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I recently came across this video and found it to be very insightful…

I admit… to my shame… that I have been guilty of this at times.

How about you???

Consider this as you are reading through Scripture…

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The following is a quote from a blog post by Ray Ortlund on both preaching and living grace in our churches…

“A major part of pastoral ministry is preaching the doctrines of grace and managing an environment of grace.  The latter is harder to accomplish than the former.  It is more intuitive.  It requires more humility and self-awareness.”

This is so true!  So often we succeed in preaching grace from the pulpit (or Sunday School podium, etc…), but then we live and relate within the community of the saints as if our standing before God is all of works.

I don’t know that I have any of the answers to this common problem, but I have found in my own life that apart from reminding myself of the gospel on a daily basis, I tend to fall into this performance trap, both in my own personal walk with the Lord and my relationships with other Christians.

Dr. Ortlund’s post is a helpful reminder of what really binds us together in the church… not our works… but the grace of God.  You can read the whole article here http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/rayortlund/2010/02/12/centered-on-one-or-the-other/.

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I came across an article by David Nienhuis in the recent issue of Modern Reformation which I have read several times.  In it, he addresses the issue of biblical illiteracy among modern evangelicals, particularly among young evangelicals.  It is a very insightful article.  Having spent several years working with young people in the local church, I can say that I think his assessment is quite accurate.  You can find his article here http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=1110&var3=main&var4=Home.  It is a little long, but it is worth the time to read.

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Psalm 119:21 (ESV) – You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments.

Reading through Charles Bridges’ commentary on Psalm 119, I came across the following quote regarding this verse which spoke powerfully to me…

“We wonder not at this expression of the mind of God concerning pride.  There is no sin more abhorrent to His character.  It is as if we were taking the crown from His head, and placing it upon our own.  It is man making a god of himself – acting from himself, and for himself.  Nor is this principle less destructive to our own happiness.  And yet it is not only rooted, but it often rears its head and blossoms, and bears fruit, even in hearts which ‘hate and abhor’ its influence.  It is most like its father, the devil, in serpentine deceitfulness.  It is always active – always ready imperceptibly to mix itself up with everything.  When it is mortified in one shape, it rises in another.  When we have thought that it was gone, in some unexpected moment we find it here still.  It can convert everything into nourishment, even God’s choicest gifts – yea, the graces of His Spirit.  Let no saint, therefore, however near he may be living to God, however favored with the shinings of His countenance – consider himself beyond the reach of this temptation… But can a sinner – can a saint – be proud? – one that owes everything to free and sovereign grace – one that has wasted so much time – abused so much mercy – so grieved the Spirit of God – that has a heart so full of atheism – unbelief – selfishness?  Nay, the very pride itself should be the matter of the deepest daily humiliation.  Thus the remembrance of it may, under Divine grace, prove an effectual means of subduing it in our hearts” (Charles Bridges, An Exposition of Psalm 119, Banner of Truth, pg 46-47.)

He concludes with the following prayer…

“Lord!   Teach us to bless Thee, for even Thy sharp and painful discipline which tends to subjugate this hateful pride of our hearts before our Savior’s cross!” (Bridges, pg, 47-48.)

Amen!

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There was an excellent post by R.C. Sproul over at the Ligonier Ministries Blog today.  Here is an excerpt:

“Our souls cannot climb out of the mire of sin because they are dead. Salvation comes not to those who cry out, “Show me the way to heaven,” but to those who cry, “Take me there for I cannot.”

Lest we see the sinner’s prayer as mere technique, we must remember that Christ raises the dead that they might walk. We do not mumble the magic words and then wait to die. Christianity is about spiritual growth as well. It is about work, the hard work of sanctification. Regeneration is monergistic, God’s work alone. Sanctification, the process by which we are made holy, is synergistic, God’s work with us…”

You can read the whole thing here http://www.ligonier.org/blog/2009/10/climbing-out-of-the-mire.html

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The following is part 4 of a 6 part survey series in the Gospel of Mark.

Let me tell you a little story.  It is a true story about a man who seemed to have it all.  This man’s name was Ernest Hemingway.  You have no doubt heard of him.  He is pretty well known.  He was the author of such highly acclaimed works of fiction as “The Sun Also Rises”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, and “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Mr. Hemingway was born July 21, 1889, and he worked his entire adult life as a writer.  In 1918, he went to WWI as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross and was wounded in battle and awarded a medal for valor.  After this, he married wealthy heiress Hadley Richardson in 1921.  This allowed him a little more luxury to pursue his writing.  He lived in Paris after WWI and spent time with the literary and entertainment elite… people like Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce.  In 1926, he published “The Sun Also Rises” and this led to international success and acknowledgment.

Soon after this, he married second wife and moved to Key West.  This began a life of adventures for Mr. Hemingway.  He loved bullfights and safaris and deep sea fishing.  In 1937, he was a war correspondent for Spanish Civil War.  Around this time, he met his third wife and divorced his second wife.  He went on to be a war correspondent for WWII

It is said that he could be very arrogant.  He particularly loved to show off the trappings of his adventurous lifestyle.  Pictures of this man abound in the most exciting and extravagant poses.  He is seen standing over a dead lion  or with his foot on the head of rhino or standing beside a large marlin which he had caught.

He would marry again after this and he continued to live a life of great excess.  He was well-known to have a drinking problem.  He traveled frequently to Europe.  He enjoyed continuous adventures. 

He was a literary success.  He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1952 for “The Old Man and the Sea.”  In 1954, he won the Nobel Prize for literature.  However, things began to turn sour for him around this time.  He was unable to personally accept his Nobel Prize because of a plane crash while on safari in Africa.  He survived but never quite the same.  His health deteriorated after this.  He suffered from kidney problems, high blood pressure and, later, depression.  He attempted to commit suicide early in 1961, but failed.  He underwent treatment for depression, but apparently with little or no success, because on July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide with a shotgun blast to his face.

Here is a man who had everything the world could offer.  Wealth.  Women.  Fame.  Power.  Adventure.  Success.  But in the end… He lost very own soul.

The world would have us strive to be like Ernest Hemingway.  Go for the gusto!  Take all you can!  Give nothing back!  Look out for # 1!  He who dies with the most toys wins!

But God’s Word holds forth an entirely different paradigm for success.  Consider the example of Jesus…

Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV) – 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

God the Father has “highly exalted” Jesus.  He has given Him “the name that is above every name.”  He is the greatest example of “success” in God’s economy.

But what made Him successful?  The fact that, though He is very God of very God, He chose to take upon Himself the form of a servant and humbled Himself to the point of death… even death on a cross.  “Therefore” God exalted Him and gave Him the name above all names.

Self-denial and sacrifice lead to true success… and we see that most clearly in Jesus.

Keep this in mind as we turn to our text for this week’s study… Mark chapter 8, verses 27-38

 

Mark 8:27-38 (ESV) – 27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Here we see Jesus is with His disciples in the region of Caesarea Philippi, which is the farthest north Jesus ever traveled.  At this moment, He was the farthest He would ever be from Jerusalem during His earthly ministry.  He is far away from the political tension in Jerusalem which seemed to haunt Him.  It is here, that Jesus asks His disciples two very important questions.

Who do people say that I am?” (Mk 8:27.)

People flocked around Jesus constantly.  They came seeking miracles.  They listened to His teaching.  But who did they really think He was?  Some thought He was John the Baptist… or Elijah… or one of the prophets. 

Think about this for a moment.  What are they saying about Jesus when they identify Him as John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets?  They are saying that He is of God.  They are saying that He is a prophet of God… one who speaks on behalf of God to His people.  This would be a tremendous compliment if it was said about most people.  But it grossly understating the identity of Jesus.

This is what much of the world even today thinks about Jesus.  What does Islam teach about Jesus?  It teaches that Jesus is a prophet of God.  The same is true of the Bahai faith.  Mahatma Gandhi believed that Jesus was a righteous man and great teacher.   That seems to be the opinion of Dan Brown, the author of the vastly popular book, “The Da Vinci Code.”  The same is true of most liberal Christian theologians today as well.  He was a messenger from God… a good teacher… but nothing more.

This may be what most people think about Jesus… but His follower know Him to be something more.  Jesus asks His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29.)  The word “you” is emphatic in the original Greek.  Jesus anticipates that they will have a different opinion of Jesus.  Why would they have a different answer to this question?  Because they knew Jesus in a way that other people didn’t.

Think about all they had seen.  They had seen Jesus cast out demons (Mk 1:23-27, 1:32-34, 3:11-12, 5:1-20, 7:24-30) and heal the sick (Mk 1:30-34, 1:40-42, 2:1-12, 3:1-5, 5:25-34, 7:31-37, 8:22-26).  They had seen Him calm the storm with a word (Mk 4:35-41) and walk upon the water (Mk 6:45-51.) They had seen Him feed multitudes of people in the wilderness with only a few loaves of bread and fish (Mk 6:30-44, 8:1-10.)  They had seen Him raise the dead (Mk 5:21-43.)  And they knew that His power was no sleight-of-hand trick… because Jesus had delegated this same power to them… and they had gone out on His behalf, healing the sick and casting out demons (Mk 6:7-13.)

They knew Jesus as other people didn’t… therefore Jesus could expect a different answer from them.  And Peter… acting as the spokesman for the group… tells Jesus who they think He is.  “You are the Christ” (Mk 8:29.)

What does Peter mean when he identifies Jesus as “the Christ?”  It means that Peter recognizes Him as the Messiah… the Anointed One of God… God’s promised Savior and King.

Peter has the right answer… but notice, in verse 30, Jesus commands them not to tell anyone else who He is.  Why?  Because people would fail to understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ.

What did the Jewish people in the 1st century believe about the Messiah?  They were expecting a powerful warrior king… who would cast off the Roman yoke and elevate Israel to a place of political prominence among the nations of the world.  They were expecting Him to bring justice upon the wicked… meaning those outside Israel… and usher in a period of peace on the earth.  They saw these promises clearly in passages like Psalm 2 and Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 11:1-9, Jeremiah 23:5-6, and many others to numerous to count.

In the pseudopigraphal (i.e. non-canonical) work entitled “The Psalms of Solomon”, we get a picture of what a 1st century Pharisee thought it would be like when the Messiah… the Christ… came on the scene…

Psalms of Solomon 17:23-5123 (21) Behold, O Lord, and raise up unto them their king, the son of David, At the time in the which Thou seest, O God, that he may reign over Israel Thy servant 24 (22) And gird him with strength, that he may shatter unrighteous rulers, 25 And that he may purge Jerusalem from nations that trample (her) down to destruction. (23) Wisely, righteously 26 he shall thrust out sinners from (the) inheritance, He shall destroy the pride of the sinner as a potter’s vessel. (24) With a rod of iron he shall break in pieces all their substance, 21 He shall destroy the godless nations with the word of his mouth; (25) At his rebuke nations shall flee before him, And he shall reprove sinners for the thoughts of their heart. 28 (26) And he shall gather together a holy people, whom he shall lead in righteousness, And he shall judge the tribes of the people that has been sanctified by the Lord his God. 29 (21) And he shall not suffer unrighteousness to lodge any more in their midst, Nor shall there dwell with them any man that knoweth wickedness, 30 For he shall know them, that they are all sons of their God. (28) And he shaIl divide them according to their tribes upon the land, 31 And neither sojourner nor alien shall sojourn with them any more. (29) He shall judge peoples and nations in the wisdom of his righteousness. Selah. 32 (30) And he shall have the heathen nations to serve him under his yoke; And he shall glorify the Lord in a place to be seen of (?) all the earth; 33 And he shall purge Jerusalem, making it holy as of old: 34 (31) So that nations shall come from the ends of the earth to see his glory, Bringing as gifts her sons who had fainted, 35 And to see the glory of the Lord, wherewith God hath glorified her. (32) And he (shall be) a righteous king, taught of God, over them, 36 And there shall be no unrighteousness in his days in their midst, For all shall be holy and their king the anointed of the Lord. 37 (33) For he shall not put his trust in horse and rider and bow, Nor shall he multiply for himself gold and silver for war, Nor shall he gather confidence from (?) a multitude (?) for the day of battle. 38 (34) The Lord Himself is his king, the hope of him that is mighty through (his) hope in God. All nations (shall be) in fear before him, 39 (35) For he will smite the earth with the word of his mouth for ever. 40 He will bless the people of the Lord with wisdom and gladness, 41 (36) And he himself (will be) pure from sin, so that he may rule a great people. He will rebuke rulers, and remove sinners by the might of his word; 42 (37) And (relying) upon his God, throughout his days he will not stumble; For God will make him mighty by means of (His) holy spirit, And wise by means of the spirit of understanding, with strength and righteousness. 43 (38) And the blessing of the Lord (will be) with him: he will be strong and stumble not; 44 (39) His hope (will be) in the Lord: who then can prevail against him? (40) (He will be) mighty in his works, and strong in the fear of God, 45 (He will be) shepherding the flock of the Lord faithfully and righteously, And will suffer none among them to stumble in their pasture. 46 (41) He will lead them all aright, And there will be no pride among them that any among them should be oppressed. 47 (42) This (will be) the majesty of the king of Israel whom God knoweth; He will raise him up over the house of Israel to correct him. 48 (43) His words (shall be) more refined than costly gold, the choicest; In the assemblies he will judge the peoples, the tribes of the sanctified. 49 His words (shall be) like the words of the holy ones in the midst of sanctified peoples. 50 Blessed be they that shall be in those days, In that they shall see the good fortune of Israel which God shall bring to pass in the gathering together of the tribes. 51 May the Lord hasten His mercy upon Israel! May He deliver us from the uncleanness of unholy enemies! The Lord Himself is our king for ever and ever.

If Jesus’ disciples went around telling everyone that He is the Christ… the Messiah… then this is what they would have expected of Him.

But this wasn’t Jesus’ purpose at all in His first coming.   He didn’t come in glory and power… instead He came in humility and self-sacrifice.  He came to deny Himself and suffer loss according to God’s will…

Notice that immediately following Peter’s announcement that Jesus is the Christ… Jesus begins explaining to them what this means.

Mark 8:31 (ESV) – 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

This is the first time that Jesus has come right out and explained His purpose to His disciples.  And we simply don’t get the impact this would have made on them.  We know the story too well.  We cannot appreciate how counter intuitive this would seem.  How could Jesus… this One who can calm the storm and walk on water and heal the sick and cast out demons and raise the dead and produce food aplenty out of virtually nothing… how could this Jesus possibly suffer and die?

Jesus probably added to their confusion by referring to Himself as “the Son of Man” as well.  There is no question that this was Jesus’ favorite self designation during His earthly ministry.  Now there is no lack of ink spilled over what Jesus was trying to get at by using this identifier to describe Himself, but basically, most explanations fall into two camps:

Following Old Testament usage, Jesus is simply affirming Himself as a representative of humanity.  For example, God refers to Ezekiel over and over again as “son of man”… simply meaning he is human.  A better example might be the usage of the phrase in Psalm 8:4

Psalm 8:4 (ESV) – 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Given the parallelism in this verse, it is clear that “son of man” is simply another way of speaking about people.

But there is another possibility.  In Daniel 7:13-14, we see an entirely different usage of this phrase…

Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV) – 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Here, “the Son of Man” is a divine figure.  He is riding on the clouds and sharing in the glory of God and receiving an infinite, eternal kingdom from God.

So which is it?  I think it is both.  Jesus is both the representative of humanity, who… taking on the form of a servant, would suffer and die in our place to bear the punishment for our sin, so that we could be forgiven and enter into the kingdom of God.  But at the same time, He is very God of very God… who will receive the eternal kingdom from God the Father because of His obedience to the will of His Father and His selfless sacrifice on behalf of His people.   We can see this now in retrospect, but we shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples for not understanding this at the time.

Peter is so shocked by this statement that he does something which is absolutely ridiculous here.  He takes aside this One who he has just proclaimed to be God’s Messiah… the Christ… and rebukes Him.  Which prompts Jesus to utter a frightening rebuke of His own, “Get behind Me, Satan!  For you are no setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mk 8:33.)  Jesus says that Satan is behind this statement of Peter.

Think about that.  What is Peter saying?  Peter is saying, “Avoid the cross, Jesus.  You don’t need to die to receive the kingdom.”  Isn’t that the same temptation which the devil threw at Jesus in the wilderness?

Matthew 4:8-10 (ESV) – 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ”

Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of this world without going to the cross, if He would only bow down and worship Him.  And Jesus responded with the same type of rebuke… “Be gone, Satan!”

What does this tell us?  Something very important.  It tells us that avoiding self-denial and sacrifice are Satanic.  At least… it was in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Why?  Because this was God’s will.

We tend to be much more like Peter, don’t we?  We think in human terms.  We think about getting all we can.  We tend to think about taking the path of least resistance in gaining success.  If we are honest… it isn’t natural for us to think of the way of success coming through self-denial and self-sacrifice.  Yet that is exactly what Jesus is saying was true in His own life.  And that is what Jesus demands of all those who would follow Him.

Everything we have looked at so far is of the utmost importance, because it identifies for us who Jesus is.  It helps us to understand the character of Jesus and the purpose of Jesus.

But now things get very personal, because in verses 34-38, Jesus states that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.  In other words, those who are followers of Jesus are to be like Him in self-denial and sacrifice…

 “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mk 8:34.)  Notice that these words were spoken… not just to Jesus’ closest followers… but to the crowds.  That is fascinating, because this statement would have been much harder… if not impossible… for them to understand apart from the explanation which Jesus had just given of Himself.  You see… Jesus is calling people to “follow Him.”  This means we must first understand Him and His work… so that we can begin to understand how to follow Him.

Here we see Jesus call people to follow Him in two interconnected ways:

We are to “deny ourselves.”  This is a very strong verb in Greek (παρνέομαι) which means “to repudiate” or “to reject.”  It means to completely deny any association with something (Louw-Nida, παρνέομαι.)

And what is it that we are to deny?  Ourselves.  Jesus calls us to repudiate ourselves.  He expects us to make a break from the person we once were.

Secondly, Jesus expects us to “take up our cross.”  The imagery of this statement is mostly lost on us today.  But Jesus’ hearers would have certainly understood the imagery, because, for them, it was not uncommon to see men carrying crosses in those days.  When we talk about carrying a cross, we often talk about enduring some hardship in life.  We speak of everything from the minor health problems to financial crises as “your cross to bear.”  But a 1st century Jew knew what it meant when someone was carrying a cross.  It meant that they were on their way to die.  They were carrying the instrument of their own torture and execution.  They were the walking dead.

Jesus says that if we are to be His followers, then we must willingly take up our own cross.  We must willingly begin walking a path which is death to the person we once were… a path which will often be full of hardship and suffering.

These two commands, taken together, are the essence of repentance.    This is the result of having a change of mind about who Jesus is… coming to know and believe that He is the Christ.  This is the result of having a change of mind about who we are… sinful men and women who are now saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus… and therefore we are now following His example.

Both of these verbs (“deny yourself” and “take up”) are aorist imperatives in the Greek.  This implies that they are once-for-all, decisive events in our lives.  It doesn’t imply that we will always deny ourselves and take up our cross perfectly… but there is a point in time when every Christian comes to an understanding of who Jesus is and they decisively turn from sin and begin to trust in Jesus.  This begins our new life with Jesus… but we should recognize that it is only the beginning.

The third command here in verse 34 is to “follow Me.”  This is what is called a present tense verb in the Greek and it implies an ongoing, continual action.  In other words… Jesus calls us to make a break with the people we once were… then we are called to strive to follow His example from then on as we live the Christian life.

We should be clear about something.  We are not saved by following Him… but following Him is the result of our being saved.

Jesus goes on to explain why this is so important in the final few verses here…

Mark 8:35-37 (ESV) – 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul?

The word “life” is the same word translated “soul” in these verses.  It is the Greek word ψυχή and it means more than earthly life and more than one’s spirit.  It is everything that a person is as an integrated whole.  It is our body and soul… our personality and intellect… it is everything that makes a person who they are.  Jesus says that those who would hold on to themselves as they are will lose everything they are… but those who lose all that they once were for the sake of Jesus and the good news of the coming kingdom of God in Jesus… they will be saved.

What good is it if we gain everything this world has to offer… but we lose everything we are for eternity?

What is our eternal soul worth?  More than we can pay.  That is why Jesus came to suffer and die.  He died to pay the price to redeem our souls from God’s judgment.  We can never pay that price.  We should be clear about that.  Jesus is not saying that if we practice self-denial and sacrifice that we can save our own souls.  What He is describing is the response demanded of the gospel.  Instead of striving for our own salvation… seeking to be pleasing in the sight of God all on our own… we abandon ourselves and our sinfulness and our efforts to be good before God, and we trust in Jesus… following Him… relying upon Him to save us.  What we see described here is repentance and faith in Jesus.  In other words, Jesus says, “If you want to be one of My people, then you will give up your own self-seeking desires and die to self… being willing to give up all that you are… and continue in following my example… and I will give you eternal life which never ends.”

Not everyone is willing to do this.  Some will be “ashamed” of Jesus… and Jesus says He will be ashamed of them when He comes again in glory and power with the holy angels.

What does it mean to be “ashamed” of Jesus?  Notice that those who are ashamed of Him are associated with this “adulterous and sinful generation.”  They are those who reject who Jesus is… the Christ… the Suffering Servant… and those who fail to deny themselves… die to self… and follow after Jesus.  And those who reject Him… will be rejected by Jesus when He comes in judgment.

What do we learn from this passage of Scripture?

It is essential to know who Jesus is.  He is the Christ… God’s Anointed… His Suffering Servant, who died and rose again so that we might be saved from our sin and receive the gift of eternal life. 

Knowing who Jesus is demands a response from us… it demands repentance and faith… for otherwise we cannot be saved.

It is essential to follow Jesus’ example.  To do otherwise is to risk our very soul.

If we know who Jesus is… and we are truly trusting in Him… then our lives will begin to be patterned after His.  We won’t do this perfectly in this life… but we will begin to deny our selfish desires and sinful urges.  We will turn away from the people we once were.  We will begin to value Jesus above all else and the result… at least at times… will be hardship and suffering in the here and now.  But it is worth it… because the result is receiving eternal life.

Remember the example we opened with of Ernest Hemingway?  He had everything life could offer… but did he know who Jesus is?  Did he understand what Jesus came to accomplish?

  We can’t know for sure, because we can’t see the heart of man.  But I think it is probably safe to say that I don’t think so…  because there seems to be no evidence of repentance and faith in him.  He chose to hold on to himself… to indulge himself… to live his life in pursuit of all that the world had to offer, rather than deny himself and take up his cross and follow Jesus.  He gained the whole world… but I fear that he lost his soul… all because he didn’t truly understand who Jesus is and what He has done…

How about you?

Do you know who Jesus is?

Do you know what He has accomplished?

What are you living for?

Are you hoping in Him?

Would you rather have the things of this life?  Or Jesus?

Remember the words of Jesus… “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

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I have been reading through Calvin’s Institutes along with the Reformation 21 “Blogging the Institutes” this year and found the following passage by Calvin (Book 1, Chapter 9) to be very thought-provoking…

“Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some peculiar way of penetrating to God, are to be deemed not so much under the influence of error as madness. For certain giddy men have lately appeared, who, while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit, reject all reading of the Scriptures themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter…”

We see the same thing all the time today.  One needs only attend a few home Bible studies in most churches to encounter any number of people who staunchly affirm “God told me…” apart from the Word of God.  Calvin argues strenuously against this, stating that there is no ongoing and meaningful experience of the Spirit apart from the Word of God…

“…Hence it is easy to understand that we must give diligent heed both to the reading and hearing of Scripture, if we would obtain any benefit from the Spirit of God (just as Peter praises those who attentively study the doctrine of the prophets (2 Pet. 1:19), though it might have been thought to be superseded after the gospel light arose), and, on the contrary, that any spirit which passes by the wisdom of God’s Word, and suggests any other doctrine, is deservedly suspected of vanity and falsehood. Since Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, what authority can the Spirit have with us if he be not ascertained by an infallible mark?…”

Modern translation… Spend more time in the Word if you want to receive the benefits of the Holy Spirit.  Calvin goes on to elaborate his understanding of this topic…

“…For the Lord has so knit together the certainty of his word and his Spirit, that our minds are duly imbued with reverence for the word when the Spirit shining upon it enables us there to behold the face of God; and, on the other hand, we embrace the Spirit with no danger of delusion when we recognise him in his image, that is, in his word. Thus, indeed, it is. God did not produce his word before men for the sake of sudden display, intending to abolish it the moment the Spirit should arrive; but he employed the same Spirit, by whose agency he had administered the word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the word. In this way Christ explained to the two disciples (Luke 24:27), not that they were to reject the Scriptures and trust to their own wisdom, but that they were to understand the Scriptures. In like manner, when Paul says to the Thessalonians, “Quench not the Spirit,” he does not carry them aloft to empty speculation apart from the word; he immediately adds, “Despise not prophesying,” (1 Thess. 5:19, 20). By this, doubtless, he intimates that the light of the Spirit is quenched the moment prophesying fall into contempt. How is this answered by those swelling enthusiasts, in whose idea the only true illumination consists, in carelessly laying aside, and bidding adieu to the Word of God, while, with no less confidence than folly, they fasten upon any dreaming notion which may have casually sprung up in their minds? Surely a very different sobriety becomes the children of God. As they feel that without the Spirit of God they are utterly devoid of the light of truth, so they are not ignorant that the word is the instrument by which the illumination of the Spirit is dispensed. They know of no other Spirit than the one who dwelt and spake in the apostles—the Spirit by whose oracles they are daily invited to the hearing of the word.”

Commenting on this passage from the Institutes, Phil Ryken writes at the Reformation 21 blog,

“It is characteristic of Calvin’s theology in general and of his Institutes in particular to give strong affirmation to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  Generally speaking, Calvin does not do this by treating the Third Person of the Trinity as a separate topic of doctrine, but by highlighting the Spirit’s work in connection to every other subject that he addresses.  Calvin makes such a connection here, in his teaching about the Word of God.  Because of their strong emphasis on the unique and indispensable authority of Scripture, the Reformers were sometimes accused of placing too much emphasis on the Bible, and thus of failing to heed Paul’s warning that “the letter kills,” whereas “the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).  Yet Calvin rightly understood that the best way to let the Spirit do his life-giving work is to teach more Scripture, not less.  Remember that the Spirit gave us the Word to begin with, and that he is present in power whenever the Word is truly and faithfully preached.  The way to experience the Spirit’s work, therefore, is not through some experience apart from Scripture, but by hearing his voice in the reading and preaching of the Spirit’s very own Word” (emphasis mine.)

You can read the rest of Dr. Ryken’s comments and/or join the ongoing reading of the Institutes here (http://www.reformation21.org/calvin/2009/01/blog-16-193-1111.php .)

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