studying, memorizing and teaching the Word of God to one another and to our children. Most importantly, through accepting Jesus Christ, we reach the epitome of loving God. Many times people say ‘The grace…’ to indicate a conclusion to prayers, without knowing which Scripture it is adapted from (2Cor 13:14), let alone the context. It is a powerful blessing that is many times left to pass as a mere ending. These widely known and recited Scriptures need attention so that the routines do not rob them of their deep and powerful meanings and effects. Take time to think and consider for yourself what it means to love and serve the Lord your God with perseverance – with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

 

 

Vision, Courage and Boldness

“Arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land which I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you” (Josh 1:2-3)

The Musiime Marathon is coming up: It is a fundraising event for the ongoing construction project at Kakumba Chapel, Kyambogo University where Rev Canon Ephraim Musiime was Chaplain for 13 years (1992 – 2005) before he passed to glory in 2016. He led the Chapel through bold and revolutionary growth, and one Hall in the Block under construction will be named in his memory – the Musiime Hall. He was a man of vision, courage and perseverance – three qualities that every person needs in order to arrive at a goal.

It is the start of a new academic year, and for many it is the start of University life altogether. More so, in life there are many ‘starts’ as seasons come and go. A great start is important. Joshua had such a start after a 40-year journey; taking over from Moses, Joshua was to lead the Israelites in the final stretch across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. Yes, he was a man of vision, courage and perseverance from the start, as evidenced in his early battle victories and the foresighted encouraging minority report after spying the land, but this new start needed fresh encouragement. This is exactly what God did for his servant: gave him instructions, assurance and encouragement – a message we are able to read and eat today, for similar nourishment. It makes your vision clearer and emboldens you to move.

The apostles had similar needs in the infancy of their ministry: their vision was clear, but they were threatened by beatings and detentions; yet they both answered the authorities with and prayed continually for boldness (Acts 4:19-30). The gospel of the Kingdom of God has thus continued to spread. Our vision for the construction project is a completed building; Joshua’s was a settled Israel in the Promised Land; the apostles had the vision of the Kingdom of God accessed through Jesus Christ. At this new start, what is your vision?

The marathon idea gets things out of theory into real life: the vision is the finish line, and courage and perseverance are required to go across the whole distance and the hills and rough terrain. Paul uses a lot of athletic language: ‘I do not run aimlessly; lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain; you were running well; I press on toward the goal for the prize; I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’ and so does the writer to the Hebrews: ‘lay aside every weight… and run with perseverance the race’. It is time for the sole of your foot to tread the place physically. These real actions teach us, paint clear pictures and encourage us to go for the goal God has set before us. Whatever your vision, get on it with courage and boldness and glorify God in your achievements.

 

Holy: Fighting Temptations

‘Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession… a holy nation.’

And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”

(Exod 19:5-6, Gen 39:1-23)

What does it mean to be a holy nation? Israel’s youngest son illustrates with his own life what it means to be wholly set apart for God. At only 17 years old, Joseph was sold into Egypt, and for the next 11 years he lived at Potiphar’s house. We do not know what Joseph’s responsibilities were when he began at this house, but they may have been intensively physical because he became ‘well built’ probably with a six pack! This coupled with his good looks made him prey to his master’s wife. Such a young man in the prime of his life, hot-blooded and excited with all the desires of that season, somehow avoids temptation from Potiphar’s wife. How would he achieve that?

Relate with God: We see in the last part of v.9 how Joseph recognizes that if he gratifies his desires, he will sin against God. Joseph has a depth of relationship with God that he does not want to grieve with sin. He can’t bear to disappoint the God he loves. Yes, he is loyal to his earthly master Potiphar, but in the end, it is his greater heavenly master that Joseph is most concerned about.

Recognize Sin: Once again in v.9 Joseph recognizes what Potiphar’s wife wants as something wicked and terrible. Joseph sees it for what it is – sin. The Bible is God’s blueprint for humanity. He loves us enough to define sin in His Scripture and to warn us away from it. He does so not because he’s against pleasure, but because He knows in the long run, sin is disastrous for you.

 Run and flee: Potiphar’s wife tried every approach from the direct demand to the daily pleading and Joseph strongly refused her and even rebuked her. In Verse 10 Joseph not only refused to go to bed with Potiphar’s wife, but he refused to even be with her. And finally, when she grabbed his robe, he didn’t stop and use the moment to teach Mrs. Potiphar about his faith; he didn’t hesitate and share with her that he’s flattered but must decline, or how it’s nothing personal, or how it might be different, under different circumstances. He didn’t spend one moment on one word of conversation. And he didn’t go back for his coat. He fled, he beat it, he bounced out of there — right away.

We should always avoid putting ourselves in situations that might lead to temptation. Allowing yourself to be alone with a person of the opposite sex could tantamount to regrettable actions! Joseph formed convictions for obedience to God in advance, not in the heat of the moment. That is what it means to be set apart – to be holy.

 

 

 

 

On Eagles’ Wings

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4)

Welcome to the new academic year, especially for first year students. The long week of orientation is over, but the exercise of acclimatizing continues for much longer – you haven’t covered all the corners yet, and more First Year students are still arriving. The Chapel fraternity assures you of our support in this process. Our prayer is that you will succeed both academically and in all round growth. Start by acknowledging God’s blessing upon you evidenced in your safe arrival.

Journeys have lots to teach us: the Jewish people started off as a small extended family of just 70 members and were incubated in Egypt for 430 years to become a numerous and powerful nation. They swung from the blessedness of Joseph’s legacy and sunk into harsh slavery that would make them cry – they cried until it was so loud in heaven and God came to their aid. After their deliverance, God fondly informs them about the whole episode with an unveiling of his grand purpose – to have this nation in perpetual special relationship with Him. They did not deserve it, not by merit; they could not work it out, not by might. But God himself offers them a bright future, a great blessing.

John Gill expounds on the “Eagles’ wings” description referring to the detail in Deut 32:11-12: As an eagle stirs up her nest… Her young ones in it, to get them out of it: the eagle is merciful to its young, and does not go into its nest suddenly, but first makes a noise, and disturbs them with her wings, striking them against a tree or its branches, that so they being awakened may be fitter to receive her: with respect to literal Israel, Egypt was their nest, where in their infant state they lay like young birds; and though it was a filthy and torturous one, yet they seemed sometimes as if they did not care to come out of it; until the Lord shook the situation around them by the ministry of Moses and Aaron.

With respect to spiritual Israel, their nest is a state of sin, in which they are at ease, and do not care to be awakened and stirred out of it; but the Lord, in love, awakens, stirs and gets them out, by sending his ministers to arouse them, by convincing them by the Spirit of their sin and danger, opening their eyes to see their wretched and miserable estate and condition, and by exerting God’s Almighty power, plucking them as brands out of the burning.

Just like the eagle skillfully trains her young to fly, yet with considerateness, our God takes us through situation and journeys tough and rough, yet He is with us always. Just as He has been with you in the past, so will He assures you of His presence to the end of the age, if you remain in the relationship to which He has called us.

 

 

Jesus cares: “I am the bread of life.”

 Then Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd… he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Then Jesus declared,
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:5, 35)

John’s gospel is best place to find clear indicators that Jesus cares: his conversations were comforting; and his care fed people – at the Cana wedding, the 5000 at the beach in Galilee, and He gave living water to a Samaritan woman and her relatives. His food and

counsel bring peace to every thirsty soul that reaches out to receive from Him. The need for satisfaction and peace is real – at levels personal, institutional, national, regional and international. How many people are fighting within over food, unfulfilled goals, career and business choices, disappointments at work or in relationships…? Although he or she may look good on the outside, someone is inwardly fighting an abusive or deficient upbringing, inherited spiritual bondages, close people stealing property, or uncertainties about the future. And these very conflicts are the seeds that grow into costly armed wars we have seen at home, in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, North Korea – all over the world.

The needs of the world and even up close to the needs of an individual can well be expressed as hunger or thirst; for needs physical, emotional, occupational, and spiritual – satisfaction keeps eluding us! Having known that the people that took the Cana wine would need more tomorrow, and those five thousand that ate physical food would ask for more, Jesus brought a new twist to his catering vocation. He first introduced at the well in Sychar with the Samaritan woman, when he claimed to have water better than that in Jacob’s well; he would offer living water that quenches thirst forever. Now he says, ‘I am the bread of life’! His final serving was the last supper where he further amplified the statement and made it clear that whoever comes to Him will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Him will have his thirst quenched for good. These are demonstrations that Jesus cares.

Where do you turn for satisfaction and peace? As we pray for peace in the world, let us recognize that it begins within one individual; let us therefore seek to receive from the Prince of Peace what we need to be restfully content – ‘cast your cares upon the Lord’. And let us be agents of this peace; encouraging someone and helping just one person overcome the battles within could arrest a looming strike or rebellion. In their fellowship, Jesus Christ fed them physically, and after rising from the dead, spoke Peace to them twice before He commissioned the disciples. He knows the depth of our needs and will not rush away; He alone satisfies. Be sure He is attentive to you; He cares for you.

Peace be with you!

 

 

 

 

Jesus cares: “Peace be with you!”

Then Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

Jesus came and stood among them and said to them,
“Peace be with you!” (John 6:5, 20:19)

John’s gospel is best place to find clear indicators that Jesus cares: his conversations were comforting; and his care fed people – at the Cana wedding, the 5000 at the beach in Galilee, and He gave living water to a Samaritan woman and her relatives. His food and counsel bring peace to every thirsty soul that reaches out to receive from Him. The need for peace is real – at levels personal, institutional, national, regional and international. How many people are fighting within over food, unfulfilled goals, career and business choices, disappointments at work or in relationships…? Although he or she may look good on the outside, someone is inwardly fighting an abusive or deficient upbringing, inherited spiritual bondages, close people stealing property, or uncertainties about the future. And these very conflicts are the seeds that grow into costly armed wars we have seen at home, in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, North Korea – all over the world.

I consider the highest expression of Jesus’ care to be his greeting, ‘Peace be with you!’ The food he gave brought temporary relief from the problem of hunger, but the Peace he gives brings everlasting welfare. ‘Shalom’ (‘Peace be with you’) was and still is a normal greeting among the peoples of Middle East; but just like the English may hastily respond, ‘Fine’ to the greeting ‘How are you?’ – even when troubled deep inside – one may not really feel or receive peace when they respond affirmatively to the ‘Peace’ greeting. It is now time to receive revitalizing effects from familiar words; the one speaking is not just throwing a casual greeting at you; His names include Prince of Peace and Wonderful Counselor. The reason most people will say ‘I am fine’ is because they don’t expect that person to do anything about their troubles. But Jesus is not like that person who greeted you and didn’t even wait to hear your response; Jesus Christ will stick by you and listen to more than you can share – tell him the real deep truth, and may His greeting of ‘Peace’ bring you comfort and joy. Jesus cares.

As we pray for peace in the world, let us recognize that it begins within one individual; let us therefore seek to receive from the Prince of Peace what we need to be restfully content – ‘cast your cares upon the Lord’. And let us be agents of this peace; encouraging someone and helping just one person overcome the battles within could arrest a looming strike or rebellion. In their fellowship, Jesus Christ spoke Peace to them twice before He commissioned the disciples. He knows the depth of our needs and will not rush away; be sure He is attentive to you.