Tuesday, January 19
So, as we are now nineteen days into 2021, how is that New Year’s resolution you recently made working out? For the last several years, I have declined to make any such promises, be they for self-improvement, cutting something out that would benefit me in some way, or setting a lofty target that leads to an Everest-like sense of achievement by December 31st. But this year I thought I would give it a try again, and perhaps take the pressure off by using this entire month to set one resolution for myself in this New Year.
On a parallel track, I have been working over the last week on my Thought and Prayer for the Day – due January 19th – having selected from my new 2021 Order of Divine Service a gospel reading (Mark 1:14-28) seen last week as a Daily Office’s evening prayer. I initially liked the fact that this choice followed my gospel reading at our January 10th worship service that told of the proclamation of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. However, as I was mulling over these subsequent verses in Chapter 1, I saw the opportunity for deciding on one possible resolution to guide me over the next twelve months.
In looking at Mark 1:14-28, I was not immediately struck by possible resolution ideas for 2021. Mark tells us here about three things: the beginning of Jesus’s ministry in Galilee; His calling of the first disciples; and healing a man possessed by an unclean spirit. Did a resolution lurk somewhere for me in any of these three elements in this Scripture reading? Thankfully, a 2009 commentary on this passage, by Stephen Hultgren, a lecturer at Australian Lutheran College in North Adelaide, shed light not only on its significance for us but also provided me with a resolution idea for this year.
Hultgren writes, “Mark introduces the gospel to his readers in an absolutely brilliant manner. In 1:1-13, he introduced Jesus to his readers proving that Jesus was the Messiah (Deliverer), God’s Son, and the One who had come to conquer Satan. All reasons for us to have great hope in Him and to consider His life, teachings, and ministry further.” The Australian scholar continues about the focus of these Gospel verses noting that 1:14-28 describes Jesus’ astonishing ministry plan which included three important parts: message, partnership and authority.
Jesus’ message to all humankind “repent and believe in the good news”, seen in v. 15, calls us to make a key decision; not merely at one single point in time due to our human impulses and frailty, but rather on a continuous basis in day-to-day living. Sounds like a possible resolution doesn’t it? To repent means to make a decisive change, usually in direction. Mark tells us that Jesus was proclaiming that you and I need to make such a change here, turning away from sin and self and then directing our attention and actions to believing in the good news of salvation brought to us by our Saviour.
The second element in our Lord’s ministry plan involves partnership. Professor Hultgren noted, “Jesus, if He is God’s Son, would not really need any help in carrying out His ministry plan. Why would God’s Son need any help doing anything? So, the next few verses (v. 16-20) probably came as a big surprise when readers see Jesus going out and gathering partners for ministry. To add to the surprise, He wasn’t going to the Temple or the synagogues, He was going out to the sea and recruiting normal guys.” Simon, Andrew, James and John were the first disciples identified by Jesus and called to follow Him. There are no prerequisites in the selection process stated in Mark’s account. However, Jesus does promise these four men that He will enable them to “fish for people”. To do so, they are to be directly immersed, over the next three and one-half years, in Jesus’ ministry plan – a time for asking questions, watching, listening to instructions, and being chastised at times for doubt or error. After having read these verses, have you felt the partnership call of our Lord – to change direction and engage in your spheres of influence – domestic, vocational or community – to share this Good News in word or actions?
Finally, the third part of Jesus’ ministry plan is articulated in Mark 1:21-28. In these verses Mark uses two circumstances to demonstrate Jesus’ authority. So far in this account, our Lord had not engaged in any form of public ministry. As He sat down in that synagogue in Capernaum, others who were present probably considered Him to be just another Jew. So, when He took responsibility for teaching on that particular Sabbath day, Mark says that the people were ‘astonished’ at His teaching because He taught with authority. The perception of Jesus’ authority was further reinforced when in verse 23, a man with an unclean spirit shows up. The unclean spirit recognizes who Jesus is and begins a very brief dialog with Him asking why it is that He has come. Jesus then commands the demon to be silent and to come out of the man. At once the demon obeys and departs from its victim. Jesus’ perceived authority in His teaching is then demonstrated to be real authority, showing His power and might over even the demonic realm. This suggests that you and I should have incredible confidence in acting as disciples of Christ because the One who calls us into partnership with Him in ministry is the One with all authority. Professor Hultgren states, “And His authority is the power by which His ministry will be accomplished. Jesus reigns with the same authority today as He always has and we can be confident that as our partner in ministry He will help us to accomplish all that He has called us to do.”
If you are still considering a 2021 resolution, maybe Mark’s passage for today can serve as an inspirational source. I’m inclined over the remainder of this month, before confirming my New Year’s resolution, to think more about the opening element in the message of our Lord to all of us – “repent and believe in the good news”. Daily life presents many challenges that cause us at times to lose our sense of direction. The act of repentance calls on us to ask God for help in changing our direction – in thought and deed – and to align who we are and what we do in a new way. While 2020 was a very difficult year for many of us, and indeed the next several months are likely to contain similar or new constraints and sacrifices that we would rather not continue to face, the New Year offers me, and perhaps you, an opportunity to be ready to push a “re-set button” when we seem to forget the power and strength of Jesus’ message. I believe my resolution will be sustained through regular prayer, asking God’s help to realize when such a “re-set” is necessary. Mark also reminds me in this gospel reading to remember that Jesus’ ministry message is to believe in the good news – found in Scripture. I think a regimen of daily prayer as well as selecting a particular Old or New Testament passage to reflect upon may just do the trick! Wishing you in the coming year a sense of peace, joy and fulfillment.
Dear God: We thank you that you know our way and you have a plan. We thank you for all this past year has brought, for the struggles as well as the blessings, because we know that you work through all things and will use them for good somehow, and for your glory.
We confess our need for you again, for the fresh filling of your Spirit. We ask that you would make all things new, in our hearts, in our minds, in our lives, for this coming year. We pray for your refreshing over us and for your deep peace within.
We ask for your wisdom, for your strength and power to be constantly present in us. We pray you would make us strong and courageous for the road ahead. Give us ability beyond what we feel able, let your gifts flow freely through us, so that you would be honored by our lives, and others would be drawn to you.
We ask you to keep our footsteps firm, on solid ground, helping us to be consistent and faithful. Give us supernatural endurance to stay the course, not swerving to the right or to the left, or being too easily distracted by other things that would seek to call us away from a close walk with you. Amen
from Debbie McDaniel – A Prayer for the Year Ahead.