Dr. Matthew R. St. John

A King, A Fisherman, and an Old Woman

September 21, 2014

Today’s message marks the first of an eight part series on discipleship at Bethel Church. We are pleased at the response of so many who want to learn with us how to make disciples in the Fargo-Moorhead area and beyond. The essence of disciple making is following Jesus and taking others with you to Him. Three people in the story of the Bible stand out as models for what this looks like today. Our study of David, Andrew, and Anna should prove helpful to you as you consider how God has uniquely gifted you for work in His Kingdom. As you consider these three examples, give attention to the patterns of sin God wants to break in your life. The grace each person received was so overwhelming that they were prepared to risk it all. Each person laid aside reputation and used their resources so that God would be most important in their lives. Grace changes everything.

One Step at a Time

September 14, 2014

Adults have tremendous influence on the children around them. Little people love to behave and believe in a way that makes big people proud of them. As a parent or significant adult in a child’s life you might question whether the influence you have on a child matters at all. It is good for us to take time and remember that our efforts of investing in the next generation will produce a fruitful legacy. Each generation is a product of the last because everyone leaves a legacy. Have you thought lately about the kind of legacy you want to leave? We can be pretty sure that we won’t drift into leaving the kind of legacy we most desire. For us to make the most of our legacy, we will have to make intentional movements in a direction that honors Jesus. You don’t have to be a mom or dad to have this kind of impact. Everyone has a home. Everyone has influence. You can do this. Use your influence to leave a legacy that counts.

The Life Changing Power of Community

September 7, 2014

As the Apostle Paul concludes his letter to the church in Colossae, he takes extra time to appreciate the small group of believers who have ministered to him through his trials. Paul wrote the letter from a Roman jail. First century prisoners had access to friends and family who would come to care for them and support them through their imprisonment. The friends who came to Paul’s aid are listed by name and the qualities of their friendship are celebrated in this short letter. We see in Colossians 1 that the purpose of the letter is to make Jesus preeminent. Paul could have written many things to this young church whom he has never met so it is important to notice and appreciate the high value he puts on the person of Jesus and the role of community in living out their faith. Paul models for the young church a lifestyle and set of beliefs that will enrich their understanding of Jesus, His Church, and His people.

Influence that Counts

July 13, 2014

As Jesus set his course for Jerusalem, the disciples’ selfish ambition is on full display in Mark 10. Following a tough teaching that the last must be first in Jesus’ new kingdom, the disciples are amazed and the people around Jesus are afraid of what He will say next. Jesus pulls the twelve aside to tell them of His imminent death and resurrection. Two of the disciples, James and John jump ahead of the others and request that they sit at Jesus right and left in this new kingdom. The formality of the request stands in bright contrast to what Jesus has just communicated. The disciples have once again misunderstood Jesus, causing a division among the twelve. The jealousy, selfishness, and posturing set them up to learn one of Jesus’ most important lessons. In the Kingdom of God, the one who desires to be great, must first become a servant and slave to all. 

The Last Will Be First

July 6, 2014

A young ruler or nobleman walks up to Jesus with confidence and asks him what he must do to achieve eternal life. Jesus responds by pointing the man to the sufficiency of God, and helps him recognize that his only hope is in total reliance on God, who alone can give eternal life. After stating the six commandments that prohibit wrong actions and attitudes against another man or woman, the nobleman is seen projecting his goodness to Jesus, not yet understanding the point that Jesus is making about the impossibility of doing anything to deserve eternal life. However, Mark tells us that Jesus looks upon this man and loves him, which demonstrates that Jesus’ response is not intended to shame him or expose his failure to recognize the spiritual depth of the commandments, but that it is said out of genuine love. Jesus then brings it back to the one thing that the man is earnestly looking for, namely an answer to his question. But the man is quickly disappointed because of his great wealth. Jesus explains to him that his wealth stands in the way of his dependence on God, which frames for us an important lesson. In this passage, we discover that Jesus truly wants us to cast aside the things that hinder us from complete and total dependence on God.

“Let the Children Come”

June 29, 2014

A crowd of people persistently shepherd little children into the home where Jesus and his disciples are gathered. Several disciples are overwhelmed by this and discourage the people from seeing Jesus. In other words, the people are not included in the inner circle that the twelve disciples perceive they are a part of, so they tell the people to leave. They believe that they are looking out for Jesus, but earlier in Mark we see a similar situation as Jesus commands them to not forbid a man from casting out demons in His name. Jesus swells with anger at the disciples’ self-importance and is clearly upset by their lack of compassion for the children. He forcefully commands the disciples to allow the children inside of the home, and to abstain from hindering them any further. Jesus then channels this anger into a teaching moment for his disciples, trying to help them to see that everyone is significant in his eyes. Through this passage, we are encouraged to be like the children that are so eagerly awaiting the opportunity to be with Jesus, and to embody the dependence and trust that they willingly place in him.

What God Had Joined Together

June 22, 2014

Interrupting the flow of Mark’s gospel, Jesus travels into the crowd and the Pharisees immediately challenge Jesus in an effort to trap him. The test came over the issue of divorce and remarriage. If the Pharisees could get Jesus on record saying that divorce was wrong, they could convince Herod Antipas to arrest him just as he arrested John the Baptist. If Jesus would go on record saying divorce was OK and give a wrong reason for it, then the Jewish people would know He was a traitor because Moses did not give the grounds for divorce in such a way as to satisfy the crowd. At the time, two major camps of thought existed among the Pharisees; the rabbinical schools of Hillel and Shammai. Neither school denied the legitimacy of divorce they only argued about the grounds for divorce. Shammai was more conservative and only allowed divorce for adultery. Hillel was more liberal and allowed for anything that displeased a man up to and including a burnt dinner. Mark’s readers would want to know what Jesus teaches about this because divorce was frequent and easy in Rome. Divorce continues to be a reality for those inside and outside the Kingdom of God. Jesus reminds us of God’s ideal and challenges us to focus more on that than looking for an opportunity to divide what God has joined together.

Who is the Greatest?

June 1, 2014

Jesus interrupts an argument between His disciples about who is greater in the Kingdom of God. Following the experience of James, John, and Peter at the mountaintop, it is natural to think these twelve men would get into an argument about who is the best fit for their plans of assuming political power. Deep in their DNA, this small band of men were raised to believe that when the Messiah came, he would be a warrior ruler, a political leader, a benevolent dictator. Having seen Jesus at the top of the mountain with Moses and Elijah the excitement must have overwhelmed the men and caused them to think NOW is the time when Jesus would assume his rightful place as King of Israel and drive out the Roman powers. Foiling all of their natural thinking, Jesus again reminds them that His kingdom will be nothing like what they expect. Jesus is introducing a Kingdom marked by obedience to the Father and humility in service to Him.

“Help My Unbelief!”

May 25, 2014

Despite their past success in confronting evil spirits, the disciples find themselves at a complete loss in dealing with a demonized boy and his desperate father. The tension in the air is thick—the disciples feeling a sense of personal failure, the father’s fragile faith waning, and the taunted boy on the verge of total destruction. Jesus’ display of power to rescue the boy is gracious and direct and provocative, but it begs questions regarding why the disciples could not rise to the occasion as did Jesus.

The Mark of a Disciple

May 11, 2014

So far through the Gospel of Mark we have had a front row seat to the remarkable life of Jesus—how he lives and what he values and who he influences. Now, the tone of the narrative gets a bit darker, and Jesus’ influence focuses more exclusively on the disciples themselves, and, by extension, us today. It begins with Jesus’ forecasting his own suffering and death and resurrection, which highlights his ultimate purpose, which is the justification of sinners, and also serves as a catalyst for how we might live a selfless, God-centered life.

Jesus: Some Stories are True

April 20, 2014

People love stories. Our world is full of great stories. Stories exist to entertain and to inform. Stories help us make sense of what happens around us. With all of the stories we tell, it is important to remember this Easter season that one story rises above all others: the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection changed everything.
After Jesus was crucified, Joseph of Arimathea took His body and placed Him in a family tomb. The tomb was sealed with a large stone to keep people and animals away. Three days later, you can imagine the panic when two women burst into the room to report to His followers that Jesus was missing. His body had disappeared. The grave clothes were left behind. The stone was rolled away. He was gone!
Several unconvinced disciples jumped and ran to the tomb to see it with their own eyes. Just as the women reported, they discovered the stone rolled to the side and the left behind grave clothes. Two angels announced as they approached the grave that Jesus was no longer there.. Jesus was gone. Jesus had raised from the dead. This story is still changing lives today. Jesus is risen; He is risen indeed!