God’s Upside Down Kingdom

Mark Sermon Pic 3.jpgGet you up to a mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young”

Isaiah 40:9-11

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. Break forth into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Isaiah 52:7-10

Have you ever anticipated something for a long time, and then once it finally arrived it proved to be something different than what you had imagined—different, not necessarily in a bad way or a good way, just different. Perhaps it was moving out on your own for the first time, getting married, or visiting a much desired vacation destination. Perhaps it was meeting someone for the first time whom you had admired from a distance, an author or a celebrity of some sort. Perhaps it was retirement or growing old. You had envisioned a certain scenario many times, but when the reality came, for better or for worse, it did not match your expectations.

Something similar is at work in Mark 1:14-20. In this passage, Jesus announces that, with his arrival, the fulfillment of God’s promises had come and God’s saving reign on the earth had begun. However, as we will see, it was not coming in the way that many had expected. It was not coming with great pomp and circumstance, with the beat of drums or the battle cries of great empires and mighty armies, but it was coming in with the awakened affections of transformed hearts and from the lips of street preachers.

The long-expected kingdom was also not coming all at once with great finality but more subtly through the conquering power of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness at work in the hearts and lives of his people. The long desired king and kingdom had indeed come to this earth in Jesus, but they had come in a way that people did not expect, and what I want us to see is that that reality is glorious and wonderful for all those who respond rightly to its message and hope in and begin to follow the king.

GOD’S KING AND GOD’S KINGDOM HAVE COME IN JESUS

This brings us to the first point that I want us to see today. It comes from Mark 1:14-15, and it is that God’s king and God’s kingdom have indeed come to this earth in Jesus.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:14-15

When Jesus started his ministry, he began with preaching. The content of his message was the good news that the long awaited time of prophetic fulfillment had come and God’s saving reign on the earth had, at last, begun. Therefore, people needed to respond appropriately by turning from their own vision for how life ought to be lived and by embracing the vision and the way of life offered by Jesus. In this manner, the people would be rescued and blessed by the promises of God’s reign rather than crushed beneath the kingdoms of this world.

Now, I want us to think again for a few moments about what Jesus’ preaching of the good news would have conjured up in the minds of his hearers because when they thought of the terms gospel or good news and when we think of the terms gospel and good news—well, we have different ideas in our minds to say the least.

So, instead of reading our ideas back into this story, I want us to think about what these concepts meant to those whom Jesus originally preached them. When we think of the terms gospel or good news, we probably have in mind the Roman’s road, the plan of salvation, or the sinner’s prayer. Those all, in our minds at least, have to do with how an individual can come into a saving relationship with God. That is certainly a vital aspect of the gospel or the good news. However, the backdrop or the context for the term gospel when Jesus first proclaimed the good news here in Mark 1 was not Paul’s letter to the Romans or the plan of salvation that we have developed from it. Paul’s letter to the Romans would not be written for a couple more decades. Rather, when Jesus began his ministry and preached the good news to people on the streets and in the synagogues of Galilee, Jesus’ audience had in their minds the prophecy of Isaiah.

Isaiah’s prophecy is the first place in which we read about the good news. The book of Isaiah is all about the fact that our God reigns. Even though the people of God suffered under the Assyrian Empire and were nearly destroyed when exiled by Babylon, Isaiah declared that the LORD, the god of Israel, reigns, and through it all was orchestrating his plan of redemption for his people and for this world. And, the gospel that Isaiah proclaimed, as we read from Isaiah 40 and 52 a few minutes ago, was that God not only reigned from heaven—orchestrating the events of history—but he would come to reign over his people in a more personal way as well by establishing his saving reign on this earth.

In Isaiah 40 and 52, Isaiah proclaimed the good news that the LORD would come to his people tenderly and with salvation and the whole earth would behold his glory. In the larger context of Isaiah, this good news—this coming of the LORD to reign over his people with tenderness and salvation—would ultimately result in salvation for Israel and the nations, judgment for the wicked, an end to all suffering and death and anything accursed, and even a renewed heavens and earth. That was the gospel that Jesus preached had arrived, and that is the good news his hearers would have had in mind as they heard him.

“Our God reigns! And, the time of his saving reign on this earth has come. Therefore, repent and believe—turn from your own vision for how life ought to be lived and believe in and follow me. The road you are on is leading to death, but if you turn and believe you too can be included in this great work that God is doing.” That is what Jesus preached. He preached that everything that the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets promised and prophesied concerning the future had arrived in the present in his own life and his ministry!

That’s a bold message, isn’t it! And, Mark recorded it for us because he wants everyone who reads or listens to these words to respond in some way to Jesus. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Do you believe that? Do you believe that Jesus is the most important person to ever walk upon this earth? Do you believe that in him God was reconciling the world to himself not counting our sins against us? Do you believe that in him all the promises of God from Genesis to Malachi are yes and a resounding amen? Do you believe that Christ defeated death and the devil through his own death and resurrection from the dead? Do you believe that God’s kingdom arrived in Jesus, that he now reigns, and that he will return again to judge the living and the dead? Do you believe the good news? If so, then why would you not turn from the path you’re on and hope in him?

Jesus is the central figure in human history. In him, all the promises and hopes for this world’s people and this world’s future have come and are coming. So, the only appropriate response is for us to surrender our hearts and our lives to him. The only appropriate response is for us to find our lives and our stories in his life and in his story. Unexpectedly but wonderfully, God’s kingdom has come in Jesus.

THE UNANTICIPATED ARRIVAL OF A MUCH ANTICIPATED KINGDOM

God’s king and kingdom have come to this earth in Jesus. That was the first point. Now, for our second and final point, I want us to see that God’s kingdom has come to this earth in a way that was not expected but in a way that is all the more wonderful because of it. This point comes from Mark 1:16-20

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

                                    Mark 1:16-20

These verses are among the most unexpected verses in the Bible. Jesus had just proclaimed the news that the hour had come, that the time to which the Scriptures and all of history had looked forward to had arrived as God’s kingdom has begun on the earth. What we should expect then as we come to verse 16 is something cataclysmic, something earth-shaking, and something that would be immediately heard and felt from one end of the earth to another. Instead, what we read about is the calling of common Galileans to join with Jesus in the construction of God’s kingdom on this earth.

This is not cataclysmic, but it is extraordinary. What if someone were putting together a team to transform this world today? You would expect her to go to the brightest minds and most innovative people in this world. You would expect her to go to Harvard, Princeton, and Yale and recruit its best research professors. You would expect her to go to New York City or Los Angeles and recruit the most innovative minds behind the world’s most cutting edge technological pursuits.

You would most certainly not expect her to swing by Shelby Lake or Little Turner and invite Jim Bob and Leroy to leave their jon boats and crappie beds in order to help change history and to save the world. You would not expect her to go out into the fields of Ragland and invite Farmer John to carry the message to the ends of the earth! And yet, that is essentially what Jesus did. He had just announced that the hour that all history had been waiting for had come, that the kingdom that would outlast Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and all earthly powers had come, and he proceeded to call fishermen to leave their nets and join him in building it.

What we see through this is that “the reign of God was not to be a cataclysmic external triumph in the here and now, . . . but a peaceful rule over the hearts of those who responded to the message.”[1] We see that Jesus, God’s king, refused “to assert his authority by an impressive show of divine pomp and pageantry” and that “the kingdom of God comes not with fanfare but through the gradual gathering of a group of socially insignificant people in an unnoticed corner of provincial Galilee.”[2]

We also see through this that God’s kingdom wasn’t coming all at once but gradually and in different ways. In one sense the kingdom came fully in Jesus. Jesus fulfilled God’s will perfectly and shepherded his people with righteousness and justice. He exercised his authority over seas, winds, demons, diseases, and even death. In another sense, God’s kingdom is “gradually coming in lives surrendered to God.”[3] God’s kingdom comes gradually as more and more people repent and believe the good news, receive the Holy Spirit, begin to live according to Jesus’ commands and bring peace and order to this chaotic, fallen world.

In still another sense, God’s kingdom will come when Jesus returns again, judges the living and the dead, and his people inherit a transformed world free from suffering and death. The kingdom had come in Jesus, but it came in a way that this world did not expect. However, what I want us to see is that the unexpected nature of the coming of God’s kingdom is wonderful and glorious.

When Jesus first came, he dealt with our greatest problem of all, our slavery to sin and death. He came as the reigning king but also as a suffering servant who died for the sins and transgressions of his people. He identified with us in our sorrows and suffered and died in our place. That Jesus came as a suffering servant rather than a conquering emperor dressed in gold and mounted on a warhorse means that we can be forgiven and included in the children of God. The message of a crucified Messiah then is wonderful and glorious news for sinners.

Also, wonderful and glorious for us is the fact that God’s kingdom is coming on this earth through the changed hearts and lives of individuals rather than through the wisdom of this world’s greatest minds. This means that we can be included in the furtherance of God’s kingdom on this earth. My friends, if the kingdom of God were built through the wisdom of men, the fact is that he probably wouldn’t have come to us and invited us to follow him. Again, he would’ve go to the equivalent of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. He would’ve gone to the equivalent of New York City, Los Angeles, Paris, Berlin, and Hong Kong, to the world’s greatest cities where the world’s greatest innovators and artists gather to advance this world’s great kingdoms and pursuits.

But, Christ isn’t building his kingdom through the wisdom of this age, with war horses or chariots, or through human learning and philosophies. Rather, he is building his kingdom through the foolishness of preachers, who still encourage others to hope in a poor carpenter from the hills of Galilee. He is building his kingdom through the foolishness of every day working Dads and Moms, who still pray and sing “Jesus Loves Me” to their children when they tuck them in to bed. He is building his kingdom through the foolishness of day laborers who work as unto the Lord and who put others first. He is building his kingdom through retired men and women, who pray daily for their families to hope in and follow the Lord. He is building his kingdom through the foolishness of those in the community who help their down and out neighbors with steadfast love and faithfulness even though they will get nothing in return. His kingdom comes as broken and bruised individuals entrust themselves to the king and refuse to respond to violence and insults with more violence and insults but instead with forgiveness and peace.

That Christ’s kingdom comes through surrendered hearts, the foolishness of self-giving love, and the message of the cross means that we can be included too if we would respond with repentance toward God and faith in Christ. Whether we are Harvard educated or barely finished middle school, whether we are rich or poor, whether we are movers and shakers in this world’s cultural centers or on the forgotten fringe, we can be included and play a vital part in the greatest and most significant movement in world history through repentance and faith in Jesus the King.

Through surrendering our lives to Jesus and living according to his word, through showing steadfast love and faithfulness toward God and toward our neighbors, through sharing and living the message of cross, we can be included in the one kingdom that will never be shaken. So let us hope in and follow the King!

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

[1]R. Alan Cole, Mark in TNTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1989), 112.

[2]R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark in NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, (2002), 94.

[3]Cole, 112.

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Wild Turkey Breast and Spinach over Spaghetti Squash

Wild Turkey and Spinach Spaghetti Squash.jpgBesides the celebration of Easter and the beginning of gardening season, one of my favorite things about spring in rural West Kentucky is hunting, preparing, and eating wild turkeys. However, the start of turkey season also brings with it a little bit of added stress as well. Wild turkey is Jessica’s favorite wild meat and, in Kentucky, we are only allowed two tags. Thus, from opening day forward, the pressure is on for me to fill my two tags and make Momma happy. So far, I’ve filled one tag and have one more remaining, which means that I’m not yet out of the woods in more ways than one!

Now, our favorite way to eat wild turkey has always been battered and deep fried. We still do eat it this way from time to time. However, limiting the amount of deep fried foods that I consume is among the lifestyle changes that I made when I decided to live a healthier life (see here). For this reason, I’ve been exploring newer, healthier ways to prepare my wild turkey. Among the more healthier ways that I’ve cooked wild turkey breast, my favorite so far is to fix it with lemon juice, chicken broth, and spinach and to serve it over spaghetti squash as a low calorie pasta dish. I got the idea for this dish from a recipe for Lemon Chicken and Spaghetti Squash that was floating around Facebook and that originated from Buzzfeed.com. Now, of the recipes I’ve tried off Facebook, a few have been bad and one was inedible. However, the way my Wild Turkey Breast and Spinach Pasta turned out exceeded both mine and Jessica’s expectations. If you are tired of eating your wild turkey battered and fried or want a healthier option, give this a try and see what you think!

Step 1: Cutting and Marinating

The first thing that I do for this dish is cut, marinade, and refrigerate my wild turkey breast. I cut my breast into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces and marinade it in zesty Italian dressing with a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce. After this, I usually let it set in the refrigerator for a few hours before I cook it. I normally cut, vacuum seal, and freeze my turkey breast pieces so that there is a little over 1 pound per bag. This particular breast section was 1 pound 5 ounces. A breast portion anywhere from around 1 to 1 1/2 pounds should work well for this recipe.

Step 2: Preparing and Cooking the Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti Squash Pic.jpg

I love pasta and rice dishes! However, along with cutting back on deep fried foods, I’ve also cut back on the number of starches that I consume. For this reason, I was delighted to discover spaghetti squash last year. Spaghetti squash shreds into thin, noodle-like pieces, and what results looks almost identical to angel hair pasta. Spaghetti squash is a little crunchier than regular spaghetti noodles; however, with a little bit of seasoning, it tastes great and works well as a pasta substitute. It’s also easy to make. All you have to do is cut it down the center; scoop out its seeds; coat it with a little olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper; and bake it at 400 degrees for around ten minutes for every pound the fruit weighs. The particular squashes that I used for this dish were around 4 to 5 pounds, so I baked them for around 45 minutes. After they had finished cooking, I simply scraped the squash’s flesh with a fork, and it easily shred into what looked like pasta.

Step 3: Cooking the Wild Turkey Breast

Ingredients Wild Turkey Pasta.jpg

When my spaghetti squash was midway through the baking process, I began cooking my wild turkey breast and my lemon and spinach sauce. First, I cooked my wild turkey breast with a little olive oil and a little of the marinade at medium heat for around six minutes. Of course, how long it takes yours to cook will be determined by how big you cut your turkey breast chunks. After the turkey is cooked through, I removed it from the pan and start on the sauce.

Step 4: Preparing the Lemon and Spinach Sauce

Wild Turkey and Spinach Spaghetti Sauce.jpg

For the sauce, I sautéed a diced, medium-sized sweet onion for five minutes, 4 minced garlic cloves for an additional minute, and 2 cups of halved cherry tomatoes for 3 more minutes. Following this, I added 1 cup of chicken broth, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Then I allowed the sauce to reduce over medium to medium-low heat for 15 minutes. After this, I added the turkey breast pieces and stirred in the spinach for an additional minute or two. Once the spinach is mixed well into the sauce, it’s ready to serve. All that remains is to put the spaghetti on the plate, cover it with the delicious wild turkey breast and spinach sauce, and top it with some grated parmesan. Once you’ve done this, you will have a wild turkey dish much healthier but just as, or at last almost as, tasty as the more traditional battered and deep fried wild turkey strips.

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

A Resurrection People with a Resurrection Purpose

Early yesterday morning, I had the honor and privilege of preaching at the Sonrise Easter Service at Ohio Valley Baptist Church. This is the audio from that message. I hope that you find it encouraging!

 

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

Good News about Resurrection: New Life

Easter Blog Pic 4So far, we’ve looked at multiple reasons why the bodily resurrection of King Jesus is good news. The resurrection of Jesus is good news because it means that this world has a new sort of king and a new kind of kingdom (here). Resurrection is good news because it means that there is a day of justice approaching, a day when oppressors will be called to account, righteous sufferers will be vindicated, and all wrongs will be made right (here). Resurrection is good news because it is a foretaste in the midst of history of the transformation that will take place in the entire creation at the appearing of the Lord Jesus (here). Finally, resurrection is also good news on a personal level because it offers new life and the prospect of human flourishing for those trapped in dehumanizing patterns.

All people were created as the image bearers of the one true God. Like Israel, whose story we surveyed in Tuesday’s post, we were all created to worship him and to mirror his goodness to the world. We were created to be a source of blessing for the world. For this reason, as humans, we are most happy and flourishing when we relate rightly to God and, in turn, accurately reflect his glory to the rest of creation. That’s our purpose. That’s what why we were made, so, of course, that’s what would most fulfill us as God’s creatures. However, also like Israel, we’ve all fallen short of properly reflecting God’s glory. This is Paul’s point in the first few chapters of his letter to the Romans. All have fallen short of properly reflecting God’s good character to the creation because we have valued other gods more highly than him. As a result, God has delivered us up to those desires. The ancient Israelites worshiped the gods and shared the values of the nations, so God gave them up to those desires, and they were exiled and became captives to the Assyrians, to the Babylonians, and eventually to the Romans. Those who value money as their god are given over to their desires as well, and they become enslaved to their greed. Those who value fame as their god are delivered over to those gods, and they become enslaved to their reputation and to the fear of other people. Those who value sexual pleasure as a god rather than as a good gift from the LORD are delivered up to those pleasures, and they become enslaved to inordinate passions. All people have been broken by and enslaved to lessor gods and are traveling down a road away from the source of our light and life. Such a road inevitably leads to death rather than the life of full human flourishing that we were created for and for which this world longs (see yesterday’s post). But, the good news is that, in the mercy and kindness of God, the Lord Jesus was delivered up as well. However, he wasn’t delivered up for any wrong that he had done. Rather, he was delivered over for our trespasses and raised for our vindication and acceptance back into God’s family (Rom. 4:25). He bore the full weight of the exile that Israel’s rebellion deserved and the death that our idolatry and sin merits as well. And, through faith in him we are forgiven our sins, granted peace with God, and are empowered with new life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, we are restored to fellowship with the true God and are fitted again for his service. We are granted resurrection lives to reign with King Jesus over his new creation. This resurrection life based upon the bodily resurrection of Jesus comes in two states.

First, the good news includes the truth that, for those of us who turn back toward God and swear allegiance to King Jesus, Jesus’ resurrection is a signpost, or the first-fruits, of our own bodily resurrection when Jesus appears again at the culmination of history. Paul writes: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep [died]. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinth. 15:20-23). Jesus himself put it this way. He said, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (Jn. 5:26-29). At the appearing of King Jesus, the Father will do for us who hope in Jesus what he did for Jesus himself. He will raise our mortal bodies and clothe them with immortality (1 Corinth 15:50-58). We will be raised to reign over, to execute judgment in, and to inherit the new creation with King Jesus. The good news about the resurrection of Jesus is that it assures those of us who hope in him of a glorious future as well—the glorious future and purpose for which we were made. However, does this mean that the resurrection of Jesus has no meaning for us in the present? Is life now a mere waiting game? Not at all! This leads to a second reason the resurrection of Jesus is good news for us personally in terms of a new life of freedom and full human flourishing.

The resurrection of Jesus is good news for us right now because through the grace of God shown to us in King Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can begin, in the present, to live a life of full human flourishing. By virtue of the death of Jesus for us, we can receive forgiveness of our sins, a new relationship with the God we were made to worship, rescue from the powers that have enslaved us, and new life in the Holy Spirit. In fact, Paul says that, on the one hand, the gift of the Holy Spirit is the signpost and guarantee that we will receive the inheritance of resurrection life and new creation at the appearing of Jesus (Eph. 1:13-14). On the other hand, the Holy Spirit empowers us in the present to worship the true God and to bear the fruit or the characteristics that mirror the good character of God to the creation. For Paul, that is the essence of true human freedom, true life, and true human-flourishing—the freedom from selfish desire in order to worship the true God and to reflect his glorious character to the world around us (Gal. 5). That, essentially, is what the good news about Jesus, the good news of resurrection, promises to us on a personal level: a new life of full human flourishing, the life we were created to live. This, of course, doesn’t mean that if we follow Jesus we will be rich, healthy, and wealthy and live our best life now in terms of the American dream or that which is promised by the false god of materialism. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the love, joy, peace, and freedom that allows a person to declare with Jesus that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I’m talking about the faithfulness, kindness, goodness, and self-control that allows a person, again, to declare with Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). I’m talking about the fruit of the Spirit that allowed Paul to say and mean it—even as he stared hunger and eventually execution in the face, “I can do all things through [King Jesus] who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Just days before his crucifixion, Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). Jesus was talking about life rescued from the gods of this world, restored into fellowship with the true God, and empowered for purpose through the Holy Spirit. He was talking about the kind of life that would drive us husbands to love our wives even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. He was talking about the kind of life that would cause us parents to sacrifice our own wants for our children. He was talking about the kind of life that would cause us to sacrifice and risk even for our enemies because we’ve been so transformed that for some reason we love them too. That is abundant life, whether we realize it or not. That life is offered to us through faith in the risen King. The resurrection is good news indeed!

In short, the resurrection is good news because it means that this world has a new sort of king and a different kind of kingdom. It means that there is coming a day of justice, when the wrongs of this world will be made right. It means that the creation itself will be renewed to welcome the children of God. It means that those broken and bruised by idolatry and sin can receive the right to be called those children of God so that they may receive the eternal life that is “kept in heaven” and is “ready to be revealed” when the risen King returns (1 Peter 1:4-5). Amen. Come King Jesus!

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

Good News about Resurrection: New Creation

Easter Pic 3.jpgSo far, we’ve seen that the resurrection of Jesus is good news because it means that this world has a new sort of king and because there is a rival kingdom at work that operates differently from the nations (see here). We’ve also seen that the resurrection of Jesus is good news because it means that there is a coming day of justice when oppressors will be held to account, righteous sufferers will be vindicated, and wrongs will be made right (see here). When we put these truths together we come to another reason that the resurrection of Jesus is good news: new creation.

From the beginning, it has always been God’s plan for this world to be ruled over by human beings—his image-bearers (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8). The biblical storyline begins with material creation and ends with material creation. In fact, when one traces the storyline of Scripture it’s remarkable just how “worldly” the story really is. The great writing prophets in the Old Testament and the writers of the New Testament tell us that this world was subjected to decay due to the inception and spread of idolatry and human rebellion but that one day it will be liberated from its bondage to decay. Of course the first-fruits and key to such cosmic redemption is—you guessed it—the bodily resurrection of Jesus the King. To see why this is and how the story gets to this point we have to return to Abraham.

The LORD’s objective for his image-bearers to reign over this earth got off track rather early, just a few pages into the story, so much so that by Genesis 11 the whole world, it seems, has gathered together in rebellion against him. After God thwarts their rebellion and scatters them, his own answer to human rebellion and terrestrial deterioration is his promise to Abraham. The LORD promised Abraham that from him would come a great nation and that through that nation all the families of the earth would be blessed. In short, God’s plan for his image-bearers to reign over the earth would come true for all peoples through the one people of Abraham. Now on Tuesday, we quickly traced this winding story about Israel—Abraham’s descendants—from the exodus from Egypt to the new exodus from exile. We saw how Jesus became a servant to the people of Israel so that they could be restored and regathered around Jesus himself and be the light of salvation to the nations that God always intended that they be. In King Jesus, the multiethnic, global-people promised to Abraham has become a reality. This people is the new sort of kingdom that I talked about Tuesday. Now, as it relates to new creation, the prophets in the Old Testament as well as Paul and John in the New Testament identify the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham through the Messiah as the time in which new creation comes.

Isaiah, for instance, looks forward to the days when the disorder and chaos still left in this world will be calmed and new creation will be the result. He describes it as a day when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the ancient serpent shall be the plaything of children, and nothing will hurt or destroy in all God’s place (Is. 11:6-9). At other spots, he describes the new creation as a day when the ancient serpent is slayed, thorns and briers are things of the past, and death itself is swallowed up forever. He describes it as a day of feasting for all peoples, with rich food and (to the discomfort of many a Baptist) well-aged wine (i.e. the good stuff) (Is. 25:6-7, 27:1, 4). Perhaps the fullest passage in Isaiah about the coming new creation—the goal for which all human history is moving—is Isaiah 65:17-25. The New Testament writers pick this up as well, so we will look at it in full. Isaiah writes:

“‘For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’” says the LORD.”

Isaiah looked forward to the redemption coming through the LORD’s Messiah and Servant as a salvation that would include all peoples and even all of creation.

Again, the New Testament looks to Jesus and his resurrection as the first-fruits of this global transformation. Paul writes that King Jesus “is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:18b-20). In Romans, Paul looks forward to the day of justice that we looked at yesterday as the point at which the new creation will come in all its fullness. We see the first-fruits of new creation now in the resurrection of Jesus, and believers have a taste of new creation now in themselves through the gift of the Holy Spirit (more on that tomorrow). However, after the coming day of justice to which Jesus’ resurrection points, this world will be renewed in order to welcome the vindicated people of Jesus. Paul writes that in that day the “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay” and it will “obtain the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). Earlier, I stated that God’s plan has always been for this world to be ruled over by his image bearers. Paul looked forward to the day when that would be a reality through the redemption found in King Jesus.

Finally, the last place in which the Bible looks forward to new creation is in its final chapters—Revelation 21-22. By virtue of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s plan for his people and for his creation will be a reality. By this point, John has already had a vision of the risen King and recorded that by his blood, King Jesus ransomed a people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, who will serve as a kingdom of priests and reign forever on the earth (Rev. 5:9-10). Here then, in the final chapters, he describes the coming new creation when that redemption will be made complete. Echoing the words of Isaiah, he writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea [a symbol of chaos and disorder] was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Rev. 21:1-4). Later, John records that the tree of life that once stood in the Garden will produce leaves that will heal the nations and that by the light of King Jesus “the nations will walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory” to him (Rev. 21:24; 22:4). With John then, the Bible ends similarly as it began in Eden. However, it’s not Eden revisited; it’s Eden glorified. Whereas the story begins with one human couple in one place, the story ends with a multitude of nations worshipping the King and properly reflecting his glory to all the rest of creation. Whereas the glory of the King covers a small portion of the earth in the beginning, in the end the King’s glory covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. Death is dead, and blessing and rest has fallen upon the nations. Again, this new creation is what history is moving toward. And, standing in the middle of history, a few thousand years ago, and on the first Easter morning, was a rural man from Nazareth who was dead but is now alive. His resurrection—his defeat of death and the devil—is the sure sign that God’s plans are right on track and that new creation is coming!

Good News about Resurrection: Justice

Easter Blog Pic 2.jpgWe’ve all heard stories about that really important man with the really important job interview with the really important employer whom he has yet to meet in person. The man rudely cuts off another man in traffic because he is already running a bit behind schedule, wants to get to the interview in plenty of time, and is, quite frankly, a bit more important than the guy he cut in front of on the highway. Later, when he pulls into the place of the business, he quickly pulls into the parking spot for which this same man had been waiting. Again, it’s nothing personal. It’s just that his time is important. Where he’s going is important, surely more important than wherever this other, less-impressive-looking man is going. Finally, he walks into the interview, sits down, and looks up to see that same man whom he’d been rude to the entire morning. The man whom he’d walked all over all morning long will now determine his future employment . . . or lack thereof!

We’ve all heard a story or two like that before, and it should make us think twice before we treat another person as if his or her time is less important than our own. However, it also reminds us of more good news about the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection and exaltation of a righteous sufferer from Nazareth as this world’s true lord and king means that one day all those in positions of power will give an account for the way that they’ve utilized their authority. And, when they stand before the judge on that day, they will not find someone who can be bribed or who winks at injustices. Rather, they will stand before one who has known what it was like to suffer unjustly.

We saw this in a verse that we looked at yesterday. In the first recorded Christian sermon, Peter warned the powers in Jerusalem that the Jesus whom they’d crucified had been vindicated and exalted by God as this world’s rightful lord and king. In other words, he was now to be their judge. Talk about a rude awakening! Paul made a similar connection between resurrection and a coming day of judgment and vindication in one of his sermons. He announced, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all peoples everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he shall judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). God has set a day upon which he will make all wrongs right. He has proven this good news through the resurrection of Jesus. When Mary received news that she would bear Israel’s Savior, she did not yet have a category in her mind for a crucified and risen Christ. However, contrary to the reservations of one of my favorite Christmas songs, Mary did indeed know that the birth of Jesus meant that a great reversal was coming for oppressive powers and righteous sufferers. She sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:46-55, italics added). The resurrection of Jesus is good news because it serves as a warning to oppressors and as a promise of vindication for those who entrust themselves to the LORD. Jesus serves as living proof that he vindicates his people.

First, the resurrection of Jesus serves as a warning to oppressors and abusers of all forms. It should grieve the greedy that their judge was once a poor, working class peasant from the hills of Galilee (Mark 6:1-6). It should panic politicians, who turn a blind eye to human suffering, that their judge was once a frightened child and refugee on the run from a tyrannous king (Matt. 2:13-23). It should bother bullies, who love to mock and ridicule, that the one who will judge them was himself once mocked and ridiculed (Luke 22:63-65). It is should matter to those of the majority culture that the one who will judge the world was once a despised minority on the fringe of the Roman Empire (Luke 2:1-7). It should haunt those in power who crush their subjects without warrant that the one appointed to judge the world also suffered wrongly (Luke 23:18-25). All those who abuse their power and who pass freely through worldly judgments with bribes should be terrorized by the fact they’ll one day stand before a king who loves justice and always does what is right. Wife beaters, psychological manipulators, child abusers, dishonest salesmen, corrupt politicians, and greedy businessmen will all give an account before the risen king. Paul writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinth. 5:10). The resurrection of Jesus is good news because it serves as a warning to oppressors.

Second, the resurrection of Jesus is good news because it means that vindication is coming for righteous sufferers who entrust themselves to the Lord Jesus. Those who refuse to return violence with violence but instead follow the way of Jesus in praying for their persecutors, loving their enemies, forgiving their debtors, and going the extra mile for those who take advantage of their position, privilege, or power demonstrate that they believe that the steadfast love of Christ is a more effective tool for change than hate (Matt. 5:38-48). They also demonstrate their faith that, whether they win over their enemies or not, King Jesus will provide them justice when he appears from heaven to hold oppressors to account or to vindicate the righteous. Paul puts it this way, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:18-21). That the risen Jesus is this world’s rightful lord, king, and judge frees up righteous sufferers to love and to know that the Lord of all the earth will do right by them.

That the risen Jesus will judge the world also means that we have a lord and king who identifies with us in our suffering. Isaiah looked ahead to God’s servant as one who would be despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one who would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows (Is. 53:3-4). The writer of Hebrews explained that the risen and exalted Jesus is sympathetic to us in our sufferings because he too suffered when tempted (Heb. 2:14-18). That the risen Jesus is the coming judge is good news for righteous sufferers. It means that the one on the thrown is one with whom they can identify, and it means that he will set things right for them and for the world on a day appointed by God.

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

Good News about Resurrection: A New King and a New Sort of Kingdom

Good News about Resurrection 1.jpgThis Sunday Christians around the world will celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus the King. In commemoration of Easter, I plan to share four posts that explain some reasons why the resurrection of Jesus is good news and still matters today. These posts will not be exhaustive by any means. Much could be said and has been said about the resurrection and what it means for people and for this world. However, these posts will explain a few of the reasons why the resurrection is good news. I hope you find them encouraging.

First and foremost, the resurrection is good news because it means that this world has a new sort of king and an alternative kingdom that is different from the nations of this world. This is perhaps the best place to start when thinking about the good news of resurrection because this is where the Gospels themselves begin. Jesus’ resurrection first and foremost means that he is this world’s rightful lord and king. In his own way, Jesus claimed that he was Israel’s king, and by virtue of being Israel’s king, the rightful king of the entire world (Ps. 2, 110). Such audacious claims were among the reasons he was crucified. He claimed that the Jewish establishment and nation as a whole had failed in their God-given task to be a light of salvation to the nations, and when they refused to repent or turn from their own vision for what it meant to be the Israel of God, Jesus announced judgment against them and redefined around himself what it meant to be the true people of the LORD. Those pronouncements and claims were enough for the Jewish establishment to seek his execution. At first, Pilate was reluctant to follow through on their plans. When he questioned Jesus, Jesus made it clear that his was a different sort of kingdom—a kingdom that reflects God’s will in heaven and that is not built upon military command or political scheming but through acts of mercy and self-giving love. Pilate didn’t take such claims to sovereignty seriously. A king that operates in such ways was no king at all as far as Pilate was concerned. However, for the sake of political expediency he agreed to execute Jesus as a pretender and a revolutionary.

If the resurrection had not of happened, then Pilate and the Jewish establishment would have been proven right. A crucified king is no king at all. However, the resurrection did happen, and it matters because it served as divine vindication that Jesus was right. He is this world’s rightful lord and king. That is the good news that all four Gospels announce. The most well-known passage where Jesus says this is Matthew 28:18. By virtue of his resurrection from the dead, Jesus said to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That is another way of saying, “Look! I am alive. My claims were vindicated. I am now this world’s rightful sovereign. I have authority over this world’s powers whether in Jerusalem or in Rome, and I have authority even among the host of heaven!” Caesar claimed to be lord, but, if Jesus was right, Caesar’s authority was, at best, a derived and subordinate authority. If what the risen Jesus said were true, then Caesar’s powers had been delegated and he would one day be answerable to King Jesus for the way he executed that power.

The resurrection is good news because it means that Jesus is king. This was also the main point of the very first Christian sermon that we have on record. When the apostles and disciples received the Holy Spirit and began to speak languages that they had not studied, scoffers said that they must be drunk. Peter responded with a powerful sermon about the resurrection and the fulfillment of Scripture. His conclusion was that by virtue of the resurrection, Jesus had been vindicated and was now this world’s rightful lord. He announced to them, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and King, this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:36)!”

I will explain in my next post more about why the news that Jesus is this world’s rightful lord and king is good news. At this point, suffice it to say that it is good news because Jesus is a different sort of king. This world has had its fair share of monsters reign over the nations of this world. One doesn’t have to look that far into history to see the destruction that tyrannous dictators have unleashed upon the vulnerable. One doesn’t even have to look into history at all. There are tyrants in this world right now capable and even guilty of monstrous acts against their own people. The world witnessed one such act just last week.

For this reason, it is good news that Jesus is this world’s true Lord, is in the process of taking it back as his kingdom, and will one day hold such people to account for their crimes. Jesus is a different sort of king. He is a king who serves and accommodates the very least and most vulnerable who look to him for aid. He is a king who knows what it’s like to suffer unjustly at the hands of evil doers. And, his own resurrection is evidence that through him God will make the wrongs and injustices of this world right when it is time. The resurrection is good news because it means that Jesus is ultimately this world’s lord and king.

Second, the resurrection is good news because it means that there is an alternative kingdom at work in this world, one that is embodied in the people of Christ. The resurrection was not only divine vindication that Jesus’ claims to royalty were true. The resurrection was also proof that his sacrifice was effective. The night before he was crucified, Jesus shared a Passover meal with his disciples and interpreted his death as a new exodus or a new Passover. The exodus was the founding event for the people of Israel. It was when the LORD god rescued them from slavery in Egypt and chose them as his special people to reflect his goodness to all the peoples of the earth.

In the course of their history, the Israelites failed to reflect the good character of God to the nations. As a result, they were exiled from their land and found themselves enslaved to the nations once again. However, God, in his steadfast love for them, promised that through his servant he would rescue them again from their captors, atone for their sin, and equip them to be what he always meant for them to be, a light of salvation to the nations. Jesus interpreted his coming death as the work of God’s servant. Even before his impending death in Jerusalem, he claimed that the role of the servant was his own as he told his followers that he had not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). And, on the night before he died, when death was certain, he told his disciples that his crucifixion would accomplish a new exodus and would result in the forgiveness of sins and new life for the people of the LORD.

As with his messianic claims, the resurrection was the proof that his claim to be God’s servant was true as well. The New Testament writers point out that through the rescue of Christ’s sacrificial death, he ransomed a people for himself who would serve as a kingdom of priests. This new Israel would be tasked with the work that ancient Israel was meant to accomplish but it would include believing Israelites and people from all the nations. Peter wrote to a mixed-body of Christians, saying, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. . . . Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:9, 11). Revelation records this song about Jesus, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom of priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).

The people who belong to Jesus—the church—make up a new sort of kingdom in this world, a kingdom not divided along ethnic or socioeconomic lines, not divided by gender or age restrictions but a kingdom in which the least and most vulnerable is considered the greatest. Once again, that may not seem like good news to some. Not everyone who has claimed to follow Jesus over the centuries has brought light to the world, and not every church has been a blessing to the families of this earth. Many times people and churches have forgotten that the good news about King Jesus is just as much a way of life as it is a set of doctrines to be believed. Jesus not only calls people to swear allegiance to him as King but to follow him in the way of the cross. And, as much as the followers of Christ have done that over the centuries, they have made a difference in this world. As much as followers of Jesus sacrifice, risk, and give themselves for those in need of healing, restoration, and good news about forgiveness and new life, the church has been a blessing and a light of salvation. As much as followers of Jesus have turned the other cheek, gone the extra mile, and loved and prayed for their enemies rather than to demand their rights, and as much as they have worked toward the cause of justice, righteousness, and peace in this world, the church has been good news. In short, in as much as the followers of the true King strive toward the new way of life that he calls upon his people to live, they have been good news to a world desperately in need of such news. Overall, the resurrection is good news not only because it means that Jesus is this world’s true King but also because it means that there is a new sort of people who live differently than the rest of the world, and who, if Jesus is right, will one day inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5).

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

Grilled Venison Steak

Justin's Buck.jpg

My brother-in-law harvested this buck while we were hunting together this past November.

As it is for many rural Kentuckians, deer hunting is perhaps my favorite pastime. And, since I strive to eat as healthy as I can (you can read more about that here) and as well as I can (if a great deal of our lives are spent eating it might as well be enjoyable!), I make use of the venison that my hunting pursuits afford me. Perhaps my favorite way to eat venison is grilled. Below I explain the process that I go through to make my grilled venison steaks as mouth-watering as possible.

Step 1: Vacuum Sealing and Wet-Aging 

Vacuum Seal Pic.jpg

My vacuum sealer is one of my most used kitchen appliances. It keeps my meat fresh longer and saves me a ton of space in the freezer. They’re a little pricey, but mine has been well worth the investment. Growing up, my family would either wrap meats in freezer wrap or freeze them in water. Needless to say, you can only hold so much meat in your freezer when close to half of the space is taken up by the frozen water in which your meat is stored. Along with keeping meat fresh and saving space, I also use my vacuum sealer as a way of wet-aging my meat. Ideally, I would age my deer by hanging it either in a cooler or in a barn, but since I don’t have access to a walk-in cooler and Kentucky weather is not consistent enough to hang meat over a period of a day or two, I wet age my meat by vacuum sealing it and allowing it to set for several days in the refrigerator. This past year I let my vacuumed-sealed meat age in the refrigerator for seven days before freezing. Aging meat in this way allows the connective tissues to break down and results in more tender cuts.

Step 2: Cutting and Marinating

Cut and Marinade Pic.jpg

Following the aging and freezing process, it’s time to cut and marinade. I like to cut my pieces about an inch to an inch and a half thick. Depending upon the shape of the chunk, I usually cut my deer steaks into medallions or longer strips. In the picture above, the medallions were cut from a piece of backstrap (the cut of meat that runs alongside a deer’s spine) and the longer pieces were cut from an inner loin. I also like to marinade my steaks for a couple of hours before cooking. Truth be told, venison steaks are good enough not to require a marinade but this is the general process that I undertake to prepare my steaks. I make my marinade from the ingredients above. For every 1 part of lemon juice, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce, I use 3 parts olive oil. For me, that usually comes out to 6 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons each of the lemon juice, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. When I mix the ingredients together in that amount, I add a heaping teaspoon of black pepper as well.

Step 3: Preparing the Grill

Prepare the Grill Pic.jpg

After I’ve thawed, cut, and marinated my steaks, it is time to prepare the grill. I try to get my coals as hot as possible and have a place for direct as well as indirect heat. How hot is as hot as possible? To be honest, I am not exactly sure since I don’t have a thermometer on my grill. However, I let my coals get good and hot, leave my vents wide open, and place my lid over the top of my coals and grill plate for about 15 minutes before I put on my steaks.

Step 4: Grill the Meat!

Grill the Meat Pic

After the grill is good and hot, it’s finally time to put on the meat and close the lid. First, I grill the steaks over direct heat until each side gets a good char and has visible grill marks. After each side has grill marks, I transfer the steaks to the indirect heat making sure that the whatever side was facing down when it was over direct heat is still facing down when the meat is moved. Throughout the process, I only want to turn the steaks one time. Once the steaks are over indirect heat, I allow them to cook until they are medium-rare to medium. As far as time goes, I usually grill the steaks for around 2 minutes 15 seconds per side over direct heat and then an additional minute over indirect heat. However long it takes your venison steaks to cook will obviously be determined by how thick your cuts are and how hot you have your grill . The most important thing to remember when grilling venison steaks, along with most wild meats, is never to cook the steaks past medium. In fact, the closer to rare your steaks are the better they will be.

As his image bearers, God has placed us in charge of a wonderful world (Ps. 8). The resourcefulness, wisdom, and creativity that it takes to hunt, clean, process, prepare, cook, and enjoy venison is one of the many good gifts from God that gives me pleasure. I most want to reflect his image in the way that I treat my neighbor. However, rural activities such as hunting and cooking can mirror God’s goodness as well when done in thanksgiving. And, when it comes to these things, not much tastes as sweet as venison steak!

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

Jesus of Nazareth and the God of Israel

Will's Wilderness Marcan Prologue Pic.jpg

Nature Picture by Will Cooper, age 6*

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence . . . to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!

 

Isaiah 64:1-2

 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee . . .

 Mark 1:9a

Have you ever seen a movie whose opening scene starts out full force—100 mph—in the middle of the action? Superhero movies often do this. Instead of starting from the beginning, they first open with a scene that shows the superhero fully clothed in his superhero garb and using all his superhero powers to defeat the villain in some epic battle. Only then, as they give you a snapshot of what’s to come and of what’s really taking place, do they move to the more mundane setting of everyday life that begins the narrative. Only then do they begin to show how this seemingly normal person gets to the climactic point with which the movie starts.

Mark’s prologue in Mark 1:2-13 begins this way.[1] Once we arrive to Mark 1:14, Jesus is on the streets of Galilee preaching and conversing with fishermen and common folk. He heals the sick and brings relief to the demon possessed but there is a sense of naivety among the people as to who this Jesus really is and as to what is really happening. He is disguised. He performs these great works but is also a carpenter from the hill country. He was one of those uneducated, rural folks at whom the Jerusalem elites sneered.

However, in this prologue, Mark begins his story by peeling back the curtain. Mark starts out in the wilderness and uses the voice of God and numerous Old Testament allusions to clue us in to exactly who Jesus is. He does this so that even if the multitudes, including his own disciples, were confused about who Jesus was, we will not be. Mark wants us to know from the outset who this uneducated, rural man was and is, because as I said last week, this carpenter from Nazareth demands our souls, our lives, and our all.

With that, what we should notice from this prologue is that Jesus is to be identified with the LORD, the God of Israel. He is to be identified with the LORD because he is the one who is empowered by the Spirit, who pours out the Spirit, and who brings new creation to the world.

JOHN’S MESSAGE OF REPENTANCE AND HOPE

Actually, this story about Jesus doesn’t start with Jesus at all but with his cousin, John. John the Baptist was a desert prophet and another mysterious figure about whom the people wondered. In verses 2-8, Mark tells us about John and the message of repentance and hope that he heralded in the wilderness.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

Mark 1:2-8

Mark begins by connecting the story of Israel and our Old Testament Scriptures to John and his ministry. There are a few things that we should make note of from these links. However, we first need a basic understanding of the story of Israel itself.

God rescued the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and made them his special people. He did this in fulfillment to his promises to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). God promised Abraham that a great nation would come from him and that through this people, all the families of the earth would be blessed. That is why the LORD rescued Israel from Egypt, gave them his law, and committed to dwell with them in the Promised Land as their god. The plan was to establish his saving reign through them. But, tragically, Israel failed to be that blessing-bringing people. They turned from the LORD and failed time and again to reflect his justice and righteousness to the nations. As a result, the LORD judged his people. He departed from them and handed them over to the nations. However, the story of Israel in the Old Testament Scriptures doesn’t end with judgment but with the promise of salvation.

Through prophets like Isaiah and Malachi, the LORD promised to return to Israel as king and to restore, forgive, and empower them to bless the world. On a few occasions, some Prophets foretold that an Elijah-like prophet would precede the return of the LORD to his people. This is the first truth that we should notice from these verses. John is the Elijah-like prophet whose ministry signals the establishment of the LORD’s saving reign on the earth. We gather this from the two passages with which Mark introduces John. In verse 2, Mark states that what he is about to say comes from Isaiah the prophet but he actually conflates two prophecies, one from Malachi and one from Isaiah. The reason why he attributes both prophecies to Isaiah is probably because Isaiah was the first to speak about a messenger who would precede the coming of the LORD.

It would benefit us to look at both passages more fully. Both predict that the LORD would send his messenger before he—the LORD—would return to restore his people and establish his kingdom on the earth. As you read these verses, notice whom the promised messenger prepares the way for.

Behold, I [the LORD] send my messenger and he will prepare the way before ME. And the LORD whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

Malachi 3:1

 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:3-5

Malachi and Isaiah both prophesied that a messenger would precede, announce, and prepare the way for the coming of the LORD himself. After this messenger, the LORD would restore his people in a new saving event and establish his kingdom on the earth. Mark begins his gospel by pointing out that John the Baptist is that messenger. John is the desert prophet in the tradition of Elijah and Elisha. His voice rang out in the wilderness, and Mark tells us that all Jerusalem and Judea came out to see him and be baptized.

That John preached in the wilderness is also significant because the prophet Hosea wrote that in the last days the LORD would lure his people into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her words of hope as he had done at the beginning, when he rescued her from Egypt (Hosea 2:14-20). A desert prophet was a signal of hope and restoration for God’s people (Is. 41:18-20; 51:3). And, what this particular desert prophet told the people of Jerusalem to do was to return to the LORD and be baptized as a sign of their repentance. He told them to return to the LORD because the LORD, who promised restoration through Isaiah, was about to intervene in history once more to fulfill his ancient promises. Again, what we see in this is that John is the Elijah-like prophet whose ministry signals the establishment of the LORD’s rule on the earth.

Second, notice with me that John identified the one who came after him as the one who would baptize or pour out the Holy Spirit on God’s people. The background for this is another writing prophet from the Hebrew Scriptures. This time it’s the prophet Joel. What I want you to notice as you read Joel is exactly who the one is who pours out the Spirit.

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I [the LORD] will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young me shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I [the LORD] will pour out my Spirit.

Joel 2:28-29

Joel prophesied that, in the last days, the LORD would pour out his Spirit upon all his people from the least to the greatest. Here, in Mark, Mark connects John the Baptist with this prophecy, so that not only is John the one who makes a way for the coming of the LORD, the god of Israel, to intervene in history, but he also makes the way for the LORD to pour out his Spirit on all flesh.

Now, as we move to the next set of verses, I want you to see what Mark has done. This is very important. He has us anticipating the coming of the LORD himself to establish his reign on the earth and to fulfill his promises to his people. This brings us to verses 9-11. Here, Mark and John remarkably connect these amazing prophecies about the LORD, Israel’s god, to Jesus, a man from Nazareth of Galilee!

JESUS, THE LORD’S KING AND SERVANT WHO WILL ESTABLISH GOD’S REIGN ON THE EARTH

Here, I want us to see that Jesus is God’s servant-king, who restores God’s people and establishes God’s reign on the earth.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:9-11

First, I want you to see the remarkable juxtaposition or comparison between what Mark has just told us in verses 2-8 and what he tells us in verse 9. In verses 2-8, he has just stated in a round-about-way that the LORD himself was coming to intervene on this earth by establishing his reign and pouring out his Spirit upon his people. Here, in the very next verse, he connects those grand pronouncements concerning Israel’s god with a man named Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee. Last week, I told you Mark’s gospel is an ancient biography is the vein of other ancient biographies but is, at the same time, intentionally distinct—determinedly different—from other biographies of his day.

This is evidence of just how different Mark considered Jesus to be. From the beginning, Mark identifies this Galilean hillbilly as intimately close to, if not one with, the LORD, Israel’s god. Jesus is a man like us—even like the least among us. He wasn’t from Jerusalem in Judea but from the less esteemed province of Galilee. And, in Galilee, he was from a town so insignificant that many in his own day had not even heard of it, kind of like being from La Center or Bandana.

But, even though Jesus was a man like the rest of us, there was also something different about him, so that when he came to this earth and began his ministry, Mark and John the Baptist both could proclaim that the LORD, the god of Israel and the god of the nations, had come as well. Jesus was a man like us, even the least of us. But, he was unlike us as well because he is to be intimately identified with the LORD of hosts!

Now the main point of these three verses about Jesus’ baptism is what the voice of God the Father declares about Jesus and what happens when Jesus is baptized. What we see is that when Jesus was baptized he was empowered by the Holy Spirit and declared to be the LORD’s Servant-King who would establish God’s saving reign on the earth. Not surprisingly, what happens in these verses is from a few Old Testament passages as well. The most notable are Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1.

I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Psalm 2:7-9

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice on the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

Isaiah 42:1-4

These two passages envision that the LORD’s chosen agent will establish his reign on the earth. In Psalm 2, we are given a picture of a conquering King, who brings the nations to submission. However, in Isaiah 42, we see a servant, whose victory appears distinct from the way the world conquers and attains victory. He is humble. He brings justice to the nations and establishes God’s rule on the earth but he does it in such a way that there is no collateral damage. Rather, the very weakest and least of all who long to be included are received by him as he quietly and meekly establishes his justice upon the earth.

These passages present us with a complex figure who brings God’s kingdom to the earth, a figure who is empowered by the Spirit and crushes God’s enemies but who also accomplishes his work humbly through suffering, working simultaneously for the LORD and for the very least among us.

At Jesus’ baptism, Mark and, more importantly, the voice of God connect these figures with Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee is God’s servant-king who establishes God’s saving reign on the earth. Mark is telling us once again that, in Jesus, Israel’s god has returned to manifest his glory and that all flesh will see it! Many would not recognize Jesus. It would take his own disciples a long time to realize exactly who he was and what he had come to do but Mark wants us to know from the outset. Jesus is Lord, and he demands our all!

JESUS BATTLED AND DEFEATED THE POWERS!

Finally, from verses 12-13, we see that Jesus battled and defeated the powers that enslave people. Mark has already peeled back the curtain to reveal Jesus’ true identity. He is Jesus of Nazareth, the one through whom Israel’s god has returned to restore his people and to establish his saving reign on the earth. Now, Mark peels the curtain back a little further to show us the battle that was also taking place in the life and ministry of Jesus.

If Jesus had come to rescue people and to restore them as God’s image bearers, and if he had come to take back this world for God and for his glory, then that means that he must’ve been rescuing his people and taking back the world from someone or something. These verses remind us exactly who it was whom Jesus came to defeat. He came to defeat the powers and the ultimate power who stands behind all other evil powers, Satan.

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Mark 1:12-13

Mark has already shown us that through a man from Nazareth Israel’s god was intervening in history to fulfill his ancient promises. Now, he adds that through this same man a cosmic showdown was taking place among heavenly powers for this world and its inhabitants. First, Mark describes the setting for this great battle as the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. As I mentioned earlier, some prophets spoke positively of the wilderness as the place where God would usher in his new creation. However, in other places, the wilderness had negative connotations. In fact, even in Hosea and Isaiah, it was the negative reputation of the wilderness that made their new creation imagery so much more striking.

Typically, the wilderness was a frightening place where wild beasts roamed and devoured. We often have a romantic view of wild beasts. When we see lions and tigers, we see them behind the constraints of bars at a zoo. That wasn’t the case for those in the ancient world. Wild beasts were ferocious and could take a life in less than a second. For the ancients, wild beasts conjured up images of the most dangerous aspects that remain in this fallen world—images of chaos, disorder, and all else that brings harm to human life. The beasts were also symbols for the nations which devalued and dehumanized their subjects (Ps. 22:12-21; Dan. 7). One day the LORD would cause springs of water and lush gardens to emerge in the wilderness, and he would tame the ferocious beasts of the earth (Is. 51:3; 11:6-9). In the meantime, the wilderness and its beasts were dangerous and despised. By going into the wilderness, Mark wants us to see that Jesus was going into the heart of enemy territory in order to reclaim this world and its inhabitants from the evil powers.

Here, we have before us the ancient serpent and the wild beasts squared off against the offspring of Eve and angels. Mark shows us that Jesus went up against these things and the devil himself in his life and ministry. He opposed the ancient serpent in a battle for our lives and in a battle for this world. Strangely enough, and unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not tell us how Jesus fared in this great battle. However, by the end of Mark, it’s clear that he won! The empty tomb is the ultimate evidence that Jesus won. However, even before we get to the empty tomb it’s clear who was in charge. We will soon see that demonic powers trembled in fear before him (5:6-7). He will tell the scribes who are sent from Jerusalem to silence him that he had bound the evil one and was plundering his house (3:22-27). Ultimately, however, we will see the final showdown at the cross.

Mark will show us that it was through the cross that Jesus ultimately stripped the beasts of their power and delivered the devil a mortal blow. At the cross, Satan, Jerusalem, and Rome gave Jesus all that they had—they raged and they plotted, they set themselves and took counsel against the LORD and his anointed, but through it all, Jesus took upon himself our sin and our suffering and unleashed in us a kingdom of priests who will inherit the earth (Rev. 5:9-10). As Paul would later say: If the powers of this age had only known what they were doing, they would have never crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8). Mark wants us to know from the outset that in Jesus, Israel’s god defeated the powers that stand against his people and the world!

Before we move past Mark’s prologue, I want us to think through some of the implications of what Mark has shown us. In Jesus, the LORD himself visited this earth to bring restoration and new creation. He came to include the very least among us, if we would turn to him from our sin and believe upon his name. That then is the first way that we should respond. We must find our lives in the life of Jesus.

Jesus’ story is not just another interesting story from the ancient world. The significance of his life includes the life of every other person who has ever lived, so much so that if we do not find our life and our story in his life and his story, we have missed out on the very reason that we exist. I pray that you would find your life in the life of Jesus. Turn from your own path and begin to trust and follow him. Mark goes on to show us the path that Jesus took and the way that he summons us to live in this world. But first, he makes it clear who Jesus is and that he is worth our all.

If you are already a believer, continue to trust in and follow him. He has already begun to reign over this world. Right now, he is establishing pockets of righteousness and justice through his new community, the church. All who claim to be the church are not the church. And, even among those who are, the Lord works through imperfect vessels. However, he still desires to work through us. He calls us to be his ambassadors who herald the good news of his victory to the lost. And, he calls us to be his servants who embody his compassion, mercy, and self-giving love to the broken and disenfranchised of this world.

Before the victory of the empty tomb, Jesus first went to the cross. He calls each one of us to do the same. He calls us to follow him with humble lives of service and love. We best reflect his glory to those most in need of his love when we live selfless lives of service toward those who need healing in our community. If the cross shows us anything, it shows us that steadfast love is more powerful than all this world’s defenses and walls. Let us follow him in that love as we find our lives in his.

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

[1]David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel: Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015). Garland writes: “The prologue presents the inbreaking of heaven into earthly reality and fleetingly unveils the mystery to the audience” (183).

*This is one of the many “nature” pictures, as he likes to call them, that my son, Will, took a few months ago when I took him squirrel hunting. We didn’t see a single squirrel but he had a ball filling my phone with pictures of every majestic thing that caught his eye. I’ll include more of his pictures in later sermon posts.