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I came across this video on YouTube and was reminded of the immeasurable greatness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Watch the video… remember… and praise the greatness of Jesus!!!

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–          For a review of this week’s study, read the sermon entitled “The Birthmarks of the Church” found here https://ramblingpastorman.wordpress.com/2008/07/14/the-birthmarks-of-a-true-church-%E2%80%93-acts-242-47/.

–          Homework for week # 11:

  • Review your Scripture memory verses (Luke 10:2 and I Corinthians 15:1-4.)
  • Spend some time each day going over the 4-point outline of the gospel (i.e. God, Man, Christ, and Response) and the 4-point outline of redemptive history (i.e. Creation, Fall, Redemption and Recreation) either out-loud or in writing.
  • Spend some time thinking about common objections to the gospel in our culture today.  Engage in a discussion with a fellow Christian this week regarding these objections and how to address them biblically.  Be prepared to discuss this in class next week.
  • Engage in at least 1 gospel conversation this week with an unbeliever.
  • In preparation for next week’s class, consider the following passages of Scripture:
    • Read I Peter 3:15-16.  (It might be helpful to read the entire context (verses 8-17, but focus on verses 15-16.)  Then answer the following questions:
    • What does this passage teach us about how to respond to unbelievers who disagree with us regarding the Christian faith?
    • What are the implications of this for our evangelism?
  • We will be discussing two common objections to the gospel and Christian beliefs.
    • Objection # 1: Disbelief in the authority of the Bible
      • What are some common misconceptions regarding the Bible in our culture today?  Provide some specific examples if possible.
      • Read II Timothy 3:14-17 and II Peter 1:19-21.
        • What does this teach us about the nature of Scripture?
        • How should we respond to the misconceptions in our culture regarding the Bible?  How can we answer the objections of the world?  Should we?
    • Objection # 2: Rejection of the exclusivity of Christ
      • Read John 14:6 and Acts 4:12.  (It might be helpful to read the context of these verses.)
        • What does this teach us about the nature of salvation?
        • How does this relate to our evangelism?
        • How does our culture respond to the exclusive claims of Jesus?
        • How should we answer the objections of our culture to the exclusive claims of Jesus?

 

 

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The following is a sermon preached at First Baptist Church in Pine, Arizona on August 15, 2010:

Death is one of the most frightening things we can ever face in this life.  I have become acutely aware of this in the last couple of years working for hospice.  Everyday… I interact with people who are standing on the threshold of death… and most… not all… but most of them are afraid.

Why?  What makes death so scary?  It is the unknown.  Do we continue on in some different kind of existence?  Or does everything cease to exist?  Is there a God and is there a judgment?  How can we be sure that we will enter into a positive afterlife experience?

The Bible is clear… this life is not the end… this life is only the beginning.  For those who have trusted in Christ… there is a beautiful eternity to come… living forever in the glorious presence of the all-loving and gracious God… to bask in the blessing of knowing Him for ever and ever… to be set free from the bondage of sin and suffering and death.  But for those who reject Him and stand before Him guilty of sin… there is nothing but judgment to come beyond the grave…

There is an eternity to face when this life is over.  How will we face it?  How can we gain eternal life?

This is an important question… one which we will see answered for us in our passage today.  Open your Bibles with me to Luke 18:18-27

In context, this event takes place near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  He is traveling toward Jerusalem for the last time intending to offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of His people.  Over and over again, in this context, Jesus talks about what it takes to gain eternal life.  He refers to it in different ways and calls it different things…being saved… or being justified… or receiving the kingdom of God.  In this passage… it is called “inheriting eternal life”…

Luke 18:18-27 (ESV) – 18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

This passage begins by introducing us to a “ruler” (ἄρχων) among the Jews.  He is an important man… a leader among the people.  He was probably either a synagogue leader (i.e. Jairus – Lk 8:41 or Nicodemus – Jn 3:1) or a civil magistrate.  Either way, he would have had some religious leadership among the people, because in 1st century Israel, there was no distinction between the secular and the religious.  The religious leaders were the secular leaders of the day.

Now this is remarkable when we consider the fact that in Matthew’s account of this event, we are told that he was a young man (Matt 19:20, 22).  Unlike our culture today… the Jews of the 1st century valued age and experience rather than youth.  To be an older person was equated with wisdom.  The fact that this young man was recognized among the people as a “leader” says something about him. There is no doubt that the people around him probably saw him as a pretty good person… a righteous man… a religious man.

On top of this, we are told he was “extremely rich” (Lk 18:23).  The Jews of this day often equated material blessings with the favor of God.  You can understand how they would arrive at this conclusion… if all earthly blessings come from God… then surely those who have the most must be the “best” people in God’s eyes.

I think it is safe to say that from the outside looking in… most people in this day would have assumed that this rich young ruler was bound for heaven.

But he doesn’t seem to be so sure of himself.  Here we see he is coming to Jesus with a question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk 18:18.)

Do you hear the insecurity in his question?What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He seems to fear that maybe… just maybe… he hasn’t done enough. And this seems to haunt him.  In Mark’s account, we are told that he “ran up to Him and knelt before Him” (Mk 10:17.)  I think this implies urgency… insecurity… maybe even fear???

(Transition: What we have here is a man seeking answers.  This is a man who wants to understand matters of ultimate importance.  He believes that there is life after death and he wants to be sure that he is right with God.  He wants to be sure that… when death comes… he is ready for it.  And he seems to believe that Jesus has the answers…)

I get this from the way in which he addresses Jesus.  He calls Him, “Good Teacher.”  Think about this.  Some scholars say that this man is trying to flatter Jesus.  I don’t think so.  Mark 10:21 says that Jesus “looking at him, loved him.”  That is an odd thing to say if this man is trying to manipulate Jesus.  I don’t think this is flattery.  I think this shows us what he thought about Jesus:

1)      That Jesus is a good man… a righteous man… a man who is blameless in the sight of God.

2)      Second, the Jesus is a wise Teacher… a man who can answer his question regarding eternal life.

3)      But he probably means even more that Jesus is a Prophet of God… One who speaks on God’s behalf.  That is what makes Him a “Good Teacher.”

4)      This… combined with the fact that he “knelt before Jesus” (Mk 10:17) tells us that this man seems to deeply respect Jesus.

I think this is interesting… and frightening… because it tells us something very important.  There are people who deeply respect Jesus and who believe that He can answer their questions about matters of life and death… heaven and hell… and yet some will not be saved. More on this in a minute…

He comes asking Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?

He is asking “What must I do to gain a positive afterlife experience?”  “What must I do to be able to enter into God’s presence when this life is over?”  “What must I do to avoid the judgment of hell when I die?”  He wants to inherit eternal life… and he assumes that there is something he must “do” in order to earn to earn it… something which he isn’t doing now.

This is not uncommon.  I talk to a lot of people about death… and most of them believe in some kind of afterlife to come.  And when I talk to them, most of them tell me the same thing.  They think that gaining a positive afterlife is the result of a life well lived.  In other words… heaven… (however they want to define it)… is obtained by doing more good than bad.  But how good is good enough?

Other people think that their religious practices will get them into heaven.  I hear it all the time… “I was baptized”… “I go to church”… “I pray and read my Bible”… Again… these people believe that what they do will determine whether or not they inherit eternal life.

The same thing is going on here with this rich young ruler.  He thought he must DO something in order to merit the rewards of heaven.  But he had a feeling that something was missing.  He seems to be afraid that all he was doing wasn’t good enough.  He had no assurance of salvation despite his efforts to keep the Law.  I think he seems afraid of death… because he doesn’t know if he is right with God.  And he thinks that Jesus will give him the answer… the one thing he must do in order to make sure that he will inherit eternal life.

This man has come to the right place.  He has come to the One Person who can answer this question.  But Jesus isn’t going to give the answer that he wants…

Notice Jesus’ response.  He begins by critiquing this young man’s greeting… “Good Teacher…” by saying, “No one is good except God alone” (Lk 18:19.)  Now when Jesus says this, He is not denying that He is good.  He is the sinless Son of God and both Jesus and the whole of Scripture are very clear on this fact (Heb 4:15, Heb 7:26, II Cor 5:21, I Pet 2:22, I Jn 3:5.)  What He is doing is challenging this man’s understanding of what it means to be “good.”  In other words… no person is good… only God.  So if “goodness” is what it takes to inherit eternal life… we are all in trouble… because no one except God is good enough to get into heaven.  We all fall short of God’s perfection (Rom 3:23.)

Jesus begins to prove this point when He tells this man to obey the commandments (Lk 18:20.)  You see, Jesus is saying, “You already know what is needed… you know God’s Word… you know what God requires.  Obey the standards set down by God.”  And then He proceeds to list several of the Ten Commandments.  “Do not commit adultery.  Do not murder.  Do not steal.  Do not bear false witness.  Honor your father and mother” (Lk 18:20.)

You can almost see this man’s spirit lift when Jesus gives him this answer… can’t you?  He says, “All these I have kept from my youth” (Lk 18:21.)  What is he saying here?  He is saying that he thinks he is a pretty good person.  He’s never done anything “really bad.”  You can almost see him breathe a deep sigh of relief can’t you?  And say, “Well, if that is all takes, then I must be okay?”

This may seem a little arrogant to us… but most people would answer exactly the same way.  If we went out and polled 100 people… I bet most of them would say they had kept these commands… at least most of the time, because, inherently, we all want to believe that we are pretty good.  We all want to believe that we are good enough to enter heaven.

But Jesus isn’t going to let this young man stay here and believe in his own goodness.  Jesus isn’t done with him yet.  Notice what He is doing here.  Jesus doesn’t list the entire Ten Commandments when he tells this man to keep God’s Law.  He only cites the commandments that have to do with our relationship with other people.  He leaves out the first four commandments and the last commandment.

1)                          He doesn’t remind this man that it is necessary to worship God first and foremost.

2)                          He doesn’t command him to flee from idolatry.

3)                          He doesn’t warn him against taking the LORD’s name in vain.

4)                          And He doesn’t command him not to covet.

This isn’t an oversight on Jesus’ part.  He is doing something intentionally here.  Why does Jesus leave these commands out? What is He doing here?

I think Jesus is putting His finger on the sin in this man’s life.  He is pointing out that no matter how good this rich young ruler thinks he is… no matter how good everyone else thinks he is… he does not measure up to God’s standard.  He is not perfect.  Therefore, he is not good enough to inherit eternal life.

I think it is probably safe to say that…wealth was first and foremost in this man’s life.  We’ll see that very clearly in a moment.  Therefore, he was violating the 1st commandment to worship God above all else.  I think it is safe to say that money was his idol.  Therefore, he was violating the second commandment.  And I think he coveted that which riches can provide.  So he was violating the tenth commandment.

Do you see what Jesus is doing?  He is baiting this man into admitting his own “righteousness”… his own goodness… only to pull the rug right out from under him…

Notice what Jesus says, “One thing you still lack…” (Lk 18:22.)  Jesus says here, “If you want to inherit eternal life… there is one thing you need to do.  There is one thing holding you back.”

I find it interesting that He tells him that he lacks one thing… but then gives him three things to do…

1)      Sell all that you have… which was quite a bit because we are told that he was extremely rich.

2)      Distribute it to the poor.

3)      And come and follow Me.

What is Jesus saying here?  He is not saying that everyone must give up all their wealth in order to be saved.  We know that because he doesn’t tell everyone else to sell all their belongings and give the proceeds to the poor in order to be saved.  What does Jesus say time and again is necessary to gain eternal life? He says, “Repent and believe in Me.”  Jesus calls us to turn away from our sin and idolatry and trust in Him alone for salvation.

So what is the “one thing” this man lacks? He lacks Jesus.

And what is standing in the way of Him coming to Jesus? His trust in his own goodness and his love of wealth.

Jesus does not command everyone to give up all their wealth in order to gain eternal life… but He does command all of us to repent of our idolatry and abandon all hope in ourselves and the things of this world and put all of our trust in Him and in Him alone.  We must turn away from the things of this world and come and follow Him if we want to inherit eternal life.

Let me prove this to you from the lips of Jesus Himself…

Luke 9:23-25 (ESV) – 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Luke 9:57-62 (ESV) – 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 14:26-27 (ESV) – 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

This is radical!  Jesus demands that He must occupy first place in our hearts and lives.  He must be more important than anything else… because anything else that we value more than Him is an idol.  And Jesus demands that we must abandon all our idolatry and all hope in ourselves and all trust in the things of this world if we are to gain Him.  This is repentance and faith.  Turning from the idols of our sinful hearts and trusting in Jesus alone to save us.

And this isn’t something that we do under duress.  When we see Jesus as He truly is and we desire to have Him and eternal life with Him more than the things of this world… then we are willing to joyfully give up everything for Him.

Remember what Jesus said about gaining the kingdom of God in Matthew 13

Matthew 13:44-46 (ESV) – 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

When we see the beauty of Jesus and eternal life with Him… and we want Him more than anything else… we willingly give up our idols and our own efforts to do anything to earn eternal life… and we joyfully grab hold of Him and cling to Him alone to save us.

Jesus may not call you and me to give up all our wealth in order to gain Him… but He does call us to give up everything for Him.  He calls us to treasure Him above all treasures and to cling to Him and Him alone so that we might have eternal life.  This may cost us everything in this life… but it is worth it… because it brings with it “treasure in heaven” (Lk 18:22)… riches beyond compare.  Notice how Jesus describes this down in verses 29-30

Luke 18:29-30 (ESV) – 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Those who abandon all for Jesus now gain more than we can ever imagine both now and forever in Him.  What Jesus is calling for here is a “trading up” if you will.  He calls this man… and every man, woman and child… to give up one source of wealth in order to gain the everlasting source of wealth found in Him.

There is a good illustration of this in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Do you remember the end of the movie?  Indiana Jones is pursuing the Holy Grail and at the end he is clinging to the edge of chasm in the midst of earthquake and the Grail is just out of his reach.  His father is above him and reaches down to save him.  But in order to be saved… in order to take his father’s hand… he has to abandon the Grail.  His father is calling him to take his hand… and he keeps saying, “I can reach it”… and he responds, “Indiana… let it go.”  Remember?  He lets it go and takes his father’s hand and he is saved.

That is what Jesus is saying here.  As sinners we stand before Him with our hands full of idols.  And He says all you lack for eternal life is Me.  Take My hands and be saved.  But we can’t take His hands until we let go of the idols in our hands.

But notice… this young man couldn’t do it.  “When he heard these things, he became very sad…”  Why?  Because “he was extremely rich.” (Lk 18:23.)

I actually find this to be rather odd.  And sad.  Notice that he doesn’t become angry at Jesus.  That would be the natural response wouldn’t it?  To get mad at Jesus?  To say, “Who does He think He is…”

But he doesn’t get mad.  He becomes exceedingly sorrowful.  Remember… he seems to recognize Jesus as a “Good Teacher.”  I think he believes that Jesus has the answer to his question about eternal life.  And it is not that he fails to understand Jesus’ answer.  He just doesn’t want to accept it.  He chooses to walk away and hold on to his wealth rather than repent of his idolatry and trust in Jesus alone to save him.

We see this all the time, don’t we?  I do.  I meet people all the time who believe that Jesus has the answer to their questions regarding eternal life… but they aren’t willing to repent and believe in Him.  They aren’t willing to give up the person they once were and turn from the idols of their heart and trust in Him alone to save them.  Instead they walk away saddened because they refuse to receive the salvation which only He can give.

Why?  Because we love our idols… and it is hard to give them up.  In fact, Jesus goes so far as to say it is impossible in our own strength.  He says, “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Lk 18:25.)  I have heard a number of preachers say that “the eye of a needle” refers to a particularly small gate in Jerusalem which was difficult to get through with a camel.  But there is absolutely no historical or archaeological evidence to support this (Bock, 1485.)  I think Jesus means exactly what He says here.  It is easier for a big, hairy, smelly camel to walk through the itty-bitty eye of a needle than for a rich person to be saved.  In other words… it is impossible.

Jesus talks about this in the Parable of the Soils.  Remember He talked about the Word of God like seed that fell on different types of hearts.  Some seed fell among the thorns…

Mark 4:18-19 (ESV) – 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.

That is exactly what we see going on here.  This rich young ruler heard the Word… but the “deceitfulness of riches” choked it out and he was not saved.  He refused to respond to the invitation of Jesus to enter into the kingdom of God.  He refused to let go of his wealth and trust in Jesus.

This had a definite impact on those who were standing around.  Remember… wealth was seen as an indication of the blessing of God in those days.  If a person who was uniquely blessed by God could not be saved… “Then who can be saved?” (Lk 18:26.)  In other words… “will anyone inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus’ answer simply highlights the grace and power of God in salvation for, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

God in His grace delights in doing the impossible and saving those who cannot save themselves.  But notice from here in this text… the only reason why anyone is saved… rich and poor alike… is because God does the impossible and saves idolatrous sinners… like you and me.  Remember… it is not just wealth that chokes out the word of the gospel… but “the cares of the world” and “the desires for other things” can also choke it out (Mk 4:18-19.)  In other words… no one is immune.  Salvation in and of ourselves is not only an impossibility for those who are rich… it is an impossibility for all of us.  That is why Jesus says in John 3 that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3.)  Unless the Holy Spirit of God blows across our hearts and gives us new life… we will never see the beauty of Jesus and we will hold on to our idols and refuse to cling to Him for salvation.

Do you see what Jesus is saying here?  There is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life.  It is impossible for us to be saved in our own strength.  But the human situation is not hopeless because of God’s power.  Jesus is placing the responsibility for salvation squarely upon the shoulders of God.  It is not possible for the rich to be saved on their own… it is only possible through God.  The same is true for the poor… and also the intelligent and ignorant… the Jew and the Gentile… the strong and the weak.  Salvation is impossible on our own.  It is God that brings about the impossible when one lost sinner is saved.

What must we do to gain eternal life? This is a question which is relevant to each and every one of us here today.

What must we do to gain eternal life? There is nothing we can do to gain eternal life.  Salvation is by the work of Jesus Christ alone.  He lived the perfect life we could never live in order to earn the right of eternal life… so that He could give it to those who trust in Him.  He died the death we deserve so that our sin debt could be paid and we could be forgiven.  He alone can earn our eternal life and we can only receive it through coming to Him.

We do nothing to earn our salvation, but coming to Jesus is costly.  It requires us to “lose our lives” in this world (Lk 9:24)… to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily and follow Him (Lk 9:23.)  To receive the gift of eternal life means we must repent of our sin and idolatry and all our hope in ourselves and the things of this worldWe must turn away from these things and leave them behind in order to cling to Jesus alone in faith for our salvation.  We will not do this perfectly in this life… but we must strive to do this… or we are not saved.

Are you a Christian here today?

Have you repented of your sin and are you trusting in Jesus to grant you eternal life?

If not… then what is holding you back???  What is standing in your way???

Will you leave here today saddened because you don’t have eternal life?  Or will you leave rejoicing… having given up your idols and your own efforts to save yourself… but having gained eternal life in Jesus?

Death is an enemy we all face.

“What must we do to inherit eternal life?” is a question which is relevant to all of us.

Do you understand the answer?

There is hope beyond the grave and that hope is not in ourselves.  It is not in our…wealth… or intelligence… or popularity… or success… or even in our good works.

Eternal life is not the result of our efforts… it is the work of Christ alone.  I urge you to repent of your sin and trust in Him alone.  There is no salvation to be found apart from Him.

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I recently re-read John Piper’s message from the 2010 Together for the Gospel Conference.  If you have never read the sermon (or listened to it online), then it would be worth your time to check it out.  You can find it here http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/ConferenceMessages/ByConference/35/4574_Did_Jesus_Preach_the_Gospel_of_Evangelicalism/

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This is part 5 of a 6-part series on the Gospel of Mark.

Today we come to what is probably the most difficult passage to interpret in the Gospel of Mark, if not one of the more difficult extended passages in the entire New Testament.  In Mark 13, we have Jesus’ longest continuous sermon recorded in the Gospel of Mark.  This sermon is often called “The Olivet Discourse” after the location where it was given.  Or sometimes it is called “The Little Apocalypse” because it deals with events which are to come in the future… events characterized by judgment and destruction.

Given the difficulty in interpreting this text, it is no wonder that there are a variety of interpretations regarding Jesus’ teaching on the future.  At the risk of being overly simplistic, most interpretations of this passage fall into one of three categories:

1)      Those who believe the things described here were fulfilled completely and finally in the events of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

2)      Those who believe these things are descriptive of events to come at the end of the age.

3)      Those who believe that these things describe some events which were fulfilled at the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and some events which are yet to be fulfilled at the end of the age.  Those who hold to this interpretation often see the events of AD 70 as a type of the judgment to come at the end of the age.

I fall into the third camp described above.  Some of the events described here seem to have been literally fulfilled in the events of AD 70.  However, especially when we come to verses 19-27, it becomes quite clear (to me at least) that Jesus is speaking of events which are yet to come at the end of the age.

However, with this said, when we examine this text closely, we see that Jesus’ purpose is not to indulge in speculative theology. He is not speaking here to pique our interest in the future.  No!  He has a very practical purpose here in Mark 13.  His purpose is to impact the behavior of His followers in very practical ways in light of the events to come in the future.

With this said, our approach to this passage will be less speculative and more practical.  We will attempt to hold to this agenda by examining this passage in light of the commands of Jesus, which seem to fall into 5 basic groupings:

1)      Don’t be led astray (13:5.)

2)      Don’t be alarmed (13:7.)

3)      Be on guard (13:9, 23, 33.)

4)      Be a witness to the gospel in the face of persecution (13:11.)

5)      Stay awake (13:33, 35, 37.)

With this basic introduction, let’s begin by looking at the context of the passage here.

In the context of Mark 10-12, we see the intensification of opposition to Jesus.  He has become more and more prominent among the people.  He has traveled to Jerusalem… the center of Jewish political and religious life.  And there, the opposition has risen against Him to the point that the religious leaders of the day are seeking to put Him to death (Mark 11:18, 12:12.)  Mark 12 seems to describe the events of a single day in the ministry of Jesus, where He faced multiple efforts by the religious and political leaders to drum up a reason to arrest Him.  It seems to be at the end of this day, as He left the temple, that the events of Mark 13 took place.

Mark 13:1-4 (ESV) – 1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”

As Jesus and His disciples were leaving the temple, one of His followers comments on the beauty of the temple.  This was no overstatement.  The Jerusalem temple was magnificent.  The foundation stones were massive, some of which are said to have been 37 feet long, 12 feet high and 18 feet wide.  And the beauty of this structure was unmatched in the Ancient Near East.  Josephus describes the temple in this way, ““The exterior of the building lacked nothing that could astonish either the soul or the eyes. For, being covered on every side with massive plates of gold, the sun had no sooner risen than it radiated so fiery a flash that those straining to look at it were forced to avert their eyes as from the solar rays. To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain, the reason being that whatever was not overlaid with gold was purest white” (Josephus, Jewish War V.222).

No wonder this disciple makes this comment!  Yet Jesus doesn’t seem to feel the same sense of awe.  “Do you see these great buildings?  There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Mk 13:2.)

I think we have a hard time appreciating how radical this statement of Jesus would have seemed to His followers.  In Jewish thought, Jerusalem was the center of the universe, for this was the city in which God had chosen for His name to dwell.  And the temple was the absolute center of the universe, for this was considered to be the dwelling place of God among His people.  How could the dwelling place of God be destroyed?

This is the question on their minds as they travel from the temple to the Mount of Olives. Then, having arrived on the Mount of Olives, with a bird’s eye view of the temple, Jesus’ first four and closest disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John, approach Him privately with a question about His comments.  Specifically, they ask Him two questions:

1)      When will these things be?

2)      What will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?

Their questions are centered around the destruction of the temple (“these things.”)  However, we should also understand that, in the mind of any pious Jew in the 1st century, the destruction of the temple would have been considered so catastrophic that they would have equated it with the end of the age (cf. Matt 24:3.)

In the discourse that follows, Jesus proceeds to answer their questions, but He does so in a way that seems to vacillate back and forth between the destruction of the temple in AD 70 and the events preceding the end of the age.  And, as we have already stated, His focus is intensely practical…

Mark 13:5-8 (ESV) – 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

Jesus’ opening command is, “See that no one leads you astray” (Mk 13:5.)  I find this fascinating given the identity of Jesus’ audience here.  He is speaking to Peter and Andrew and James and John.  They had been with Jesus since the beginning of His earthly ministry (Mk 1:16-20.)  They had seen Jesus perform many miraculous signs.  With the exception of Andrew, they had been witnesses of Jesus’ glory revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-13.)  Yet despite their closeness to Jesus, they are at risk for being led astray from the truth as false teachers arise in their midst (Mk 13:6.)

If Peter and Andrew and James and John needed to be warned of the danger of being led astray… how much more do we need to be warned?

How can we see to it that no one leads us astray? First, we need to begin with knowing the truth and this means that we need to spend time reading and studying and meditating on the Word of God.  The best way to spot error is to know the truth.  And the only way we can know the truth is by prayerfully relying on the Spirit of God to reveal His truth through His Word.  Furthermore, we should humble ourselves to receive the Word from those whom God has called to shepherd us and serve one another in an attempt to keep our fellow Christians from being led astray (Eph 4:11-16.)

Jesus warns us that many teachers will come, seeking to lead people astray.  And He warns us that many will be led astray.  Are we ready for this challenge?

This leads us to the second command given by Jesus here… “Do not be alarmed” (Mk 13:7.)  Jesus specifically tells His disciples not to be alarmed in the face of “wars and rumors of wars” and natural disasters (Mk 13:7-8.)

His command here seems to be a warning against being overly worried about the coming of the end of the age in light of these political and natural upheavals in the world around us.  Jesus says that these things “must take place, but the end is not yet… These are the beginning of the birth pains” (Mk 13:7-8.)  These things are part of God’s plan… they must take place.  Yet they don’t necessarily tell us that the end is near. They are simply the “beginning” of “birth pains.”  The fact that Jesus calls these “birth pains” probably implies that they will grow progressively more and more intense as the end draws near.   As bad as these things are… the worst is yet to come.

It seems that many of us today have a hard time with this command.  Christians are constantly getting worried about current events, whether it is politics or the threat of wars in the Middle East.  Virtually every time there is a natural disaster of any significance, someone comes forward and announces that this is a sign of the coming of the end.

These things can cause us to feel fear and insecurity.  Yet the words of Jesus here can serve to comfort us.  The world is not out of control.  These things must take place.  This is all part of God’s plan.  This sin-filled world is moving towards a conclusion which has been determined beforehand by God… and the road will be hard.  Just like labor pains… these hardships will grow more and more intense… but the end is worth it!  There is a beautiful reward at the end of the labor!

Jesus warns us to be set against false teaching and prepared for large-scale hardships, but in the verses to follow, the warning and exhortation gets very personal…

Mark 13:9-13 (ESV) – 9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

We have two more commands issued by Jesus here in this section of His teaching… “Be on your guard”… and “say what is given you in that hour.”

Jesus tells His disciples here in no uncertain terms that they will not only endure hardship which impacts the whole world.  They will be singled out specifically for persecution.  “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mk 13:13.)  One needs only to casually read through the Book of Acts to see these things literally fulfilled in the lives of the apostles.  They were arrested constantly.  They were beaten and martyred.  Yet they endured to the end and were saved.  They did not renounce their faith.  They stood firm in their faith in Jesus Christ, even if the whole world raged against them, for they knew that their ultimate salvation lay in Him alone (cf. Mk 8:38.)

But Jesus tells them they are to do more than simply stand stubbornly against the opposition of the world.  They are to be His witnesses.  They are to speak forth the gospel.  They are to tell the world which hates them about the sinless Son of God who loved them and gave Himself for them.   And they would be successful in doing so before hostile religious councils and governors and kings… and the gospel would be preached to all the nations (see the Book of Acts.)  How is this possible?  Because they would not do so in their own strength.  The Holy Spirit would come upon them and embolden and empower them to speak forth the gospel in the face of this persecution.  Nothing would be able to stop the spread of the gospel, because it is God’s will for this good news to go to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:7-8.)

These events were fulfilled literally in the lifetimes of the apostles (with the possible exception of the gospel being preached to all the nations), but this struggle to stand firm and preach the gospel in the face of persecution did not stop there.  We see this same struggle today all over the world.  In our own cultural context, we see those around us growing more and more hostile to Christ and His gospel all the time.  And if Jesus is speaking of events to come in the future preceding the end of the age (and I think He is… cf. II Thess 2:1-10), then are we on our guard against the persecution to come? Do we expect, as Christians, to be accepted by the world?  Or do we anticipate opposition and persecution as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ?  Particularly as we serve Christ as His witnesses and announce the gospel to a hostile world, we will face opposition.  Will we endure to the end?  Will we continue to be faithful?

The promise held forth here of the empowering work of the Holy Spirit was not simply for the apostles, but it is true for us today as well.  The Holy Spirit continues to work in us and through us to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Do we rely on Him to give us the words to speak as we stand against the opposition of the world?

Beginning in verse 14, the interpretation of this text of Scripture begins to become more difficult…

Mark 13:14-18 (ESV) – 14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter.

There is no shortage of opinions on the interpretation of “the abomination of desolation” and we are not going to exhaust all the possible meanings here.  We should note that this phrase is first found in the book of Daniel (Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11) as a prediction of some terrible event to come.  Most scholars see this fulfilled, at least in part, by Antiochus IV Ephiphanes in 167 BC, when he erected a statue of Zeus in the temple and offered up sacrifices of swine on the altar in the Jerusalem temple.  This may also be fulfilled at a time in the future when the “man of lawlessness” described in II Thessalonians 2 declares himself to be “God” (II Thess 2:1-10.)  But in Luke’s parallel account of this discourse, he explains this phrase in a completely different way…

Luke 21:20-24 (ESV) – 20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Notice that Luke seems to be recording the same teaching of Jesus.  He records Jesus’ instruction for His people to flee to the mountains when they see this even coming.  Yet Luke records Jesus stating that this should be the response “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies” rather than “when you see the abomination of desolation.”  This leads me to the conclusion that Jesus is speaking specifically of the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  And this is supported by the fact that the early church historian Eusebius tells us that Jewish Christians in Jerusalem around the time of AD 70 obeyed this command of Jesus, fleeing from the city when they saw the Romans begin to surround it, and they were saved.

This does not prohibit a future and further fulfillment of this warning by Jesus as well.  In fact this is likely the case, because notice how what immediately follows in verses 19-23 seems to project us forward into the future to the events preceding the end of the age…

Mark 13:19-23 (ESV) – 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

Although the destruction of Jerusalem was a terrible event in which, reportedly 1 million Jews were killed, it is hard to see this as fulfilling what Jesus says here about this being the greatest tribulation ever experienced on earth (Mk 13:19.)  No.  Jesus seems to be looking forward to the time of tribulation which will precede His return to the earth.  It will be a time of great apostasy and false teaching (Mk 13:21-22), but the key point seems to be judgment and destruction which will be prevalent… so prevalent that, if God did not lift this judgment… all the people of the earth would be slain.

But notice the grace of God highlighted here.  “…for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days” (Mk 13:20.)  Though these events will be like nothing the world has ever seen, God will still remain gracious to His people.  He will preserve His people through even the most terrible of tribulations.  Though these days will be dark… Christians in this time of tribulation will be able to look forward to a brilliant light at the end of this tunnel…

Mark 13:24-27 (ESV) – 24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Although some scholars try to explain this passage in light of the events of AD 70, I find it much more likely that this refers to the events surrounding the end of the age.  In fact, I think this is the very end of the age… when the Son of Man returns in glory and power at the Second Coming.

We saw a similar reference to the coming of the Son of Man in our study last week in Mark 8:38

Mark 8:38 (ESV) – 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.”

In Mark 8, Jesus is speaking of the judgment to fall upon those who are ashamed of Him.  But not so here in Mark 13:26-27.  Here Jesus describes the gathering of His people to Himself from all the ends of the earth.  Those who have endured the persecution and trials and temptations of this time of great tribulation will be gathered to their Savior and Lord and they will be with Him forever and ever.  This is the hope of Christians in the face of tribulation whether great or small.  This life is not all that there is.  Evil and death will not triumph in the end.  Jesus Christ is coming again… and when He does… His people will be with Him in glory forever.

This is the blessed hope of all Christians.  This is what we look forward to.  Yet we do not know when this will take place…

Mark 13:28-31 (ESV) – 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Jesus tells us that these signs will be discernable and when we see them coming about… then we know that His return is near.

Verse 30 has led many scholars to believe that Jesus is speaking solely of the events of AD 70, because, otherwise, how could Jesus say that “this generation will not pass away until these things take place.”  I think there is some validity to this.  Jesus’ predictions here regarding AD 70 would take place in the lifetime of this generation.  Yet, I think that Jesus is also saying that, when these signs of the end of the age become visible, that generation will not pass away before the events of the end take place.

Yet despite the fact that these signs will be clearly seen… we still cannot know exactly when these things will take place…

Mark 13:32-37 (ESV) – 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

Here we have Jesus’ final command… “Stay awake” (Mk 13:33, 35, 37.)  No one knows when these events will take place.  No one knows when Jesus will return.  Jesus Himself, during His earthly ministry, was unaware of when these events would take place (Mk 13:32.)  Therefore, we certainly can’t know when.   So we should always be ready.  We must strive to “stay awake” in light of Jesus’ impending return.

What does it mean to “stay awake”? I think it means to apply everything we have seen here in this passage.  It means that we must be aware of the fact that things will get worse and worse in this world.  False teachers will come and go and many will be led astray.  But we are to strive to know the truth and hold fast to the truth.  We must know that persecution will rise against the gospel and those who proclaim it.  Yet we are to proclaim the good news of Jesus anyway… not in our own strength… but in the strength which the Holy Spirit provides. And we are to continue in this endeavor to preach the gospel until it has been proclaimed to all the nations of the earth.  We must be prepared to endure tribulation… terrible tribulation.  And in light of that tribulation… we are to look forward expectantly to the return of Jesus… knowing that one day, He will return and we will be gathered to Him forever and ever.  Staying awake means understanding God’s plan for the ages and living lives which reflect trust in His promises.  After all, Jesus has told us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mk 13:31.)

These things will come to pass, just as Jesus has promised.  Are you staying awake? Are you ready for His return?  Listen to the closing words of Jesus here in this passage and I pray that we all take them to heart…

And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mk 13:37.)

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The following is a sermon preached at First Baptist Church of Pine on May 31, 2009.

 

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

(“There is a Fountain” – William Cowper)

 

                Those are precious words, penned by the great hymn writer William Cowper back in the 18th century… a man who understood something that many people don’t understand today.  We are guilty sinners.  We are stained by the uncleanness of our sin.  There is a spot upon each and every one of us which… no matter how hard we scrub… we can’t make it go away.

                William Cowper wrestled with this.  If you have read anything about him, then you know that he struggled with reality of his own sinfulness.  He was acutely aware of his own uncleanness.   He knew that there was nothing he could do to make himself clean in the sight of a holy God.

                I find very few people who wrestle with this like Cowper did.  Most people I encounter today want God to fix the circumstances of their life. They want health and wealth and prosperity… but cleansing, on the other hand, is rarely on their most wanted list.

                Yet cleansing from sin and its uncleanness is what we all need more than anything else if we are to have a relationship with God.  And Cowper was right.  There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins.  And sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.

                Only Immanuel… Jesus Christ… God with us… can cleanse us from our uncleanness… no matter how great it might be.

                Open your Bibles with me if you will to Mark chapter 1, beginning in verse 40, and let’s learn more about the means by which Jesus cleanses us from the uncleanness of our sin.

Mark 1:40-45 (ESV) – 40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

This passage takes place early in the Galilean ministry of Jesus.  He was fairly new on the scene, following the imprisonment of John the Baptist.  He had begun traveling around throughout Galilee, preaching and healing and casting out demons (Mk 1:39.)  Opposition had not yet arisen against Jesus in earnest… and most people didn’t quite know what to make of Him.  At some point during this time… Jesus is approached by this leper.

To really understand what is going on here, we need to think a little bit about the significance of leprosy among the Jews.  This was probably one of the most dreaded diseases among the Jews in the ancient world, for multiple reasons.

For one thing… the leper suffered physically to a great degree.  Leprosy (צָרַעַת) is kind of a catch-all category for various skin diseases in the Old Testament for which there was no treatment.  There were prescribed ways in which to diagnose the problem… but no known treatments (see Lev 13-14.)  The afflicted person would begin by breaking out in sores, which would spread and grow deeper.  And as the infection intensified, the person’s flesh would literally begin to rot away.  The person would begin to become more and more scarred and disfigured.  Think about this.  Imagine it for a moment.  What would it be like to literally have your flesh rot off your body?  How painful would this be? 

But this was just the beginning of the leper’s suffering.  You see, this disease was particularly unique in that it rendered the person ceremonially “unclean” under the Old Testament Law.  And this caused all manner of additional suffering.  Listen to the consequences of being diagnosed as a leper…

Leviticus 13:45-46 (ESV) – 45 “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

The leper was “unclean” and, as a result, he was required to live alone outside the camp.   He dressed in rags… he covered his face… and everywhere he went he was required to cry out loudly, “Unclean!  Unclean!” lest anyone might get close enough to be infected by him.  Because, to have contact with an unclean leper, was to become unclean yourself (Num 5:2-3.)

This meant that the leper not only suffered physically… but he also suffered emotionally and socially as well.  He was cut off from all other people.  He could not have any contact with his family or friends.  He couldn’t have contact with anyone, unless he could find other lepers to live with (for example, II Kg 7:3-10 and Lk 17:11-14.)  For the most part, he was deprived of all social interaction and physical affection.  There were no handshakes for him… no hugs… no kisses.  There were no casual conversations around the dinner table.  He was separated from all others because of his disease.

But more importantly, he also suffered spiritually, for he was separated from fellowship with God.  He could not enter into the temple to worship God.  He couldn’t come before God to offer sacrifices as an atonement for his sin.  He was cut off from God and His people… completely… because he was unclean.

Why would God subject the leper to this suffering?  Why would the unclean man be cut off from God and His people?

For one thing, this illness is associated with the judgment of God.  We have four specific people described as being afflicted by leprosy in the Old Testament.  They are…

1)      Miriam, the sister of Moses (as punishment from God for jealousy – Num 12:10). 

2)      King Uzziah (for usurping the role of the priest – II Kg 15:5).

3)      Gehazi, Elisha’s servant (for covetousness and theft – II Kg 5:27).

4)      Naaman (no reason – II Kg 5:1.)

In three out of these four cases, leprosy is explicitly described as the judgment of God for sin.

That doesn’t mean that every case of leprosy in the Old Testament was a direct result of sin, but it does tell us that this disease was particularly associated with sin and judgment (Christopher J. H. Wright, New Bible Commentary, Leviticus 13.)  Therefore, it seems reasonable that those afflicted would be cut off from the God and His people.

But even more so… think about the nature of this illness.  As I already said, it was a disease where the flesh literally rotted off of the body.  Therefore, in many ways, this disease was a picture of death (Albert Barnes, Notes on the Old Testament, Lev 13:45.)  A leper was the walking dead.  Even the way they dressed… with torn clothes and hair hanging loose… was a symbol of mourning common when someone died (Lev 10:6.)

Leprosy was a powerful, visual representation of death.  One could see the effects of death clearly in the infected person.  And death is the consequence of sin.  God’s people are to be holy as He is holy.  God’s people are to be set apart to Him.  And God has no part in sin.  Those who were the walking representation of the consequences of sin were, therefore, excluded from fellowship with the people of God and alienated from the presence of God Himself

Here in this text in Mark 1… we encounter one of these people.  A leper.  One who is unclean.  There is no way of knowing how long he had suffered from this disease, but, apparently, he had a pretty severe case of leprosy.  In Luke 5:12, this man is described as being “full of leprosy”, implying that he was in a pretty advanced stage of the disease.

Can you picture this man’s plight?  Can you get a sense of suffering?

Until we see how dire his situation is… we can’t really appreciate this text of Scripture.  He is suffering physically and emotionally and socially and spiritually.  He is a leper… an outcast… one of the untouchables… cut off from God and His people.

Now that we have set the stage, notice the response of this leper to Jesus…

We are told here that he “came” to Jesus.  This is emphatic in the original Greek.  That’s like saying it is bold-faced, italicized and in double-sized font.  This tells us that Jesus didn’t stumble on to this guy.  No… this man came looking for Jesus.  He is a legitimate seeker.  He sought out Jesus and drew near to Him.  In fact, he came awfully close to him… close enough that Jesus could touch him, as we will see in a moment.  And that was a no-no.  The leper was supposed to avoid people.  He was to live alone outside the camp.  He was to cry out “Unclean!  Unclean!” everywhere he went so that people could avoid him.  But instead, he seeks out and draws near to Jesus.

Why Jesus?  No doubt he had heard something of the miracles which Jesus had performed throughout Galilee.  How much he knew about Jesus we can’t say for sure, but he knew enough.  And he came looking specifically for Jesus… and when he found Him, he drew near to Him.

Secondly, we are told that he came to Jesus desperately.  He was “imploring” (παρακαλέω) Jesus.  Some translations render this “beseeching” (NASB) or “begging” (NIV/NLT) Him.  This is a strong word in the original Greek (παρακαλέω).  It is used of the demons pleading with Jesus not to destroy them (Mk 5:10, 12.)  It is used of Jairus when he come to Jesus and begs that He will come and heal his little daughter (Mk 5:23.)  It expresses a sense of urgency and desperation.

This man was desperate.  He knew there was nothing he could do to cleanse himself.   But Jesus could.  He comes to Jesus and begs Him… pleads with Him… to make him clean.

 Third, we see that he came to Jesus humbly.  He knelt before Jesus.  This does not necessarily imply worship, but he recognizes that Jesus is worthy of honor and respect.  He falls down before Him and honors him.  He doesn’t come pompously or presumptuously.  He doesn’t think that Jesus owes him anything.  He humbles himself before Jesus.

Finally, we see that he came to Jesus in faith.  “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

There are a couple of things we should notice here…

First of all, notice what he is asking for.  He is asking for Jesus to make him “clean.”  This is important, because the word “clean” is probably most significant word in this passage.  It occurs 3x in verb form in verses 40-42 and 1x in the noun form in verse 44.  At the heart of this man’s desperate petition is not simply that Jesus would heal him… but that Jesus would make him “clean.”  He is crying out for the uncleanness to be taken away.  I think this implies that, even more than simply being well again, he longs to be returned to fellowship with God and His people.  He wants to be clean.

And secondly, we should note that he has no doubt that Jesus can do it.  He has absolute faith in Him.  He doesn’t question Jesus power at all.

What he questions is Jesus’ willingness to cleanse him.  It is as if he is saying, “I know you can cleanse me, Jesus… but will you.  Will you take away my shame?  I am an unclean leper… will you cleanse me?

This is a powerful picture of where we all are naturally apart from Jesus.  We are all born infected with what the Old Puritan Ralph Venning called “the Plague of Plagues”… sin.  Like the leper… naturally… we are the walking dead.   Little by little, the disease in us is rotting away at our soul and flesh.

Consider the words of Jesus in Mark 7:21-23

Mark 7:21-23 (ESV) – 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Evil thoughts… immorality… stealing… anger and malice and murder… covetousness and lying and jealousy and pride.  Let’s be honest… we are all guilty of at least some of these forms of sin.  And where do they come from?  Not from outside of us… but from inside of us.  We are born with a disease which is uglier and more damaging than even leprosy… and it is called sin… and it results in us being defiled.

We are unclean. That is true of me.  That is true of you.  That is true of every one of us.  And the result is physical suffering… emotional suffering… social suffering and spiritual suffering.  We all die, because we all sin.  We all face physical hardship and suffering because we live in a sin-cursed world.  We all suffer from broken relationships with other human beings around us because of sin.  Naturally, we are all alienated from God and separated from the fellowship of His redeemed people… because, like this leper, we are unclean.

And there is nothing we can do about it.  We can’t cleanse ourselves.  We can’t take our uncleanness away. 

Do you see this in yourself?

I’ve known many people in my years of ministry who are able to see this in themselves… and they come to realize that they need to be cleansed.  They see their sin.  They see the defilement that rises up within them… and it repulses them.  But they aren’t convinced that Jesus will cleanse them.

That was William Cowper’s struggle.  He was acutely aware of his own uncleanness.  That is why it was so astounding to him that there is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins which could cleanse all his guilty stains.

This was somewhat of a struggle for John Newton, as well.  He had been a hard-living, blasphemous, slave trader.  And he wrestled with the reality of his own uncleanness.  How could he be cleansed?  When he realized that there was cleansing for him… how could he not but write… “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!”

But those people are far off.  Let me tell you about a good friend of mine.  I have known him for a long time and, suffice it to say, he had gotten around a little bit.  His sin had finally caught up with him and he was forced to reap the harvest of what he had sown.  And for the first time since I had known him, he saw his own sin.  He knew that he needed to be cleansed.  I remember sitting with him in my van and sharing the gospel with him.  And his response was so sad.  He didn’t think Christ would cleanse him.  He left that day… not singing the praises of a God who saves unclean sinners… but weighed down by a sense of his own uncleanness.

Is Jesus willing to cleanse those who are unclean?

This passage answers that question quite clearly.  Notice how Jesus responds to this unclean man…

He was “moved with compassion” (Mk 1:41).  The Greek term here is σπλαγχνίζομαι and it literally means “to be moved to the bowels.”    In Jewish thought, the deepest seat of emotions was not the heart, but the abdomen.  That makes sense, if you think about it.  When we get truly excited or nervous… we tend to feel it deep in our gut. 

Jesus was moved to the very depths of His being when he saw this man… this unclean leper… desperately come to Him in faith and humble himself before Him.

And responding to this compassion, He reached out his hand and touched him.  Remember… this man was unclean.  He was socially isolated because of his illness and presumably he had been so for quite some time.  It is safe to assume that no one had touched him in a long time.  This is an incredible act of compassion.

But there is more.  Remember this man is unclean.  He is untouchable.  Those who touch him will share in his uncleanness.

Do you see what Jesus is doing here?  He is identifying with this man in his uncleanness.  He is taking this man’s uncleanness upon Himself.

Let me see if I can help illustrate this.  In the Old Testament, when a man was seeking atonement for his sin, he had to bring a sacrifice, like a lamb or a bull or a goat.  And this animal had to be spotless… without any blemish.  This animal had to be ritually clean.  The man would bring the sacrifice to the temple, then he would lay his hands upon the head of the animal. This was a way of identifying with the sacrifice.  This animal would stand in his place.  This animal would bear his sin and suffer and die on his behalf.  Then the animal would be slain and offered on the altar as a sacrifice for sin.

We see the same principle operating here… only in reverse.  The spotless sacrifice reaches out and lays His hands upon the unclean sinner… identifying with him… taking his uncleanness upon Himself.

Then we see Jesus utter those beautiful words… “I am willing.  Be cleansed.”

This is a powerful picture of Jesus identifying with us in our sinful uncleanness.  The Son of God entered into our existence… taking on humanity… identifying with us in our creatureliness.  But His identification with us did not stop there.  He touched us in our sinfulness.  He took upon Himself our uncleanness when He suffered and died upon the cross.

The Apostle Paul describes this beautifully in II Corinthians 5:21

2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV) – 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Paul describes a great exchange taking place.  Jesus took our uncleanness and gave us His righteousness so that we can be reconciled to God.

Why would Jesus do this?  Because He is moved with compassion over the suffering of His people in their sin…

Romans 5:6-8 (ESV) – 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for (ὑπέρ – “on behalf of”) the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for (ὑπέρ – “on behalf of”) us.

God loves us in Christ Jesus… even when we are still ravaged by the uncleanness of our sin.  We don’t need to clean ourselves up.  We can’t clean ourselves up.  But Christ reached out and touched us in our spiritual leprosy so that we might be clean… because He loves us.

That is what we see here in Mark 1

Jesus touches this man and pronounces him clean… and immediately the leprosy left him and he was made clean.

Picture what Mark just told us.  This man was “full of leprosy” (Lk 5:12)… but immediately, it went away.  There was no slow and steady recuperation.  It was there… and then it was gone.  He was unclean one moment… and then he was clean.

The Greek here in both verses 41 and 42 implies that this was a once-for-all, decisive cleansing (i.e aorist tense verbs.)  Immediately… at the touch and word of Jesus, this man’s uncleanness was gone.  The man’s suffering under the oppression of leprosy was gone.  He is cleansed for good at the hands of Jesus.

Then Jesus does an unusual thing.  He commands this man… rather strongly, mind you… not to tell anyone what has taken place, but to go to the priest and follow the procedures set forth in Leviticus 14 for being recognized as a cleansed leper.

Sadly, we see that this man… who received this incredible blessing… despite being cleansed by Jesus… disobeyed Him and spread the news everywhere… actually hindering the ministry of Jesus on a human plane.

But more importantly… why would Jesus forbid him to speak about this miracle?  Probably to prevent people from misunderstanding His ministry and thinking that He was nothing more than simply a miracle-worker (Alan Cole, Tyndale, 64, and Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark, 22.)

And yet we should understand that this was a specific command given to a specific person at a very specific time in the ministry of Jesus.  The same command does not apply to us today.  We are not commanded to be silent.  In fact… we are commanded to do the opposite.  We are commanded to be ambassadors for Christ.  We are called to tell others what Jesus has done for us and appeal to those in the world around us to come to Jesus in humility and faith and be cleansed from their uncleanness.

What can we learn from this passage of Scripture?

Maybe you are here today and you have never trusted in Jesus. Maybe you know you that you need to be cleansed from sin, but you just aren’t sure how to be made clean.  None of us can cleanse ourselves from our sinful uncleanness.  We may be able to clean up the outsides of our lives for a time… but we can’t clean up what is inside.  Sin is a sickness which infects us all.  It infects me.  It infects you.  The only One who can cleanse you from sin is Jesus.  He bore our sin in His body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (I Pet 2:24.)  He became cursed for us so that we might be set free from sin’s curse (Gal 3:13.)  He alone can cleanse you from your sin.

I urge you to be like this leper.  Come to Jesus in desperate need of salvation and humble yourself before Him in faith… and He will cleanse you from your sin.

Maybe you are a Christian here today.  Maybe you have already been cleansed from your sin.  Then I would urge you to go forth as one of His ambassadors and tell the world what He has done for you.  That means speaking of sin and the way it defiles all of us… bringing with it physical and emotional and social and spiritual suffering.  That means speaking of Jesus… the sinless Son of God… who identified with us in our sin when He died upon the cross and who freely gives us His righteousness so that we can be clean in the sight of God.  It means calling, men and women, boys and girls to repent of their sin and humbly come to Jesus in faith.

I would urge you to tell all those around you that God made Jesus… who knew no sin… to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (II Cor 5:21.)

And finally… I would urge all of us who are Christians to remember the greatness of Jesus’ compassion for us.

Never forget that… once upon a time… you were that leper… separated from God and His people… ravaged by sin.  You were once the walking dead.  And then Jesus touched you… and you were made clean and granted new life in Him.

Never forget this…

Never forget His compassion for you.  While you were yet a sinner… Christ died for you.

And never cease to praise Him.

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

(“There is a Fountain” – William Cowper)

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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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