Thursday 9 August
Australian Rikk Watts is the speaker for the morning Bible Teaching at New Horizon this week. Initially an aeronautical engineer, Rikk later worked with IBM while studying philosophy, art history, and sociology at LaTrobe University. He went on to complete two Masters degrees in theology (OT & NT, Gordon Conwell) and a PhD (Cambridge). After 20 years of teaching at Regent College, Vancouver, Rikk and his wife Katie recently returned to Australia where he is the Dean of the School of Theology at Alphacrucis College.
Reading Mark 1: 1- 11
We continue our talks on the Trinity having spent time looking at Elohim and Yahweh in Israel’s scriptures and then yesterday looking at the Spirit of God. This brings us to Jesus.
His is amazing. Everything else pales beside Him. He not only made me and you a new creation but He opened our eyes to see creation in new ways. If you are going to applaud somebody today, applaud Him.
I recently heard somebody who said, “Don’t get to know Jesus by looking at the God of the Old Testament. Get to know the God of the OT by looking at Jesus.” There is some truth there but that can also be seriously misleading. We only know who Jesus is because we already know Yahweh. If we are not careful, we can give unintentional support to the notion that Jesus is the kind face of an otherwise angry God. I think that is blasphemous.
The God you see revealed in the Gospels is exactly the same God you read about in Israel’s scriptures. I don’t see anything in Jesus that I don’t already see in Yahweh. This is the God who stands on the rock, allows Himself to be struck and bleeds living water for His people. He is the God who shows compassion and mercy when His people deserve judgement and wrath.
In 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul talks about ONE God and ONE LORD, Jesus Christ. Paul is a first century Jew (who would have recited the Shema from childhood). Within 20 years of Jesus death, Paul puts Jesus right up there in the Shema and He doesn’t feel any need to justify it. That is staggering. Jesus is not just some nice wandering Rabbi or teacher, He is in fact Yahweh – the LORD Himself – among us.
Paul did not invent this idea that Jesus is the LORD. It was the testimony of the earliest Chrsitians. It goes all the way back to the eye witness followers of Jesus and they didn’t invent it either. It originates in the person of Jesus. If you are a Jewish person and you are talking about a new deliverance, you are not going to talk about a new Bastille Day, you will talk about a new Exodus.
Who revealed Himself during the first Exodus? Elohim revealed Himself as Yahweh. When you are talking about the life of Jesus, this is a new Exodus. This is not just Elohim, this is Yahweh.
It is unanimously agreed that Mark’s is the earliest Gospel. I would argue that this is the same John Mark that we see in the early accounts of the New Testament. Everyone knew John Mark and he is the only one who has a strong connection with eye witness testimony. We know from Luke’s account in Acts 1 that there was a pool of people who were with Jesus from the very beginning, from His baptism until the ascension. If the early disciples are concerned with eye witness accounts, then I would argue that Mark (the Gospel writer) is the John Mark of the NT.
Why should we trust his account? He was a bi-lingual Jew. We know that his family was well-to-do and was present both in Jerusalem and in Antioch. His mother’s house was big enough for the Christians to gather together there. (Peter returned to her house when he was released from prison). Mark was mingling with the disciples. His uncle Barnabas was one of the first to sell land to give to the church. Barnabas is the one who welcomes Paul and Mark gets invited along with them on a missionary journey. We know that he blows it. But nevertheless in his last imprisonment, Paul sent for him.
I would argue that He is as close as you can get to the real deal. He knows Peter and Paul personally. If you want a great picture of Jesus, then read Mark. Why would Matthew follow Mark in writing his gospel? The answer is that behind Mark was Peter. What you are getting in Mark’s gospel is Peter’s account of what Jesus told him and what he saw and heard of Jesus.
Who is this Jesus?
The first thing we know for sure is that Jesus is human. He is Jesus of Nazareth. This is agreed even by His opponents.
Mark’s Gospel begins talking about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and John finishes his gospel that way. But even though Mark starts by referring to Jesus as the Christ, he grounds it in two prophetic texts. Neither Malachi nor Isaiah are concerned with writing about the “Messiah”.
A number of years ago, I was invited to meet with Jewish Holocaust survivors and they wanted me to talk about the Messiah in the book of Isaiah. I told them, “As you and I both know, Isaiah says almost nothing about the Messiah.” The only person called “messiah” in Isaiah is Cyrus. Jews know that we (Christians) often read things into the text that is not there! And as we were were talking and we got to the “servant” figure, one old man shouted out, “The servant of the Lord will never die.” And I replied,
“That is what we believe about your Jewish Jesus! That God raised Him from the dead!”
Neither Malachi nor Isaiah are talking about the coming of the Messiah. It is not the “messiah” who comes to deliver his people – it is Yahweh Elohim. You will never understand Jesus as the Messiah until you first understand that He is the LORD. This is stunning. Jesus being understood as the Christ, is grounded in the understanding of Him as Yahweh.
Have a look at what goes on here. John was seen as “Elijah”… the Elijah in Malachi is not preparing for Messiah, He is preparing for the LORD. Then you hear John’s preaching. If you know Israel’s scriptures, who is the Mighty One of Israel? It is Yahweh, the Lord Almighty, who delivers His people.
Who baptises with the Spirit? Not the Messiah. Only the LORD God baptises people with the Spirit. This is Yahweh stuff. I think that explains why fully half of the next eight chapters of Mark are focused on Jesus’ mighty deeds.
He spends 40 days in the desert. Only later on do you realise what has happened at the temptation. The Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons with the help of Satan. Jesus answers them a “house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Long before Jesus was on the cross, Jesus had bound the strong man. Where else would Jesus have defeated and bound Satan, if not at the temptation? How does Jesus defeat Satan? Through His character. Satan never again confronts Jesus face to face. When Jesus meets demons, it is over before it starts. Who is it in Israel’s scriptures who defeats Satan? It is not the “messiah”. It is Yahweh and now we see Jesus doing it. And that is exactly what the unclean spirit in the synagogue recognises. Listen to the question, “Have you come to destroy us?” That is a Yahweh question.
Then the man with Leprosy, “If you are willing, you are able.” Only Yahweh can do whatever He wills.
When the man is let down through the roof and Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” And everyone starts muttering, “Only God can do this.” And Jesus reads their heart (only God can do that too!).
Jesus feeds people . Where have you seen this before? We are not dealing with philosophy, we are dealing with history! Running all the way through the Gospels is the history of the scriptures. It is not different rabbis doing these things (calming the storm, turning water into wine, feeding the 5,000 etc.) No one does this. All of these mighty deeds are clustered around this one individual. You would not invent this stuff. No one expects someone to walk on water. This is so incredible, the only explanation is that Jesus is Yahweh – promised through Malachi and Isaiah – and in the first part of Mark’s Gospel, the writer is falling over himself to show us.
The Exodus reveals Yahweh as full of mercy and compassion. Who is the one person in the Gospels to whom people come asking for mercy? It is Jesus.
Do people come to our congregations because they know they will find mercy? When people are running from a false view of God are they further from Him or closer to Him? What if for some of us this gospel has become more about good and evil, guilt and shame, legalism and control? Perhaps when people are running from that kind of “gospel” they are moving closer to God?
I don’t think the Gospel has lost its power. Sometimes we have lost the Gospel. Who is the only one who shows compassion in the Gospels? That is Jesus. Who is Jesus? He is Yahweh – the LORD.
John’s Gospel begins – the word became flesh and “tabernacled” among us. Where have you seen someone “tabernacle” with His people? It is in the Exodus. That moment when Yahweh revealed His character.
When they are celebrating the feast of tabernacles, Jesus stands up and announces, “Anyone who is thirsty – come to me.” This is a reference back to the rock that is struck. Jesus is the rock who bleeds living water for His people.
Jesus is the I AM. He promises to send the comforter. As the Father raises the dead, so too will the Son. It is true that God is the one who raises Jesus from the dead. But Jesus also says, “Destroy this temple and in three days, I will raise it up.”
How does this help us in understanding the Trinity? One God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What is missing from this statement? Yahweh! The Gospels tell us that this is who Jesus is.
The problem with the Christalogical Trinitarian statement is that the LORD is not mentioned. The Cappadocian Fathers are bright guys but they drew heavily on Matthew’s baptism formula (Matthew 28:19). The New Testament writers don’t seem to be too fussed about the formula. Luke describes people being baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Why is it that the guys who knew Jesus best don’t get too fussed about “formulas”?
The thing that worries me is that we miss out the whole front half of Mark’s Gospel which is all about Jesus being Yahweh.
I’m not against Jesus being the called the “son”. The voice from heaven says, “You are my Son” – the temptations are all about this language, “If you are the son of God.” This description of Jesus as the “Son of God” really, really matters but have we a bit of an issue here. In the Jewish scriptures, the sonship language describes God’s relationship with His people (Israel, David), with His creation. Maybe we have put that language where it just doesn’t belong.
I believe there are three persons in the Trinity. What worries me is that Yahweh is missing from our traditional explanation. God never calls Yahweh His son. In Jesus, Yahweh and His creation come together (God and man in one person). And Jesus of Nazareth is God’s son. He brings those two elements together and puts them side by side.
What I’d like you to take away from this is an undersanding of who He is. Jesus is none other than Yahweh among us. This is not some merely human Messiah but staggeringly, somehow mysteriously, Yahweh Himself was present in Jesus and that is why we worship Him.
One God the Father and One Lord Jesus Christ.