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Category Archives: Gospel of Mark

Russia 2019 – April Update

Praying friends,

Thanks to God’s grace and your prayers, my passport and visa to Russia arrived this morning. Considering I leave in 10 days, it arrived none too soon!

On this trip, I will be teaching a three-day course on the Harmony of the Gospels in two locations—Anapa and Elista, Russia. So far, 25 students have registered and the number will probably increase as we get closer to the date. Last year, 43 people from 4 cities attended the classes.

At this point, the preparations are essentially complete. My notes are ready to go. I made copies of my handouts in Russian to take along. I purchased short-term ministry trip insurance. The only thing left to do is get some dental work taken care of and then pack.

Here are some items for your intercessory efforts:

PRAISES

  • Passport and visa to Russia arrived in a timely manner without complications.
  • The trip is fully funded.
  • Carol and I enjoyed a wonderful, refreshing time at the SonScape Retreat in Colorado.
  • I am finally healthy, having gotten over a cold/cough that plagued me for two weeks.

PRAYER REQUESTS

  • The students who will attend.
  • Safe travel.
  • Good health.
  • Effective ministry.
  • Dental work—I’m getting a root canal in a tooth on Monday.
  • Good Friday and Easter services this weekend.
  • Pray for Carol as she remains at home.

While you are praying, could you also pray that God will provide the necessary funds for Carol and me to minister in Moscow this fall in October? We will be part of a team teaching a week-long seminar on leadership development—identifying and training young, emerging leaders in the church. So far, $825 has been given towards the $4,200 needed for the trip. My prayer is that God will provide the total amount by June so that we can purchase airfare and make plans. If you would like to support the trip financially, please send a check to First Central Bible Church, 50 Broadway St, Chicopee, MA, 01020. Checks should be made out to FCBC with “Moscow Conference” in the notation line.

Thanks so much for your prayers, encouragement, and support. I’m grateful.

Mark Wheeler

 

Russia 2019 – March update

Dear friends,

I am grateful for your support, encouragement, and prayers for my upcoming trip to Russia. It is only through your intercessory efforts that I am able to do what I do. Thanks so much!

I hope to apply for my Russian visa in the next couple of weeks. The LOI (letter of invitation) from Moscow should arrive next week. Once I receive it, I will head for the Russian visa office in New York City to apply in person for the visa. I will be applying for a humanitarian visa for religious work, in order to be above board on what we are doing and not take a chance in getting in trouble with the authorities. Please pray that the process goes smoothly and without complications.

I completed the third round of editing my notes for the Harmony of the Gospels course. As I mentioned previously, the challenge of teaching through four gospels is deciding what NOT to say. After cutting the material in half through the editing process, I still have a bit too much. Until I teach through it the first time, I won’t know for sure. Please pray that I have wisdom to know what to include and what to leave out.

Please pray for the students who will attend the course. They are currently working on the preclass assignment. They are to read through one of gospels and write down their questions. They are also to answer two questions: (1) What does it mean to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23)? How do you do that personally? and (2) How did Jesus fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17-20)? Should Christians follow the Law today?

Please pray for Carol and me over the next seven weeks—safe travel, good health, wise use of our time, boldness to share with people, etc. Next week, I will be in Atlanta, GA, for a Walk Thru the Bible faculty conference. When I return, Carol heads for the west coast to visit her parents and sisters and to see two of our children. In early April, we will attend a SonScape pastoral retreat in Colorado. It will be a time of rest, refreshment, encouragement, challenge, and planning for the future. In mid-April, we will be involved in our Easter outreach here at the church. The week after Easter, I leave for Russia. As you can see, the next seven weeks are filled with many opportunities for ministry.

Thanks for your support, encouragement, and prayers. I’m in your debt.

 

Russia 2019 – February update

Dear friends,

I was recently reading through the book of Exodus and came upon every pastor, missionary, and ministry leader’s ideal regarding financial giving. Exodus chapters 35 & 36 describe the offering for the construction of the tabernacle. Moses called for those who were willing and generous to bring their offering. People gave so much that Moses finally had to call a halt.

35:4 Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution…20 Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. 21 And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution …36:2 And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the Lord had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning… So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.

Once again, through your prayers and generosity, God has provided for my May 2019 ministry trip to Russia. Two weeks ago, I was able to purchase airfare and make hotel reservations. Thank you, Lord!

I have started the process of applying for a Russian visa. Once I receive the LOI (letter of invitation) from our contact in Moscow, I will apply for a humanitarian visa for religious work. Rather than the normal 30-day visa, I will be applying for a one-year visa. (Carol and I have been invited to come to Moscow in October to help teach a seminar on leadership development. More about that trip next month.) Please pray that the process goes smoothly and without complications.

I have been working on my notes for the Harmony of the Gospels course over the past few weeks. In previous years, I only taught one book of the Bible during the three-day course. As you can imagine, the challenge of teaching through four books is deciding what NOT to say. Please pray that I have wisdom to know what to include and what to leave out.

Please pray for the students who will attend the course. Last week I sent a preclass assignment for them to begin working on. They are to read through one of gospels and write down their questions. They are also to answer two questions: (1) What does it mean to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23)? How do you do that personally? and (2) How did Jesus fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17-20)? Should Christians follow the Law today?

Thanks for your support, encouragement, and prayers. I’m in your debt.

 

Harmony of the Gospels

Next May, I will be teaching a 3-day class on the Harmony of the Gospels while I am ministering in Russia. To help me in my preparation, I have been working on an outline of the events of the life of Christ. Here is a pdf version of my work thus far.

If the statement is true that quoting from one source is plagiarism while quoting from several is good research, then my outline is good research. It is adapted from several books and websites including:

Talk Thru the Bible, by Ken Boa and Bruce Wilkinson

The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, by J. Dwight Pentecost

The Life of Christ in Stereo, by Johnston M. Cheney

https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/harmony/index.cfm

http://www.lifeofchrist.com/life/harmony/

 

 

He Is Risen!

About an hour north of London, England, lies the village of Tewin. St. Peter’s Church in Tewin dates back to Saxon times. While the church is an interesting structure, what people come to see is the massive single tree with four trunks that grows over the grave of Lady Anne Grimston, who was buried in 1713.

Lady Anne was a proud, obstinate woman who enjoyed her wealth and lands and the society of her friends. She believed that there was nothing else in life except what she experienced—her riches, her grand house, her friends, the fine dinners, and the elegant clothes she enjoyed. There was no eternal life, no heaven and no hell.

Her friends tried to tell her otherwise, but she proudly stated, “I shall not continue to live. It is as unlikely that I shall continue to live as that a tree will grow out of my body.” She went so far as to make a challenge to heaven, saying, “If, indeed, there is life hereafter, trees will render asunder my tomb.”

Lady Anne Grimston died November 22 1713, and was buried in a strong tomb made of marble. Many years later, the marble slab over her grave was found to have moved from its position. The builders fixed it firmly in place. Again the heavy marble slab tilted slightly on one side, and in the middle was a crack, with a tiny bunch of leaves bursting through. Lady Anne GrimstonThe crack was closed with cement, and the slab put back. But again the slab was lifted up, the crack opened wider than ever, and the thin trunk of a tree appeared. They repaired the tomb and built tall iron railings around it to hold the masonry together. But the young tree made its way, breaking the masonry, destroying the walls of the tomb, and tearing the iron railings out of the ground.

Today, growing right from the heart of Lady Anne Grimston’s grave in St. Peter’s churchyard in Hertfordshire County is one of the largest trees in England, with four trees growing from one root. The trunk of the tree has grown fast through the iron railing, which cannot be moved.

Through his resurrection, Jesus dealt the final victory blow to Satan. The resurrection demonstrates God’s power over life and death. The resurrection demands a response. It calls us to put our faith in the Son of God and to persevere in the face of doubt, suffering, and persecution (Mark 16:1-8).

Once the Sabbath concluded, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James & Joses, and Salome purchase spices to anoint the body of Jesus (1). Rather than trying to preserve his body from decay, however, they want to demonstrate their devotion to the Lord.

The women set out at dawn (6:00AM) on Sunday morning (2). On the way there, they wonder who will move the stone for them (3). The women did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead. When the women arrived on the scene, they immediately noticed that the very large stone covering the entrance had been removed (4).

resurrection-of-jesus_christ PP crosshatchUpon entering the tomb, the women were startled by the presence of a young man sitting on the right hand side of the burial chamber (5). Luke (24:3-4) and John (20:12) mention two angels, but Mark only speaks of one, presumably the spokesman. Their white clothes indicated the dazzling character of their glory. The women were alarmed when they encountered the divine messenger. It’s not every day you meet an angel.

Sensing the women’s distress, the angel commanded them, “Don’t be alarmed” (6). The angel knew they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth. His greeting reassures them they did not go to the wrong grave. The angel announces that Jesus is not dead. He has risen!

The empty tomb does not prove the resurrection. It simply raises the question, “What happened to the body?” The question is answered decisively by the angels’ statement, “He has risen.” The angel invites them to examine the evidence. The women could see the body is not there. The tomb is empty and confirms the resurrection.

The women were given a task. They were to go and tell Jesus’ disciples that they would be reunited with him in Galilee (7). Peter was singled out not only because he was preeminent, but because he was forgiven and still included in the Eleven despite his triple denial. The message given to the women was not for them alone. It was for all of Jesus’ followers.

The women were confused and terrified by what they saw and heard. The women fled from the tomb just as the disciples fled from the arrest, trial, and crucifixion (8).

Rather than resolving the story, Mark leaves his readers to ponder the meaning of the empty tomb as interpreted by the angel’s revelatory message. He wanted his readers to continue the story in their own lives. Mark is asking the question, “How will you respond to the announcement of the resurrection?”

By stating that the women told no one, Mark challenged his readers to assume the responsibility of telling the good news to everyone.

The Lord is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 22, 2016. It is the final sermon in a series on the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

A Disciple’s Devotion

Being 61 years old, and having spent half my life in ministry, I have attended, participated, and led my share of funerals. Some were joyous celebrations while others were somber affairs. Some were well-planned while others appeared disorganized and disjointed.

In January 2008, I was in the thriving metropolis of Flagler, CO, (population 567 people) for my aunt Charity’s memorial service. Flagler lies ninety miles east of Denver near the Kansas border. Charity had passed away in AL and her ashes would be placed in the family plot at Flagler.

I flew into Denver, met my cousin, Janet, and together we headed east to Flagler. As I walked through the cemetery, I noted the grave markers listing the names of some of my relatives and ancestors. It appeared to me that the hole for my aunt’s urn was near the wrong headstone. But then again, I’m a city boy, so what do I know? As the workers encouraged us to head for the church, we learned that they had indeed dug the hole in the wrong location.

Joseph of Arimathea wanted to make sure no such mistakes were made when Jesus Christ died (Mark 15:42-47). He took control of the situation to ensure that Jesus was properly buried. In so doing, he provided us with a model of how a follower of Jesus acts. Based on his example, a disciple of Jesus Christ looks for where God is at work, takes a courageous stand for their faith, and demonstrates their devotion to Jesus.

The death of Jesus occurred at 3:00PM on Friday (Mark 15:34-37). Normally, a crucified criminal was allowed to remain on the cross for several days. Jewish law, however, required that the body be buried before sundown (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Since the Sabbath began at 6:00PM, and no work could be done on the Sabbath, there was a sense of urgency to bury Jesus.

The apostle Paul states that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus were matters of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Some, however, dismiss the idea of the resurrection by saying that Jesus did not die. He simply passed out on the cross and was later revived in the coolness of the tomb.

If you examine the facts, the death of Jesus was attested by:

  • Joseph of Arimathea (43) – Joseph asked for permission to bury the body of Jesus. He recognized that he was dead.
  • A Roman Centurion (44-45) – Pilate quizzed the Roman Centurion who was in charge of the execution. He attested that Jesus was dead.
  • Pilate (44-45) – Pilate released the body to Joseph, again attesting to the fact that Jesus was dead. The word used for “body” (45) is the word for “corpse.”
  • Jesus’ burial (46) – Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body and buried him in the tomb. You do not bury people who are living. You bury dead people.
  • Mary Magdalene & Mary, the mother of Joses (47) – The two Mary’s witnessed the burial and knew the location of the tomb.

The historicity of the death of Jesus is firm. The early church would not have invented a story about Jesus being buried by a Jewish leader, who at most was a secret disciple, rather than his family or close disciples. Nor would invention have made women the chief witnesses of the event.

Seeing as there is little doubt about the death and burial of Jesus, the main question in this passage revolves around who Joseph of Arimathea was. Before the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea was:

  • A respected member of the Sanhedrin (43). However, he did not approve of the crucifixion (Luke 23:51), which may indicate he was not present at the trial.
  • A godly man who was looking for God’s kingdom (43). He was a devout Pharisee who knew the Old Testament scriptures and expected the kingdom to come through Jesus.
  • A secret follower of Jesus who was afraid of what people would think if they found out (John 19:38).

Joseph’s life was apparently transformed by Jesus’ death. Afterwards, Joseph risked everything to demonstrate his devotion to Jesus.

  • He risked political suicide by asking Pilate for permission to bury the body of Jesus (43). After an execution, the body was only released to family members. Joseph, a non-family member, identifies with a man executed for treason.
  • He risked economic suicide by paying for the burial out of his own pocket (46). He purchased the supplies and used his own tomb for the burial.
  • He risked religious suicide. By handling a dead body, he would be unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11) which meant he could not celebrate the Passover.

My prayer is that the death of Jesus transforms us like it did Joseph of Arimathea.

  • We should become disciples who look for where God is at work. Pray for eyes to see what God is doing. Live with a sense of expectation. Understand God’s plan. Join him in his work.
  • We should become disciples who take a courageous stand for our faith. Counter the culture. Tell people about Jesus. Resist temptation.
  • We should become disciples who demonstrate our devotion to Jesus. Study the Scriptures. Make time to pray. Serve. Live obediently.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 15, 2016. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

 

At the Cross, part 2

I started going to Russia on ministry trips in the early 90’s. When I began these annual excursions, my children were quite young. On one occasion, my family was saying goodbye to me at the gate. (It was back when anyone could enter the terminal and go to the gate.) My son grabbed me around the neck and said, “Dad, don’t leave. Please don’t go.” His earnest plea was enough to break your heart.

If you take my son’s fervent appeal and multiply it by a factor of one million, you still do not come close to the anguish that Jesus felt on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). When Jesus took on the sins of the world, he was separated from his Father. At the cross, Jesus completes his mission and opens access to God (Mark 15:33-41).

Through his death on the cross, Jesus completes his mission by taking on the sins of the world. During the hours of 9 AM – 12 Noon, Jesus experienced tremendous suffering. In the midst of his pain, Jesus extends grace to those around him. Jesus forgave his persecutors—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He affirms the faith of the thief on the cross—“Today, you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus made provision for his widowed mother—“Woman, behold your son! … Behold your mother!” (John 19:26-27).

At 12 Noon, the world became dark and the darkness lasted for three hours (33). Whether the result of a solar eclipse, a sudden dust-laden storm, or thick clouds, it was a supernatural phenomenon. It was a cosmic sign of divine judgment and the mourning of heaven (Amos 8:9-10). It paralleled the ninth plague of darkness (Exodus 10:21-29) that preceded the Passover (Exodus 11:1-12:32).

The crucifixion came to a climax at 3 PM with Jesus’ anguished cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (34). It was the only prayer of Jesus where he did not address God as “Abba,” or “Father.” His cry expressed the truth that the one who knew no sin became sin in order for us to receive righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Some of the bystanders misunderstood Jesus’ words and thought he was summoning Elijah. There was a popular Jewish belief that Elijah came in times of distress to deliver those in trouble.

Someone ran to get something for Jesus to drink. It was a wine vinegar concoction, often diluted with egg and water, sort of the Gatorade of the day, and the preference of the poor. Whether it was an act of mercy or more mockery to strengthen Jesus so he could suffer longer is a question.

Jesus’ death was unlike any other crucified criminal. Most victims lapsed into a coma after hanging on the cross. But Jesus was in control to the very end. Like a runner breaking the tape at the finish line, Jesus gave a shout of triumph—“It is finished!” (John 19:30). He gave his life to God—“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)—and breathed his last.

Through his death on the cross, Jesus opens access to God for all people. The curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom (38). There were two curtains in the temple. The outer curtain prevented Gentiles from entering the temple. The inner curtain kept all people except the high priest out of the presence of God. If the outer curtain was torn, it signified that Gentiles could worship God. If the inner curtain was torn, it meant that all people could enter God’s presence. I lean towards the latter interpretation since that is how the writer of Hebrews describes the effect (Hebrews 6:19-20; 9:6-14; 10:19-22).

In addition to the tearing of the temple curtain, there is also an earthquake and partial resurrection (Matthew 27:51-53). The events of the day all add up to convince the Roman Centurion in charge of the execution squad of the deity of Jesus—“Truly this man was the Son of God!” (39).

Mark closes his account by stating that some of Jesus’ female followers watched the proceedings from a distance. Mary Magdalene was one whom Jesus released from demonic possession. Mary, the mother of James and Joses was present, along with Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zededee.

The cross is a magnet that draws men and women and children from every culture and race.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 8, 2016. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.