Bible Reading  Plan: April 16th – 20th: Romans 12-16

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
April 16th April 17th April 18th April 19th April 20th
Romans 12 Romans 13 Romans 14 Romans 15 Romans 16

Paul really gets to basics with living as a Christian over chapters 12-15 before finishing off with his wonderful list of people, a real who’s who of everyone linked to the church in Rome.

Basics No. 1

This relationship starts with worship. The Old Testament started with worship but OT worshippers brought animals. The quality of the animals determined whether the sacrifice was accepted; If your sacrifice was accepted then you were accepted. What a contrast in the New Testament! Here we bring ourselves. We are the sacrifice! Totally acceptable.

Basics No.2

Everything else needs to change! No matter whether Jew or Gentile we need a renewed mind. The exciting part of this renewed mind is knowing, understanding and being able to not only approve but also do the will of God. No more praying “If it be your will” from a place of ignorance. Just as Jesus understood the Father’s will when praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, so too should we pray from knowledge.

That knowledge gets worked out in:

  • Humility: thinking right about ourselves and others
    Relationship; not isolation but seeing ourselves as part of God’s family
  • Submission: to all leaders both those in the church and in the world, and also godly and ungodly leaders
  • Gentleness: caring for all, not just those who can bless us but seeing our responsibility for our whole family

This means judgement has no place in our lives, our thinking or our language. Truly a renewed mind is a basic requirement. We have to work on our vision and how we see others. This is actually a decision we make ahead of events. Spending time in prayer and allowing God to reveal our own heart attitudes to us and then allowing Him to correct us. The outcome is tremendous hope; if we can change then so can others!

Even at the end of this theological masterpiece Paul is people focused. Not wanting to miss anyone out but also exalting leaders both men and women before the church by his personal comments. What a great attitude! one we do well to replicate.

Phoebe is so well spoken of that it is unclear why the church thought women could not be in leadership. She is a Deacon, a minister and one of high reputation. Paul commends her as “standing before” or “presiding over” or “ruling” in the church in Cenchreae. Making it even clearer that she has personally spoken into his life.

Priscilla and Aquila get special mention … fellow workers … Paul gives them great honour, treating them as equals.

Questions to consider

  • Are you living for God or living for yourself? Do you know what you are gifted in? If you are unsure, ask those closest to you what gifts they see in you.
  • Do you pray for those in authority? As a family/household spend some time praying for each child’s school teacher. You could also pray for your boss at work.
  • In Chapter 14:19 (NKJ) Paul urges us to pursue peace and to edify one another. Are you pursuing peace? Are you building others up?
  • Chapters 12-15 are like a spiritual health check of our love walk! Chapter 15:7 says “accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”. Let’s bring praise to God by accepting others and not standing in judgement.
  • Following Paul’s example in Chapter 16, who can you commend and who are you speaking well of to others.

Background History

The church in Rome was not started by Paul, though he knew many leaders there. The church was made up of Jews and non-Jews, and in the period from A.D. 49-54 all Jews were expelled from Rome by the Roman Emperor. When they were allowed to return years later, the Jewish and non-Jewish Christians had a difficult time co-existing peaceably. They disagreed about the exact meaning of the Gospel and how exactly to practice the life of following Jesus, especially in the area of religious customs and holy days.

Paul’s larger dream was to make the church in Rome a staging ground for the Gospel to spread further west to Spain and beyond (15:22-24). However, if the Roman Christians were divided between Jew and non-Jew and could not agree on the meaning of the Gospel, then Paul’s mission would be compromised.

Paul uses his letter to explain the Gospel is salvation through faith in Jesus. He especially highlights that Jesus is the fulfillment and focus of God’s relationship with Israel, and that the Gospel was always meant to spread beyond Israel to non-Jews. This is why he focuses so much on key Old Testament themes (Abraham, Torah, circumcision) and on the implications of the Gospel for the Jew/Gentile relationship.

The Author

Paul is generally accepted as the writer of this letter, probably written while he was in Corinth around late 55 or early 56 AD just before he left to travel to Jerusalem (Acts 20).

Some church history reports suggest that Paul did actually get to travel to Spain after being released from prison in Rome before being re-arrested and executed in 65AD. Vision was still driving him in his latter years, unwilling to settle down but push forward constantly while he still had time.

Bible Reading  Plan: April 9th – 14th: Romans 7-11

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
April 9th April 10th April 11th April 12th April 13th
Romans 7 Romans 8 Romans 9 Romans 10 Romans 11

A common phrase is “all roads lead to Rome” and when we consider the significance of the city (see background notes below) we realise why. So too with spiritual matters … everything leads to Christ!

The conflict within me of what I should do will always drive me to confusion (Romans 7). Only Christ can rescue me from myself, releasing me into a whole new way of life … the way of the Spirit.

Romans 8 unpacks how this works

  1. there is no condemnation for those “In Christ”.
    “In Christ” an essential starting point legally positioning me for everything that follows
  2. I am governed or controlled by the Holy Spirit.
    Not just trying to do the right things but Holy Spirit led, empowered & instructed
  3. I am reminded continually of my relationship with God.
    A son, an heir and living in God

This should affect how I think about all other people but especially those from Israel. If God could reject them then what confidence could we possibly have? BUT God has not rejected them, He loves them. So, our attitude should reflect that love.

That is why it is so essential that our faith is based on accurate knowledge. Israel’s zeal clouded as basic failure … works rather than faith. Faith is always promise based, taking God’s Word as true whether or not we understand and confessing that truth. Faith CANNOT operate without a Word from God. The Word imparts faith!

Grace is never works based but because of the riches of God’s blessings we do what He wants. This causes many to stumble who are used to doing things to be accepted, especially the religious, even more so the Jews. So, our salvation and the grace we know should make them jealous. God’s call and His gifts are irrevocable. He never gives up!

Questions to consider

  • Every day we have a choice to live by the old life and let sin rule (7:20) or to live by the Spirit and be free (8:2). What choice are you making today?
  • In Christ we are free! I am a co-heir with Jesus! What is His is mine! Rise up and declare “I am more than a conqueror”. Don’t live as a victim, live as a victor today.
  • Mercy – All Charges Cancelled!! Now that’s something to celebrate. As a family/household have a praise party, right now, and celebrate.
  • Get creative! Your feet are beautiful. Make footprints in paint or sand. If it’s wet outside, step in puddles and leave footprints on your street. Walk down your street declaring Jesus is Lord and pray for your neighbours.
  • Google a map of Israel, print it out if you can, and pray over it. Chapter 11:28-29.

Background History

Understanding the times is a key to understanding the effects of the early church on their world. It is estimated that 300m people lived in entire world around 0 AD of which 45m lived within the Roman Empire. Various censuses (including the one at Jesus’ birth) were taken so we do have a fairly clear idea of these figures. Over 300 census returns still exist covering 1st-3rd century AD for Egypt.

The Roman Empire reached its peak during the reign of Emperor Trajan around 120 AD.

(Picture source Wikipedia)

Mortality was high:
50% died before 5th birthday.
Average life expectancy was around 50 years.

Urbanisation (city life) was significant during the Roman Empire. Rome had an exceptionally large population by all world standards. Estimates of Rome’s population are 750,000 in 14 AD rising to over 1m at the end of the 2nd century. No Western city had this level of population again until the 19th Century!

Other major cities around the Roman Empire were Alexandria (300,000) Antioch (100,000) Smyrna (100,000) Ephesus (50,000) Corinth (50,000) Jerusalem (100,000). Rome was truly a huge city with great influence.

Estimates of the growth of Christianity across the Roman Empire are roughly 40% per year. Growing from around 500 to 1,000 at the crucifixion to +33m by 312 AD when Emperor Constantin converted.

The Author

Paul is generally accepted as the writer of this letter, probably written while he was in Corinth around late 55 or early 56 AD just before he left to travel to Jerusalem (Acts 20).

Paul unpacks so much in this letter, showing his knowledge of the church in Rome even though he had never visited. Paul always understood his region of influence and was never willing to undermine that influence in other leaders. Authority and submission was clear!

Bible Reading  Plan: April 2nd – 6th: Romans 2-6

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
April 2nd April 3rd April 4th April 5th April 6th
Romans 2 Romans 3 Romans 4 Romans 5 Romans 6

Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is one of the great doctrinal letters, unpacking the wonderful revelations that Paul received directly from Jesus. Jesus told the disciples he had “much more to teach, more than they could bear” (John 16:12). It seems that he downloaded the “much more” to Paul. Paul says he received his gospel directly from the Lord in 1 Corinthians 11:23 and Galatians 1:11-12.

Martin Luther wrote “This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel”. John Calvin wrote “If we have gained a true understanding of this Epistle, we have an open door to all the most profound treasures of Scripture”.

Paul writes that the gospel demonstrates God’s righteous judgement and incredible mercy. God does not show favouritism or think like us but His kindness and patience is designed to lead us to repentance, to recognise our need for a saviour and our inability to save ourselves.

Our attempts to follow the Law, circumcision and develop our own righteousness only cause God’s name to be blasphemed more. That none of us are righteous, nor can we become righteous by observing the Law. This focus on law observation only leads to a sin consciousness or focus, which leads to bondage. What we focus on takes over our lives! Instead faith leads us to believe in Jesus, who makes us righteousness conscious.

Abraham was declared righteous by God because of faith, not effort. Despite circumstances he trusted, that trust releasing the very thing he hoped for. It is this type of trust that we demonstrate in baptism. We trust in someone else’s abilities and actions. We identify with rather than trying to do ourselves. Instead of dying ourselves, we consider ourselves dead.

Trust is relationship and experience based. Abraham trusted but actually grew in faith. Promises led to movement, changing his country. Movement led to circumcision, a covenant relationship with God. Circumcision led to fulfilment, a child of promise born in righteousness to a married couple and able to inherit all God promised. A journey of faith where his failures were not counted against him but God said “he did not waver through unbelief”.

This is why baptism is so important for us. Not just an act of obedience but an identification with Christ. We “own” Jesus’ death and resurrection as our own death and resurrection. We begin to live a second life rather than an improved life. This is the foundation for victory in every situation of our existence.

Rather than continuing from the starting point of Adam with sin and death a natural part of our life, we receive our second birth as a gift. Not just thinking “one man got us into trouble, one man got us out of trouble!” but realising we got ourselves into trouble. Not blaming everyone else for our sin, failures and fears. But confessing our part then taking hold of God’s free gift of Christ. Righteousness now reigning in me through Jesus Christ.

My baptism symbolising and reminding me daily that I now belong to God. Grace, God’s unmerited favour, now empowering me to live a holy life and glorify Jesus.

Questions to consider

  • It is often far too easy to stand in judgement of others, especially when someone doesn’t come up to our own standards. Paul clearly states in chapter 2:1 that there is no excuse for judging others. This week ask God for His compassion and guard your heart against judging.
  • I have been made righteous! Chapter 3:22. Stop!! Read that again. “I have been made righteous!” Through your decision to believe in Jesus, that He died for you, rose again and is seated with the Father, you have been made righteous: made right with God.
    Take some time to meditate on this scripture and let God write this on your heart.
  • Are you going through something difficult at the moment? Romans 5:3-5 encourages us that our hope in God does not put us to shame. Reaffirm that your trust is in Him and let God pour out His love into your heart.
  • Are you sin focussed or freedom focussed?
    We are no longer slaves to sin, so shake sin off and walk in the freedom that Christ won for you.
  • As a family discuss eternal life. What does it mean? How do we receive it? Are you sure you have it?

Background History

The church in Rome started in the large population of Jews living in the city. Historical writings by Cicero & Tacticus report that these communities developed from captured slaves who were freed by their masters so as to not violate their religion.

At least 5 large Synagogues existed in the 1st Century and records show these regularly sent money back to support the temple and Jews in Israel. Until Emperor Tiberius (19 BC) the Jews were allowed significant freedom to follow their religious rites and practices. Over 4,000 Jews were to be sent to Sardinia to repress brigands with many others instructed to leave the city at the same time, suggesting that this was a significantly large population group in the city.

Around 49 AD during Emperor Claudius’ reign (41-54 AD) the Jews were again ordered to leave the city due to unspecified disturbances. Yet Josephus recorded that previously Claudius had granted special privileges to the Jews after King Agrippa & Herod had petitioned him on behalf of the Jews. Paul met Aquila & Priscilla (Acts 18:1-3) who had recently left Rome. Some commentators suggest that the way they worked together was because this couple had previously become believers in Jesus while in Rome. It is possible that the disturbances were due to arguments about the emerging church.

Paul’s greeting in Romans 16:3 refers to the church that meets at Aquila & Priscilla’s house. In Acts 6:9 Luke refers to Stephen speaking to the Synagogue of Freedmen (“Libertini”) which is a historical reference to the freed Jewish slaves from Rome. Church history also tells us that Peter was the bishop of Rome for around 25 years before he was martyred in 68 AD. Peter was probably not permanently resident in Rome but operated from Rome as a base. This suggests an emerging church from early 40’s AD just a few years after Jesus’ death & resurrection in 30-33 AD.

The Author

Paul is generally accepted as the writer of this letter, probably written while he was in Corinth around late 55 or early 56 AD just before he left to travel to Jerusalem (Acts 20).

The letter references Phoebe, who was a deacon of the church in Cenchreae, east Corinth and probably took the letter to the church in Rome, and Erastus who was the city commissioner for public works and treasurer in Corinth. These references support the theory that Paul dictated the letter to Tertius, his scribe, while staying at the house of Gaius for 3 months.

Bible Reading  Plan: March 26th – 30th: Mark 13-16 & Romans 1

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
March 26th March 27th March 28th March 29th March 30th
Mark 13 Mark 14 Mark 15 Mark 16 Romans 1

This week we look at the Easter events through Mark’s eyes, painting a picture of the chain of events that led Jesus to the cross and then onwards through to the resurrection.

How shocking to the church to read these events starting with a prophecy about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. This gospel was written around 65 AD while the temple was still standing but just 5 years later the actual destruction happened. Can you imagine just how urgent the rest of Jesus’ prophecy about the end times must have sounded to those reading Mark’s gospel back then?

Speaking a warning and prophesying persecution … families divided against one another … society hunting you down … false prophets seeking to deceive … destruction of everything you know … even signs in the sky.

At times this gospel reads like a fire evacuation procedure. If you are in the house, get out fast. Don’t take anything with you, don’t go back for your stuff. Run for your life! How terrifying, yet in the middle of all this we have Jesus’ promise “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words (Logos) will never pass away”. We have this assurance – rock solid – the promise of eternal life because of our faith.

This faith leads us to extravagant sacrifices, giving a whole year’s salary in one act of worship! The woman anointing Jesus with costly perfume. To put that into modern day language we know that the average salary for North West UK is £20,000. Not many perfumes cost that much today! The woman seemed to think Jesus was worth it, so great was her love. How great is our love?

How great is the love of Jesus for us! Knowing all his disciples would abandon him, he prepares them and warns them. The last supper shows us such an intimate picture of their friendship with Jesus and his total involvement in their lives. There is no condemnation for their failure but Jesus prays for them, interceding for them at a time of tremendous personal challenge.

Even as Jesus lays down his life before Pilate, the Sanhedrin, the soldiers and the crowd there are no angry words, no regrets, no curses, only blessings and forgiveness. This is Jesus willingly dying for you and me.

But that is not the end of the story … death cannot hold him. There is just too much life in him. Jesus made it clear that he had authority to lay down his life and authority to pick it back up again. So, he did! Defeating the devil and releasing his life to us, giving us a reason to live … the great commission! Go into all the world and make disciples.

In Romans 1 we read Paul’s great declaration of his calling … a slave and an apostle … anointed to call people to the obedience of faith. This is our position, call and anointing as well. An apostolic people, the church of Christ, love enabled and mission purposed. Going into the world with the truth, re-establishing the knowledge of God everywhere we go, worshipping Jesus from hearts full of light and understanding. A radiant bride!

Questions to consider:

  • The early church lived with an expectancy that any day Jesus would return soon. What would you change if you knew tomorrow was the day? Who would you speak to?
  • Extravagant sacrifice!! How great is your love?
  • Prayer – so important to Jesus to talk with His Father. On the eve of the most important day of His life, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, the disciples slept! How’s your prayer life?
  • Go, go, go!! Your world is waiting for you. Continue to pray for your friends and family and ask God how you can bless them this Easter. Romans 1:16 says “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes …”

Background History

History shows us that this was a time of great empires, the Egyptians, the Persians, The Greeks, The Romans. Each controlling large areas and imposing their society, religion and laws on the nations they ruled; religion and politics totally intertwined. So, whenever a country was invaded their temples were stripped and statues and other symbols of the conquering nation were imposed on the worship of the people of that nation.

This regularly provoked rebellion and the Jews were known as a rebellious nation. Both Persian and Roman history makes mention of the many rebellions. One of those rebellions had actually re-established an independent “Jewish kingdom” under the Hasmonean dynasty (140 BC to 116 BC) known as the Maccabean Revolt. But the region was soon back under Roman control as a client state under the Herodian Dynasty (47 BC to 92 AD). Herod and his descendants ruled as governors and Tetrarch’s, an unusual 4-person leadership system.

The Roman procurator Gessius Florus sparked a rebellion in the city in 66 AD when he used a time of low tax revenues to seize the silver from the temple. He then sent in troops who killed around 3,600 citizens. The revolt was so strong that they actually managed to defeat and seize the Roman stronghold at Masada. Another Roman army of about 20,000 besieged Jerusalem but failed after 6 months. Finally, Emperor Nero sent Vespasian, a high decorated general to sort out the problem. By 70 AD the city walls had been broken and a systematic ransacking of the city began with the temple relics being taken to Rome and put on public display. The death toll was enormous as the Roman army took out its revenge on a mainly unarmed population.

This represented the death of the nation. The area was renamed Syria Palaestina by the Romans becoming generally known as Palestine until 14th May 1948 when David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the new state of Israel and President Truman of USA recognised the new nation on the same day.

The Author

Traditionally John Mark is generally accepted as the writer of this gospel. Some modern scholars dispute this. No authorship is actually claimed in this gospel account.

John Mark’s ministry was mainly that of an official catechist, taking notes from Peter’s preaching for an accurate record for the archives. This led to writing Mark’s Gospel.

But we also know from the bible that he was sent by Paul to Colossae as his representative (Col 4:10) and Paul speaks of him as his fellow worker clearly part of his special forces team of Timothy, Titus and Silas.

Church history also tells us that he was one of the 72 disciples sent out by Jesus (St Hippolytus commentary) and after Peter’s death established churches in Alexandria in Egypt becoming the first Bishop of Alexandria, one of the 5 main church centres in the world at that time.

Church tradition tells us that in 68 AD he was martyred in Alexandria after speaking out against idolatry in the city. He was seized, a rope tied round his neck and then he was dragged around the city until he was dead. Then the mob were about to burn his body but a massive thunderclap and hailstorm happened which put out the fire and caused the mob to disperse. His followers were able to collect his body and his relics were kept in Egypt until the 9th century when they were transferred to Venice, Italy due to the Islamic conquests in the region. A basilica was built to house his tomb which can still be seen today.

Bible Reading  Plan: March 19th –  16th: Mark 8-12

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
March 19th March 20th March 21st March 22nd March 23rd
Mark 8 Mark 9 Mark 10 Mark 11 Mark 12

We are already beginning to see the compassion and love of Jesus revealed in these first chapters of Mark’s gospel. This compassion drew crowds wanting to see the miracles, wanting to receive for themselves, healings, deliverance, free food, the latest and best teaching around … almost entertainment but of a spiritual nature. The reason this was like entertainment to them was that they were not actually changing their hearts. Jesus spoke out against this heart issue even warning of the yeast of the Pharisees … to know God and His Word but form a lifeless religion of rules, to live a self-centred and self-glorifying life is to miss the whole point.

The challenge to them and to us is the same … who is this Jesus? A good man, a healer and miracle worker, a modern-day prophet or even an olden-day prophet returned? Peter made that faith jump … revelation actually voiced out loud, proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah.

That proclamation opened the door for Jesus to begin revealing his plans, how the Father had laid things out for him to do. Starting with telling them about the cross and his coming death, then being transformed (transfigured) before them. Entering Jerusalem on a donkey, the sign of peace not judgement. Traditionally a conquering king chose between a donkey or war horse to enter a city that he had become ruler over. The war horse meant judgment and punishment for defying his rule. The donkey symbolised peace and reconciliation. This is no entertainer but the King of Kings, the Messiah, the Deliverer, the Saviour.

This Saviour wants all people especially children to come to him, makes room for the weak, the despised, the ones with no influence. Bartimaeus saw with his blind eyes who Jesus really was … “Son of David” was an alternative title for the Messiah. The same revelation as Peter! That declaration released his healing, his faith being rewarded.

This proclamation of faith is the link to everything else … a fig tree dies at the king’s judgement for not bearing fruit, a rich young man sees where his heart really is (chasing money), the rulers of the law cannot trap the king with their questions (he knows their hearts). A Saviour but no push over, not someone we control but someone who we chose to rule over us.

Each of us has many ideas of how we want to live life but our declaration of faith opens the door fully to the supernatural. No longer watching from the side-lines, being entertained but never changing, we find ourselves echoing Isaiah and saying “here I am, send me”. Faith in Jesus will take us places we never thought to go!

Questions to consider

  • How do you come to Jesus? Do you come as a by-stander to watch what he does or do you come as a disciple to take part?
  • The disciples had an encounter as Jesus was transfigured before them. Pray this week for a fresh encounter with God.
  • Everything is possible for those who believe (Mark 9:23). Faith is not complicated but we often complicate faith. A small child looks into their loving father’s eyes, asks and expects to receive.
  • What are you asking for today?
  • Love God, love people – a simple summary of Mark 12:30-31. So how are you doing with this today?
  • How welcoming is your house to guests? Next time you invite someone do something different. The children could make a welcome card or banner, or they could greet your guests with a small bowl of sweets at the door. How creative can you be?

Background History

Jewish teachers and priests were constantly divided regarding the scriptures. Those from Jerusalem were more intellectual, focusing on the exact words of the law, enforcing strict regime of fasting, prayer and charitable giving. Those from Galilee were considered to be inferior as being from the countryside and less refined. Yet the Galilean Jews were often better educated having a greater interaction with the wider world through being on a key trade route. The Galileans focused more on the heart, love for God, caring for people and actually resisted the pagan influences far stronger than the Jerusalem based Judean Jews.

Jesus was a heart man, growing up around people who knew scripture by memory, public debate being normal, several strong religious communities existed around the area. Jewish education began early:

  • 5 years old – begin to learn the scriptures.
  • 10 years old – begin the Mishnah, oral interpretations of the Torah (Whole of the Old Testament),
  • 13 years old – Expected to keep and fulfil the Commandments (modern-day Bar Mitzvah)
  • 15 years old – Expected to make interpretations of the Talmud (Compilation of Rabbinic writings)
  • 18 years old – Expected to get married
  • 20 years old – Expected to pursue a vocation or career
  • 30 years old – The age of authority, begin to teach others

Memorising scripture was essential as few would have had access to their own copy of the scriptures. In the pre-printing world a copy of the scriptures would take a scribe around 3 years to copy. So, each village would only have one copy, held at the Synagogue. Memorising scripture was essential for participating in the debates and everything was tested against those scriptures.

We can clearly see parts of these religious training milestones in Jesus’ life described in the gospels.

The Author

Traditionally John Mark is generally accepted as the writer of this gospel. Some modern scholars dispute this. No authorship is actually claimed in this gospel account.

John Mark grew up in a privileged wealthy family, able to mix in society with both Jews and Romans. His mother was one of the Mary’s mentioned as following Jesus and presumably the reason Mark found himself involved with Jesus.

Mark ran away from problems twice that we know about: in the garden when Jesus was arrested, he was caught and only escaped by losing his clothes and running away naked (Mark14:51-52); he abandoned Paul and Barnabus at Pamphylia (Acts 13:13) on the 1st Mission Trip and was the cause of a team split at the start of the 2nd Mission Trip (Acts 15:36-41).

But despite all this failure Barnabus and later on Peter invested in him and he became useful to Paul (2 Tim 4:11), became Peter’s interpreter and got to write one of the earliest gospels. Not bad for a spoilt rich kid!

Bible Reading  Plan: March 12th –  16th: Mark 3-7

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
March 12th March 13th March 14th March 15th March 16th
Mark 3 Mark 4 Mark 5 Mark 6 Mark 7

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, sparking a revival ready for the Messiah. Mark picks this theme up at the start of his gospel. A gospel written to a mainly Roman audience. Jewish genealogies and birth events don’t matter to Romans, this Jesus is someone altogether more exciting. A Messiah who is worth knowing.

This Jesus breaks traditions, healing on the Sabbath. This Jesus is known by demons but they are scared of him, he brings deliverance. This Jesus walks in authority and gives that authority away for others to use, calling and sending the 12 apostles to preach, heal and cast out demons. This Jesus isn’t controlled by his family or religious rulers but calls anyone who does God’s will his mother and brother.

As for Jesus’ teaching, no one is like this Messiah, parables, riddles and hidden themes but everyone loves his teaching because it takes everyday events and reveals eternal truths. Previously we read James and Paul’s letters to the churches. We saw God’s plan was there from the beginning, salvation was God’s intent before He created Adam and Eve. So, as we read Mark’s gospel we are seeing God’s plan unfolding. He knew ahead of time what was about to happen. Most of the time the Father shared that information with the Son, but whether Jesus knew what was happening or not, he was always prepared and ready for action. Carefully following the Father’s plan, doing nothing from his own initiative.

Right from the start of his ministry Jesus begins to train others for the work. Getting them involved in what he is doing, charging them with doing the same work and giving them authority over demons to preach good news and heal. Doing the Father’s work. This is God’s plan for each one of us. Get involved, get trained, get others involved, train them. Basic discipleship.

Our hearts are the ground for God’s Word to be sown, grow and produce a harvest. So, what is the state of our heart? We determine the level of readiness. Our willingness to be used matches our submission. Is He really Lord? Even a man recently delivered from demonic possession can affect a whole region. Too often we are put off by the reaction of others who cannot see beyond our past or our background. But when we go and do the things Jesus tells us then the results are spectacular. He goes with us.

These events, these miracles, test our hearts. It is what comes out of a man that reveals his heart. Our desires can defile, pollute and disqualify us. Or we can live on display, the whole world seeing our lives, giving light to many, helping them see Jesus. His Word stored in our heart, treasured and acted upon, producing good fruit.

The Syro-Phoenician Woman (Mark 7 uses the Roman name) or Canaanite Woman (Matt 15:22 uses the Jewish name) received her miracle through her faith. Jesus pointed out her disqualifications; non-Jewish, outside God’s covenants; woman, having a lower status in ancient world; Canaanite, sex-based worship of nature rather than God. The reference to dogs probably reveals her status as a prostitute or married to a prostitute. “Dogs” was used to describe shrine prostitutes in Deuteronomy 23:16 and those who received the earnings of those prostitutes were also condemned. These were common among Canaanites. She acknowledges all of this but asks for mercy. A heart response! Jesus always responds when people ask for mercy!

Questions to consider

  • As you are reading Mark, do you think of these as just stories or true accounts of what happened?
  • Is your heart good soil?
  • A number of times this week Jesus says “Do not be afraid”: before stilling the storm, to Jairus and to the disciples while walking on the water. Fear is the opposite of faith. God releases faith in our hearts but we must take captive fear. Are there any thoughts of fear that you need to take captive?
  • As a family/household talk about what you would pack for a journey and then discuss why Jesus told the disciples in Mark 6:8 not to take anything with them on their journey.

Background History

The Roman Empire was rapidly expanding during this time with culture and trade crossing country and tribal barriers. This was a unique time in history, perfect for Jesus to enter into and affect the world. God knows what He is doing!

Mark’s gospel does not focus on Jewish matters but focuses on Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. The important facts that a Roman or Gentile church needs to know. Town names and references are Roman/Greek rather than Jewish. Accounts of events are short and clear. Faith is the key to everything.

Jesus is able to transform every situation, storms are stopped, sickness is removed, even the dead are raised. The early church understood the call to affect whole towns, cities and regions. Thinking outside the box was normal daily life to a people who walked with Jesus.

Instead of the normal life of work, eat, sleep and repeat until you die, the early church went on God’s adventures. The whole world was open, Mission was normal life, so where would God take them? That same question remains today? Where does Jesus want us to go?

The Author

Traditionally John Mark is generally accepted as the writer of this gospel. Some modern scholars dispute this. No authorship is actually claimed in this gospel account.

John Mark was from a wealthy Jewish family who had Roman citizenship. Mary, his mother used her house as a prayer base for the church. In Acts 12 Peter returns to this house when the angel breaks him out of prison. This was a substantial household with servants and some traditions suggest this was where the upper room for the Passover meal & Pentecost prayer meetings was located. We can’t prove that from scripture.

Barnabus, John Mark’s uncle was also his mentor in the early days, taking Mark with him to Antioch where he did his internship, training as a minister under Barnabus and Paul. No easy life for a rich young man!

Bible Reading  Plan: March 5th –  9th: 2 Corinthians 11-13 & Mark 1-2

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
March 5th March 6th March 7th March 8th March 9th
2 Corinthians 11 2 Corinthians 12 2 Corinthians 13 Mark 1 Mark 2

I previously wrote of the personal cost to Paul and the other senior leaders of leading this new church but also the great love they had for the church. Paul shows us more clearly the full extent of that cost, contrasting the false apostles (Satan’s angels of light) comfortable lifestyle with the extreme beatings and other punishments he has endured. Our modern day “bless me” mind-set is confronted with an uncomfortable “bless others” gospel.

Many Christians want visions and personal words from God yet most occurrences of these seem to happen to people just before they enter into extreme danger either physically or spiritually. Paul recognises the persecutions have come as a direct result of the wonderful nature of his revelations. Being humble is not hard when you have truly seen heaven.

Mark’s gospel continues this high work ethic theme. Jesus is a man of prayer and action with a non-stop ministry. Mark writes a modern style gospel, “then … next … immediately … spoke … it happened”. Each chapter leaves us amazed. This Jesus is the Messiah! Who else could achieve so much in such a short time?

All the Gospels show us man’s perspective of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s letters give us God’s perspective of those same events. The Gospels being like a photo showing the events from the outside. The epistles giving a total contrast like an X-ray showing us the events from the inside. What happened to Christ compared with what happened in Christ.

John the Baptist’s ministry prepared the way for Jesus, sparking a revival while being careful to point to the coming Messiah. Jesus comes in total humility to be baptised by John before launching his ministry. A preaching and repentance revival turns into a healing and salvation move of God. Preparation, obedience and anointing leading to fulfilment of God’s plans. The story … the history begins!

Questions to consider

  • Paul suffered much so that people could hear the gospel of Jesus. He was passionate about what he preached and for people to turn to Christ. How passionate are you? What would you be willing to suffer?
  • God is our strength. When we look at ourselves in our weakness we hold back but when we acknowledge God’s grace at work in our lives, we see that we are strong in Christ.
Do you look at your weaknesses and hold back?
Or move forward by His strength?
  • Mark 1:17 “Come, follow me … and I will send you out to fish for people” (NLT)
Make a list of 2 people that each member of the family is praying for to get saved. Place this list somewhere you can all see. Lay hands on the list once a day (twice a week)
  • Have you been baptised? If not, why not? It is simple!
If you would like to be considered for baptism please sign up online or at the info desk at church. 
Our next baptism service is 18th March
  • Even Jesus would go away to pray on His own. How much more do we need to pray!
This year we are sharpening ourselves in the Word (Bible Reading Plan)

Background History

The early Church only had the Old Testament to work with. The accounts of Jesus’s life, ministry, death and resurrection were passed from person to person by word of mouth. As with many real-life situations exaggerations and embellishments could be added unless the account was told by those who were actually there. Eye witnesses today hold much more weight in law courts than third party reports. Actual facts give us greater confidence than implied truths.

James and Paul wrote the early letters that formed the first parts of the New Testament we have today. Later letters, both gospels and epistles, were written to give clarity and these supported those early teachings and accounts. These letters were carefully copied and passed from church to church. Although none of the original letters that form the New Testament exist the entire New Testament except for 11 verses could be reconstructed from original historical writings about the early church from the 1st and 2nd Century AD.

The authenticity of Paul’s ministry came under constant attack because he was not there when Jesus died. He had not followed Jesus during his ministry on the earth. He did not hold to the Jewish traditions in his teaching of the Gentiles. This distrust was clearly a mark of his early years as a disciple in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26), as well as in Paul’s own letters reflecting his later ministry.

Mark’s gospel could have been called Peter’s gospel as Mark wrote his gospel from the accounts unpacked to him by Simon Peter. While it was clear to everyone that Peter had lived with and followed Jesus, Mark adds personal touches that suggest he was there too. This gospel was a powerful tool for the early church in giving a factual account of Jesus’ history.

The Author

Traditionally John Mark is generally accepted as the writer of this gospel. Some modern scholars dispute this. No authorship is actually claimed in this gospel account.

Papias of Hierapolis (60-130 AD) identified John Mark as the author of Mark’s Gospel in his historical writings about the church and Irenaeus, an Early Church Father (130-200 AD) also wrote “after their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter”.

If “departure” means Peter’s death then this gospel was written between 65 AD and the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD. The destruction being clearly prophesied in Mark 13 but not referenced as having happened.
If “departure” means Peter’s move to Rome to start the church in that city then a much earlier date of mid-50’s AD could be possible.

Bible Reading  Plan: Feb  26th – Mar  2nd: 1 Corinthians 6 – 10

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
February 26th February 27th February 28th March 1st March 2nd
2 Corinthians 6 2 Corinthians 7 2 Corinthians 8 2 Corinthians 9 2 Corinthians 10

Paul wrote about the life of the new creation in 2 Cor 5:17 and immediately showed how that life was now to be lived out. As Christ’s ambassadors, reaching out to the world with the message of reconciliation. Strong’s concordance shows the word “Presbeuo” in Greek meaning “to be a senior, act as a representative, figuratively preacher, an ambassador”

Such positions came with high honour but also great danger especially personally. Paul expresses this high cost in  2 Corinthians 6 needing great endurance (2 Corinthians 6:4), suffering and hard work (2 Corinthians 6:5), great purity and love (2 Corinthians 6:6). Yet Paul seems to think this cost to be of little consequence when thinking of the people God has taken him to. The great love of Christ has poured from him into the Corinthian church and he knows there is more to come.

What an encouragement to us. Whether others hold us in esteem or ridicule, we are God spokespersons, pouring His love into many lives. That may mean cost and some relationships not being good for us, but the more we draw near to God, the more clearly we hear the Father’s voice of love.

When we speak, we rely on God’s Word to convict. We cannot do this by our own words. Godly sorrow leads to repentance, a real change of heart and mind. That brings real freedom. Big changes result. So, when we realise the impact of our lives and words into other lives we discover a reason to live close to God. Paul shows us his care for the people he spoke into as an example for us.

Even when it came to financial matters Paul was willing to show the right way to think. Generosity!! Our Lord Jesus demonstrated a generous life and so should we. The amount is less important than the heart from which the gift is given. Then we see the spiritual laws (or principles) of giving activated and result is great blessing.
The great challenge of being generous is the level of our understanding of our Heavenly Father. He gives seed to sow and bread to eat but leaves us to decide how much of what He has given is seed vs bread. His generosity is to be reflected in our generosity. That requires us to know His great love.

Our greatest battle is in our minds. The thoughts we have need careful control. Either our minds will be informed by the Word of God or by the Devil and the world around us. “We demolish every argument against Christ” requires a knowledge of the Truth so that we recognise the lies.

This is true spiritual authority. Not measuring ourselves against one another but understanding the call of God in our own lives. This is where we have great authority, over ourselves. Thinking right about ourselves, neither too highly (pride) or too lowly (inverted pride) but boasting in the Lord.

Questions to consider

  • Often 2 Corinthians 6:14  is used to talk about not being yoked to unbelievers when we talk about marriage. In what other ways could this be referring to?
  • The Holy Spirit convicts us of what we are doing wrong, whereas the enemy condemns us. When we come to the Lord in repentance, He is always quick to forgive, so we can continue to walk out the freedom we have in Christ. Paul exhorts us to live a holy life. Is there anything in your life at the moment which you know shouldn’t be there?
  • How generous are you? How can you become more generous?
  • Are you comparing yourself with others? Do you believe what others say about you or what God says about you? Are you listening to the lies of the enemy? Take every thought captive – say no to every lie and yes to the truth in the Word.
  • Can you write a letter of encouragement to someone this week?

Background History

The Corinthian church had clearly been established by Paul & his companions during his 2nd Mission Trip (Acts 18) around 52AD. With Paul actually getting to stay in one place for over 18 months (maybe as long as 2 years v11 and v18). However, various other church ministers had visited, including Apollos (Acts 18:27 – 19:1). Their gospel message was significantly less than the freedom preached by Paul. Paul actually had to correct Apollos’ teaching in Ephesus even after Aquila and Priscilla had spent time instructing him (Acts 18:24-26) as he had not enabled the Ephesian church to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Increasingly travelling ministers were causing problems to the church. Some claiming authority, some having written authority, some clearly being false. There seemed to be no way to check or prevent the spread of false teaching and traditions. Paul’s letters mark a significant breakthrough, clear instructions to both the leaders and the whole church. Providing a balance between the old Judaic Law and the Lawlessness of the Gentiles (non-Jews).

This is similar to what is happening today. After years of tradition and restriction the various moves of the Holy Spirit have produced life in many churches. Many books now exist on revival, healing & other subjects and the internet provides a huge amount of information. These teachings are not all helpful or accurate. Discernment is required and often those teachings are not tested against scripture. Society is often shouting louder than the Church or the Church is failing to provide clear guidance on social and moral issues.

The Author

Paul is clearly the author of this letter to the Corinthian church.

Paul faces the dilemma of needing to provide major correction but how to achieve that at a distance. How difficult to present ideas and challenges when those who are reading your words have to attempt to understand your motives and out workings. How much easier it is when we can talk directly to people.
This combined with those present supplying an alternative gospel brought Paul into great turmoil. Trusting in the Holy Spirit, Paul begins to unpack the great heart of God giving us insights not previously seen in the Old Testament.

Bible Reading  Plan: Feb  19th – Feb  23rd: 1 Corinthians 1 – 5

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
February 19th February 20th February 21st February 22nd February 23rd
2 Corinthians 1 2 Corinthians 2 2 Corinthians 3 2 Corinthians 4 2 Corinthians 5

2 Corinthians begins with Paul showing us how to deal with situations where we cannot understand what is going on. While God does give visions and insights we often find ourselves having to trust God when we don’t understand and can’t see what is happening. The God of all Comfort, comforts us so that we operate out of that comfort towards others. We learn to rely on Him rather than ourselves or worldly wisdom. No matter how many promises God has made, they are “yes” and “amen” in Christ.

Paul planned to visit the church at Corinth but was forced to change his plans. We all make many plans but circumstances can change those plans. So how do we handle change? How do we handle other people’s responses to those same changes?

Forgiveness? God’s comfort helps us forgive and say amen. Then we find ourselves growing from mere forgiveness to becoming ministers of reconciliation. God’s agents for transforming situations. That is the ministry Jesus has called us to. What a great hope, no matter the circumstance we can change the people around us through Christ.

This great hope comes from our understanding of the gospel, seeing God’s glory ourselves and being transformed in His presence. We never stand on the outside of God’s throne room but always start at the throne of grace. Recognising our own weakness but confessing His ability and goodness. Treasure within!

This great hope helps us to think right about other people, the unsaved. They can’t see and need a transforming encounter with Jesus. The devil has blinded them to the truth. They need us to reflect God’s glory.

That glory is part of us now as new creations, but so much more is going to be ours in eternity. So, we make it our goal to please God and have confidence before Him, those around us and even the angels and demons. Whatever happens, we are going to trust God.

Questions to consider:

  • “Your testimony is powerful. As a new creation, you are Christ’s Ambassador carrying life that is unique, valuable and reveals God’s glory. Just as Paul sought to strengthen others, who can you strengthen this week as you declare God’s faithfulness?
  • “As the “aroma of Christ”, consider what aroma you leave behind wherever you go. Do you reveal Christ’s life?
  • “In 2:7 we read that God is always ready to forgive when we come to him in repentance. He restores us gently. No person is beyond redemption when He turns to God. Do you need to repent and ask forgiveness for anything? Do you need to forgive someone?
  • “It’s easy to feel frustrated when an unsaved person doesn’t listen to us but we need to remember that the “veil” is only removed through Christ. We reveal Christ’s glory through the testimony of our lives and not by mere words.
  • “Often, we don’t see our good qualities or the gifts that we have. As a family/household encourage one another with the good qualities that you see in each other. Strengthen your children as you concentrate on their good points, don’t use this as a time to point out their weaknesses or things that need changing.

Background History

Paul probably wrote 4 letters to the church at Corinth, two of which have been lost. Paul refers to a first letter in 1 Corinthians 5:9 saying “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with …”. Then 1 Corinthians was written in early 55 AD. A further “severe letter” was then written in response to the leadership challenges from a group of “other apostles”. This letter was also lost. Then we have 2 Corinthians written just before winter started in 55 AD.

After establishing the church in Corinth and living there for 18 months Paul had moved to Ephesus to continue planting churches. While there he initially heard of issues relating to major sexual scandals but these initial problems became so much worse when a group of false apostles arrived. Bringing different teaching and challenging Paul’s ministry they caused major divisions.

After two years living in Ephesus, the riot mentioned in Acts 19:23-41 caused Paul to leave that city. He aimed to travel to Corinth hoping to meet up with Titus at Troas and get news of Corinth. When he arrived there Titus was not there (2 Cor 2:12-13) so Paul travelled to Macedonia (Acts 20) where Titus arrived with news that Paul’s “severe letter” had brought about a major change (2 Cor 7:5-16). The rest of Paul’s 4th letter has a gentler tone reflecting this good news as he tackles the “easier” issue of financial giving and defends his credentials as an apostle. We get so much insight into Paul’s life from 2 Corinthians chapters 11-13.

The Author

Paul is clearly the author of this letter to the Corinthian church.

Paul, an apostle and church planter had awesome visions of heaven and wonderful revelations of Christ but here we also get to see the real man. Having to deal with the uncertainty of a divided church. Not knowing whether his letters and ministry are working. Living in a vacuum of information and having to trust God to work things out. Paul faced the same issues we do.

Bible Reading  Plan: Feb  12th – Feb  16th: 1 Corinthians 12 – 16

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
February 12th February 13th February 14th February 15th February 16th
1 Corinthians 12 1 Corinthians 13 1 Corinthians 14 1 Corinthians 15 1 Corinthians 16

Starting with the Holy Spirit is critical if we want to live a life that glorifies Jesus. That means living a supernatural life. Holy Spirit led, informed, inspired, empowered and glorified as we obey Jesus’ commands.

That supernatural life starts with us yielding, what do we really know about the spiritual gifts? Paul didn’t want us to be ignorant about them so that means they are important and we need to pay attention. Plus, if we can be ignorant of them then they are not automatically released into our lives.

Jesus commanded the disciples to wait and pray until they had received power from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8). Jesus’ public ministry only started once he received the Holy Spirit at his baptism. If Jesus depended on the Holy Spirit for his ministry then so too must we.

This dependency on the power of the Holy Spirit then flows into our attitude to those gifts. “With great power comes great responsibility” may be a quote from a film but it is true. God’s power flows from his love, so too with us, the spiritual gifts must flow from a heart of love. Love for the person who is to receive is the reason God gives us the spiritual gifts. So, when we read “love is …” we can exchange the word “love” for our own name and confess these qualities about ourselves.

All of this power and love is to bring people to the central point, Christ! This is the whole gospel message, Jesus; crucified, risen and glorified. A real resurrection with real power to change lives. This resurrection is central to the future of the whole world. Sin and death have been ruling because of one man’s failure but now by the same legal rule, righteousness and life has come through one man’s success. That legal ruling is being put into place and while that happens we wait patiently for our resurrection. Confident, not giving up hope or just living for today.

The resurrection is not some pale imitation of life as we know it but real, full eternal life. A glorified body to match our glorified life. No weaknesses, no death but strength, imperishable and immortal. Definitely worth waiting for and preparing for. Our Lord Jesus is coming back! Get ready.

Questions to consider

  • How is a body like the church?
  • Have one of the kids stand up and blindfold them – what difference does this make
    Or have them put the hand they write with behind their back and ask them to tie their shoe laces. How does this relate to the church body?

We tend to read 1 Corinthians 13 from a self-critical point of view. This week make the “Love is …” statements as faith confessions over your life. It’s not about self-effort but about who we are in Christ.
Paul promotes prophecy as well as speaking in other tongues. It’s good to take time to listen to the Holy Spirit when you pray. Practice listening and write down what God is saying to you.

  • What does heaven look like?
    Ask your kids to close their eyes, picture heaven and then draw what they see. PS: Parents, you can do this too!

Two things to think about:

  • ” It’s good to teach our children about tithing and giving when they are young. CAP recommends 3 piggy banks – one for tithe, one for saving and one for spending. Creating good habits right from when they are young.
  • ” Lent starts this week – How about creating your own Foodbank box and have a different member of the family/household choose an item to put in each day.

Background History

Greek and Roman religious culture was very similar. Multiple gods, each specific to an area of life or ability, concerned about themselves and at war with one another. Man was almost incidental, a plaything of the gods.

There was no focus on the afterlife. That was not relevant for life. Everyone who died had almost the same grey purposeless existence. “The gods and the dead envy us” being quoted in a film. Life is all about now.

The god of the dead had no care or love but just controlled the spirits of the dead people. Those who were good had a marginally better existence than those who were bad. But that existence was only maintained by being remembered by the living otherwise the dead faded into nothing.

The gospel of Jesus Christ was a massive contrast, a new way of life, a totally new relationship with God. God actually getting involved in our lives for our good? Fullness of life with God now! Eternal life that is better than this current physical life? Being certain of that eternal life now? What a gospel, truly good news!

The Author

Paul, the apostle, is clearly stated as the author. This letter matches the tone and style of writing of his other letters.

Paul knew hardship and persecution awaited him everywhere he went but wasn’t put off by those challenges. His focus was always on people and keeping Jesus front and central in his life. To be an example to others, to follow Jesus so carefully that everyone around could see Christ’s life flowing out of him.

Life to the full while living, and even more in the life to come!