The Call to Discipleship

by Narelle Atkins

In Mark 1:16-20 we learn how Jesus called four of his disciples. Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew were fishing by the Sea of Galillee when Jesus walked beside the shore. Mark’s account of what happened next is brief. Jesus said “Come follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men.” The brothers immediately left their fishing nets behind to follow Jesus.

Jesus then walked further along the road with Simon (Peter) and Andrew and he spotted James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John in a boat. The brothers were working with their father and the workers preparing nets for a fishing trip. Jesus called the brothers to follow him. James and John left their father and the workers in the boat to follow Jesus.

It is believed that the disciples knew about Jesus because of their previous connection to John the Baptist.

Jesus called ordinary men to leave their work, families and livelihood to follow him. According to Mark’s account, there was no time for the men to say ‘I’ll think about it’ or ‘I’ll get back to you.’ No time to farewell family, pack up their fishing gear or finish their day’s work out on the boat.

The call to discipleship was a radical decision that demanded their dedication and total commitment to following Jesus. A commitment to become ‘fishers of men’ who would catch people for God’s kingdom. A radical decision that I wonder how we would respond to if Jesus turned up at our workplace and called us to leave everything to follow him?

The Temptation of Jesus

by Narelle Atkins

The Gospel of Mark provides a brief account of the temptation of Jesus.

At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:12-13)

The Spirit sent Jesus into the desert immediately after his baptism. When John baptised Jesus, the heavens opened, the Spirit came upon Jesus and God the father spoke from heaven to his beloved Son.

We learn more details about how Satan tempted Jesus in Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke’s (4:1-13) gospels. Matthew and Luke record three specific incidents where Satan tempted Jesus to sin. On each occasion Jesus responded to Satan by quoting scripture.

While Jesus was in the desert he didn’t eat any food. Satan tempted him by suggesting that if Jesus was really the Son of God, he could turn a stone into bread and satisfy his physical hunger. Jesus responded by saying that man doesn’t live on bread alone.

Satan led Jesus to the Holy City and the highest point of the temple. He tempted Jesus by suggesting he throw himself down and allow the angels to save him. Jesus responded by saying the Lord God should not be tested.

Satan took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. He tempted Jesus by offering him dominion over all the kingdoms if Jesus bowed down and worshiped him. Jesus responded by saying worship the Lord and serve only him.

Jesus’ mission was spiritual and Satan continued to tempt him throughout his ministry, reaching a climax when Jesus was on the cross. Paul Barnett in his book The Servant King: Reading Mark Today talked about the final battle, symbolised by day becoming night (Mark 15:33). Jesus is a new Adam, the Son of Man who is Lord over the wild animals and prevails over evil. Adam fell into temptation but Jesus resisted temptation and remained obedient to God. Satan was finally defeated through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Encouraging kids to read the Bible

by Narelle Atkins

One of the challenges I face as a parent is how to encourage my kids to read the Bible. Sometimes the sheer size of a Children’s Bible can be intimidating plus the decision on where to start reading can be time consuming in itself.

I recently came across a great little resource from Bible Society Australia called Top 10 Bible Stories From Mark. It’s a small book, 68 pages, written and illustrated in a way that will appeal to kids. There are ten chapters that cover the main stories in the Gospel of Mark.

I really liked the cute cartoon-style illustrations that drew out the main point in each story. The stories themselves are not para-phrased but are taken from The Bible Today – Contemporary English Version. It’s a fun way for kids to read the Bible and learn more about the Gospel of Mark.

More information on Bible resources for kids can be found at http://www.BibleSociety.com.au and http://www.scriptureunion.org.au

John the Baptist: Preparing the way

By Narelle Atkins

John the Baptist was the last of the great prophets and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy (Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1). He was the messenger who lived in the desert and prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry.

John’s parents were Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth, a relative of the Virgin Mary. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah (see Luke 1:11-20) and foretold John’s birth and mission. Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and childless and Zechariah’s initial unbelief regarding the angel’s prophesy for his future son led to Zechariah becoming mute and unable to speak until the prophesy came to fruition (Luke 1:64).

John brought a message of repentance and baptism. He called the Israelites to repent from their sins and be baptised in the Jordan River. Baptism was a sign that they had turned back to God and received God’s forgiveness of sins.

John said he was preparing the way for one greater than him, who would baptise the Jews and Gentiles with the Holy Spirit. John baptised Jesus in the Jordan River and the heavens opened, bringing the Spirit down upon Jesus. God the father spoke to Jesus from heaven, saying ‘You are my Son, whom I love: with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1:11)

Jesus’ ministry started when John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod. Herodias held a grudge against John after John had told Herod it was not lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife. Herodias had been married to Philip, Herod’s brother, but had left Philip for Herod. Herodias and her daughter used an oath promised by Herod at a banquet to kill John. At their request, Herod ordered an executioner to behead John and present his head on a platter at the banquet (Mark 6:17-29).

Having a missionary heart

by Narelle Atkins

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

According to the Gospel of Mark, this is one of the last things Jesus said to His disciples before He ascended into heaven. The Gospel of Matthew also records The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

We are commanded by Jesus to preach the gospel to the whole world and share the good news about Jesus bringing salvation to the world through His death and resurrection. This was a new way of thinking for the disciples. They understood that the Israelites were God’s chosen people and the focus in the Scriptures (Old Testament) had been on God working out His purposes and plan for salvation through His covenant with Abraham and his descendents.

The ministry to the Gentiles (non-Jews) really kicked off after Jesus ascended into heaven. The early missionary activities of the apostles are recorded in the book of Acts. In Acts we learn about Paul’s mission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.

When I was younger I remember being quite intimidated by The Great Commission. How did this command impact the decisions I made? Did this mean I should dedicate my life to doing God’s work? And what would this look like? I had not felt called to be a missionary overseas or work for a Christian organisation. Was I selfish for wanting to live a so-called normal life as a wife and mother or should I have higher aspirations?

God created us with unique talents and abilities that we can use to bring Him glory. The body of Christ is made up of diverse people who work together to enable the gospel to be preached to all nations.

Whether we are serving on the front line as a missionary or playing a supporting role behind the scenes, we can all help in some way to reach people with the gospel message. And we can build relationships with those around us in our own mission field at home.

I can now see how my ‘missionary heart’ is revealed in many ways, including Bible studies, blogging and my Christian fiction writing. How is your ‘missionary heart’ revealed? What can you do to further the work of the gospel in our world?

Christ was not Jesus’ Last Name

by Deborah Horscroft

An old joke asked, “What do John the Baptist and Winnie the Pooh have in common?” They have the same middle name. I don’t quite know what Christopher Robin meant by “Pooh”, but John was known as the one who baptised.

Jesus was known by many names: Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Son of Man, even son of Joseph and Mary. He is now most commonly known as Jesus Christ, and here the word “Christ” is Jesus’ title.

“Christ” originating from the Greek; “Messiah” from the Hebrew – the closest approximation in English is “The Anointed One”. People and things were ceremonially anointed with oil to signify that they had been separated for God’s purpose: that is, made “holy”. The word was also used metaphorically to mean God had shown favour or the person was chosen to fulfil God’s special purpose. For example, Cyrus the Persian was “anointed” to subdue the nations (Isaiah 45). In its article on “Messiah” The New Bible Dictionary points out that Cyrus was a kind of Messiah figure bringing the redemption of God’s people, judgement on God’s enemies and dominion over the nations. Although he did not acknowledge God, he was God’s instrument.

The Old Testament points to another Messiah who will reconcile God and his people. The prophecies say he will be a deliverer like Moses, a conqueror like David, a servant like no other, a new Israel who keeps the new covenant, a prophet, priest, king and willing sacrifice for sins.

Much of the New Testament is the story of people wrestling with what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, or Christ. Many of his day welcomed the conquering king into Jerusalem but rejected the suffering servant of God, anointed to be a holy sacrifice for sins. The Jews and Samaritans both longed for the Messiah to come, but only a few recognised Jesus the Christ.