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Archive for May, 2009

Tony Reinke over at the Miscellanies blog has a good post regarding whether we should place a priority on listening to downloaded sermons or the sermons of our pastor.  If you are anything like me (who downloads a whole lot of sermons…) this was a good reminder of the importance of listening to the man the Christ has given as my shepherd.  You can find Tony’s post here http://spurgeon.wordpress.com/2009/05/09/mp3-sermons-vs-your-pastor’s-sermons/ .

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I recently listened to an exposition of I Samuel 17 given by Derek Prime at the Basics 2002 conference for pastors in which he laid out 10 questions which he asks of the text as he begins his study of Scripture.  I thought these might be worth sharing, so here are the 10 questions…

1)      What do the words actually mean?

2)      What light do other parts of the Bible throw upon this part?

3)      Where and how does the truth declared in this part of Scripture fit into the complete revelation God gives in the Bible?

4)      What does it teach about God?

5)      What does it teach about men and women in their relationship with God?

6)      What relationship do these words have to the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ and what light does the gospel as a whole throw upon them?

7)      What experiences do these words outline or explain or try to create or cure?

8)      What was the application of these words or this event to the people at this time?

9)      How do these words apply to us now?

10)   What are told either to believe or to do?

After laying out these questions, he then goes on to show how he answered these questions in light of I Samuel 17, then he preached an excellent sermon on this passage, having put all the pieces together.

If you are interested in listening to this sermon, you can download it here https://store.truthforlife.org/index.php?main_page=product_music_info&cPath=13&products_id=263 .

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This is part 3 of a 6 part series on the Gospel of Mark.

Last week in our mid-week Bible study, we examined Mark 1-3 and saw how the inspired author this gospel account described the authority of Jesus in His teaching and preaching.  But what was this authoritative teaching like?  What was Jesus’ teaching method?  What did He emphasize?  These are important questions to answer, because if Jesus spoke with authority that must be obeyed, then we need to have some understanding of what He taught.

As we move into Mark 4, we have one of the few extended accounts of Jesus’ authoritative preaching in the Gospel of Mark.  I was torn as to what passage we should study in this particular unit in Mark.  I almost skipped over this passage, because, of all the parables of Jesus, this one… commonly called the Parable of the Sower…is probably one of the most well-known, if not the most well known.  But the more I studied, the more I became convinced that this parable was important.  In fact I became convinced that it was of the utmost importance if we wanted to understand the teaching of Jesus.  Look at Mark 4:13

Mark 4:13 (ESV) – 13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

Notice how Jesus places a priority on this parable.  Why?  Because this parable lays out for us the purpose of Jesus’ teaching and what our response should be to His teaching.

With that said… let’s dive into this passage of Scripture describing the authoritative teaching ministry of Jesus…

Mark 4:1-2 (ESV) – 1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:

Notice Mark tells us here that there was a large crowd gathered to hear Jesus teach.  This is no wonder given the miracles He performed.  But we are told here that there were so many that special accommodations had to be made so that everyone could hear Him.  They didn’t have sound systems in their day, so they had to make do with natural acoustics.  Jesus went out on a boat and sat down (i.e. the posture of a Jewish rabbi) so that everyone could see Him and hear Him on the shore.

Take the time to picture the scene.  People were everywhere. They were all gathered around to hear Jesus teach.  The earthly obstacles were removed.  Everyone could hear the words… but the question is whether or not they will truly hear the message which Jesus is teaching… and how will they respond to this teaching.

But before we get into that… notice how Jesus taught them…

We are told that He taught them in parables. 

What is a parable?  The Greek term is παραβολή and it literally means “to throw alongside.”  A parable is a story or extended illustration which is laid alongside a spiritual truth.

Why would Jesus teach in parables?  Sometimes they are hard to understand.  If you read many commentaries on the parables of Jesus, you will quickly see that there are numerous opinions and interpretations as to the meanings of some of the parables.  In fact, even Jesus’ closest followers had trouble understanding some of the parables…

Mark 4:10 (ESV) – 10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.

Since parables are notoriously difficult to understand, why did Jesus teach in parables?  Jesus tells us why in verses 11-12

Mark 4:11-12 (ESV) – 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

Jesus said that “to you”… meaning to His followers… the “mystery of the kingdom of God” was revealed.  There are two important points made here.  First, this parable is about the kingdom of God and it reveals a “mystery.”  Secondly, this parable is specifically intended to be understood by Jesus’ followers.

So what is the “mystery of the kingdom of God”?  The kingdom of God is the rule of God over His people and the earth.  In the Old Testament this is often described as a coming time of judgment upon the wicked and salvation for God’s people.  It is pictured as a time of punishment and blessing.  But here, Jesus states that the “mystery” of the kingdom is revealed to His followers.  The term rendered “mystery” is μυστήριον which refers to something previously hidden, but now revealed.  The mystery revealed here is in how the kingdom is coming about.

In 1st century Judaism, the kingdom of God was anticipated as arriving suddenly in power in and through the person of the Messiah, who would establish national Israel as the center of the world and usher in a time of peace and prosperity for the Jews.  But this is not how the kingdom of God was being fulfilled in Jesus.  It would come about in small and steady growth through the acceptance of the teaching of Jesus.  This is the mystery being made known to them.

This “mystery” was revealed to Jesus’ followers, but “to those outside” all the teaching was in parables.  Who are those outside?  They are outside Jesus’ followers.  They are those who are outside the true people of God.  They are those outside the blessings of the kingdom of God.  For them… the teaching of Jesus is nothing more than an interesting story.  And Jesus tells us why in the next verse… “so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven” (Mk 4:12.)

What is Jesus saying here?  He seems to be saying that they will see and hear the teaching of Jesus, but they won’t understand it. And this is God’s will, “lest they turn and be forgiven.”

Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 6 here…

Isaiah 6:8-13 (ESV) – 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, 12 and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. 13 And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.

Here we see the promise of God that He will send His Word to His people through His prophet… but most of them won’t understand the Word.  Seeing they will not see and hearing they will not understand… because if they did, they would repent and be forgiven… and that isn’t God’s will in their case.  Only a small remnant would be saved.

Why would God do this?  In the context of Isaiah 6, it is clear that the Israelites had brought this judgment upon themselves.  In Isaiah 1-5, we see repeatedly how the Word of God had come to them… and they repeatedly thumbed their nose at it.  In the context of Mark 4… it seems like the same thing is happening.

Look at the end of Mark 3 and what do we see?  Two accounts of people rejecting the truth of God in Jesus.  His own family thought He was out of His mind (Mk 3:21.)  But, more importantly, the religious leaders accused Him of being of the devil.  They seem to have committed what Jesus refers to as “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”… resisting the work of God in Christ as declare by the Spirit… and Jesus says there is no forgiveness for this sin.

Do you think this is why Jesus’ teaching was in parables?  Do you think His teaching was hidden from many because they were guilty of this unforgiveable sin?

                Ultimately God is sovereign in the revelation of His “mysteries.”  God decides who will see and hear and understand His truth and He bestows this understanding upon His people as a gift of His grace (see Lk 10:21-22.)

Jesus makes it clear that the mystery of the kingdom of God is made known to God’s people through His parables, but it is hidden from those who hardened their hearts against Jesus…

But this truth won’t be hidden forever.  Look at verses 21-22

Mark 4:21-22 (ESV) – 21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.

What is the purpose of a lamp?  Not to be hidden.  The purpose of a lamp is to give off light.  Jesus and His teaching would shine forth.  It would be hidden for a time, but it will be brought to light one day for all, probably through the future proclamation of His people, but ultimately in the day when the kingdom of God is fully consummated.

One thing that we should see here in Jesus’ teaching is the relationship between human responsibility and divine sovereignty.  God is sovereign in when and where and how He reveals His truth.  But at the same time, people are responsible for hardening their hearts and for rejecting the truth which God reveals.  These two truths are laid out side by side here… God is sovereign… and man is responsible.  Jesus acknowledges both of these truths and both of these truths shape the method of His teaching.  And as we examine the parables here in Mark 4, we see very specifically how both human responsibility and divine sovereignty involved in the coming of the kingdom of God.

In the first parable given here in Mark 4 we see human responsibility highlighted…

Mark 4:1-9, 14-20 (ESV) – 1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”…14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

This parable is commonly called “The Parable of the Sower”… but the sower is really the least important aspect of this parable.  Furthermore, the seed… which is identified as “the Word” (Mk 4:14)… never changes.  The one variable in this parable is the type of soil. So it would probably be more appropriate to call this “The Parable of the Soils.”

All of these different soils represent different types of hearers:

First we have the “Hardened Soil.”  The Word never penetrates here.  Like the beaten down and hard-pressed ground of a pathway, nothing penetrates into this person’s heart.  And if the hardness of their heart was not enough, the devil comes and snatches the Word away so that they will not believe (cf. II Cor 4:3-6.)  The scribes and Pharisees as described in the Gospel of Mark are good examples of this type of hearer (i.e. see Mk 3:22-30), as are the people of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6.)

Secondly, we have the “Shallow Soil.”  This individual gets excited about the Word (i.e. they “receive it with joy”), but when he faces persecution on account of the Word, he falls away.  We might say this is a “fair-weather Christian.”  When things are good, they enjoy the things of God, but they do not endure when times get hard.  And since they do not hold fast to the gospel, they are not truly Christians (see Col 1:21-23, Heb 3:6, 3:14.)

Third, we have the “Distracted Soil.”  This person hears the Word, but they are distracted by the things of this world and they never bring forth fruit (i.e. Christian character and service.)  A good example of this is described by Mark in the person of the rich young ruler (Mk 10:17-22.)  He wanted the blessing of eternal life, but he wanted the things of this earth more.

Before we move on to the fourth soil, we should notice that 3 out of the 4 soils do not bring forth fruit.  Now some scholars think it is pressing the details of the parable too far to say that Jesus is implying that three-quarters of those who hear the Word will ultimately reject it.  Although I don’t believe Jesus is being mathematically precise, we should remember that Jesus is the One who urged His hearers to “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7:13-14.)  Given this explicit statement by Jesus, we should expect that the majority of those who hear the message of gospel will not respond with saving faith.

But, although many will ultimately reject the message which Jesus preached, some will respond rightly to the Word.  The fourth soil described here is the “Receptive Soil.”  This person hears the Word and accepts it. The Greek word rendered “accept” is παραδέχομαι and it carries the idea of welcoming something warmly, as one welcomes a friend (Louw-Nida, παραδέχομαι.)  This person embraces the Word and they don’t let it go.  They cling to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the result is that they bring forth fruit.

However, notice that of those who hear and understand the Word, they bring forth fruit in differing degrees.  Some bring forth thirtyfold, some sixtyfold and some hundredfold.  Although there are differing degrees of fruitfulness, we might forget that all three of these are tremendous harvests in 1st century Palestine.  A ten to fifteen fold harvest would be considered abundant in the 1st century.  Therefore, these are all abundant harvests.

But what makes the difference between these three yields?  The difference seems to be in the way they hear the Word.  After all, this is the point of the whole parable.  How one hears the Word matters.  This is why three times in this passage Jesus urges His audience to take care how they hear (Mk 4:9, 23, 24.)  Notice specifically what Jesus says in verses 24-25

Mark 4:24-25 (ESV) – 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

What does it mean to “use” what we have been given?  No doubt it refers to obedience to the truth which we have received.  But it also seems to refer to proclaiming this truth to others.

Think for a moment… who is the sower?  Jesus never explicitly identifies the “sower” in His interpretation.  Certainly Jesus is the Sower in this immediate context.  But by extension, this refers to those sent out by Jesus to proclaim His gospel to the world.  In Mk 1:16-17, Jesus promises His new disciples that they will become “fishers of men.”  In Mk 3:14, we see that Jesus appointed 12 apostles so that they might be with Him and then go out to preach the gospel.  In Mk 6:7-13, we see Jesus actually send out the 12 apostles, two by two, to proclaim the Word of God and call men and women to repent of their sins.  And as He sends them out, He tells them that some will receive their message… and some will reject it.  Some will be receptive soil… and some will be hardened and shallow and distracted.

This same responsibility to “sow the seed of the Word” falls upon all believers today (i.e. Mk 16:15, Matt 28:18-20.)  Our responsibility is to sow the seed… regardless of what kind of soil we encounter.  I believe this is, at least in part, what Jesus is talking about when He says we are to “use” what we have been given.  As we proclaim the Word of God to others, we grow in our understanding of the Word and our experience of the grace of God.  In other words, more is added to us.

The whole point of this parable seems to be an admonition to strive to hear the Word of God rightly.  The emphasis here falls upon our responsibility to hear God’s Word and embrace it in repentance and faith.  But in the next two parables, Jesus emphasizes the other side of this coin.  Rather than focus on human responsibility, Jesus emphasizes the sovereignty of God in bringing about His kingdom.

Mark 4:26-29 (ESV) – 26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Here we have the same picture of a man sowing seed… and what happens?  The seed takes root and grows all by itself. 

We should note that the sower does nothing but scatter the seed.  The growth happens while he is sleeping.  The same is true for us as Christians.  We sow the seed of the Word of God, but we are not responsible for the growth.  It is God who brings forth the growth of His kingdom by His Spirit, through His Word.

The Apostle Paul makes much the same point in I Corinthians 3:6-7

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (ESV) – 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

Although Christians have a responsibility to sow the seed… and all human beings have a responsibility before God to hear and respond rightly to His Word… it is God who brings about the growth.

If we correlate these two parables, an important principle comes to the forefront.  As Christians we are called to proclaim the gospel, but it is not our job to evaluate the soil of other’s hearts.  We don’t know who will respond and who won’t.  Some may seem to be hardened beyond the point of salvation, yet no one is beyond the power of God to save (i.e. consider the apostle Paul.  Could there be a person who seemed more like “hardened soil” then him.  Yet God in His grace softened his heart and saved him.)  Despite the fact that many will reject the Word, we can be confident that God’s kingdom will grow, because God is the One bringing forth the growth.

And Jesus assures us here that God will bring about growth in His kingdom…

Mark 4:30-34 (ESV) – 30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

Here Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed.  Some liberal scholars have used this parable in their argument that the Bible is not infallible, stating that science has proven that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed in the world.  This is a misunderstanding of Jesus’ point here.  This is a Hebraism… a common Jewish turn of phrase.  The mustard seed was the smallest seed known in 1st century Palestine.  Jesus is simply stating that the kingdom of God, like the mustard seed, starts out incredibly small.  But in time it will grow, until it is so large the birds of the air, which at one point could have swallowed the seed whole, are now able to roost in its branches.  This mention of the “birds of the air” could be a reference to the Gentiles, since this imagery seems to be used this way in the Old Testament (Daniel 4:11-12, 21, Ezekiel 17:23, 31:6.)  Whether we should interpret this element of the parable in this way or not, the central point is that the kingdom will grow to an immense size, even though it appeared to be rather small at the time.

Both of these last two parables, emphasize the sovereign work of God in bringing about His kingdom.  Nothing can stop the growth of God’s kingdom.  Hard hearts… shallow hearers… distracted people… none of these can stop the work of God.  God is sovereign in the growth of His kingdom.

What can we learn from the teaching of Jesus here in Mark 4?

Jesus’ teaching emphasized the coming of the kingdom of God.  And in explaining the kingdom of God, Jesus described both the responsibility of all human beings to hear and respond to the good news of the kingdom and the sovereign work of God in building His kingdom.

We need to realize that it matters how we respond to the authoritative teaching of Jesus.  It matters what we do with His Word.  We must strive to hear and understand the message of God’s Word.  Specifically, it is imperative that we understand the message of coming kingdom of God.  God is establishing His kingdom on the earth and the result of this will be judgment upon the wicked and salvation for His people.  Therefore, we must repent and believe the gospel because the kingdom of God is at hand (Mk 1:15.)

How do you hear the Word of God?  Do you strive to hear and understand His Word?  Do you welcome it and strive to obey it?

Furthermore, we are to be “sowers” of this “seed.”  As those to whom God has graciously revealed “the mysteries of the kingdom”, we are to function as lights in the world, proclaiming this good news to the world and calling for men and women to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

Do we share the gospel of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ with the world around us?  We live in an increasingly post-Christian culture and it is more and more common for people to be quite ignorant about Jesus and the kingdom of God.  Are we faithful lights in a dark world?  Do you “use” the truth which has been revealed to you in declaring it to others?

Although we have a responsibility in the coming of God’s kingdom, we must also realize that God is ultimately in control.  He is sovereign and His kingdom will come in power and fullness in His time and in His chosen method.  And nothing can stop it.  Though the rule of God over His people and the earth may seem small at times… though evil may abound and justice may seem far off… we can be assured that the kingdom of God will come.

This should give us confidence… no matter what the world around us looks like. It may seem that few people respond rightly to the message of Jesus, but we need not worry.  This doesn’t catch God off guard… and it doesn’t hinder His kingdom in any way.  The kingdom of God is at hand… and nothing can stop it!!!

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John, over at the Reformation Theology blog, posted an excerpt from Eric Alexander’s book, “What is Biblical Preaching?”  Here is a sample of the posted excerpt:

“Left to ourselves, we may do many things with a congregation. We may move them emotionally. We may attract them to ourselves personally, producing great loyalty. We may persuade them intellectually. We may educate them in a broad spectrum of Christian truth. But the one thing we can never do, left to ourselves, is to regenerate them spiritually and change them into the image of Jesus Christ, to bear his moral glory in their character. While that is the great calling of the church of Christ, it is essentially God’s work and not ours.

So it is possible to be homiletically brilliant, verbally fluent, theologically profound, biblically accurate and orthodox, and spiritually useless. That frightens me. I hope it frightens you, too. I think it is of this that Paul is speaking when he says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (I Cor. 3:6-7). It is very possible for us to be deeply concerned about homiletical ability and fluency and theological profundity and biblical orthodoxy, but to know nothing of the life – giving power of God with the burning anointing of the Holy Spirit upon our ministry…”

You can read the whole post here http://www.reformationtheology.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/1306 .

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Truth For Life has recently opened the archive of sermons by Alistair Begg and others for free download.  There is a lot of good stuff here for your edification.  I have found the audio from the Basics Conferences to be particularly encouraging.  you can find them all here http://www.truthforlife.org/ .

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This is part 2 of a 6 part series on the Gospel of Mark.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “authority”?  Does it evoke positive or negative feelings in you?  Most of us don’t like the idea of authority.  Particularly in our current cultural context, we tend to distrust authority.  We tend to be fiercely independent in our culture.  We value our freedom and we don’t want anyone telling us what to be do.  Therefore, we distrust authority.  Furthermore, we tend to be relativistic, believing that there are no absolute right and wrong.  And if there is no absolute right and wrong… then there can be no absolute authority, determining right and wrong for us.

This rejection of authority is nothing new.  It has been with us for some time.  Where did this rebellion against authority begin?

We see the first evidence of this rejection of authority with the fall of Satan.  Consider the words of Isaiah, describing what many believe to be the fall of Satan into sin..

Isaiah 14:12-14 (ESV) – 12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star (“Lucifer” – NKJV), son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! 13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’

Lucifer’s desire is to usurp the authority of God.  He wants to be the ultimate authority.  He wants to be God.

This same rejection of authority carried over to the fall of humanity in Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Genesis 3:1-6 (ESV) – 1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Notice how Satan tempts Eve with the same temptation which led to his own fall… the desire to be like God.  The temptation here is to reject the authority of God in an effort to become her own authority… so that she might be like God.

This rejection of authority… particularly the authority of God… continues all throughout Scripture.  And it is still with us today… and will continue to be with us until the end of time.

Recognizing and obeying the authority of God is of the utmost importance for it is connected with our eternal destiny. 

This authority is manifested most clearly in Jesus and this becomes clear in the Gospel of Mark as we examine the authority of Jesus in Mark chapters 1-3.

Begin by looking at Mark 1:21-22

Mark 1:21-22 (ESV) – 21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.

Here we see Jesus, after the calling of His first formal disciples… entering Capernaum, the city which would function as His base of operations during His Galilean ministry.  And what is He doing here as He kicks off His ministry?  He is teaching in the synagogue. 

In 1st century synagogue worship, any qualified Jewish male could speak a word exhortation to those present.  But something about the way in which Jesus taught was different than the teaching which was common in the synagogue.

What made His teaching different?  “…He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” 

What does this mean?  The scribes of Jesus’ day spent a considerable amount of time explaining what Scripture meant… but in doing so, they tended to quote other rabbinical sources (Walter Wessel, Mark, Expositors Bible Commentary, 627, and Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark, 15.)  In other words, their teaching rested upon the authority of others.

But Jesus’ teaching was different.  He taught “as one who had authority”… literally one who was in possession of ongoing and continuous authority (i.e. present participle.)

What did this teaching with authority look like?  Mark doesn’t give us an example here, but think back to the Sermon on the Mount recorded for us in Matthew 5-7.  Jesus repeatedly tells His hearers, “You have heard it said…” meaning that they had heard it said in the Old Testament and had heard it interpreted by the rabbis.  But then Jesus would say, “But I say unto you…”  He didn’t need any other source of authority. He didn’t cite anyone else to back up His statements.  He spoke as if He had absolute authority in Himself to interpret the commands of God in the Old Testament… not to mention… absolute authority in Himself to issue commands to God’s people.

This is what Jesus is doing here… teaching the people in the synagogue with absolute authority.  And this astonished them.  The Greek is very strong here.  The term is κπλήσσω and it literally means “to smite” or “to strike” with a enough force to drive something away (ἐκπλήσσω, Strong’s Concordance.)  The tense of the verb (imperfect tense) tells us that they were continually struck by the authority of His teaching.  In other words… the way in which He preached struck them right between the eyes… and it had a lasting effect on them.

What was Jesus teaching here?  We don’t know for sure.  But in the context here in Mark 1, we have just seen Jesus proclaiming that  “…The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15.)  In other words, the time for the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament had arrived.  The Kingdom of God was near… meaning the King had to be near.  By preaching with authority… Jesus is clearly proclaiming Himself to be this promised King (i.e. the Jewish Messiah.)  And the King is calling people to repent… meaning they must change their mind about God and sin and turn away from their sin… and believe in the good news that God is providing salvation for His people and drawing some into His kingdom forever and ever.

What gives Jesus the right to do this?  How could a 1st century Jew… not to mention us today… know that Jesus indeed has this authority?

In order to answer this question, Mark provides us with a number of events from the ministry of Jesus which demonstrate to us the authority of Jesus…)

We are going to move quickly through these and we won’t be dealing with every aspect of these passages, but I think we see the authority of Jesus demonstrated for us in four distinct ways here in the first 3 chapters of Mark… beginning in Mark 1:23-27

1)    Authority over demons – Mark 1:23-27

Mark 1:23-27 (ESV) – 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Notice that Jesus doesn’t go looking for trouble… but trouble finds Him in the form of this demon-possessed man.  And this demon clearly knows who Jesus is.  He calls Jesus, “The Holy One of God.”  This demon also seems to understand what Jesus will one day do to him and those like him.  Jesus will destroy them.  Now some scholars have seen in this encounter an attempt by this demon to control Jesus through calling Him by name (Walter Wessel, Mark, Expositors Bible Commentary, 627.)  Whether this is true or not… it is completely ineffective.  Because when Jesus commands this demon to come out of the man… he immediately obeys.

This is a powerful testimony to the authority of Jesus.  Despite the great power of demons… they are no match for Jesus.  With a simple word… they are cast out before Him.  And this wasn’t an isolated incident…

Mark 1:34 (ESV) – 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Notice that He cast out “many demons.”

This is something which was unheard of in the Old Testament.  There are no descriptions of demons being cast out in the Old Testament (except possibly David playing the harp for Saul in I Samuel 16:14-23), although there were Jewish exorcists in the day of Jesus.  However, they tended to utilize incantations and elaborate rituals in their casting out of demons (i.e. read the apocryphal book of Tobit for a helpful description of typical rabbinic thought in the 1st century regarding the exorcism of demons.)   But Jesus needed no magical formulas to cast out this demon.  This was something new in the history of redemption.  And those who were present recognized what was going on… and they immediately saw that Jesus possessed authority… because He could cast out the demons with a word.

This is only the first demonstration of Jesus’ authority here in Mark 1-3.  The second is Jesus’ authority over sickness, beginning in Mark 1:29-31

2)    Authority over sickness – Mark 1:29-31

Mark 1:29-31 (ESV) – 29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

  1. Luke’s gospel adds that He “rebuked the fever” (Luke 4:39)… again… He is exercising His authority… and she is immediately healed.

Perhaps even more significant is the healing of the leper in Mark 1:40-42.  Leprosy was probably the most dreaded disease in 1st century Palestine.  It not only made one sick… it rendered one ritually unclean and, therefore, cut off from the worship of God and fellowship with all God’s people (Lev 13:45-46.)  Yet Jesus… with a word and a touch… heals this man of this dreaded disease.  He does what only God can do… He cleanses the one who is unclean.  He can remove ritual uncleanness. 

This leads us into the third demonstration of Jesus’ authority… which is His authority over sin…

3)    Authority to forgive sin –

Mark 2:1-12 (ESV) – 1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

It is interesting that when this man is brought to Jesus, He doesn’t immediately heal him.  Instead, He forgives his sins.   This doesn’t go unnoticed by the scribes who are present and they immediately accuse Jesus of blasphemy.  Why?  Because only God can forgive sin.  Sin is ultimately sin against God (Psalm 51:4)… and only the wounded Party can forgive this offense.  Therefore, if Jesus is claiming to forgive sin… then who is He claiming to be?  None other than God Himself.

Jesus knows what they are thinking and so He performs this miraculous healing.  And we are told why in verse 10… so “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” (Mk 2:10.)  He heals this man so that others may know that He has authority which only God has.

This leads to the fourth demonstration of Jesus’ authority in this passage, His authority over the institutions of God.

4)    Authority over the Institutions of God – Mark 2:23-3:6

Mark 2:23-3:6 (ESV) – 23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” 1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Jesus’ disciples here are picking grain on the Sabbath, rubbing them in their hands to separate the wheat from the chaff (Lk 6:1), and eating, because they were hungry.  The Pharisees considered this a violation of God’s ordinance against working on the Sabbath.  But Jesus claims to possess the authority to interpret what is lawful and unlawful on the Sabbath.  In fact, in verse 28, He proclaims Himself to be “the Lord of the Sabbath”?

Think through the radical nature of this statement.  After all, what was the Sabbath?  It was a day set aside for rest and to remember the salvation which God had provided for Israel (Gen 2:3, Ex 20:8-11, Deut 5:12-15.)  But more importantly, who established the Sabbath?  God did.  It was God who commanded His people to keep the Sabbath Day holy.  With this in mind… who is Lord of the Sabbath?  God is.  So what is Jesus claiming for Himself?  He is claiming divine authority.  He is claiming to be God.

Now anyone could make this claim, but Jesus demonstrates that He is indeed Lord of the Sabbath in Mark 3:1-6, where He heals the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath.  This healing is clearly an act of God.  Only the power of God could instantly heal this man, causing life and vitality to course back into this withered hand.  And if Jesus was falsely claiming divine authority for Himself… then why would God heal this man on the Sabbath?  No… this is a way of affirming Jesus’ earlier statement.  He is the Lord of the Sabbath… therefore, He is God Himself.

In four different ways here in these three chapters, we see the authority of Jesus demonstrated:

  1. He has authority over demons…
  2. He has authority over sickness…
  3. He has authority to forgive sins…
  4. He has authority over the institutions which God has established…

In other words… Jesus has authority because He is God Himself.

So how should we respond to His authority?  We see two basic responses to His authority here in Mark 1-3…)

1)    Some rejected Him…

In Mark 2:6-7, we see the scribes accuse Him of blasphemy.  In Mark 3:6, their rejection of Him of so great that they begin to plot how they might kill Him.  In Mark 3:22, they accuse Him of being of the devil (whom they call “Beelzebub.”) 

Even His own family rejected His authority.  They thought He was “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21) and were seeking to end His ministry by taking Him home.

We see these same responses today.  Some people accuse Jesus of blasphemy, claiming that He is not who He says He is, denying that He is the promised Messiah and Son of God.  And if they don’t accuse Him of blasphemy, they will accuse the apostles or the early church or Constantine or whoever of putting blasphemous words in the mouth of Jesus.  They deny that Jesus is God Himself.

Some are trying to erase His memory… we might say put Him to death historically… since they find His teachings opposed to their own beliefs.  These are people like Thomas Jefferson who deleted all references to the miraculous in his version of the New Testament.  We see it today in the teaching of liberal theologians like the Jesus Seminar who spend their time standing in judgment over the words of Jesus and making decisions among themselves about what are the true statements of Jesus and what aren’t.

Some accuse Him of being wicked.  Some think He was misguided and foolish… maybe even insane.  If you read what people outside the church write about Jesus… (and sadly some inside “the church” as well)… you won’t have to read long before you will find all of these responses.

But we should be careful… because those who reject the teaching of Jesus will be subject to His judgment.

The pinnacle of this warning seems to come from the lips of Jesus in Mark 3:28-30, when He warns against the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit… which is essentially denying that Jesus is who He says He is and attributing His words and power to Satan.  Dr. Alan Cole describes this sin in this way…

“This is the sin of the willfully blind, who persistently refuse the illumination of the Spirit, oppose the Spirit’s work, and justify themselves in doing so by deliberately misrepresenting Him” (Alan Cole, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 85-86.) 

It is rejecting that Jesus is who He says He is, calling good evil and hard-heartedly resisting the gospel call and repenting of sin and trusting in Jesus for salvation.  For this sin, Jesus says there is no forgiveness.  Dr. Sinclair Ferguson offers us some sober words regarding this warning…

“This sin takes its contemporary forms.  It is the sin of regarding conversion to Christ and obedience to Him as Lord as the ultimate folly. This was precisely the willful blindness to Christ and hardness of heart against him which these theologians had begun to display.  It is often said, with some wisdom, that if you are anxious that you have committed blasphemy against the Spirit, you need not fear – for this blasphemy is always accompanied by complex indifference to such sin.  But that advice cannot be treated casually, for the person who sins against the Lord, and is at first sensitive to the potential consequences of his sin, may one day be the very person who becomes indifferent to it. The vital thing is to retain that sensitivity throughout the whole of our lives.  It can be retained only by keeping close to Christ; and doing so will guard us from sin” (Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark, 46-47.)

Only by listening carefully to the authority of Jesus and striving to respond rightly to Him can we be certain that we have not committed this fearful offense.

Many people rejected the authority of Jesus.  However, there is another response described here…

2)    Some yielded to His authority…

We see this in Peter and Andrew and James and John (Mark 1:16-20.)  We see this in the tax collector, Levi (Mark 2:13-14.)  All of them yielded to the authority of Jesus.  When called by Jesus… they left everything and followed Him.  They immediately obeyed Him.  Not perfectly, mind you.  But they demonstrate what it means to repent and believe the gospel.  They turned away from the life and people they once were… and they trusted in Jesus to save them.  They put all their eggs in His basket and began to follow Him… trusting in Him and striving to live lives pleasing to Him.

Jesus promises that the one who responds rightly to His authority and “does  the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:35.)  Yielding to the authority of Jesus means that one is a member of the family of God.

I think Jesus sums up the different results of these two responses powerfully in Matthew 7:24-29… which is, I think, a parallel passage to the text we started with here today…

Matthew 7:24-29 (ESV) – 24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” 28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

What is our response to the authority of Jesus?

He is the incarnate and living Word of God (Jn 1:1.)  He has clearly spoken with authority in Scripture.  And I believe Mark makes it very clear that Jesus is indeed very God of very God…

How do we respond to Him? 

Are we more like Peter and Andrew and James and John and Levi? 

Or are we more like the scribes and Pharisees?

Jesus calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Him.  He calls us to leave behind the people we once were and follow Him.  This is the command of Jesus to us.

How do you respond to His authority?

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