A Mite-y Heart (Mark 12:41-44)

It’s arguably not their best film, but my personal favorite from Pixar is Monsters Inc.  There’s just something about that whole monster-in-the-closet thing that resonates with my inner child.

Mike and Sully are great, but you gotta love Roz.  She is a slug-like monster in the movie who is the administrator for Scare Floor F.

Or so you’re made to believe.  At the end of the film, it turns out that Roz is an agent of the Child Detection Agency (the CDA).  She reveals that she was undercover for two and a half years at Monsters, Inc., and that Mike and Sully nearly ruined it all when Boo came through the door into the monster world.

All of her lines of dialog are classic, but the most infamous has to be when Roz says to Mike, “I’m watching you, Wazowski.  Always watching.”

I thought of that scene in particular because, in our Bible verses, we find Jesus watching as the worshippers in the Temple make their offerings.  It’s a reminder that Jesus is always watching us, too.

If we’re not careful, we can think of Jesus’ watching us as if it were Roz-like and creepy.  It isn’t; it’s a blessing, a privilege, and something to get excited about.

Jesus draws our attention to one poor widow, who puts into the offering everything she has.  In this short account, and in His brief commentary, Jesus will reveal what He watches to see and to say about our lives as His followers.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Jesus Watches To See What Your Treasure Is, and #2 Jesus Watches To Say Where Your Treasure Will Be.

#1    Jesus Watches To See
    What Your Treasure Is

People-watching is something we all engage in from time-to-time.  Our favorite place to do it is at Disneyland.  There’s that bench along Main Street, towards the upper end, recessed from the street, that provides the absolute best vantage point to people-watch.

Jesus has been teaching in the Temple.  It’s Passover week, probably Wednesday, and just days before the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.  The Lord takes a break… To watch people make their offerings.

That fact alone is somewhat startling.  Time is short, and therefore every moment is precious.  Yet Jesus determines that the best use of His time is to watch worshippers.

Whether He knew it by omniscience or by a Word of Knowledge given to Him by the Holy Spirit, the Lord was watching for one particular worshipper: A widow, who would give her entire livelihood.

Mar 12:41  Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much.

Jesus had been teaching in what was called the Court of the Gentiles.  It was so-called because non-Jews were allowed to gather there.  God intended the area to be a place of what we would call evangelism.  Gentiles who were seeking God could meet Him there.

The Jews, in general, despised Gentiles.  Think Jonah and you’ll get the idea.  They did not care to see them converted to Judaism.

They had turned the Court of the Gentiles into a marketplace, where they sold pre-approved sacrificial animals, and where they exchanged foreign currency into the currency necessary to make your monetary offering in the Temple.

The activities made it unwelcome to Gentiles, and impossible for them to learn about God.

That is why Jesus overturned the tables and drove-out the merchandisers.  He sought to restore the Court of the Gentiles to its original purpose.

The action in our verses takes place in the next courtyard, The Court of the Women.  It was so-called because Jewish women could go there, but no further.

In this court was the treasury, where free-will offerings could be made.

Today the church has a variety of means to receive offerings.  Some fellowships restrict giving to the Agape Box (or the Offering Box).  Others, like us, utilize the box but also receive an offering as an act of worship during the service.

There are a number of electronic or on-line options for your giving:

You can have your bank send a check.

You can make your offering via PayPal.

Some churches have installed ATM’s in their lobby, to encourage you to give.

In the first century Temple, in the treasury, there were thirteen receptacles for receiving contributions.  They were chests, but were called Shôphār because of their trumpet-like shape.  Each bore an inscription indicating what the money would be used for.  On six of them was the inscription, “Freewill-offerings.”

The shape and the size and the material used for the opening necessitated putting in just a few coins at a time.  Have you used those coin-counting machines?  You can only feed so many coins at once; and they make a lot of noise as you do.

At Christmastime we watch the version of Scrooge that stars Mr. Magoo as Ebenezer Scrooge.  Famously greedy, at one point he sings a song, saying, “Jingle, jangle, coins when they jingle make such a lovely sound.”

If you were paying attention, you could make a pretty good guess as to what type of coins, and how much money, a worshipper put in the Shôphār.  Thus the Lord noted that “many who were rich put in much.”

We almost instinctively want to criticize the rich for not putting in more.  There is no sense of that; not here, anyway.  It’s simply an observation.  Nothing is said about these rich worshippers making a big show about their offering.  It would seem that they were sincere in their desire to support the work of the Temple.

They weren’t giving sacrificially, but they were contributing.

We’re going to see that these verses are not about money; not really.  But since they describe giving, I think a word or two about it is appropriate.

Don’t worry; your wallet is safe.  We are not going to take a second offering.

Giving ought to be a joyful, freely chosen activity, whose amount and regularity is determined between you and the Lord.

Don’t get me wrong.  We don’t take giving lightly.  Giving is an important spiritual discipline and an act of worship.  In one of His talks, Jesus said “when you give,” not “if you give.”  And He spoke of it as having similar priority as praying and fasting – so it is definitely something important and spiritual.

People have financial advisers.  A good one will review your portfolio, and your investments, then suggest strategies for maximizing your money.

The Lord is a great financial adviser.  It’s a good idea to ask the Lord if your current strategy for giving is furthering God’s Kingdom.  One way you’ll know you’re giving is furthering the Kingdom is if it is sacrificial; because sacrifice is another principle of New Testament giving.

To summarize: Your giving should be joyful, freely chosen, regular, and in an amount determined between you and the Lord that requires some level of sacrifice.

Mar 12:42  Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.

I’m terrible at converting foreign currency.  I simply cannot do the math in my head.

The “mite” was a Greek copper coin, the smallest coin in use. Mark at once related it to the coinage with which his Roman readers were familiar.  The quadrans, the smallest Roman coin in use, was one-fourth of the copper coins.  Her gift therefore had the value of one-sixty-fourth of a common laborer’s daily wage.

Please check my math, but I think that’s about $1.00 considering the current minimum wage in California.
This poor widow, at that precise moment, was what Jesus came to see.  It’s what He was watching to see.  She was the greatest sight in the Temple that day.

Let’s put that into perspective.  In just two verses, at the beginning of chapter thirteen, we will read,

Mar 13:1  Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!”

The disciples of Jesus were mostly simple, rural Galileans.  Mainly fishermen.  They weren’t big-city boys.  Jerusalem was a place of wonder for them, and especially the Temple.

The first century Temple is sometimes called Herod’s Temple.  King Solomon had built the first Temple, which was destroyed when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586BC.  The second Temple was built by the Jews after they returned from their seventy-year exile.  The person chiefly responsible for its construction was Zerubbabel.  The books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe the building of Zerubbabel’s Temple.

Herod the Great undertook the construction of a magnificent Temple on the same site, partly to win favor from the Jews and partly to further his already well-deserved reputation as the genius builder of outstanding public and private buildings.

It was still considered the second Temple, not a third, because it was a build-out.

I discovered something interesting, that I did not know.  Construction was started in 20BC, but was not completed until 64AD.  The work went on for 60 years after Herod died in about 4AD.

The Temple was still under construction when we read the New Testament Gospels.

I think the ongoing construction added to the disciples’ excitement.  Every year, when they pilgrimaged to Jerusalem for one of the three major feasts, the Temple would be further along, having some new feature they could marvel at.

It’s like your anticipation watching them build the new Star Wars Land at Disneyland.

The Temple area measured about thirty-five acres, crowning the highest point in the city of Jerusalem.

They employed 10,000 skilled laborers and, according to the historian Josephus, since the laity could not enter certain parts of the building, 1000 Levites were specially trained as builders and masons.  They carried out their work so efficiently and carefully that at no time was there any interruption in the sacrifices and other services.

Stones averaged 10 tons, but some weighed up to 400 tons.  The walls were about the height of a twenty story building.

Although the entire structure was called the Temple, the true Temple was the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.  A building of shining white marble and gold, with bronze entrance doors, it was said that you could not look at the Temple in daylight as it would blind you.

Listen to this description of the activity in the Temple:

On their arrival pilgrims could hear the sounds of the Levites who sang and played musical instruments at the entrance.  The pilgrims would circle around the Temple seven times and then watch the various rituals, sit under the columned porticos that surrounded the plaza and listen or talk to the rabbis.

This wasn’t the first time the disciples had seen the Temple, but every time they did, it wowed them.

In the midst of all that opulence and activity, the most noteworthy thing, the most beautiful, the thing dearest to Jesus, was the offering of this poor widow.  She and her two measly mites were greater to Jesus than the structure and its activities.  All of Heaven paused as she dropped her two mites, while all on earth overlooked her.

We like to see magnificent sites.  We travel great distances, at much expense, to see them.  Some are genuinely breathtaking.

You know what takes away God’s breath?  (If I might use that expression).

You do.  I do.

Or, at least, we can.  We take God’s breath away when He is our greatest treasure, and when He sees that expressed in and through our lives.

We’re going to read, in verse forty-four, that this poor widow gave everything she had, her entire livelihood, holding nothing back.  It was a physical representation of the spiritual reality that her life was a living sacrifice, offered totally to God.

Have you heard the story of the pig and the chicken?  A pig and a chicken lived on a farm.  The farmer was very good to them and they both wanted to do something good for him.

One day the chicken approached the pig and said, “I have a great idea for something we can do for the farmer!  Would you like to help?”

The pig, quite intrigued by this, said, “Of course!  What is it that you propose?”

The chicken knew how much the farmer enjoyed a good healthy breakfast.  He also knew how little time the farmer had to make a good breakfast.  “I think the farmer would be very happy if we made him breakfast.”

“I’d be happy to help you make breakfast for the farmer!  What do you suggest we make?”

The chicken answered, “The farmer loves bacon and eggs!”

The pig, very mindful of what this implied, said, “That’s fine, but while you’re making a contribution, I’m making a total commitment!”

While others in the Temple made their contributions, the poor widow made her total commitment.

The apostle Paul told us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices.  It must therefore be possible, along our way home, to do it.

Everyday I have opportunities to bear fruit by abiding in Jesus.  As I do, I’m totally committed to Him, and my life is being offered as a living sacrifice.  I simply yield to Him, and I am then enabled by Him to do His will.

Ah, but the world and the devil appeal to my flesh, and I don’t always bring forth fruit.  I sometimes yield to the flesh, not the Spirit.

No worries; I can repent, and Jesus gives me endless second chances from His boundless grace.

(BTW: If you’ve never read it, or if it’s been a while since you have, make it a point to read Why Grace Changes Everything, by Pastor Chuck Smith).

Through all my ups and (mostly) downs, He is watching me.  Not to clobber me, but to rejoice over me, as moment-by-moment and day-by-day He molds and shapes me into His own image.

The earth… Our solar system… Our galaxy… The universe… Only exist as an environment in which the Lord can watch me… Watch you… And take delight.

#2    Jesus Watches To Say
    What Your Treasure Will Be

I said earlier that this account wasn’t about the money.  If it were, then what Jesus said next would make no sense.  He’s going to insist that the two mites were greater in value than all the other contributions combined.

Mar 12:43  So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury;

We can’t immediately criticize the boys for not being with Jesus.  He may have given them assignments.  We said, in a previous study, that Jesus, in addition to overturning tables, prohibited foot traffic in the Court of the Gentiles, and that His disciples may have been stationed at entrances as bouncers.

Nevertheless I think we can say that it is always good to be with Jesus, and to see what He sees, and to see it from His perspective.  Jesus invited the twelve to look beneath the surface, to see the spiritual, in the widow’s actions.

Two mites was not “more.”  It was far less.  This must be some heavenly math.

Thanks to heavenly math, any one of us can out-give the richest man in the world.  The amount you give, in one sense, is irrelevant.  What is relevant is the condition of your heart, and it’s motives for giving.

Think of it this way: If you made a contribution, today, of $1.00, it can be more valuable to God than all of the other contributions combined.  And, I suppose, that in some spiritual sense, that can be true for each one of us, regardless the amount we contributed.

Mar 12:44  for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

There is nothing wrong with giving out of your abundance.  We get very excited about large offerings.
Over the years we’ve received a few.  Let’s face it, money allows us to do more ministry.

The Lord is simply pointing-out that God values the giver more than the gift.  The amount you give is secondary to your motivation.

That’s why Jesus could say that the poor widow “put in more.”

This poor widow had no idea that Jesus was watching her.  As far as we can tell, she never heard His commendation of her giving.  She didn’t know she was the basis of a powerful teaching, that has endured through the centuries.

This is one reason we downplay recognition for giving.  I don’t think plaques on furniture in the church, or bricks with your name on them, are things that really honor God.

Can you imagine Jesus commissioning a plaque that said, “This is the Poor Widow’s Shôphār?”

There’s another sense of the phrase, “she put in more.”  We are told, in several places in the Bible, that we have the opportunity, while on the earth, to store up treasure, or rewards, in Heaven.

While the widow put her coins in the Shôphār, they were being put in her heavenly account as well, at a much greater valuation.

The widow’s two mites may convert to a quadrans on the earth, but in Heaven they translate into a fortune, where there is no chance of deterioration or theft.

Many of you probably lost money in your investments this week due to the British deciding to leave the European Union.  They’re calling it Brexit.  USA Today ran an article titled, Dow Slammed Again on ‘Brexit Blues,’ Drops 260 Points.

In Heaven, your investments can only gain.

What if I told you that some fund would only gain, and that it would gain astronomically?  You’d put more in, wouldn’t you?

“Put in more” is a great slogan for encouraging spiritual investing.

This widow put in her entire livelihood.  But are we to suppose that she always gave every cent to the Lord’s treasury?

I’m gonna go on record and say, “No,” because, at some point, she needed to eat.

I’m not trying to take anything away from her commitment; it was extraordinary.  I simply do not want us burdened thinking that we must take vows of poverty.

Jesus once told a rich young ruler to sell everything, give to the poor, and follow Him.  He didn’t tell everyone to do that.

Christianity does not demand we divest of everything we own and live day-by-day.

Somewhere between selling everything, and giving out of our abundance, is where we live, and where we give.  I cannot set the bar for your lifestyle.  We read in Romans 14:4, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall…”

While your giving is always to be sacrificial, there will be times in your Christian walk that you will have the opportunity to give above and beyond.  To take a risk.  To do something God is leading you to do, even though it makes no financial or logical sense.

You might give your grocery money for the week to someone who needs it… Or your house payment… Or your gas money.

There are thousands of scenarios where an investment opportunity will present itself; a heavenly investment opportunity.

Jesus is watching you to see where your treasure will be.  He wants to heap reward upon reward upon treasure in Heaven, reserved for you.

God is not stingy.  If anything, He is extravagant.  Read the description of the city we are going to live in, the New Jerusalem.  You can find it in the last two chapters of the last book of the Bible, The Revelation of Jesus Christ.

It is constructed from precious metals and gemstones.  It features, for example, streets of transparent gold, and twelve humongous gates, each made from a single pearl.

God is a giver.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son…”

In his final address to the Ephesian elders, the apostle Paul reminds them one more time of his own example when he had been with them.  Then Paul told them to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

These words are not contained anywhere else in the Bible. Apparently they were part of the oral tradition handed down from those who had been with Jesus during His earthly ministry.  As such, this saying must have been a common one in Jesus’ ministry.

By our fallen nature, we are takers, not givers.  But by God’s sanctifying grace, He wants us all to grow to be givers.  As we do, not only will others be blessed, but so will we.

Are you a giver?  Could you be described as generous?  Jesus was and is.  To be a Christian is to be like-Christ.  If He is generous, so must we be.

I’ll close with this story from the devotional, Our Daily Bread:

Years ago, a lady was filling a box for missionaries in India.  A child came to her door to give her a penny, all that the child had, to be used for the Lord.  With this coin, the missionary bought a tract and put it into the box.  Eventually, this gospel leaflet came into the hands of a Burmese chief, and God used it to bring him to salvation.  The chief told the story of his conversion to his friends, and many of them believed in Christ and threw away their idols. They built a church there, sent out a missionary, and at least 1,500 natives were converted.  All this, and probably more, resulted from a little girl’s gift of one penny for Jesus (Our Daily Bread, 12/70).

The Real Housewidows of Jerusalem (Mark 12:35-40)

I almost met Tim Burton.

He’s the renowned director of such films as The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Edward Scissorhands.  He directed Alice Through the Looking Glass, which is in theaters now.

Geno and I were in Tarzana, at a Peet’s Coffee Shop, waiting for a vintage guitar store to open.  I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, but at some point we were talking about a Tim Burton movie that was about to be released; I think it was The Corpse Bride.

Another customer overheard us, and interjected something pretty technical about the film.  We responded, but I didn’t think much of it.  I think Geno knew it was Tim Burton.

My second clue came when the barista called him, “Tim.”

In my defense, I’d never seen a picture of Tim Burton, so I did not recognize him.  Nevertheless it was an epic celebrity fail.

A much bigger fail can be found in our passage.  The first century Jewish religious authorities failed to recognize Jesus as their Messiah.

True, they had never seen a photo of their Messiah; but their Scriptures presented a pretty good word picture of Him.

Their problem was they were only considering part of the picture painted by God’s Word.

You and I have never seen a photo of Jesus; but we have a complete picture of Him, now that we have both the Old and the New Testaments.

It’s important we see Jesus as He truly is revealed, in every facet, if we are to succeed in revealing Him to a world perishing and in need of the salvation He offers.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two questions of my own: #1 Are You Revealing Jesus As He Is Presented In The Word?, and #2 Are You Revealing Jesus As You Are Present In The World?

#1    Are You Revealing Jesus
    As He Is Presented In The Word?

Speaking of the movies, a common plot-point is for the king or prince, or the queen or princess, to throw on a disguise and go out among the common people.

Think Aladdin in the Disney animated feature named after him.  Jasmine is in the marketplace, in disguise.  She sees a little boy struggling to grab an apple off a cart, so she gives it to him.  The vendor thinks she’s stealing it, and threatens to cut off her hand, until Aladdin swoops in and saves her.

Jesus wasn’t in disguise.  It’s just that the Jews weren’t thinking their Messiah would be more than a man.  They could have known, but they were only seeing part of what their Scriptures said about Him.

In our verses, Jesus is going to give them the whole picture.

Mar 12:35  Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?

“Answered” doesn’t mean that Jesus was asked a question.  He was responding to being peppered with questions.  Having answered everything thrown at Him, He now had a question of His own.

He was addressing His own disciples, but there were plenty of scribes within earshot.

We need a name for this kind of evangelism – where you are having a private conversation that is purposely loud enough for others to hear.

How about, “Loud-missions?”  Or, “Amplified Bible?”

Scribes were the revered teachers of the Scriptures.  Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees had scribes.  The common people depended upon the scribes to interpret God’s Word for them.

They taught, accurately I might add, “that the Christ is the Son of David.”

“The Christ” means their Messiah.  It is a letter-for-letter translation of the Greek word christos, meaning “the Anointed One,” which is a translation of the Hebrew word for “Messiah.”

The title “the Anointed One” recalls the fact that in ancient times a man was made king by being anointed with oil.  It represented the Holy Spirit coming upon him.

The teaching that their Messiah would be a son, the royal heir, of David, was strongly taught in the Scriptures.  For example:

Psa 89:3  “I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David:
Psa 89:4  ‘Your seed I will establish forever, And build up your throne to all generations.’ ”

Psa 132:11  The LORD has sworn in truth to David; He will not turn from it: “I will set upon your throne the fruit of your body.

Jesus was, of course, a physical descendant of David, “the fruit of [his] body” – otherwise the Jews could have immediately countered any claim He might have to be their Messiah.

Here is where it gets interesting.  Jesus quoted another Scripture that the scribes knew described their Messiah.

Mar 12:36  For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, TILL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES YOUR FOOTSTOOL.” ‘

Notice that it says “David himself said by the Holy Spirit.”  It’s quite an incredible phrase.  It teaches the divine inspiration of the Scriptures.

The biblical doctrine of inspiration is not dictation.  As evangelicals, we view the Bible as a genuinely human product, but one whose creation was superintended by the Holy Spirit, preserving the authors’ works from error without eliminating their specific concerns, situation, or style.  We call it “verbal, plenary inspiration of the original manuscripts,” by which we mean that each word (not just the ideas or concepts) was meaningfully chosen by the human author under the superintendence of God.

The verse is from Psalm 110.  It is one of the most quoted psalms in all the New Testament – five times directly, and other times indirectly.  It is maybe the most quoted Old Testament verse.

The heart of interpreting it, or misinterpreting it, has to do with identifying who David is talking about when he says “My Lord.”

I get the impression from Jesus that the scribes passed over this question.  They knew it was a description of their Messiah, but they could not make sense of it.

I can tell you what at least some Jewish scholars say today to try to make sense of it.  First, they argue that the two words for “Lord” are different; and they are correct.  The first is YHWH, “Jehovah,” while the second is the Hebrew word, Adonai, meaning “my Lord” or “my master.”  They therefore say that the second reference is to a mere man.

The kind of master that is meant, however, is made clear in the whole psalm.   The psalm shows that the reference is to One who is more than a mere man.  It is clear in context that both names refer to Persons of the Godhead.

Second, Jewish scholars argue that, since this was a psalm, it was meant to be sung by the Levites about David himself, not about a descendant of his.

Sorry; wrong.  Because, if that were true, Jesus Himself was misinterpreting it.

In the next verse, it is clear that Jesus was indicating whoever is being described is not David, but is their Messiah who both preceded David and descended from David.

But even more convincing is that Jesus identifies this Person as Himself, even more clearly, at the end of the Revelation, when He says, “I, Jesus… am the Root and the Offspring of David…”

Mar 12:37  Therefore David himself calls Him ‘LORD’; how is He then his Son?” And the common people heard Him gladly.

David calls this Person “Lord.”  He wasn’t talking about himself; this is not Levites singing to or about David.

The only possible interpretation was, and is, that this Person both preceded David, and followed him, in history.

Check this out: Jesus wasn’t merely talking about the interpretation of some Messianic verse.  He was talking about Himself.

Remember, this is occurring during Passion Week.  On Palm Sunday the crowds had hailed Jesus as “the Son of David,” shouting their Hosannas!  (Matthew 21:9).

Prior to that, He’d been hailed as the Son of David by others; for example, by blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10).

In effect what Jesus was saying was, “Do you understand that I, the Son of David, am also his Lord; that I, being a man, and David’s descendant, preceded him because I am also God?”

Put this teaching together with other verses, e.g., Isaiah 7:14,  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

That’s why I said earlier that the scribes could have known that their Messiah would be more than a mere man.


This verse, these words, are packed full of doctrine.  The psalmist foresaw their Messiah being rejected by the Jews, ascending to Heaven to sit at God’s “right hand,” until He could return as King once all enemies were vanquished.

We have the benefit of hindsight to understand that this is exactly what occurred, and is yet unfolding in human history.

The scribes didn’t see Jesus as He was drawn for them in their Scriptures.  We need to make sure we don’t do the same.

In his book, The Original Jesus, author and pastor Daniel Darling lists ten Jesus’ of our own making.  I’ll list them, but in the interest of time, I can only expand on one or two or three.

He lists Guru Jesus, Red-Letter Jesus, Braveheart Jesus, American Jesus, Left-Wing Jesus, Dr. Phil Jesus, Prosperity Jesus, Post-Church Jesus, BFF Jesus, and Legalistic Jesus.

Guru Jesus is the wise, winsome, slightly supernatural figure who fits nicely alongside other religious titans like Buddah, Muhammad, Vishnu, and others.  This is a safe Jesus, who will only ever tell us good, affirming, uplifting things, but doesn’t bother us with dangerous talk of the Kingdom of God.

Braveheart Jesus has come to help men recover their masculinity.  This Jesus is a response to a very real crisis in the culture: a crisis of manhood.  But a Christ-shaped masculinity isn’t defined by hyper-masculine tough talk and cuss words – both of which have become common in pulpits across America.

BFF Jesus is a friend of sinners, who offers personal salvation by faith.  However, the BFF Jesus of some of our modern worship songs sounds less like the righteous ruler of Revelation and more like Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend.  He’s needy and clingy.

The particular Jesus’ listed are the observations of the author.  Don’t get bogged-down in them, except to see that it is easy to present a wrong, or at least an incomplete, picture of Jesus.

It might be good to ask yourself, “Am I presenting one of these Jesus’?  Or maybe some other Jesus?”

Our best defense against drawing the wrong picture of Jesus is the systematic reading and study of the entire Bible.
The Bible is, after all, about Jesus; He said so Himself:


Have you ever seen those renderings of planet earth from space that start to zoom in, getting closer-and-closer, until you see your own house and yard?

The first one I can recall was the opening of the Tom Hanks dark comedy movie, The Burbs.

If you only look at the zoomed view, you’ll get a totally skewed perspective on the larger world.

Same is true with God’s Word.  You need all of it, commenting on itself, to get the real Jesus.

We cannot afford to over-emphasize or to under-emphasize anything in the Bible.

The only way I know of doing that is to take it all in, as the inspired word of God, verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, book-by-book, over-and-over again.

Even then, we must be careful to not force upon the words our own political or patriotic or psychological templates.  We need a humility of heart, a submission, that allows God to show us the Original Jesus.

#2    Are You Revealing Jesus
    As You Are Present In The World?

Since the scribes taught about God and godliness, it was natural to expect they’d be good representatives of God.

After all, studying and teaching others the Word of God should have a profound effect on you, right?

Right – but not in their case.  With their skewed picture of Jesus, their behavior fell far short of being godly.

Mar 12:38  Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes…

Jesus was not hesitant to issue warnings.  The teachings you listen to, and the books you read, can be harmful.  There are false teachings, and doctrines of demons, that can lead someone to an eternity separated from God in eternal conscious torment.

The content of the teaching ought to be examined, but so should the character of the teacher.  Jesus is going to bust those scribes whose behavior reveals evil, ulterior motives.

Mar 12:38  Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces,
Mar 12:39  the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts,

We should not conclude that all scribes were bad, or equally bad.  We saw, earlier in the chapter, a sincere scribe, who Jesus said was “not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus was setting forth tests whereby His hearers might determine the character of the scribes in whom they would put their trust.

The scribes to avoid were those who had a certain way of walking.  They purposely moved in such a way as to call the utmost attention to their long, swishing robes.  We might say they sashayed.

In the pulpit, there’s a fine line between being engaging and becoming entertaining.  It’s of course wrong to judge motives, but some guys, and gals, are obviously over-the-top in their presentation of the Word of God.  It becomes more of a performance than it is preaching.

The “greetings in the marketplace” were something more than saying “Hi,” and asking, “How are you?”  Because of their position as teachers, these guys were shown honor and respect.  That’s OK, until some of them expected, for example, to be kissed on the hand when greeted.

I remember after my confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church, having to wait in line to kiss the bishop’s ring.  It was weird, to say the least, but I was under the distinct impression that I’d be lost forever if I didn’t do it.

I can appreciate proper respect for position.  I remember a scene from the TV political drama, The West Wing, where a certain reporter didn’t stand when the President of the United States walked in.  President Martin Sheen gave an articulate scolding to her about the need of showing respect for the office, not the man.

Because I’m a pastor, I get called a lot of names.  Reverend… Pastor… Pastor Gene… Pastor Pensiero… PG… and Gene.  For a while one dear brother, who misread the text, used to refer to me as Pasture.  I didn’t have the heart to correct him.

(Of course, because of who I am, I get called a lot of other names!).

“The best seats in the synagogue” were on the bench at the end of the room before the chest where the Scripture scrolls were kept.  It faced the audience and was reserved for the leaders and people of distinction.

It is customary in many denominational churches for the elders and maybe the deacons to sit on the stage during the service, behind the pulpit, facing the congregation.

I’m sorry, but I can’t think of anything more awkward.  Instead of listening to the Word being taught, I’m looking at those guys, to see their reaction.  Or to see if they’re paying attention at all.

Especially with so many of us using our phones or tablets as our Bible, think of the potential for distraction as these guys post on Facebook during the sermon.

“The best places at feasts” refers to the places on the reclining couches reserved for the most honored guests.  Today we’d refer to it as the head table.

Mar 12:40  who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”

One of the commentaries I consulted explained the relationship between scribes and widows, saying:
As one of their functions, scribes serve as consultants in estate planning for widows.  Their role gave them the opportunity to convince lonely and susceptible women that their money and property should either be given to [them].

How low can you go?  Cheating widows for personal gain is just slimy.

We believe it’s best to not ask for money, but to let God move on the hearts of His saints to give.  We talk about money when the text talks about it; and then we are careful to not come across as needy.

In thirty years, we’ve never been wanting.

Pretentious, long prayers were another hallmark of the slimy scribes.  In public, they prayed extra long and extra loud, using the best King James English, in order to appear spiritual.  Their eloquence and breath control and articulation was like that of a stage actor playing the part of a godly man.

Every now and then, when we open up for congregational prayer at a service, we’ll have someone ‘pray’ a Bible study.  It quickly becomes clear that they have a point they wish to get across to others, and they do it by pretending to pray, when they’re really preaching.

Jesus painted a pretty good picture of these guys.  His hearers would recognize many of the scribes as having these tendencies.

Their godlessness was far more serious than we might think.  Jesus said, “they will receive greater condemnation.”

The “condemnation” in question is eternal, at the final judgment.  A final judgment which, by the way, will be meted-out by Jesus.

We know that all the wicked dead, all those who have died rejecting Jesus, will be raised from the dead simultaneously, to be judged and then cast alive into the Lake of Fire to suffer eternal conscious torment.

You can read about it at the end of chapter twenty in the last book in the Bible, the Revelation.

If all nonbelievers are to be thrown into the Lake of Fire, how is it that Jesus spoke of “greater condemnation” for some of them?

Another way this question is sometimes asked is this: “Are there degrees of punishment in Hell?”

Biblically, the answer is “Yes.”  Allow me to read a few verses:

Mat 11:20  Then [Jesus] began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:
Mat 11:21  “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
Mat 11:22  But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.

Luk 12:47  And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
Luk 12:48  But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few…

Heb 10:29, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

If the Bible speaks of greater condemnation for Chorazin and Bethsaida than Tyre and Sidon; of one slave receiving more punishment than another; and of a more severe punishment being reserved for those who trample underfoot the Son of God, then it would seem that there are degrees of punishment in Hell.

Beyond that, I have no idea exactly how those more severe punishments will be meted out.  And we can be sure that the torment of all nonbelievers will be unrelenting.

Christian means Christ-like.  It’s a basic fact of Christianity that the world gets its picture of Jesus from observing you and me.  It’s a like-it-or-not situation.  It goes with the territory; it’s part of the package.

The word “represent” has become a popular shorthand to encourage someone to be and to do their best.  If you tell me you’re going to be in a competition of some kind, I’ll just say, “Represent,” and you’ll understand what I mean.

If you do well, I might say to you, “Way to represent.”  It’s understood that the folks who saw you got a good impression of those in your group.

We – and by “we” I mean believers in Jesus Christ – ought to start using the word more.  We can remind ourselves, and each other, that, both in church but also out in the world, we represent the Original Jesus of the Bible.

Let’s do it in a manner that we can joyously say to one another, “Way to represent!”

If you think about it, when we see Jesus at His Reward Seat, and He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” isn’t He really saying, “Way to represent?”

Lethal Caesar’s Taxes! Taxes! (Mark 12:13-34)

I voted!  I trust you voted as well.

I’m always fascinated by the different political parties on the ballot.  In addition to Republican and Democrat, you could register American Independent, Green Party, Libertarian Party, or Peace and Freedom.

There are more than 30 additional national political parties that were not represented on the California ballot.  Among those parties:

The Humane Party is a national political party with a focus on animal rights and a sustainable economy.  Founded in 2009, the party requires all candidates, officers, and board members to sign an oath abstaining from the use of animal products and services. The party’s goals include abolishing the property status of animals, and replacing the electoral college with direct democracy.  Their logo features a red-white-and blue cow skipping across the continental United States.
The United States Marijuana Party is a cannabis political party in the United States founded in 2002 by Loretta Nall specifically to end the war on drugs and to legalize cannabis.  I can only assume they get very little done at their conventions.

I was thinking about all of this because our Bible passage in the Gospel of Mark has a lot to do with first-century Jewish politics:

First, Jesus is going to be asked a question about Jews paying taxes to Rome.  The mixed group who ask Him include a few Pharisees and a few Herodians.  The Pharisees were against paying taxes to Rome, whereas the Herodians were essentially a political party and very much pro-tax.

Second, Jesus is asked a question about the resurrection from the dead.  It may not seem like a political question until you understand who was asking Him.  It was the Sadducees, who did not believe in an afterlife.  Meaning they were all-about prospering as much as possible under the Roman government of Israel.

After Jesus deals with those concerns, He gets asked a third question – what we might call a spiritual question.  Although spiritual, Jesus’ answer impacts the kind of citizens we ought to be in whatever nation we might find ourselves; or in whatever condition our nation is in.

I began to wonder what kind of questions I am… Or we are… Mostly asking Jesus.

I’ll organize my comments around two questions: #1 When You Talk With Jesus, Is It Mostly About Your Material Prosperity?, or, #2 When You Talk With Jesus, Is It Mostly About Your Spiritual Passion?

#1    When You Talk With Jesus,
    Is It Mostly About Your Material Prosperity?

“Read my lips: No new taxes!”

That was the enduring sound byte from his 1988 Republican National Convention speech that became the cornerstone of George H. W. Bush’s victory.

Taxation is always a volatile subject, and never more so than in first century Israel.

Mar 12:13  Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words.

The Pharisees are thought to have originated in the 3rd century BC, in days preceding the Maccabean revolt, when under Greek domination, there was a strong tendency among the Jews to accept Greek culture with its pagan religious customs.

The rise of the Pharisees was a reaction and protest against this tendency among their fellow kinsmen.  Their aim was to preserve their national integrity and strict conformity to Mosaic law.

They started well, with the best intentions.  They later developed into the self-righteous and hypocritical ritualists we meet in the Gospels.

The Herodians were not a religious sect, but, as the name implies, a political party, who fully supported the dynasty of Herod.

These groups could not disagree more with one another.  The Pharisees opposed all things Roman, while the Herodians supported Rome.

The Pharisees opposed paying any taxes to Rome.  After all, Rome was an oppressor.  The taxes you paid went directly to fund the soldiers that kept you subjugated.

The Herodians were all about paying taxes, in order to enjoy safe travel on the Roman roads, and be able to enjoy free trade from all over the world.

They thought a question about taxes was sure to baffle Jesus.

Mar 12:14  When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?
Mar 12:15  Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?…”

A lot has been said about their prologue being flattery, but I see it more as sarcasm.  While it is accurate to describe Jesus as “true,” and as not showing favoritism, and as teaching sound doctrine, these are things you can say to be condescending.
It was like saying to Jesus, “You think you’re the Messiah, then answer this, smart guy!”

Mar 12:15  … But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.”

Their “hypocrisy” was that they had joined forces to oppose Jesus.  They hated each other – it’s just that they hated Jesus more.

I think it’s telling that Jesus had to ask for a “denarius.”  He didn’t carry any money.

Mar 12:16  So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”

The image was probably that of Tiberius Caesar, and the inscription read in Latin: “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus,” and on the reverse side: “Chief Priest.”

This inscription originated in the imperial cult of emperor worship and was a claim to divinity, which was particularly repulsive to Jews.

If Jesus were to simply answer, “Yes, pay taxes,” He would be siding with the Herodians, thus alienating Himself from the common people, and the majority of Jews.

But if He said, “No, do not pay taxes,” then He could be classified as a traitor to Rome, and an insurrectionist.

(He would, in fact, later be accused of saying just that, but it was a lie).

Mar 12:17  And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him.

We normally jump right in to a discussion of the Christian and government.  Yes, this answer by Jesus does instruct His followers to pay their taxes.  It’s applicable to believers in every age, under every government.  As William MacDonald writes, “The believer is to obey and support the government under which he lives.  He is not to speak evil of his rulers or work to overthrow the government.  He is to pay taxes and pray for those in authority.”

But listen carefully.  There is something else going on with Jesus’ answer, something that reveals a deeper insight.

The Jews were suffering and struggling under a godless government because they had rejected godliness.  They had to deal with the image of Caesar because they had rejected being made in the image of God.

The Jews were only subject to Rome because of their own national sin.  God intended for them to be an independent nation, a theocracy.  But all through their history, they rebelled against the authority of God, and each time He answered by raising-up Gentile nations to discipline them.

And that is why Jesus goes beyond the answer and adds, “Render… To God the things that are God’s.”  If they had done that, they would not have been in the terrible predicament they found themselves.

It’s an election year, and we should vote.  Just remember when you do that our hope as a nation is spiritual, and it starts with the church being the church, staying on point in its mission.

Next a group of Sadducees came with a question:

Mar 12:18  Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him; and they asked Him, saying:

Religiously, the Sadducees only accepted as Scripture the first five books of the Bible, the ones written by Moses.  They denied the existence of a spiritual world with angels and demons; they did not believe in an afterlife, believing that your soul perished at death.  Therefore they said there was no resurrection from the dead.

They crafted a question designed, they thought, to show how silly it was to think there was a resurrection from the dead followed by an afterlife.

Mar 12:19  “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.
Mar 12:20  Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring.
Mar 12:21  And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring. And the third likewise.
Mar 12:22  So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also.
Mar 12:23  Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife.”

This command of Moses is called the Law of Levirate Marriage.  In their tribal society, it insured that your line of descendants would continue if you were to die childless.

The Book of Ruth revolves around this law, as you see Boaz step forward to marry Ruth.  He was the closest blood relative who was willing and able to step forward and marry her.  The system worked!

Mar 12:24  Jesus answered and said to them, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?
Mar 12:25  For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

Let me quickly dispel an error some people fall into.  We do not become angels after we die.  Every time a bell rings, no angel gets his wings.

This is one of those statements that causes believers a lot of grief.  We have a notion that husbands and wives will live happily ever after in the hereafter.  But, according to Jesus, there will be no marriages in Heaven.

(This sort of kills Mormon theology, by the way).

Why no marriage?  Think of it for a minute.  God established marriage for companionship, and for procreation.  In Heaven, you won’t be alone; and Heaven will be populated by those who have been born-again by faith in Jesus prior to eternity, not by people being born in eternity.

As far as we can tell, angels do not reproduce other little angels; and its in this respect we will be like them.

I know what some of you are thinking: If there’s no sex in Heaven, I’m not going!

C.S.Lewis explained it like this, in his book, Miracles:

The letter and spirit of Scripture, and of all Christianity, forbid us to suppose that life in the New Creation will be a sexual life… It is not of course necessary to suppose that the distinction of sexes will disappear.  What is no longer needed for biological purposes may be expected to survive for splendor… We [now] know the sexual life; we do not [now] know, except in glimpses, the other [better] thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it… where fullness awaits us.

With Lewis, we trust that something better awaits us.

What could be better?  I don’t know, but I can say this.  The Bible teaches there is one marriage in Heaven.  It is Jesus Christ married to His bride, the church.

We each have that to look forward to and we will all enjoy, together, perfect companionship, forever.

Notice Jesus said, “when they rise from the dead.”  He clearly believed in the physical resurrection, and next He proves it to the Sadducees from their own self-limited Scriptures.

Mar 12:26  But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’ ?
Mar 12:27  He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.”

Moses wrote as if the patriarchs of Israel were still alive after death.  Thus the argument that there was no afterlife, and no resurrection, was absurd.

Even though the Sadducees asked what sounded like a spiritual question, they’re motivation was material.  Since they did not believe in an afterlife, and believed in annihilation after death, they were all-about prospering now, in a material sense.  They tended to be wealthy and held powerful positions, including that of chief priests and high priest, and they held the majority of the 70 seats of the ruling council called the Sanhedrin.

They worked hard to keep the peace by agreeing with the decisions of Rome and they were more concerned with politics than religion.

These two questions, from the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees, revealed that they were focused upon the here-and-now.  They were concerned with their own material prosperity.

I’m not saying that is always a bad thing; but if you could ask the Son of God a question, would it really be about whether or not you had to pay taxes?

Or, in the case of the Sadducees, would you try to get God Incarnate to agree with you, that this life is all there is, so you may as well eat, drink, and be merry?

They were in this horrible condition because they had turned away from following God:

We said that the Pharisees were a reaction to the efforts of Greeks pressuring the Jews to adopt their pagan ways.  The nation of Israel was in that predicament because of their own sin.  Had they kept following God, there would be no need for Pharisees who called for separation from oppressors.

In a free, independent Israel, the Herodians would not exist, because Herod would never have been over them.

Likewise there would be no tolerance for Sadducees who conveniently tore out most of the pages of their Scriptures in order to figure a way to prosper while the nation was subjugated.

The answer was right in front of them.  They were talking to Him.

What do you talk to Jesus about, mostly?  It can be a good litmus test for keeping you from concentrating on material things when spiritual things are so much more important.

#2    When You Talk With Jesus,
    Is It Mostly About Your Spiritual Passion?

If I asked you, “How many commandments are there?”, you might say “Ten.”

If you asked a first century Jew, he would say, “Six hundred and thirteen.”

The rabbi’s had gone through the Scriptures and identified six hundred and thirteen separate commandments.

The 613 commandments include 248 “positive commandments,” to perform an act, and 365 “negative commandments,” to abstain from certain acts.

Since some laws seem heavier, or more important, than others, the Jews liked to ask rabbi’s which commandment was the greatest.

Mar 12:28  Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”

Scribes were teachers whose office was to interpret the Law to the people.  They were held in high regard.  Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees had scribes.  This one was probably a Pharisee, seeing he thought Jesus’ answer regarding the resurrection was a good one.

By “first commandment of all,” he meant the most important one.  If you were stranded on a desert island, which commandment would you take?

Mar 12:29  Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL, THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE.

He began with the opening words of what is called the Shema, which derives from the Hebrew word “Hear!” [šema‛].  It consisted of Numbers 15:37-41 and of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21. This was recited twice daily – morning and evening – by devout Jews.

Nothing new in this answer; other rabbi’s would say the same, and the Jews were already giving it priority, at least in their rituals if not in real life.

But Jesus wasn’t done answering:

Mar 12:31  And the second, like it, is this: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

By “second” Jesus did not mean it was less important.  In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus said it was “like” the first commandment, meaning it follows necessarily from it.

You’re not obeying the first if the second doesn’t flow from it.

Jesus quoted from Leviticus 19:18.  “Love” for self is the instinctive desire to promote one’s own good.  This command demands that you must exercise a love equal to that which you have for yourself toward your neighbor.  In Leviticus, “neighbor” meant a fellow-Israelite, but in the New Testament, Jesus expanded it to include a much wider audience, especially in the telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It’s interesting to note that the first commandment Jesus cited summarizes one tablet of the Ten Commandments, while the second commandment summarizes the other.  The four on the one tablet have to do with our relationship with God, while the six on the other have to do with our relationships with others.

Mar 12:32  So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He.
Mar 12:33  And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

This scribe of the Pharisees put truth ahead of political correctness and social status.  He knew Jesus had answered the question beautifully, and once and for all.

He recognized that ritual sacrifices, important though they were, could never substitute for loving your neighbor.  He understood that you must do the law, not just hear it and go through the motions.

Mar 12:34  Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him.

Let’s refresh our understanding of what can be meant by “the Kingdom of God.”  It can mean one of three things:

The Kingdom of God refers to God’s rule over His creation.  Even though mankind sinned, in the Garden of Eden, God has not abdicated His throne.  He remains in charge, overruling by His providence, to redeem creation and restore all things.
The Kingdom of God is also the literal rule of Jesus Christ (the Messiah) on the earth, on David’s throne in Jerusalem, Israel.  It was promised the Jews in their Scriptures.  When Jesus came the first time to inaugurate it, He was rejected, so it was postponed.  He is coming back a second time, when He will establish the Kingdom of God on the earth for a thousand years, then take believers into eternity.
Thirdly, the Kingdom of God means His spiritual reign in the hearts of individuals, from Genesis through the Revelation.

How was this scribe “not far from the Kingdom?”  Well, for one thing, he was talking directly to the King.  He was quite literally a few feet or less away from Jesus.

More importantly, this was an invitation to salvation.  “Not far” is still too far if you never make it where you’re going.  The scribe needed to receive Jesus as His Savior, repent of his sin, and submit to Jesus’ spiritual rule in his heart.
Apparently you can come close to being saved, but still be lost.

Does that describe anyone here today?  Have you been born-again by receiving Jesus Christ?  If not, you’re close, because the Holy Spirit is here to convict you.  But you must respond as He frees your will to receive the Lord.

“After that, no one dared question Him.”  It was obvious they were never going to get Him to say something His press secretary would have to explain away.  Their best guys all went down in flames, and one of them was close to becoming a convert.

Keeping with the theme of politics, Jesus’ answer to this question affects us in that we live-out His command to “love our neighbor as ourself” in society with others.

In other words, whichever of the 30+ political parties I belong to, I must still be recognizable as a follower of Jesus Christ.  He is to be my exclusive passion, from which I determine how to live among others to bring them the Gospel first, and betterment of life along with it.

So… Are your talks with Jesus mostly about your spiritual passions?  Are you asking Him to go on filling you with His Holy Spirit, so you can have boldness as His witness?

Take advantage of the time we’ve set aside, right now, and turn your heart toward the Lord.

The Days Of Wine And Posers (Mark 12:1-12)

Some years ago, Pam bought me a coffee plant.  I thought it was such a great gift idea that we had a plant sent to friends in Mission Viejo CA who enjoy both coffee and gardening.

I promptly killed my plant.  I figured the same fate was in store for the plant we gifted.  To my surprise, about 3 years later, I received a picture of the plant thriving.  It was now a tall coffee bush, and it was bearing coffee cherries.

Our friends brought us some of the crop and together we began to process them by removing the beans.  I learned how to soak them, and sun-dry them.  I kept our friends informed with pictures and videos texts.

I eventually roasted the beans, resulting in the best worst cup of coffee I’d ever had.
Although not very tasty, it had been super fun going through the process, and especially sharing it with friends.

In our Bible passage, Jesus is going to compare the spiritual leadership of the nation of Israel first to wicked vinedressers, and then to builders who lacked wisdom.

In our discussion of the details, we might miss an important point.  In both of the endeavors – in the vineyard, and in the building – there was to be joy from sharing a relationship with God.

Jesus intends for us to understand that He wanted to enjoy walking with them in the vineyard, and working with them on the building; and that He intended the enjoyment to be mutual.

Enjoying Jesus in our walk, and in our work, will be our application as I organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Think Of Your Walk With Jesus As A Vineyard Where You Enjoy Cultivating Fellowship With Him, and #2 Think Of Your Work For Jesus As A Building Where You Enjoy Constructing On His Foundation.

#1    Think Of Your Walk With Jesus As A Vineyard
    Where You Enjoy Cultivating Fellowship With Him

The Parable of the Vineyard seems sort of stand-alone to us, but that was not the case for a first century Jewish hearer.  Jesus’ audience would have immediately thought of the fifth chapter of the Book of Isaiah.

Let me read to you what they had most likely memorized.

Isa 5:1  Now let me sing to my Well-beloved A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard On a very fruitful hill.
Isa 5:2  He dug it up and cleared out its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, And also made a winepress in it; So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, But it brought forth wild grapes.
Isa 5:3  “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
Isa 5:4  What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes?
Isa 5:5  And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
Isa 5:6  I will lay it waste; It shall not be pruned or dug, But there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds That they rain no rain on it.”
Isa 5:7  For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.

The Lord says, plainly, that Israel is the vineyard.  Trouble was, they were not walking with Him.

The prophet Jeremiah records their behaviors.  He says that, among other things, they were oppressing the poor and widows, and that they were worshipping idols in the Temple.

On account of the failure of the people of Judah to walk with the Lord, God would “lay waste” the vineyard.   After many warnings, He would allow them to be overrun, and taken captive, by the nation of Babylon.

As Jesus tells the Parable of the Vineyard, the leaders perceive He is speaking about them.  Like the leadership during the time of Isaiah, they had failed to walk with God.  Apart from genuine repentance, they, too, were headed for destruction.

Once you understand the background, the parable itself is pretty straightforward.

Mar 12:1  Then He began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.

This is the only parable Mark records, though there were others. He edited his comments to make certain points.

We do well to edit our comments about Jesus, submitting them to the Holy Spirit, so that we say just what is helpful and needed – no more, no less.

The construction of the vineyard, and the leasing of it, was all standard stuff in their culture.  It establishes that the owner had done everything possible to insure the success of the endeavor.

Don’t overlook that this was a mutual project.  The vinedressers had a lot of work to do, for sure; but the owner had also put in lots of effort.  Together they would produce, and enjoy, the fruit and it’s by-products.

Mar 12:2  Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers.

The owner would receive either grapes or wine, at a prearranged rate, as payment from the lessors.

Mar 12:3  And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.

This is where the parable goes extreme.  This type of response was unheard of.  It was shocking, immoral, and, of course, criminal.

The vinedressers treated the servant, and by extension the owner, as if he were the criminal.  They acted as though he were trespassing on their property, and as if they had the right to do him harm.

Think of that.  God saw the religious leaders who were hassling Jesus as men who had expelled Him from His own nation.  They were men prone to violence, e.g., oppressing the poor and the widows, and heaping religious burdens on the average person that they were not willing to help them bear.

Not everyone who claims to know the Lord is saved.  There is coming a time in the future, at the end of the seven-year Tribulation, when a grip of people will think they have been serving God, but to whom Jesus will say, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels…” (Matthew 25:41).

I’m not suggesting anyone here, who professes Jesus, is headed for Hell.  I am suggesting that it is all too possible for us to think we are right on track, right on target, right on time, in our walk with the Lord, but it’s a poor self-evaluation.  What we need is a Spirit-evaluation.

The psalmist approached the Lord and said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart…” (139:23).  “Search” is a word used of deep exploration, not merely a surface examination.  Who am I below the surface, beneath the exterior?  God knows, and can show me.

Back to our parable… If you were the owner of the vineyard, how would you respond to the return of your servant, empty-handed and beaten?

Mount up, gird your swords, there be vinedressers to kill.

Yet that’s not what happened.

Mar 12:4  Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated.

The particulars are not that important, except to note that the violence escalated.  This second servant suffered a massive head wound from stones being hurled at him.

If you were the owner of the vineyard, how would you respond to the return of your second servant, empty-handed and wounded?

To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “Hello, I am the owner of the vineyard.  You wounded my servant.  Prepare to die.”

Yet that isn’t how the owner responded.

Mar 12:5  And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some.

Before we talk about the owner, what about these servants?  Seeing what happened each and every time, they nevertheless went as they were sent, faithful to their master at any cost.

The servants in the parable represent the prophets that God sent to Israel time-and-time again.  Most were mistreated, and many were killed.

Jesus would lament over Jerusalem, saying,

Luk 13:34  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!

The first martyr of the church, Stephen, would say to the Jews,

Act 7:52  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers,

We quoted Isaiah.  He is said to have been sawn in half, lengthwise, while inside a hollowed-out log.

I know what you’re thinking; “Good thing I’m not a prophet.”

No, but you are a disciple, and as His disciple, your life is not your own.  Serving the Lord might cost you everything.

Annually, around the globe, according to certain sources, over 100,000 believers are martyred every year.  That’s about one every five minutes.

I hope those statistics are greatly inflated.  Nevertheless you see that biblical Christianity is an all-in proposition.  You belong to the Lord as His servant.

The owner was crazy-longsuffering, way past anything you’d expect.  You might even suggest he was wrong for letting these guys get away with it.

This touches, ever so slightly, on the criticism most nonbelievers have of God, that He allows evil to not only exist, but to prosper.  They think He ought to do something.

They don’t understand that when He does what He’s ultimately going to do, they, too, will be lost for eternity, having rejected Jesus.  His crazy-longsuffering waits for them.

The owner of the vineyard had one last move.

Mar 12:6  Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
Mar 12:7  But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’
Mar 12:8  So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard.

Something obvious struck me.  Jesus was speaking to them about Himself, and about His mission, and about what they were going to do to Him.  I wonder at the tone of His voice, and the expression on His face.  I wonder if Jesus wept through these words:

Wept for Himself, because of the sheer horror of what awaited Him at their hands, and at the hands of the Romans.
But also wept for them – knowing what was coming afterwards, in judgment, both temporal and eternal.

Finally the owner must act in justice and not with mercy:

Mar 12:9  “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others.

That is precisely what happened when Titus led the assault on Jerusalem around 70AD, destroying the Temple, resulting in the dispersing of the Jews around the world for the subsequent two thousand years.

God has made unconditional promises to Israel that they will enjoy a physical kingdom on this earth.  Jesus came offering the kingdom, but when He was rejected, it was postponed.  He will establish it in the future, at His Second Coming.

God is not through with His beloved vineyard.  We see, since 1948, Israel a nation again – the miraculous fulfillment of many prophecies.

We also read the future history of the Jews, in books like Daniel and the Revelation.  Jesus will return to Jerusalem, set up His Kingdom, with Israel as the center of the Millennial earth.

Jesus said, after the son was killed, that the owner would “give the vineyard to others.”  Who are the others?

The apostle Paul said, at the end of the Book of Acts,

Act 28:28  “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!”

Gentiles have not replaced Jews as God’s vineyard.  Gentiles and Jews alike are being added to the church.  The church is a mystery not revealed until the New Testament.  The church will continue to grow until Jesus comes to resurrect the dead from this age, and to rapture living believers.  Then He will pick-up His dealings with the Jews, as we read especially in the Revelation.

Don’t lose, in all this, the fundamental understanding that God wanted to enjoy the fruit of His vineyard, and that He intended the enjoyment to be mutual.

The Lord portrays Himself as providing everything necessary for the success of the vinedressers.  His expectation was of huge, healthy grapes, in abundance, that would continually produce a great vintage.

Wine, in the Bible, is often a symbol for joy, and especially for a shared joy.

It’s so hard to try to make this point about shared joy, because of our preconceptions.  As soon as I mention “wine,” we mostly gravitate in our thinking to issues of whether or not a Christian can, or should, drink alcohol.

I’m more sensitive to the topic this week because I’ve been following an on-line forum of pastors that have exchanged over 200 posts back-and-forth in heated discussion about alcohol and the Christian.

I don’t drink; I find in the Bible that drinking alcohol is a liberty, but I counsel that Christians must be uber-cautious exercising all their liberties, and that certainly applies to alcohol.

Having said that, getting back to my point – this whole vineyard metaphor says, “Enjoy walking with Jesus.”  Be refreshed; be joyous; cast your cares upon Him; let Him shoulder every burden.

Be not drunk with wine, but go on being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Under His godly influence,

Eph 5:19  [speak] to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,
Eph 5:20  giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Eph 5:21  submitting to one another in the fear of God.

Ask yourself today, “Do I enjoy walking with the Lord?”  You should, in a greater way than when you get together with your very best friend over a refreshing beverage or meal.

#2    Think Of Your Work For Jesus As A Building
    Where You Enjoy Constructing On His Foundation

I’m not a big fan of buying things that require assembly.  I don’t really have a mind for constructing things.  Beyond my own ineptitude, I have found over the years that more-and-more stuff that needs to be put together comes with instructions that are poorly translated into English.

Since so many products come from China, the translation is being called Chinglish.  Here is an example.  It’s for a remote controlled car:

Please parent must read:

Inside contain smallspare parts, and please not to put the entrance inside, and the in order to prevent result in the asphyxiation.

For avoid dangerous, the absoluteness can’t give not the full and  3 years old child swim to play.

Please not in the road to wait the dangerous place to swim to play.

Unless the normal usage, refresh battery in the car, may result in damaged, become angry, leak the liquid.

As we return to our text, Jesus tells the religious leaders that they are poor builders.  In their case, the instructions were clear.  But they did not recognize the cornerstone of their building, and instead cast it aside.


This is a direct quote from Psalm 118:22-23.  It was a popular psalm around Passover.  The Jews thought it mostly meant that, even though their nation was rejected by the Gentiles, one day they would be established as the cornerstone of all the nations, when their kingdom was established, and their King on His throne.

They thus thought of the psalm as Messianic, but not as applying to their own rejection of the Messiah, Who was the true cornerstone.

The analogy drew from ancient construction practices.  Builders typically rejected stones until they found one perfectly straight that could serve as the cornerstone, which was critical to the symmetry and stability of the entire building.

Here He claimed to be the cornerstone, or we might say, the foundation, for what God wanted built.  Because Jesus didn’t ‘fit’ what the Jewish leaders were looking for, He was rejected.

“This was the Lord’s doing” refers to Jesus remaining the cornerstone even though rejected.  As I mentioned earlier, and as we often mention, God has a plan for Israel, and His plan is intact and on track.

“It is marvelous in our eyes.”  Do you marvel at God’s plan for humanity?  We should.  He created a free being, who chose badly, plunging both creature and creation into catastrophe.

But He immediately spoke of how He would resolve the crisis, and redeem and restore all things.  As we read the Bible, we see this drama of redemption and restoration unfold, culminating with the first coming of Jesus, and then His Second Coming, and then the creation of a new earth and new heavens.

In seven thousand years of human history, no one has come up with an explanation for the human condition that can rival the truth of God’s revealed Word.  There are religions and philosophies and psychologies and ideologies galore.  Most of them are absurd at best, or the doctrines of demons at worst.

Biblical Christianity alone can claim the inner transformation of the heart of a man, and the ultimate glorification of that man, to dwell with God in eternity.

I studied philosophy and psychology at a high level.  I’m not claiming to be smart, only that I was exposed to the very best men had to offer, by the very best secular professors.

I could tell, even as a nonbeliever, that the explanations of men fell far short.  They could not pierce between the soul and the spirit, and get to the heart of the problem.

God can, and He did, for me, in 1979.  I saw myself; I saw my sin; I met my Savior, and was born-again, born from above, born spiritually.

Mar 12:12  And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away.

Marvel superheroes have brought us adamantium and vibranium as the hardest materials known to man.  A heart in rebellion against God is the hardest substance in the universe.  God incarnate, filled with God the Holy Spirit, with a long resume of miraculous acts, speaking the living Word of God, did not penetrate these men.

Jesus is, and will be, the cornerstone of a revived Israel, after His Second Coming.  Mean time, He is the cornerstone – the foundation – of the church.  The apostle Paul wrote,

Eph 2:19  Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
Eph 2:20  having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,

The first century apostle’s and prophets laid the foundation.  The Christians who follow them are called upon to build upon the foundation.  In First Corinthians 3:10-11 we read,

1Co 3:10  According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.
1Co 3:11  For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Rather than launch into a discussion about working for the Lord, the point we are emphasizing is the mutual joy we can derive from working with Jesus.

The work itself can be brutal; we spoke of martyrdom as a real possibility for any believer.

But even in martyrdom, we read stories of the saints experiencing an unspeakable joy as Jesus was with them.

It seems harder to have this joy in the mundane than in martyrdom.  And when what we thought we were building with the Lord seems to collapse, we are anything but joyous.

Have you experienced a collapse?  Has your life imploded?  Are you clearing-out rubble even now?

Your Father in Heaven, and the Lord, Jesus Christ, understand what you’re experiencing.  Look at what they were building, for Israel.  See how it was ruined by sin.

But see, too, how it is being redeemed; how all will be restored.

Don’t lose the joy of the presence of God, whether your work for the Lord is prospering, or seems to be perishing.

There is joy in working together with Him, and in believing that all things will work together for the good, for those who love Him.

“Fig No Grow! Fig No Grow! Fig No Grow!” (Mark 11:12-14 & 20-26)

They were “off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz.”

Dorothy was following the yellow brick road so that the Wizard would send her home.  She met the Scarecrow, who wanted a brain, the Tin Woodman, who desired a heart, and the Cowardly Lion, who was in need of courage.

They were each convinced the Wizard could help them.

They made it to Emerald City where they were initially rejected by the Wizard.  They finally got in to see him, only to quickly discover that everything was a facade.

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” he urged them; but it was too late.  He has been exposed as all show with no substance.

In our verses, Jesus encounters a fig tree that is all show and no substance.  It has put out its leaves, indicating there will be abundant fruit underneath, but, upon inspection, no figs are to be found.

In what seems to be a bizarre, out-of-character, destructive miracle, Jesus condemned the fig tree, and it withers from the roots and dies.

If that isn’t weird enough, Jesus uses the occasion to say that if you have enough faith, you can toss a mountain into the sea.

It all sounds like some kind of environmental disaster.

Obviously there is a lot going on here.  I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Check For Fruit Under Your Leaves, and #2 Check For Faith Behind Your Labor.

#1    Check For Fruit
    Under Your Leaves

It was revenge for all battered vending machines.  In the film, The Sum of All Fears, the terrorist bomb that exploded was hidden in a cigarette vending machine at a professional sporting event in Baltimore.

Admit it – You’ve severely beaten a vending machine at one time or another.  It started out innocently enough, with you thinking that a little bump or nudge would somehow cause it to either dispense your selected item, or return your money.

When that didn’t work, the violence escalated.

Debra Johnson was caught on a surveillance camera shoving newspaper into a 7-Up vending machine outside a Piggly Wiggly in New Bern, NC.  She then lit the newspaper on fire, grabbed a soda from a different vending machine and walked away.  The fire melted the vending machine, destroying its contents and about $35 in change.

I want to assure you, that was not what Jesus was doing to the fruitless fig tree.  In fact, His actions are deeply symbolic and significant – both for the nation of Israel, and to individuals like ourselves.

Mar 11:12  Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry.

Jesus was hungry.  Any description of His physical condition always reminds me of the wonder of His uniqueness as the God-man.

Jesus was eternally God.  He never ceased to be God.

In His incarnation, born of a virgin, Jesus was fully human.  He rose from the dead in a glorified human body, in which He will remain eternally.

While He was on the earth He chose to not use the prerogatives of His deity.  Instead He depended upon the leading of God the Holy Spirit.

Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest writes,

Our Lord lived His life on earth usually as the Man Christ Jesus. He was revealing Deity to humanity, and how else could He do that except in human terms, a human body, human limitations, and a human life lived among men.  

On this occasion He was led by something as common as hunger, to see a fig tree.  The Holy Spirit would use it to teach an incredibly powerful lesson.

Be aware of even the smallest things and expect God to use them to minister to you, and to others.

Mar 11:13  And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.

I can’t believe how much is written by Bible commentators regarding the growth cycle of the Mediterranean fig tree.  None of them agree as to when the fruit forms, or for how long it can remain.

The growth cycle isn’t important; only the observable fact that the “fig tree [had] leaves.”

What about Mark’s comment, “it was not the season for figs?”  If figs were not in season, why would Jesus expect to find any?

More importantly, if figs were not in season, what had the fig tree done wrong?

The solution seems to be that the tree was prematurely in leaf, growing in some sheltered spot, and it was therefore reasonable to expect a premature crop of figs.

Mar 11:14  In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” And His disciples heard it.

The Lord condemned the tree, not just because of its fruitlessness, but because of its fruitlessness in the midst of a leafy display which promised fruit.

Let’s get right to the point.  The fig tree represents Israel.  The prophet Hosea said, quoting God, “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstfruits on the fig tree in its first season” (9:10).

The fig doesn’t simply represent Israel as a symbol.  It tells the spiritual condition of Israel.  An entire chapter of the Book of Jeremiah – chapter twenty-four – tells of two baskets of figs.  One is “very good,” and the other “very bad.”  God explained to Jeremiah that they represented the spiritual condition of the Jews:

Those who were “good” He would protect and keep.

Those who were “bad” were headed to judgment.

BTW: The fig tree isn’t the only fruit-bearing plant that represents Israel.  We also read of the vine and the olive tree representing Israel.  We are used to picking one national tree, or one state flower.  Why there can only be one, I don’t know.  Israel is represented by all three.

The fig tree Jesus encountered was leafy, with the promise of finding abundant fruit under its leaves.  Upon inspection, it was fruitless.

It is a perfect illustration of the nation of Israel as Jesus encountered her during His earthly ministry.  Israel was all leaf, with no fruit.

Outwardly, there was the magnificent Temple, built-up for the Jews by King Herod.  There was the priesthood, and the sacrificial system.  They had the Scriptures.  They had leaves.

Jesus shows us beneath the leaves, under the facade.  The men most powerful among the Jews, and the ones recognized as the most spiritual, were plotting to kill Jesus.

In the Temple, the priests were running scams on the people by selling their pre-approved animals for sacrifice, and by charging exorbitant rates to exchange their provincial coins for the required Temple currency.

Leading up to this, Jesus had been exposing first century Judaism as an outward attempt at being righteous that had no effect on the inward person.  It was a system of self-righteousness that promised salvation by outward works, but could not deliver on its promise.

At one point Jesus made the same observation by calling the religious leaders white-washed tombs.  Outwardly they looked good, but inwardly they were full of dead men’s bones.  It was all a facade, masking their spiritual failure.

We are not the fig tree; and by “we,” I mean the church, and the individual believers who comprise the church.  We are, however, disciples, and are therefore expected to bear fruit.

Jesus said, “‘My true disciples produce much fruit. This brings great glory to my Father'” (John 15:8 NLT).

Jesus also said, “‘By their fruits you will know them'” (Matthew 7:20 NKJV).

Most of us have memorized the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Scholars like to point out that there is really only one “fruit of the Spirit,” and that one is “love.”  The other words describe love.

Having said that, there are other things besides love that are considered spiritual fruit in our lives.  For example:

The apostle Paul regarded those he had helped lead to Christ as fruit.  He wrote to the Christians at Rome: “I purposed to come unto you… that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles” (Romans 1:13).

Paul thought of financial support as fruit.  He commended Philippi as the only church that had sent an offering to help defray his expenses on his missionary trips.  He calls such gifts “fruit” that would abound to their “account” (4:17).

Genuine traits of godly character are also called fruits: “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9).

I conclude that there is no complete list we can make of the fruit that can be produced in our lives.  It might be better to describe what we are looking for as fruitfulness in general.

Pastor Chuck Smith put it this way:

THE WHOLE IDEA IS THAT OF BEING FRUITFUL.  The primary desire of my life is to bear good fruit for my Lord.  No other accomplishments that I may achieve are as important as this.

One day when I stand before Him to give an account of my life, this is all that will really matter.

How do you become fruitful? Fruit is a by-product of a plant existing in healthy conditions.  Spiritual fruit a by-product of your healthy relationship with the Lord.  As you abide in Christ, it just develops naturally.

It is not something that is forced.

You do not have to struggle to produce it.

It is still possible to have a lush and leafy exterior, but no fruit underneath.  All false religions can be described that way, to a certain extent, because they present only outward requirements for pleasing God.  They are leafy with works of righteousness, but none of those works can save you.

Then there are the groups that flat-out say you must do certain things to be saved, e.g., be water baptized, or speak in tongues.

Nope.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, plus nothing.  Water baptism and speaking in tongues are added human works.

On an individual basis, Christians can emphasize how spiritual they are based on their outward works.  Indeed, some of the people who are most admired in churches are esteemed for the wrong reasons.  They seem successful, well-to-do, well-spoken.  They promote certain standards that you must achieve in order to be like them.  You get the impression that, somehow, they are better than you, more spiritual.  But it’s all for show.

Check to see if there is genuine and juicy spiritual fruit being produced as you abide with the Lord.

#2    Check For Faith
Behind Your Labor

We are deliberately skipping verses fifteen through nineteen.  We’ll get to them next time.  Mark is giving us events in chronological order, and I want to take them in their logical order.

Mark introduces us to the fruitless fig tree, then Jesus visits the Temple. He finishes the story of the fig tree in verses twenty through twenty-six.  Those verses go together logically with what we’ve just studied.

In verses fifteen through nineteen, Mark shows us Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple.  He finishes that story in verses twenty-seven through thirty-three.  Those verses go together logically.

Mar 11:20  Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.

They could not see the roots, but from what they could see, it was evident that the fig tree was “dried up from the roots,” never to recover.

We often use the expression, “the root of the problem.”  We also speak of being “dry” in our relationship with Jesus.  If you’re feeling dry, get to the root of the problem.  It’s usually sin, or that you’ve given up abiding in the Lord in terms of having a devotional time.

Mar 11:21  And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.”

Have you ever sent a text message that was misunderstood?  One time, while we were babysitting Geno, I texted to a group, “I have the baby!” which, by the way, is a line of dialog from the film Willow.

One of the folks who received my text thought it was the kidnapper trying to make contact with me to arrange for ransom!

I’m not sure what to make of Peter’s statement.  I can’t tell what his intent was.  At the very least he was making note of the power Jesus had wielded to so completely kill the tree so quickly.

Like it or not, the withering of the fig tree was a miracle.  An odd miracle; but a display of immense power over nature nonetheless.

Mar 11:22  So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God.

Wait a minute.  What does having faith in God have to do with this dead tree?

Jesus was letting them know that the nation was headed into a time of judgment.  In the mean time, the disciples would be sent into the world to preach the Gospel to all nations.  They would need power to accomplish their task.  Jesus thus launched into a talk about the power of God that would be available to them, and how to pray to receive it.

Think of it this way: If Jesus displayed such mighty power to make a tree fruitless, imagine what He could do to make His disciples fruitful.

Mar 11:23  For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.

Excuse me?  Can I change the topography of the earth through prayer if I have faith in God?  I’ve often wanted to level-out Hwy 395 between Four Corners and Adelanto; except that some of the dips make you feel like you’re riding Screamin’ Over California.

If you travel to Israel, you can visit the Mount of Olives.  It’s the mountain Jesus was referring to when He said, “this mountain.”   In the many centuries since Jesus first said, “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,'” no one has ever done it.

For over two-thousand years, either no saint has had that kind of faith, OR Jesus meant something entirely different.

I know there have been great men, and women, of faith.  He must have meant something entirely different.

At this point we mostly back peddle and explain what Jesus did not mean, launching into some general thoughts about praying in the will of God.  We make excuses for why we don’t see powerful results as we pray.

I got to thinking, “What did the guys who originally heard these words think they meant?”  We can determine what they thought Jesus meant by listening to them pray.

Peter was involved in a group prayer in The Book of Acts.  In chapter three Peter and John healed the lame man who sat in the Temple.

They were taken into custody by the Jewish authorities for preaching the Gospel after the healing.  It was the time they declared, “we must obey God rather than men.”

After being threatened and released, they prayed.  Here is a snippet of their prayer, from Acts chapter four: “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus” (v29-30).

What I found fascinating is what happened immediately after they prayed:

Act 4:31  And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

Think about it.  In our verses in Mark, Jesus coupled prayer with casting a mountain into the sea.  In Acts, Peter prayed, and an earthquake ensued.

He didn’t pray for the earth to shake.  He prayed for boldness and the earth shook as a token the prayer had been answered.

Jesus wasn’t telling us to pray for mountains to be cast into the sea.  The promise of Jesus was that they could have power to share the Gospel that was greater than the power it takes to cast a mountain into the sea.

Listen to this, from the Old Testament.  It is a confirmation of this same principle.  It may even have been on Jesus’ mind.

Zec 4:6  … “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts.
Zec 4:7  ‘Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!..”

Zerubbabel was tasked with rebuilding the Temple after the Babylonian captivity.  It was tough going.  God promised Him the power to accomplish the task.  It was a power greater than that which would be needed to level a high mountain.

Let’s read verse twenty-three again:

Mar 11:23  For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.

Jesus wasn’t giving His followers a blank check to alter the topography of the earth.  He was telling them, as He had told Zerubbabel, that we are assured power from Heaven for our mission.

Peter and company prayed for boldness.  If we pray like they did, for boldness, then “you will have whatever [you] say.”

Boldness is produced in you by God the Holy Spirit.  Jesus promised His followers we could ask, seek, and knock, and receive more-and-more of the Holy Spirit.

Luk 11:9  “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
Luk 11:10  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
Luk 11:11  If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?
Luk 11:12  Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
Luk 11:13  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

God promises to give you the Holy Spirit.  Since you are already indwelt by Him, He must mean more of the Holy Spirit, coming upon you with boldness.  If you ask, and seek, and knock – if you pray – you can believe He will give you the Holy Spirit.

I’m strongly suggesting that the Holy Spirit is the “whatever” you can have if you pray and believe God by faith.

Instead of being apologetic about not receiving answers to our prayers, we ought to get excited that Jesus will answer our prayers for boldness by the Holy Spirit.

Mar 11:24  Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

This second “whatever” seems to be more inclusive of other “things” beyond the Holy Spirit.  What are these “whatever’s?”

I think we should look at how a real man of faith prayed.  The apostle Paul records many of the things he prayed for.  They are mostly related to furthering the Gospel, or to the growth of the Christians he encountered.

When Peter heard these words Jesus spoke, and when Paul became aware of them after he was saved, they evidently thought Jesus meant “whatever things you ask” was intended for mission critical stuff for furthering the Gospel and for building the church.

Israel was going to be disciplined.  The Kingdom of God on the earth would be postponed, awaiting the Second Coming of Jesus after the seven-year Tribulation on earth.  After Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven, and before the Tribulation, followers of Jesus are tasked with going into all the world preaching the Gospel and making disciples.

Does that sound like a daunting task?  Does that seem overwhelming?  Isn’t it a lot like a giant mountain peak in your way, that seems impossible to climb?

It does seem insurmountable  – except for the power of God, by His Holy Spirit, to level mountains or cast them into the sea.

We have two-thousand years of the history of the church obliterating mountains around the world as the Gospel was preached with Holy Spirit boldness.  Iron Curtains, Great Walls, Third Reichs – none of what evil men, inspired by Satan, attempted could halt the building of the church.

Indeed, the gates of Hell cannot prevail against it – let alone some puny mountain.

Mar 11:25  “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
Mar 11:26  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
You know what I get out of these two verses?  Jesus is telling us to quit playing church and be the church.

We are on a mission deep behind enemy lines.  Satan is the god of this world.  Most of the kingdoms of men are post-Christian, or anti-Christian.  People are perishing without hearing the Gospel.  Christians are being persecuted, and martyred, for their faith.

Do we really have time to argue about the color of the carpet?  Of course not.  There should be no friendly fire casualties in the church.  We should be focused on the greater mission.

Seriously, we need to dial back our personal sensitivities, and be a little more tough-skinned, for the sake of the Gospel.

What about this matter of God not forgiving our trespasses?  William MacDonald, in The Believer’s Bible Commentary, explains it well:

This does not refer to the judicial forgiveness of sins at the time of conversion; that is strictly a matter of grace through faith.  This refers to God’s parental dealings with His children.  An unforgiving spirit in a believer breaks fellowship with the Father in Heaven and hinders the flow of blessing.

You will hinder your reception of the Holy Spirit for boldness if you are harboring unforgiveness.  Rise above pettiness, and be about the mission of the Gospel.

Jesus is telling us to have faith – telling us to believe – that we will be empowered by the Holy Spirit for our labor in the Gospel.

Are you?  If not, ask, seek, and knock, and then have faith to believe that your Heavenly Father will give you the Holy Spirit.

Donkey Throng (Mark 11:1-11)

It’s a familiar scene that has been played out in hundreds of television programs and movies: The hero in foot pursuit sees the bad guy about to elude him by hopping into a taxi, bus, or some other type of vehicle.  Desperate, he flags down the next car he sees, shouts “Police business!”, pulls the driver out of his seat, and takes off after the bad guy in the commandeered automobile.

It usually doesn’t end too well for the vehicle.

Must you yield your vehicle to any law enforcement officer who requests its use?  Laws vary from state to state, but here in California, the answer is, basically, “Yes.”

Upon first reading, it appears in our text that Jesus commandeers a donkey in order to make His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

He doesn’t demand the donkey, however.  He has His disciples announce to the owner, “the Lord has need of it,” leaving the owner free to comply or refuse.

Do you ever think of the Lord, Jesus Christ, as needy?  He said it, not me; “the Lord has need of it.”

If the Lord needed something from someone on that important day, does He still have need of us?

I’ll organize my thoughts around two questions: #1 Does The Lord Have Need Of You?, and #2 Does The Lord Have The Lead Of You?

#1    Does The Lord Have Need Of You?

The answer is, “Yes.”

God is omnipotent (all-powerful); He is omniscient (all-knowing); He is omnipresent (everywhere at once).

AND He has determined to use human beings to accomplish His eternal purposes.

It takes nothing away from the nature of God to recognize He uses us to accomplish His eternal purposes.  If anything, it adds to the divine mystery of His sovereignty.

In our passage, prophecy and providence and need all intersect within the mystery of God’s sovereignty.

Jesus is going to ride into Jerusalem, on the Sunday before Passover, the 10th of the month Nisan on the Jewish calendar.  He’s going to ride a colt of a donkey upon which no one has ever sat.  When He does, the crowds will shout, “Hosanna!”

At that unique moment in history, Jesus would be fulfilling at least three remarkable Old Testament prophecies.

The first prophecy is Zechariah 9:9, where we read,

Zec 9:9  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.

Those words were written between 520-470BC.

The next prophecy is from Psalm 118:25-26, where we read,

Psa 118:25  Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.
Psa 118:26  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.

The words date to about 1000BC.  “Save now” is, in Hebrew, “Hosanna!,” the shout of the crowd as Jesus entered Jerusalem.  The people were quoting this psalm.

In addition to His entrance on the colt of a donkey to shouts of “Hosanna!”, there is a third most remarkable fulfillment of prophecy.

In the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel, written six hundred years before Jesus, the Jews were given the exact day in history that their Messiah would enter the city.  We don’t have time to go into the calculations in detail today; a few facts will suffice.

Daniel spoke of a pagan king who would make a decree allowing the Jews to restore and rebuild Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon.  Daniel said,

Dan 9:25  “Know therefore and understand, That from the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem Until Messiah the Prince, There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, Even in troublesome times.”

The decree is a matter of history.  It was given by Artaxerxes Longimanus on March 14, 445BC.

The “weeks” Daniel speaks of are sixty-nine weeks of seven years.  Using the Jewish 360 day lunar calendar, that amounts to 173,880 days.

The Jews were told that exactly 173,880 days after Araxerxes issued his decree, their Messiah would enter Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey to shouts of “Hosanna!”

And that is exactly what happened.

Along the way, God acted providentially to bring it to pass.  “Providence,” in its simplest form, means to provide for.  Having prophesied what would occur, God acted in history to provide for it.

I’ll just give one example out of the thousands we could cite.  When King Herod determined to kill the prophesied Messiah by slaughtering all the young children, God provided for Jesus to be saved by warning Joseph in a dream to take his family to Egypt.

Within the scope of prophecy and providence, God determined to use human beings to accomplish His eternal purposes.  He had need of them, in a very real way.

Mar 11:1  Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples;

Thus begins the last week of Jesus’ ministry.  It was Sunday, and He would be crucified that Friday.

Looking at all four Gospels, 40% of what is recorded in them has to do with these last seven days of Jesus’ life.  It’s that important.

We know it was the tenth of Nisan because it was Passover week.  According to Exodus chapter twelve, it was annually on the 10th of Nisan, on Sunday, that the Passover lambs were chosen – four days prior to their being sacrificed.

Jesus, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, was, in fact, the last Passover Lamb.  He needed to arrive just at that time in order to fulfill the type from Exodus.

In the midst of all these fulfillments of prophecy and typology, Jesus sent two of His guys on a very tenuous mission.

Mar 11:2  and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it.

There are those who argue Jesus had made prior arrangements; but that makes no sense given His instructions.  This was a Word of Knowledge given to Jesus by His Father through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

He tells them to “loose it” before they ask permission.  In fact they never ask for permission.  I’d go along with finding the donkey, but loosing it without asking is a bit much.  It sounds like stealing.

Have you ever been prompted by God to do something a little out of the ordinary?  A little out of what we like to refer to as our ‘comfort zone?’

Maybe go up to a complete stranger and talk to them about Jesus?

That’s similar to what these two disciples were being asked to do.

Mar 11:3  And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.”

Anticipating the question the two disciples were probably going to ask – “what if someone asks us what in the world are we doing” – Jesus gives them a word to share.

Why would the owner, upon hearing those words, “immediately… send” the donkey to Jesus?

We can only speculate, but one possible scenario is that God had spoken to him in a dream or a vision.  In the Book of Acts, the Roman centurion, Cornelius, has a vision in which he is told by an angel to send for Peter.  Meanwhile Peter was having a vision of his own, about Cornelius calling for him.

Maybe the donkey’s owner was a believer who knew the disciples by sight, and simply trusted their word.

Either way, God was at work, providentially; but the disciples had work to do in order to meet Jesus’ need.

Mar 11:4  So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it.

Commentators point out that it would be unusual for an animal to be tied outside – especially during the busy Passover season.  First century Israel wasn’t like the Old West, where you’d tie-up at some outdoor hitching post.

It would therefore have greatly encouraged the disciples’ faith to quickly find the donkey exactly as Jesus had predicted.

We often criticize the disciples for getting in the way of what Jesus was trying to do, but this time they were spot on.  They did not reason with themselves that maybe it would be a good idea to ask permission.  No, they went right up to the donkey, “and they loosed it.”

They were not going to get away clean – not without a challenge, anyway.

Mar 11:5  But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?”

I wonder how many there were, and if they were thinking that they were going to put a stop to this by force, if necessary.

Mar 11:6  And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go.

I see this as somewhat tense, don’t you?  Two guys, walking right up to the colt, loosing it, and leaving.  It was a donkey-jacking in progress.  A lot could have gone wrong.

I humbly suggest to you that God recommended this weird arrangement to make the point that even though prophecy must be fulfilled, and even though He provides for it to be fulfilled, human beings with free will to obey Him or disobey Him are very much needed in His equation.

Don’t get me wrong: There was no danger Jesus would miss His one opportunity to fulfill these prophecies.  Nevertheless people – fickle people like ourselves – were still needed, and were neither coerced or forced into obedience.

What, then, does the Lord need from you?  If you say, “Nothing, He’s God,” that is not really biblical.  True, we add nothing to God; but He has determined, in the universe He created, to use us in profound ways.

There’s a whole list of things the Lord might need from you that come immediately to mind – things that would fit under the major headings of your time, or your talents, or your treasures.

One way this works is that you hear of a need – a genuine need – to minister to others.  The Lord is saying, “I need your time,” or “I need your talent,” or “I need your treasure – your money.”

Does He really need it?  Yes, He does – but not as much as you need to give it, because He can and will ask others until He finds someone whose heart is aligned with His.

It’s then up to you to “loose it,” to let it go, for the Lord’s use.

In the Old Testament, Esther is the queen of Persia just as a wicked man named Haman is about to exterminate the Jews.  Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, urges her to act on behalf of the Jews – even though it could cost Esther her life.

Mordecai says to his niece, “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

Did you catch that?  To paraphrase, Mordecai told Esther, “God needs you at this time,” but if she refused, God could and would deliver His people another way.

God needed someone, and it seemed to be Esther; but if she refused, He’d provide for His plan some other way.

God needs someone; it may as well be you.  Let loose of whatever it is the Lord needs from you.

#2    Does The Lord Have The Lead Of You?

The two disciples Jesus sent were being led by Him.  They went as He had commanded, did what He asked, and said the words He had given them.

The owner of the donkey, and the others on the scene in the town, were led by the Lord to comply with the loosing, and to submit to the Lord’s words.

If even one of those guys, on either side, had ignored God’s leading, the results may have been very different.
As it was, their faithful submission led to the triumphal entry of the King into Jerusalem just as prophesied centuries earlier.

Mar 11:7  Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it.

It was a donkey-whisperer moment, since no one had ever ridden this little guy before.  Their “clothes” formed a makeshift saddle.

Yes, kings often rode donkeys – especially in times of peace.  It should have been a sign to the Jews that their King was not coming to wage war against the oppressors from Rome, but to make peace between God and those who were His enemies by virtue of being sinners in need of salvation.

He would make peace by dying on the Cross, as our sacrifice and substitute for sin.  We read in Colossians 1:20, “and by Him [God reconciled] all things to Himself… whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

Mar 11:8  And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
Mar 11:9  Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna! ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’
Mar 11:10  Blessed is the kingdom of our father David That comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Mark doesn’t mention palm branches; the other Gospels do.  I guess Palm Sunday sounds better than Leafy Branch Sunday, or Spread Your Clothes Sunday.

“Hosanna!” means “Save now!”  In that sense, it is not really a word expressing praise, e.g., “Hallelujah!”  They were literally asking Jesus to save them by establishing the Kingdom of God that is often promised to the Jews in their Scriptures.

They were asking for “the kingdom of… David” to be restored.  The Jews fully expected their Messiah to rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem.  They expected a literal Kingdom.

There will be a Kingdom of God on the earth; but not now.  Today we are in what can be described as His spiritual kingdom, as God rules in the hearts of those submitted to Him.  We live in the midst of the kingdom of the devil, and the various kingdoms of men.  Our mission is to “Go!” With the Gospel, making disciples everywhere, as we enthusiastically await the return of Jesus to resurrect and rapture His church.

Throughout all His three-and-one-half-year ministry, Jesus avoided confrontation with the Jewish authorities as much as He could.  Not now.  Now He was forcing their hand.  He was being declared King.  He was receiving their accolades.  The authorities must either accept Him, or reject Him.  There was no middle ground.

Mar 11:11  And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.

We say that something is an anti-climax, or anticlimactic, when it is a disappointing end to an exciting or impressive series of events.

On the surface, Jesus’ quick survey of the Temple, followed by His withdrawal to Bethany, is anticlimactic.
It may be the most anticlimactic moment in all recorded history.

Hailed as King, riding the Zechariah-colt, entering on the exact day Daniel prophesied… Only to turn right around to spend the night in Bethany.

We can look back and understand the timing, the plan, because we know the events of Jesus’ last week.  But for His disciples, and the Passover travelers, it must have seemed very strange.

Why go to all that trouble for, seemingly, nothing?

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that God has His own, seemingly unusual, timing in the affairs of your life.  I think He’s late right now, in a few things that I’m praying for.  Probably you do, too.

He’s not late; He’s not early.  He’s God, and He is accomplishing more than we can know or ask for.

There is, in this episode, a lot of what I’m calling God’s leading:

Jesus was led by God, probably by a Word of Knowledge, to send two of His guys on the mission to acquire the colt.

His disciples were led to the colt, where they determined to obey the Lord by loosing it.

The owner of the colt, and the townspeople in the immediate vicinity, were led to cooperate.

You could even say the colt was being led, seeing that it had never been ridden before, but immediately submitted to Jesus.

Depending on the words you Google, if you search for God’s leading, you’ll see a variety of articles.  Let me just summarize a few of the ways God can, and does, lead you.

We see, in the Bible, God speaks to all men through creation (see Romans 1:18–20 and Psalm 19:1–2).  If you are not a believer, there is enough evidence all around you that there is a Creator.  If you seek Him, you will find Him.

The apostle Paul said it best on Mars Hill:

Act 17:26  And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,
Act 17:27  so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

God has communicated in various other ways, in the Bible, including angels, His chosen spokesmen (prophets), dreams, visions, and miracles.

He even once, when dealing with the prophet Balaam, spoke through a donkey that He enabled to speak as a man speaks.

While we certainly want to be careful with things like dreams and waking visions, we must admit that God still used these well into the New Testament era:

We mentioned the angel speaking to Cornelius, and the vision given to Peter to go to Cornelius.
The apostle Paul received the vision of the Man from Macedonia.

I have to conclude that God can, and does, still lead using these methods.

In the Book of Hebrews we read,

Heb 1:1  God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,
Heb 1:2  has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

The life and words of Jesus communicate to us everything we need to know about God.  More to our point – Jesus said that, when He left for Heaven, He would send another Comforter of the same kind to lead us.  He was speaking of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

If you are a believer, the Holy Spirit dwells within you. As you  nurture your relationship with your Heavenly Father, you learn how to be attentive to His voice.  As you grow in faith and mature as a believer, you will learn to hear God speak.

Of course, God speaks to us through His written Word – especially as we apply and obey it.  One of our most often quoted verses is Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”  It implies God has a path for us to find and follow, which He will then illuminate so we can make progress.

God can use your circumstances to lead you.

God can lead you by speaking to you through other believers; or even through nonbelievers.

The truth is, there isn’t only one way, or four ways, or ten ways, that God can, and does, lead you.  As you walk with Jesus, He will reveal many things to you, in many ways.

Maybe the better question is, “Are you open to being led by God?”

If we didn’t have this episode in our Bible, and I were to say, “Jesus told me to go into town, and loose a colt without asking the owner’s permission,” I think most Christians would say, “Jesus would never tell you to do something like that.”

Indeed, if you read some of the stuff on God’s leading, and apply it, there’s no room for anything extraordinary.  The biblical logic these commentators apply cancels the extraordinary.

I’m not saying we do things recklessly and without confirmation, but I am saying God still asks us to venture into the weird now and again.  Be open to it.

Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse looked at this passage and concluded that you and I were Jesus’ donkeys.  He ‘rides’ us, as we serve Him by bringing Him into our homes, and into our jobs, and to our schools.

There are obviously a lot of insights we can draw from this triumphal entry, but none more precious than this: God wants to use you.  He wants you as His partner in spreading the Good News.

You’ve heard it said, “Let go and let God.”  It’s not a great biblical philosophy.

We should say, “Let loose and let God.”  Rather, we ought to hear the Lord saying to us, “the Lord has need of it,” then let loose of whatever “it” is.

The Day The Earthmaker Stood Still (Mark 10:46-52)

Have you heard of Omaze.com?

It’s an online auction, but for charities, and it offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Omaze was founded by Matt Pohlson and Ryan Cummins, who were disheartened after attending a charity auction looking to sell off a special experience with Magic Johnson.

“We’re both lifelong Magic fans, and the idea of shooting hoops with him and going to a Lakers game with him was something we were both so excited about,” said Cummins.  “But when the bidding started, the price rapidly fell far out of our reach and eventually sold for $15,000.”

On the ride home that night, they realized that by doing celebrity experience auctions online, they could maximize profits for charities, while making the bidding and the chance to win available to everyone.

On Omaze the bid is always only $10.  You can buy as many $10 bids as you’d like, but they are considered individual bids.

Here are two of their current auctions:

You can bid to share a pizza with Robert Downey, Jr., at his favorite New York pizzeria.  Included is an exclusive screening of Captain America: Civil War; tickets to The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, where Downey guests; and a four-night stay at a luxury Big Apple hotel.

You can bid to have lunch with Chris Pratt while visiting the set of Guardians of the Galaxy II and enjoying a luxury hotel in Atlanta.

In the most recently completed auction, fans won walk on roles in the next Star Trek movie.  They will fly to the closed set of Star Trek Beyond and hang with the cast before hair, makeup, and wardrobe gets them into character for the role of a lifetime.

I got to thinking about once-in-a-lifetime meetings while studying our text.  A blind man, stationed as a beggar on the outskirts of Jericho, hears that Jesus is walking through town on His way to Jerusalem.

Jesus would not be passing that way again.  This was the Passover that He would be crucified in Jerusalem.

This was it for the blind beggar – a once-in-a-lifetime, now-or-never moment to meet Jesus.  He cried out repeatedly and the Lord stood still.

As we work through this event, I want to explore what still causes Jesus to stand still, and what will encourage us, as His followers, to not sit still.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Jesus Stands Still When You Cry For Mercy, and #2 Jesus Still Stands Still While You Call Men.

#1    Jesus Stands Still
    When You Cry For Mercy

KCRA Sacramento ran a story in 2014 about a couple who were going through our valley panhandling.  The story was titled, Self-proclaimed professional panhandlers net $182 an hour.

The title was a little sensational, and a lot deceiving.  True, they made $364 in about two hours; but they only panhandled for two hours.  They weren’t making that much as a daily hourly wage.

Stories like that fuel the false notion that all of the people out there panhandling are really millionaires.

A research team found that the typical panhandler in San Francisco’s Union Square is a disabled middle-aged single male who is a racial minority and makes less than $25 per day despite panhandling seven days a week for more than five years.  Ninety-four percent used the meager funds they raised for food, not booze or drugs.

Let’s try to set aside our opinions on contemporary panhandling so they do not influence our thoughts about the Jericho beggar.

Mar 10:46  Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging.

If you were a beggar in the first century, there was no deception.  You were destitute, depending for your livelihood on the meager alms you’d receive from passers-by.

Passover was a profitable season for begging.  In Exodus 34:23 we read,

Exo 34:23  “Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the LORD God of Israel.”

Passover was one of those times “all” the men came, so the roads would be full of both pilgrims on their way to the Temple and beggars soliciting alms.

We don’t know if Bartimaeus was born blind, of if he had acquired blindness later in life.  Everyday he would find his way to a spot in Jericho to beg.  Three times a year he’d station himself strategically along the road, to intercept the pilgrims.

It’s hard for us to enter in to the sad monotony and hopelessness of his suffering.  Day after dark day, he depended upon the random generosity of others.

Mar 10:47  And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

He “heard,” meaning he was paying close attention to the flow of the crowd.  After years of begging, I’m sure he could tell when a larger group, or a faster group, was approaching.  He must have had a rhythm worked out for asking for alms – timing it just right so that he’d be noticed.

Suddenly there was an unusual commotion.  It came to his ears that “Jesus of Nazareth” was leading His disciples, followed by a much larger crowd.

Have you ever seen a celebrity in a public venue?  One of my pastimes at Disneyland is to be on the lookout for celebs.  So is everyone else, and when you see one, you’ll hear whispering or talking as people tell their party, “Look, that’s so-and-so.”

Something like that alerted Bartimaeus.

This wasn’t the first Bartimaeus had heard about Jesus.  We can’t say for sure exactly what information he’d gathered from listening to travelers, but I’m guessing he knew Jesus worked miracles and was giving sight to the blind.

Bartimaeus also seemed to have developed an incomplete but accurate theology.  He believed Jesus of Nazareth was “Son of David.”  It is a title for the one who would sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem and rule over the Kingdom of God on the earth.

It’s just my speculation, but I’d say that Bartimaeus fully expected Jesus to march into Jerusalem and sit on David’s throne as King over Israel.  It’s what everyone expected.  In just a few days, on what we call Palm Sunday, as Jesus would ride into Jerusalem, the crowds would hail Him as King.

I’m setting up for a comparison:

The disciples, thinking Jesus was going to be King, all but demanded positions in the Kingdom of God, and the best seats on the thrones.

Bartimaeus, thinking Jesus was going to be King, begged for mercy.

Peter had proudly declared to Jesus, “See, we have left all and followed You” (10:28).  He asked for what he thought he deserved.

Bartimaeus asked for what he did not deserve – which is a good definition of mercy.

You know what makes you irresistible to God?  Humility.  God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).  Humble yourself by realizing you deserve nothing from God.  Don’t do it with a “Woe is me” attitude, but as an honest appraisal of the fact we are all sinners with no hope of Heaven without help from the Lord – help which He is quick to provide when we ask for mercy.

More than one commentator likes to point out that Bartimaeus was not the only blind man on the Jericho road.  Jesus’ own disciples were far more spiritually blind than the beggar.  His healing was a genuine miracle; but it also serves as a parable to those who have eyes but cannot see spiritually.

Mar 10:48  Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

How do you warn a blind man?  “If you don’t be quiet, I’ll trip you!”

Warning him reveals a fundamental flaw in their thinking – a flaw Jesus had just pointed out a few verses earlier.
It reveals the desire to be served, rather than to serve others.  The disciples, and the crowd, were riding the wave of blessing into Jerusalem.  Why concern themselves with one blind beggar?

Bartimaeus had a great set of lungs.  He’d only have a few moments to get the Lord’s attention.  He dialed it up to full volume.

Mar 10:49  So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.”

Occupied as He was with thoughts about the suffering awaiting Him in Jerusalem, and surrounded by the din of the crowd, Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ cry for mercy.

Seriously, think of how distracted Jesus must have been.  He had told them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again” (10:33-34).

With all of that weighing heavily upon Him, Jesus heard Bartimaeus, and He would respond to him.

“So Jesus stood still.”  The procession came to an abrupt halt.  I’m sure some of those following had no idea why Jesus stopped.  They hadn’t seen Bartimaeus, nor heard him.  They were too preoccupied with their own thoughts.

What preoccupies you?  What is it that distracts you from seeing the real needs of those around you?

As believers walking along spiritually with Jesus on our way to the New Jerusalem, we need to be aware of the situation of most of the people in the rest of the world.  You might ask yourself, “Who is the blind beggar I don’t see?”

It might be an orphan… Or a child needing help in the third world… Or a concern for human trafficking… Or the support of missionaries on the field.

It could be here at home – teen girls and women pregnant and needing counsel… Or the homeless… Or recovering addicts.

The Lord wants to direct you to someone, or to some group.  Ask Him who or what is crying out to Him for mercy, then get involved.

#2    Jesus Still Stands Still
        While You Call To Men

In C.S. Lewis’ beloved classic, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the one line I remember the most is, “Aslan is on the move!”

The great lion was putting things in motion to resolve the problem that it was always winter, but never Christmas.

Our God is on the move.  His providence is directing history toward the remaining events prophesied in the Bible.

Israel is in her land, surrounded by enemies, and with almost no allies.  She is ripe for entering a treaty guaranteeing her safety.  Trouble is, she will sign on the dotted line with the Antichrist.

Technology is ready to serve the Antichrist when he is revealed.  We report to you all the time about advances in biometrics that sound eerily like the dreaded Mark of the Beast.

There are plans to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, and priests are being trained to perform its rituals.  That Temple will be the site of a pivotal event, as the Antichrist will enter it exactly half-way through the seven years, demanding to be worshipped.

We wait to be raptured prior to the Tribulation, and as we’re waiting, we are to be hard at work.  We’ve been commissioned to “Go!” through the world, making disciples.

Even with all that activity, I think we can safely say that Jesus “still stands still.”  The Son of David will never ignore the cry or refuse the faith of a sinner seeking mercy.  In fact, God depicts Himself as waiting for sinners to respond.  We call it God’s longsuffering.

The apostle Peter was fond of the word longsuffering.  In the two inspired letters he wrote, he used it three times:

1Pe 3:20  … once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

2Pe 3:9  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

2Pe 3:15  and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation…

God’s longsuffering means He is waiting to send His wrath upon the earth while we “Go!” making disciples.
He’s standing still, in one sense, while we call to the lost with the message of the Gospel.  Lost individuals along the roads we travel are like Bartimaeus.

Mar 10:49  So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.”

Call the blind man.  What a great shorthand for our Great Commission.

To emphasize the lost condition of the human race, the Bible describes us as blind:

2Co 4:3  But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,
2Co 4:4  whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

Not only is mankind blinded; we are in the dark, and we prefer darkness to light:

Joh 3:19  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

Before you are saved, you are a blind man in total darkness.  When a person is saved, they receive spiritual sight, and move out of the kingdom of darkness and into light:

Act 26:18  to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

Call the blind man.  It’s our mission and privilege.

They said to blind Bartimaeus, “be of good cheer.  Rise.  He is calling you.”

Christians have a flair for making the Good News cheerless. Recent research has revealed that a majority of unchurched Americans see Christians as judgmental homophobic bigots.

I’d like to blame hostile mischaracterizations of Christians by the media, but 50% of respondents in that research study said they base their negative views on personal contacts with Christians.

The researchers said, “Many of those outside of Christianity… reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.”

I’m not saying all this to chastise us.  Similar polls show that evangelicals like ourselves are perceived as being the most Christ-like of the bunch.  The simple point I’m making is that we should be able to tell nonbelievers to be of good cheer because of the Good News we have to share with them.

A person can never be truly whole, truly satisfied, apart from a personal relationship with God.  It’s what you were made for.

In Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Ariel brings Scuttle her bag of human treasures, hoping to learn what the items are, and what they are used for.

The first one is a fork, which Scuttle identifies as a dinglehopper that he says is used to comb your hair.

The next item is a smoking pipe which he says is a musical instrument called a snarfblat.

People live their lives thinking they are dinglehoppers or snarfblats when they are meant to be the children of God.

The Gospel makes people whole; it brings them to what they were created for.  We must approach sinners with a heart, and a message, that says to them, “be of good cheer.”

Next they told Bartimaeus “rise.”  Backtrack for a moment. Bartimaeus had heard of Jesus of Nazareth, and had some understanding of Who He was.

We would say that others had ‘shared Christ’ with him.  We see him crying out for mercy, and his cry being answered, so that he can “rise” and go to Jesus.

It’s a picture of grace operating on the human heart.  In and of themselves, and apart from the grace of God, human beings can neither think, will, nor do anything good, including believe.  But the grace of God prepares and enables sinners to receive the free gift of salvation offered in Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

Only through the grace of God can sinners believe and so be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  Thankfully, God extends His grace to all.  The grace of God “calling” frees the will of a person to be able to respond, and come to Christ.

It frees you to be able to “rise,” as it were.

Mar 10:50  And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus.

His “garment” is probably a reference to his outer cloak.  You’d take it off to move faster – indicating Bartimaeus’ eagerness to get to Jesus.

I think the garment represents something spiritual as well.  Adam Clarke writes,

If every penitent were as ready to throw aside his self-righteousness and sinful encumbrances, as this blind man was to throw aside his garment, we should have fewer delays in conversions than we now have; and all that have been convinced of sin would have been brought to the knowledge of the truth.

Your salvation is often depicted using garments.  Our own best works of righteousness we are told are nothing more than filthy rags.  When we are saved, Jesus removes our filthy garment, and exchanges them for His own white robe of righteousness.

“He rose and came to Jesus.”  He did publicly what was happening privately.  It’s good to represent what the Lord is doing in your heart by coming forward, e.g., for prayer.

Mar 10:51  So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”

In The Lord of the Rings, one of the ways the people of Gondor recognize that Aragorn the Ranger is really their rightful king is that he has certain abilities to effect healing.  Their lore said, “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”

Bartimaeus’ request was a declaration that he believed Jesus to be the Son of David.  The giving of sight to the blind was a sign only the rightful King would be able to perform.

“Rabboni” is a term of endearment, equivalent to calling Jesus his “Master.”  Bartimaeus was submitting himself to Jesus as His servant, as His slave.

This blind man understood, by faith, many of the things the disciples misunderstood, even though they’d been taught them directly by the Lord.  Humility prepares the heart for insight and illumination.

I noticed a quote by A.W.Tozer as our pre-service slideshow scrolls.  He said something like, “What we need is not more information, but transformation.”

The disciples had the information, in over-abundance; but they were unaffected by it.  Let’s not be like them in that regard.

Mar 10:52  Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.

Remember the genii in Aladdin – the Robin Williams one?  He’d do something amazing, then say, “Made ya look!”

I wonder if Jesus ever said, “Made ya well!”

“Made you well” can, and probably should, be translated “saved.”  Bartimaeus was saved by the operation of grace on his heart, through faith, and this was evidenced by him receiving his sight.

It’s sort of like the time Jesus told the paralytic his sins were forgiven.  When the religious leaders objected, saying only God could forgive sins, Jesus healed the man to show He was God.

Bartimaeus “followed Jesus on the road.”  Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, which was about fifteen miles away, and Bartimaeus followed Him there.

I wonder if it was Bartimaeus’ first Passover in Jerusalem?  Sure, all male Jews were commanded to attend each year, but Jewish sources say this wasn’t strictly obeyed in the first century.

And what if you were blind, and a beggar?  It was certainly his first Passover in Jerusalem as a sighted person.

Did he later join the crowd that shouted, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord”?

Was he there at the Cross?  Did he stay long enough to hear firsthand about the resurrection of Jesus on the third day?

We can ask him one day – that’s the beauty of it.

Your Bartimaeus probably won’t be a blind beggar sitting on some road you’re on.  It will be a family member, or a coworker, or a fellow student.  It could be a stranger you encounter.

It could be anyone, really, as you “Go!” With the Gospel.

The person’s heart may have already been prepared by others sharing Jesus with them; or you might be the first.

You might meet with resistance; or they might be ready to receive the Lord.
The Lord still stands still as His longsuffering waits for sinners to repent.

I don’t want to be over-dramatic, but I feel compelled to address any nonbelievers one final time.  This could, for you, be the last time Jesus is presented to you.  He could be “walking by” for the last time.

It is therefore somewhat urgent you cry out for mercy.  He’s here, and standing still.

Be of good cheer and rise.

12 Jeers Towards Slaves (Mark 10:32-45)

Having a heavier waiter may cause you to eat more at a restaurant.

That’s the latest finding from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, which over the years has produced surprising results about the unconscious factors that influence eating, like music and lighting.

In the current study, diners with heavier servers were four times likelier to order dessert, and they ordered 17% more alcoholic beverages.

Speaking of waiters, you may have seen the recent story out of the United Kingdom where a restaurant owner defended one of his waiters who suffers from autism after customers complained.  He took the discussion over to Facebook, where his defense of his waiter garnered over 19,000 ‘likes.’

One person commented, “Too many customers think they have the right to treat hospitality staff any way they want to. They are wrong!!”

A long-time waiter who writes a blog about server-diner relations likes to say, “We are servers, not servants.”

I was thinking about waiters because Jesus uses a word for “servant” that can describe those who wait tables.

His disciples can’t wait to sit on thrones, but Jesus tells them that they must wait for the Kingdom of God on earth, and in the mean time, they will be expected to wait tables.

While your waiter at a restaurant is a server and not a servant, a disciple of Jesus Christ is a server who is a servant.

In fact, we are to be more than servants.  A second word Jesus uses is “slave.”

Today’s Bible study will help us to gauge whether or not we are servers or servants, and if we are servants, whether or not we are slaves.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 You Must Wait To Sit On Your Throne, and #2 You Should Wait By Serving Tables.

#1    You Must Wait To Sit On Your Throne

Ray Charles may have had Georgia on his mind, but the twelve disciples of Jesus had the Kingdom of God on theirs.  They fully expected Jesus to establish the promised Kingdom and rule it from Jerusalem.

If you keep in mind their preoccupation with the Kingdom of God on earth, you’ll understand why they kept ignoring Jesus telling them He was going to suffer and die at the hands of both the Jews and the Romans.

Mar 10:32  Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him:

Jerusalem is elevated, so you are always described as “going up” to it, no matter which direction you approach from.  They were on their way there to celebrate Passover.

Jesus was out in front, being followed by the twelve, and they by a larger crowd.

The twelve were “amazed,” and I’m guessing from their discussions along the way that their amazement was in thinking it was at that time Jesus would establish the Kingdom.

The rest of the followers “were afraid.”  Jesus was in conflict with the religious leaders in Jerusalem; in fact, they wanted to kill Jesus.  He had been avoiding direct confrontation with them, but now He was determined to get to Jerusalem.  It was sure to be explosive.

Jesus tells His guys, for the third time, that He is going to Jerusalem to be killed.

Mar 10:33  “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles;
Mar 10:34  and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”

The name, “Son of Man,” comes from the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel.  It describes the Jewish Messiah, Who would inaugurate the Kingdom of God on the earth.

In a previous study we looked at Daniel, and we talked about why the twelve were so confused.  They believed that Jesus was the Son of Man, the Messiah Who would rule, but they could not reconcile the Scriptures that described Him as the Suffering Servant Who must die.

Jesus was very specific, very detailed, about how He would be treated by both the Jewish leaders and by the Roman authorities.  He didn’t say He would be crucified, but He didn’t need to, because it was understood.  Rome didn’t crucify its own citizens, but it was how they executed foreigners.

Don’t overlook, “and the third day… rise again.”  Jesus was going to the Cross by divine appointment, to accomplish something cosmic.  You see what it was in verse forty-five, “to give His life a ransom for many.”

I’ve had folks ask for prayer because of various medical procedures they must undergo.  As they describe what is going to happen to them – the poking, the prodding, the cutting, the chemo – I cringe, and commit to praying for them.
I can’t even imagine someone saying, “In a few days, I’m going to be condemned, spit upon, mocked, scourged, and crucified.”  It seems that it would make a deep impression – especially if it were someone I was close to.

That’s why what James and John do next is so incredible.

Mar 10:35  Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”

John Stott calls this the most selfish prayer ever prayed.  I’d have to agree, and then be ashamed, because I’ve prayed along these lines, too.  Not these exact words, of course, but definitely with this attitude.

“Do whatever we ask.”  That’s mind-blowing.  It is the height of arrogance and folly to think I ought to receive whatever I ask from God.

They hadn’t asked; they wanted a waver to ask anything.  Sometimes we talk about people approaching God as if He were a genie in a bottle obligated to grant your wishes.  This is pretty close to that.

Mar 10:36  And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

I’m thinking Jesus would have been right to just say “No,” emphatically.  Instead, He was patient with them.  I’m glad He was, because we get to see their ridiculous request.

Mar 10:37  They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”
Their request was not completely out of left field.  In the telling of this walk to Jerusalem in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said to the twelve, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (19:28).

They were promised thrones in the Kingdom of God.  They did not realize that the Kingdom was being postponed, and would not be established until Jesus came back a second time.  The whole crucifixion/resurrection/ascension-into-Heaven-for-an-unspecified-period-of-time was foreign to them.

They did not yet grasp that the Kingdom of God they would know in their lifetimes was the spiritual rule of God over the hearts of those whom they would reach with the Gospel – starting on the Day of Pentecost and continuing to today.  They did not yet grasp it would be an invisible spiritual Kingdom that exists in the midst of the kingdom of the devil, and the kingdoms of men.

Mar 10:38  But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

The two images, the cup and baptism, are Old Testament pictures of being fully immersed in something, inside and out.  Suffering was usually what they represented.  Jesus was talking about His impending suffering, which is made clear a little later in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He asks His Father if it is possible to take away the “cup” of suffering.

James and John weren’t thinking suffering.  I’m going to make up a word: They were thinking sovereigning – they were thinking of ruling over others from a throne.

Mar 10:39  They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized;

Guys, guys.  Of course they were not “able.”  They were not really listening to Jesus.

They were not able, but later they would be enabled, after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, to be immersed in, and to drink their own cups of, suffering:

James would get arrested and then beheaded by Herod Antipas.
John would miraculously survive being boiled in oil, only to be exiled to the Island of Patmos in his 90’s.

Mar 10:40  but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.”

Jesus will sit on a throne in Jerusalem.  In the Revelation, in the midst of the Tribulation, we read, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (11:15).

In chapter twenty of the Revelation it says, “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them… And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (v4).

There will be a physical Kingdom of God on the earth that will last one thousand years.  Afterwards comes eternity in either Hell or Heaven.

James and John are still waiting to see which thrones they will occupy.  Jesus is content to let His Father assign responsibilities in the future Kingdom of God on the earth.

As far as thrones go, we, too, will sit on them.  First Corinthians 6:2&3 portray us as judging the world, and as judging angels.  Revelation 3:21 predicts a time when Jesus sits on His Kingdom throne, and Christians are seated with Him.

It is in our future to rule and reign with Jesus – seated on thrones.

But not now.  Now the Kingdom is the spiritual rule of God in human hearts that receive the Gospel.  We have work to do – as servants, and as slaves.

#2    You Should Wait By Serving Tables

Am I a server, or a servant?  If I’m a servant, am I a slave?  Those are the questions suggested by Jesus’ discussion with the disciples.

Mar 10:41  And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.

I wonder how Peter felt?  Among the twelve, Peter, James, and John often formed an inner circle around Jesus.  They were privileged to be with Him at times the other nine were not – like the raising of a little girl from the dead, and like on the Mountain of Transfiguration.

Now the two brothers aced Peter out of the equation.

The displeasure of the ten tells us that they, too, had throne-envy.  They were upset that they’d been upstaged by James and John.

Mar 10:42  But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.

What a concise summary of the world in which we live.  The world values working to get ahead, to be on top, to have authority over others, who are seen as being ‘under’ your command.

Mar 10:43  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.

“It” – this attitude of ruling over others – “shall not be so among you.”  Our spiritual life on earth now, while we wait for Jesus to return, is to bear absolutely no resemblance to the world’s way of doing things.

BTW – A lot of what I read and hear about reaching those who are unchurched has to do with making the Gospel more mainstream so that we don’t scare people off.  Churches are going out of their way to seem less like churches.  Truth is, people ought to know that the Gospel is radical, calling for, and empowering, radical changes.

Jesus described someone as “being your servant.”  Does He mean for you to kick-back and be served?  Of course not.

He’s giving you a way to properly evaluate people.  The greatest Christians are those who serve you and others – not those who sit over you, ruling you, telling you what to do.

James and John, and the other ten, wanted to be seated on their thrones.  Instead of being seated on thrones, we are to be serving tables.

The word for “servant” means table server; it is what we would call a waiter.  You are not to be a person everyone serves; you are to be the person who serves everyone.

The word in Greek is diakonos, and you immediately recognize that from it we get our word deacon.

It is generally believed that the office of deacon originated in the selection of seven men by the apostles, among them Stephen, to assist with the charitable work of the early church as recorded in Acts chapter six.

Don’t think of deacon in the sense of a board of guys that sits around making decisions and telling other people what to do.  That is the exact opposite of what Jesus just said.

Another association with the word diakonos is ‘not letting the dust settle.’  You’re so busy serving tables that it’s kicking up dust and, before the dust can settle, you’re back to serve even more.

I mentioned Stephen.  He was the first martyr of the church age – stoned to death for his defense of the Gospel.  He drank the cup; he was baptized with the baptism.

Which leads us to our first question for introspection: “Am I a server, or a servant?”

Each of us must answer for ourselves, and be careful to not compare ourself to others.

Be practical.  Delineate what it is you do to serve the Lord.  Not just in the church – although serving the household of faith is important.

Just existing as a Christian isn’t serving the Lord.  You have to actually be doing something.  If you say, “I’m a Christian such-and-such,” then what are you doing in your activities to promote the Gospel?

If you are doing things, do you think you can quit serving anytime you choose?  Because, if you are serving as unto the Lord, you can’t quit; you need to be released by Him.

I think we’d have to admit there are those who are servers, not servants.  If that’s you – admit it, then abandon the concept once-and-for-all.

Jesus wasn’t done.  Being a servant is a good start, but you really want and need to be a slave.

Mar 10:44  And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.

If you recognize greatness by seeing believers serving, then you ought to desire to be the lowest servant in every situation.  You ought to desire to be a “slave.”

Here is a surprising fact: If you look in the Old Testament in the King James Version, you will find the English word “slave” only once.

But the Hebrew word appears 800 times in the noun form, and nearly 300 in the verb form.  There is a word in the Old Testament for “slave” that appears eleven hundred times, but in your English Bible it’s only translated “slave” once.

If you go to the New Testament, you will find the Greek word for “slave” about 150 times in all its forms.  And you will find it actually translated “slave” only a few of those 150 times.

These facts caused one scholar to comment, “the word “slave” is the most important, all-encompassing, and clarifying word to describe a Christian used in the New Testament, and yet whenever a Christian is in view, it’s not translated “slave.”

We all have our images of slavery, and they are rightfully very bad ones, I’d guess, so this idea of being a slave is a hard sell.  The translators chose words like “servant,” and “bondservant” instead of “slave.”

You’ve heard about the Jewish bondservant.  It comes from Exodus 21:1-6.  According to the Law, a man who couldn’t pay a debt he owed had to become the servant of his creditor in order to work off the debt, or until the next sabbath year, whichever was shorter.  If, during the time of his temporary service, he concluded that his master was a good man to work for, he could voluntarily convert his term of service into a life long commitment.  In doing so he was agreeing to permanently subordinate his own interests in favor of his master’s, to do whatever the master required.  It was the servant’s choice to enter into a bondservant relationship with his master, but once the agreement was made he could not choose to undo it later.  It was a lifelong commitment.

If his master agreed, they would go before the judges to make the arrangement official, and then the master would drive an awl through his servant’s earlobe and into the door post of the house.  This was to signify that the servant had become permanently “attached” to the master’s household.  According to some traditions a golden ring was inserted through the hole in the bond servant’s ear to memorialize the event.

You’d go from indentured servant to voluntary slave.  I think that is the progression Jesus intends us to consider – going from servants to slaves.

Thus the next question: “Are you a servant, or are you a slave?”

Again, each of us must consider that for ourself.  But consider it we must, because the church age in which we live is the time when Jesus needs slaves who understand that their lives are totally in His hands.

Jesus isn’t asking you to do anything He hasn’t already done:

Mar 10:45  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

“Ransom” refers to a payment to effect the release of slaves or captives from bondage.  The human race is held captive under the power of Satan and sin and death from which they cannot free themselves.  Jesus’ death paid the price that sets people free.

The preposition “for,” used in Mark only here, reinforces the idea of substitution.  It means instead of, in the place of.

Jesus gave His life a ransom, instead of you and I having to die.  He took our place – the place of “many.”

We are to understand “many” in the inclusive sense of “all.”  It emphasizes how a large number derive the benefit from the single sacrifice of the one ransomer.

I’m not just making that up because I want it to be true.  In First Timothy 2:5-6 we read,

1Ti 2:5  For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,
1Ti 2:6  who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,

I mentioned that Jesus and the twelve were on their way to Jerusalem, to celebrate Passover.  There, in the Upper Room, as they sat on cushions around a low, oval table, there were no servants, no slaves, to help them; just the thirteen of them.

At one point Jesus would get up, take off His outer garment, and gird Himself up as a slave would, to go around and wash the disciples feet.

It represented His decision in eternity past to voluntarily set aside the prerogatives of His deity, and take on the body of a man, in order to serve the human race as a slave – washing us clean by the power of His blood shed on the Cross at Calvary.

We know that Jesus was God’s final sacrifice for sin.  He was therefore called the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

At Passover, just as the lambs were being slain in the Temple, Jesus died on the Cross.

It all comes together in Revelation 5:8-10(ESV), where we read,

Rev 5:8  And when [Jesus] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Rev 5:9  And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,
Rev 5:10  and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Jesus was the Lamb that was slain to ransom everyone who would believe in Him, and He will, in the future, set us on thrones to reign on the earth.

We often use the word “volunteer” when discussing areas of service in the life of our church family.  It would be more biblical to use the word “slave.”

Server… Servant… Slave.  Rate yourself and make the necessary changes.

Children Of The Blesser God (Mark 10:13-31)

The article was titled, No Kidding: Children Not Welcome to Dine Here.

It listed a few restaurants around the country that have restrictions regarding children.  At La Fisheria in Houston, the following statement is posted on the restaurant’s door: “After 7:00pm, people over eight years old only.  We are a family friendly restaurant, and we also respect all of our customers so we introduce this new policy to the restaurant.  Thanks for your understanding.”

Houston seems to be ground-zero for these new policies.  Another restaurant there, Cuchara, issues cards with rules on them, explaining how they expect children to behave.

“Children at Cuchara don’t run or wander around the restaurant,” the cards say.  “They stay seated and ask their parents to take them to the restroom.  They don’t scream, throw tantrums or touch the walls, murals, windows or anything of the other patrons.”

The cards end with this final statement about children: “They are respectful!”

On Facebook, I find it alarming that over half a million people like the page “You Need to Discipline Your Kid Before I Punch them in the Face.”

In another article about what some have dubbed “The Brat Ban,” the author writes,

Malaysia Airlines banned babies from many of their first class cabins, prompting other major airlines to consider similar policies. Lately, complaints about screaming kids are being taken seriously, not only by airlines, but by hotels, movie theaters, restaurants, and even grocery stores.

You most likely have a strong opinion on these policies, one way or the other.  If you are on the side of kids being welcome everywhere, any time, you eventually play a card of your own – the Jesus card – and quote the Lord saying, “Let the little children come to Me, and don’t forbid them…”

Of course, Jesus wasn’t talking about whether or not all restaurants should be kid-friendly.  The entire quote is, “Let the little children come to Me, and don’t forbid them, for of such is the Kingdom of God.”

What do children have to do with the Kingdom of God?  Plenty.  I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 You Receive The Kingdom of God By Exercising Childlike Faith, and #2 You Refuse The Kingdom of God By Emphasizing Superficial Works.

#1    You Receive The Kingdom of God
    By Exercising Childlike Faith

If I say, “Magic Kingdom,” it might mean something different to you, depending upon your age.  “Magic Kingdom” was originally an unofficial nickname for Disneyland in Anaheim.  Then Walt Disney World in Orlando was built.  In 1994, to differentiate it from Disneyland, the newer park in Florida was officially renamed “Magic Kingdom Park,” and is popularly known as “Magic Kingdom.”

There is a lot of talk about the Kingdom of God among Christians lately, but I’m not always sure what they mean by the phrase.

When we read “the Kingdom of God” in the Bible, it can have one of at least three very different possible meanings:

The Kingdom of God is the eternal rule of Almighty God over the entire universe.  At all times, Psalm 103:19 is true, saying, “The LORD has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all.”

The Kingdom of God is also the spiritual rule over the hearts and lives of those who willingly submit to God’s authority.  It is entered by being born-again.  Jesus said in John 3:5, “… Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”

There is another sense in which the Kingdom of God is used in Scripture: It is the future, literal rule of Jesus on the earth, also called the Millennium.  In Revelation 20:4 we read, “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”

Which of these three kingdoms did Jesus have in mind?  There are clues in verses twenty-nine through thirty-one.

Mar 10:29  So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s,
Mar 10:30  who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time – houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life.
Mar 10:31  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Jesus always assumed the eternal rule of God over the entire universe.  He could not promise you that you would be rewarded in “the age to come” unless He was certain that God was the ruler of the universe, and that by His providence He would accomplish His eternal purposes.

God’s eternal rule is not, however, the Kingdom of God Jesus was specifically referring to in these verses.

It’s clear that He wasn’t referring to the Millennium, either, because you and I will not suffer any losses, nor be subject to “persecutions,” during His thousand-year reign.

The Kingdom of God, in these verses, must therefore refer to God’s spiritual rule over hearts and lives.

Jesus’ words are a simple but heartfelt and emotional explanation of how we receive, or refuse, the Gospel.

There are other kingdoms we should mention. One is Satan’s kingdom.  He is called the God of this age, and the ruler of the authorities of the air.

Jesus once said of Satan, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:25,26).

There are (obviously) kingdoms of men in the Bible, e.g., Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.  Within His eternal reign over the universe, God is allowing these kingdoms of the devil and of men to exist as He accomplishes His purposes.

Those of us who have willingly submitted to God’s rule are in a  conflict with the devil and his kingdom, for the souls of men.  As we preach the Gospel, men are invited to receive the rule of God in their hearts, to come out of darkness into the light, into the Kingdom of God, and to do so requires childlike faith.

Mar 10:13  Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them.

I think that the disciples meant well.  They were undoubtedly trying to keep Jesus from being distracted, or over-burdened.

The disciples, however, were not in charge of the order of service that day.   God the Holy Spirit was, and He intended these children be there, and that they be blessed.

Jesus was approachable, and children loved Him.  He wasn’t some kind of church curmudgeon, scaring off children.

We have a policy of discouraging kids from being in this main part of the Sanctuary.  Is it wrong, in light of this passage?  Is it curmudgeonly??

No.  When it says that they “brought little children to” Jesus, it means that they brought them specifically to be prayed for.  It was customary for Jewish parents to bring their kids to be prayed for by their rabbi, and to be blessed by him.  We see the procedure for it in verse sixteen:

Mar 10:16  And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

Today we call this a baby dedication, which we perform as part of our regular services here.

Jesus wasn’t establishing that, any time, in any place, kids ought to be in attendance.  It’s up to us, therefore, to determine how to best minister to everyone – adults and children.  We can be inclusive, or we can be exclusive – as long as we do it in love in order to best minister the Gospel.

Mar 10:14  But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.
Mar 10:15  Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

God the Holy Spirit was constantly orchestrating the events in the life of Jesus.  There were no random encounters, certainly not during the three-and-one-half years of Jesus’ public ministry.

The Holy Spirit meant for these children to be brought forth, partly so that Jesus could use them an an example.  The timing was perfect, because Jesus is next going to encounter the rich young ruler, and Jesus will be able to use him as the counter example to the childlike faith of the kids.  In other words, the two episodes are linked, spiritually, by the Holy Spirit.

If these children don’t come for dedication, an important teaching is going to lose a powerful illustration.

What is it, exactly, about children that Jesus was commending?  It cannot be the innocence of children for they have a sinful nature and are definitely not innocent.

The key is the word “receive.”  I think Jesus was commending their willingness to be dependent upon others for what they need.

Under average circumstances, children simply believe that their parents will take care of them.  They don’t worry about where their clothing or food will come from.

We are to be like that, are we not, as we grow in the Lord?  Jesus once pointed to the birds, and the flowers, as illustrations of how much we ought to trust our Heavenly Father to feed us, and to clothe us.

The word “receive” stresses that the Kingdom of God must be accepted as a gift.  It is not a human achievement, and it is never gained on the basis of human merit.

Just as a young child receives everything from his or her parents, so the Kingdom of God must be received as God’s gift in simple, trusting faith.

You might think this is too simple a lesson for Jesus to be teaching His disciples at this late date in their training, but it is not.  It was essential, especially for them, since they so expected the literal Kingdom of God on earth to be established.  It would be, and it will be – but not until Jesus comes a second time.

Meanwhile they were to go into the world with the Gospel, inviting men to receive salvation – inviting them to submit to the rule of God over their hearts and lives.

Salvation is God’s gift to receive.  It is made possible by Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection from the dead.  Lifted-up as He was on the Cross, Jesus draws all men to Himself.  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance, and be saved.  He is the Savior of all men – especially those who believe.

When the Gospel is presented, God’s grace operates on your heart to free your will to believe in Him, to receive Him.  Salvation by grace, through faith, is how you receive the Kingdom of God.

#2    You Refuse The Kingdom of God
    By Emphasizing Superficial Works

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that this was a young man; the Gospel of Luke mentions that he was a ruler; and, together with Mark, we see he is rich.  He is the rich young ruler.

Jesus was able to use him an example of someone who would not receive the Kingdom of God in childlike faith.
Instead, he was all about works, which we are calling superficial since they are outward, not affecting the heart.

Mar 10:17  Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

This seems so exciting!  He came “running,” and “knelt,” and asked about getting saved.  This is every ministers dream.

“Good teacher” was an unusual way to address a rabbi.  It was so unusual that Jesus started there in His interview of this zealous young man.

Mar 10:18  So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.

Jesus’ question can only mean that either (1)He is God, or that (2)He is not good.   Jesus was not denying He was “good.”  To the contrary – He was owning-up to it.

Since God alone can be called “good,” Jesus wanted to know if the rich young ruler believed that He was God.

Jesus evidently knew that the rich young ruler was trusting in works to make him good, so He went straight to the Ten Commandments.


Jesus summarized the six commandments found on one of the tablets given to Moses.  It was the tablet that dealt with our relationships with people.  The other tablet had on it the four commandments that deal with our relationship with God.

Mar 10:20  And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”

Notice he dropped the word “good” this time.  I don’t want to read too much into an omission, but it is interesting.

Did he really keep the commandments his whole life?  In one sense, maybe.  It’s possible that he had kept them superficially.

But therein is the problem.  Like all religious Jews, he thought he could be “good” by keeping certain external rules.  In more theological terms, we’d say he believed he could be declared righteous by his works.

Notice, however, that he had some sense that he was lacking.  He was unsatisfied, empty within.  He knew he had missed the mark.

Mar 10:21  Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

The look of love was in His eyes.  What must that have been like?

If you’re saved, you’ll know one day – when you see Jesus face-to-face.

I suppose you’ll see it, too, if you remain lost.  The lost will all appear at the Great White Throne, prior to being consigned to Hell for eternity.  Although a Judge, I can’t help but think each lost person will see in Jesus’ look that He was not willing they perish.

Was Jesus teaching that philanthropy and voluntary poverty could earn you salvation?  Of course not.  That would contradict everything Jesus just taught about receiving the Kingdom of God in childlike faith.  It would contradict the Bible’s entire teaching on salvation.

So why this counsel?  For two reasons.  Firstly, when Jesus was asked to sum-up all God’s Law, He said it was to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself.

The rich young ruler had nothing to show for loving his neighbor.  He’d done nothing to help others with his wealth.

Secondly, he didn’t love God.  How can I say that?  Because of his response to Jesus.

Mar 10:22  But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

He was given a simple choice: Treasure in Heaven after a sacrificial life on earth submitted to God, or abundant treasure on earth but without a relationship with God, now or in eternity.  He chose badly – choosing money over God – because the love of money was his god.

He had run to Jesus, claiming to have kept all the commandments, when in truth he was guilty of breaking all of them – at least breaking the spirit of all of them.

Mar 10:23  Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”
Mar 10:24  And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!

It’s pretty easy to demonstrate from Scripture that Jews equated material prosperity with spiritual blessing.  We still do it today, much as we hate to admit it.

Jesus isn’t against wealth, but He always warned about trusting in riches.  Because he trusted in his riches, the rich young ruler was, in fact, the poorest person on that road.

The story of Scrooge works because we all recognize the grip that wealth can exert.  Our problem is that we never think it pertains to us, because we refuse to see ourselves as wealthy.  Yet, according to Forbes, “the typical person in the bottom 5% of the American income distribution is still richer than 68% of the world’s inhabitants.”

I don’t say that to make any of us feel bad.  It’s just that we sometimes need to hear exhortations from the Bible rather than immediately determining that they don’t apply to us.

Mar 10:25  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

The word for “needle” describes one that you can hold in your hand.  It would be a humorous illustration if it weren’t for the seriousness of the discussion.

Contrary to what the Jews thought, the rich man is at a disadvantage in spiritual things because the love of money is so powerful.

Mar 10:26  And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?”

After nearly three-and-one-half years with Jesus, these guys still had no idea of how someone got saved.

They grew up thinking salvation was by works of righteousness, performed externally, and that, if God were pleased with you, He’d bless you materially.  It was a hard habit to break; and it is a hard habit for us to break, too, since we all think there is some “good” in us by which we can please God by our works.

Mar 10:27  But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

Jesus had just given them the illustration of the child – of childlike faith.  They should put away thoughts of self-righteous works, and come to Jesus as little children, to receive eternal life as a gift.

BTW: Salvation is “impossible” for men to achieve.  Jesus is therefore not a way to God; He is the exclusive way to God.

Mar 10:28  Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.”

On the surface, Peter’s statement seems accurate.  They had done what Jesus recommended that the rich young ruler do.

Or had they?

For a time after Jesus’ death, Peter went back to fishing.  He hadn’t really “left all” if he could still return to it at any moment.  He had it to fall back on, and he did.

Something else to think about.  Like the other disciples, Peter was expecting the brick-and-mortar Kingdom of God to be established soon, with Jesus ruling and he and the boys co-ruling.  They had recently been disputing with one another over who would be the greatest in the earthly Kingdom of God.  You haven’t really “left all” if you think you’re trading fishing for a high-ranking political position.

In the Old Testament, Elisha “left all” to follow Elijah.  He burned his plow, and his oxen, and threw a farewell party, so that there’d be no possibility of turning back.

Peter’s thinking was flawed in another way.  He had missed the point.  The rich young ruler wasn’t being asked to give-up anything of value.  He was being offered the gain of everything of value.

Peter did not see how much he and the others had gained, so Jesus explained it to him.

Mar 10:29  So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s,
Mar 10:30  who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time -houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life.

Before you get saved, what good does it do you if you gain the whole world, only to lose your soul, and perish in eternal conscious torment forever and ever?  None.

When you get saved, you are rich in faith, and are promised treasure in Heaven, stored for you where nothing can corrupt it, and where no one can steal it.

You are rich in spiritual blessings right now as well.  Here’s an example: Maybe your family disowned you on account of your professing faith in Jesus.  Every other believer on planet earth is a  surrogate brother, or sister, or father, or mother.

What about “wife or children?”  Yes, you have surrogates in those, too, only (obviously) it is intended spiritually, not physically.

“Houses” and “lands” are yours in abundance to share and enjoy as Christians practice hospitality.

The point is – You gain far more than you think you lose, both now and forever.

There’s one other thing you gain – “persecutions.”  How is that a gain?  Your sufferings work for you, to refine you as gold in the furnace is refined.

After Jesus rose from the dead, and after He ascended into Heaven, the disciples would count it a great blessing and privilege to suffer persecution.  Identifying with Him in suffering is great riches now, and great reward later.

If I think that I’ve lost something by following Jesus, I’m following Him from too far a distance.

Mar 10:31  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

One commentator said of this verse, “it is a wise warning against the self-seeking spirit which lurked behind Peter’s comment.  The twelve were warned that their priority in being called did not guarantee their preeminence in the future if they lacked the necessary spirit.”

They had been acting childishly:

Just recently they had been arguing about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God.

They took it upon themselves to rebuke parents who were bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed.

Peter had claimed, for all of them, that they’d sacrificed everything to follow Jesus.

They definitely needed a more childlike attitude.

Jesus is a blesser.  Not just little children, but big children, too.

It’s just that, sometimes, we have things in our lives that rebuke us from coming to Him to be blessed:

It could be condemnation that is rebuking us.  There is no condemnation for us, if we’re saved.  Run to Him.

If it’s conviction rebuking us – because we are in sin – repent, and run to Him.

Maybe, just maybe, you’re not saved.  Run to Him.

Breakin’ Up Is Hard-Hearted To Do (Mark 10:1-12)

All I really need to know… I learned in Kindergarten.

It’s the premise, and the title, of a book written by Robert Fulghum in 1988.  It was immensely popular, staying on the NY Times bestseller list for two years.

Here are just five of the main life-lessons we learn in Kindergarten:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
(My favorite) Flush.

I’m not 100% sure that all I really need to know about life I learned in Kindergarten… But I am certain that all I really need to know about marriage I learn from the Garden.

In an attempt to polarize Him in the eyes of the people, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Jesus answered by going back before the Law was given.  He went all the way back, to the sixth day of creation, to the Garden of Eden, and to how God defined marriage.

Jesus did more than answer them.  He took the topic out of the theoretical and made it personal – talking about the condition of their hearts.

I’ll organize my thoughts on these verses around two points: #1 If You Are Casual About Divorce, Check Yourself For A Diseased Heart, and #2 If You Are Casual About Divorce, Check Yourself For A Derelict Heart.

#1    If You Are Casual About Divorce,
    Check Yourself For A Diseased Heart

Marriage, divorce, and remarriage are volatile subjects – both in the world, and among believers in Jesus Christ.  They are emotionally charged.  All of us are affected in some way by marriages gone wrong.

Whatever state you find yourself in today, please hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to you, in the Word of God, and receive it as God’s grace to your hurting heart.

Many of my comments will be generic.  They will be true, but they may not address the subtleties and nuances of your particular situation with regards to marriage, divorce, and remarriage.  Bear that in mind.  We are not here to heap burdens upon you.

If you’re in sin, or contemplating it – you’ll want to repent.

If you’ve failed in the past, then receive God’s grace and mercy, and understand you are restored at the Cross.

Mar 10:1  Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan. And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again.

We are understandably fascinated by the miracles, the signs, and the wonders that Jesus went about performing.  Jesus was first and foremost a teacher.  It was His custom to teach.

We believe in miracles, and in signs, and in wonders, even into our present day.  But we leave them to God to perform, in His will and timing, while we go on teaching, and sharing the Gospel.

The Gospel is not a lesser message if no miracles attend it.  It is not something greater if miracles do attend it.  All by itself, when preached, it is the power of God unto salvation.

Mar 10:2  The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him.

The intent of the Pharisees was to “test” Jesus.  It’s the same word used of the devil “tempting” Jesus in the wilderness.

Jesus is going to answer their question by first asking a question.  I like that, because it helps you to focus on what is really going on.  Try it the next time you’re asked a Bible question.

Mar 10:3  And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?”
Mar 10:4  They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.”

Jesus started with Moses because this wasn’t a random question.  Among the Jews, especially the rabbis, there was a controversy over divorce, and the grounds for divorce.  The controversy was over the interpretation of a particular phrase in the Book of Deuteronomy.

Please listen while I read to you Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

Deu 24:1  “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,
Deu 24:2  when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife,
Deu 24:3  if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife,
Deu 24:4  then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

The rabbi’s argued over the interpretation of the phrase,“because he has found some uncleanness in her.”  It divided the two schools of Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai, popular first-century Jewish scholars.

The Hillel school took a very lax view and said that “uncleanness” meant that the husband could divorce his wife for almost any reason.

The Shammai school took a stricter view and said that “uncleanness” referred to sexual sins.

It’s not our purpose today to teach the passage from Deuteronomy, but I will say a few quick things.  Among the Jews, it was common for a wife to be “put away” by her husband.  It was an arbitrary action by the husband, not subject to the wife’s consent.  She need not be guilty of anything, and she certainly had not broken God’s Law.

The dismissed wife was in a kind of legal and spiritual limbo.  She was technically still a married woman.  As a wife who had been abandoned she would have a very difficult time even surviving if she did not have her original family to go back to.  Remarriage to another man was unlikely since the circumstances of her dismissal by her husband put a stigma upon her.

Moses addressed this terrible practice of putting away wives.  He demanded that the husband give the dismissed wife a certificate of divorce.  It was her evidence that she had done nothing unlawful, except that she was detested by her husband.  This would remove any stigma from her and enable her to legally remarry.

Moses wasn’t giving permission to divorce, or establishing grounds for divorce.  He was trying to regulate a practice that was foul and unfair.  It was a great mercy to the wives who were treated so unfairly.

OK, back to the Pharisees and Jesus.

Mar 10:5  And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.

Zing!  No one saw that coming.  They spent hours and hours arguing over what Moses might have meant by a certain phrase, when the greater reality was that Moses should never have had to regulate their despicable practice in the first place.

The real issue was sklerocardia.  It’s the Greek translation of the word for “hardness of… heart.”  Their hearts had grown hard toward God.  They were dishonoring Him by disrespecting marriage, and by looking for the loopholes by which to disregard God’s clear intention for, and description of, marriage.

Just to be absolutely clear about marriage, Jesus referred them to the Garden:

Mar 10:6  But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE.’
Mar 10:8  AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Mar 10:9  Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Yes, we take the Genesis account as history – not allegory or mythology.  One primary reason we must take it as history is that Jesus took the account as history.  He spoke of special creation, of the Garden, of Adam and Eve, all as if it were literal.   Jesus believed in special creation, over a period of six twenty-four hour days.

Unless you are suggesting that Jesus didn’t know any better, because Darwin had not yet come along, please remember this about Jesus: “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16).

Jesus is the Creator.  He was there, in the Garden, with Adam and Eve.  I trust His testimony.

We can summarize God’s description of marriage by saying it is the monogamous, heterosexual union of one man, and one woman, to be maintained as long as they live, serving as the firm foundation for humans living in society.

This simple definition is the foil for all the imaginations of men and women and governments seeking to substitute their own definitions of marriage.

“Can I have multiple spouses?”  No.  “Ah,” you say, “but there were lots of polygamous relationships among God’s people in the Bible.”

As we look at Scripture, none of these arrangements matches the structure of marriage given by God from the beginning.

Just because the Bible records them, it doesn’t indicate God was pleased with them.  To the contrary, a direct command against polygamy is given to the kings that were to rule Israel, as they are told not to “multiply wives” to themselves (Deuteronomy 17:17).

“Can I marry someone of the same sex?”  No.  We certainly recognize that some people have same-sex attraction.  I don’t agree with those who claim they are wired that way from birth, but, even if it turns out that you are, it still doesn’t make it godly.

Nick Roen is a pastor at Sojourners Church in Albert Lea, Minnesota.  He has a burden to help the church think through issues regarding sexuality, singleness, and celibacy.  He’s burdened because he is a Christian who admits same sex attraction.  He wrote the following:

Same sex attraction is the result of a broken creation, and in that sense it is “sinful” or “dishonorable” [as we are told in Romans 1:26].  It is an effect of the fall.

However, experiencing same sex attraction is not the same as sinning.  Rather, same sex attractions should be treated like any temptation to sin.

They should be fought with blood-earnestness in a way that recognizes the deceitfulness of the heart and the finitude of the mind.

When I do this – when I fight temptation, turn to Jesus, trust his promises, and rely on His Spirit – God is pleased.  He is not mainly displeased because I need to fight, but pleased because I am fighting.

This is good news for all of us who experience all manner of temptations!  May this fact lead us, no matter our particular groaning, to rest in Jesus more deeply, fight temptation more fiercely, and look forward to the day when our fight of faith will result in “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1Peter 1:7).
Roen suggests that sanctified singleness is the solution we must proclaim:

If we are going to ask those who struggle with same sex attraction to reject their longings for as long as the Lord wills, then we must have a strong theology of singleness that does not present it as simply a transitional stage on the way to marriage.  It seems that in many churches, marriage is assumed for everyone, and when it doesn’t happen for certain people, they are left wondering if the church is a place where they can truly belong.

“Can I engage in sexual activities with someone other than my spouse?”  Nope; and neither can I engage in sex before I’m married, or if I find myself unmarried.  It is within marriage that God says you are to enjoy sexual relations, and nowhere else.

Of course, people ‘can’ do all these, and more.  If, however, you are claimed by Jesus, then No, you can’t do them – not without it being sin.

When a person has any of these questions, a good question to ask them is, “Are you submitted to God?”  If they are, then these questions are already answered for them.

People proclaim, “God wants me to be happy,” as though that settles the matter.  God wants you to be holy – for your sake.  True happiness can only result from holiness, and holiness derives from pleasing God, not from pleasing your own sinful lusts.

Let me stop to explain that there are biblical grounds for a divorce and subsequent remarriage.  There are at least two.

In the telling of this incident in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was recorded as saying,

Mat 19:9  And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

Sexual immorality is the more modern translation of the word fornication.  The word fornication includes premarital sex, incest, sodomy, harlotry, perversion, and bestiality.  It is really a catch-all term for all sexual sin, both before and after marriage.

“Adultery” is fornication committed by a married man or woman.

“Sexual immorality,” by a spouse, according to Jesus, is biblical grounds for a divorce.

He wasn’t commanding a divorce when there is sexual immorality; only permitting it.  Many marriages have survived the sexual immorality of one or both spouses who have repented and been granted forgiveness.  Nevertheless, the offended spouse may choose divorce, and is then free to remarry – as long as they marry a believer.

There is one other situation where the Bible establishes grounds for a divorce and subsequent remarriage.  It is the abandonment by your nonbelieving spouse.  The apostle Paul said,

1Co 7:15  But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.

In Corinth, the believers had come to a false conclusion that, if you were married to a nonbeliever, you should get a divorce.  Paul corrected them, saying that if the nonbeliever was content to remain married to the believer, stay married.

If, however, the nonbeliever abandoned the believing spouse, they should not try to stop them from getting a divorce.  The believer is not “bound” to that marriage.  Afterwards the believer is free to remarry – as long as they married a believer.

It’s not always so simple as that.  For example,  let’s say your spouse is involved in pornography.  The word fornication is a translation of porneia, from where we get our word pornography.  Is it grounds for divorce?  If you say it is, how deeply must the offending spouse be involved in it?

It’s a serious question.  We are exposed to pornography almost constantly in our modern world.  If I don’t pluck-out my eyes when the Victoria’s Secret ad comes on, is that grounds for divorce?

What, exactly, constitutes abandonment?  What about physical abuse?  Or mental, or verbal abuse?  Are those abandonments?

And, again we must ask, How severe must they become?

Are you really going to tell a woman being abused to endure it because her dirtbag husband, who professes to know Jesus, won’t abandon her and isn’t committing adultery?

We can take a page out of Moses’ book.  God wants to protect the innocent – never to add to their misery.  He was concerned about the plight of the wife being unjustly put away, and He stepped in to regulate the hardness of men’s hearts so she was set free to remarry.  He is no less gracious today, under the new covenant.

One conservative but insightful commentator put it this way:

In summary, what are the biblical grounds for divorce?  The answer is sexual immorality and abandonment.  Are there additional grounds for divorce beyond these two?  Possibly.  Is divorce ever to be treated lightly or employed as the first recourse?  Absolutely not.

Within the framework of the biblical grounds revealed for divorce, we need to struggle with each situation and its unique details, holding to the sanctity of marriage as it was originally modeled, but extending grace to innocents who are the victims of the hard-heartedness of others.

No one ever comes in and says, “I’m going to divorce my spouse without any biblical grounds because I have a heart that is totally hardened against God.  I know that it’s wrong, but I either don’t care, or I’m so selfish that I don’t think God’s Word applies to me.”

When you’re casual about divorce, it’s a heart problem between you and God – not between you and your spouse.  Admit it; confess it; repent of it.

#2    If You Are Casual About Divorce,
    Check Yourself For A Derelict Heart

His disciples are going to ask Jesus to clarify His answer.  He does, and as He does, we get a further insight into the kind of heart that is casual about divorce.  It is a heart derelict of its duties and responsibilities to the spouse.

Most of the professing Christians I’ve had to confront over the years about their nonbiblical divorce have been extremely selfish.  It’s all about them:

They claim that their spouse doesn’t quite live up to their expectations.

They announce that they are in love with some other person, and since that makes them feel better, then it doesn’t really matter how their spouse feels.

Using hindsight, they think they should not have married their spouse, that it somehow wasn’t God’s will, so they argue that a divorce gets them back on track to doing God’s will.

No one seems to care that they exchanged vows, before God, that were based on willful decisions, and not on selfish desires.  “For better… Or for worse… In sickness… Or in health… For richer… Or for poorer…. As long as we both shall live.”

In fact, it turns out what they meant was, “For better until it’s worse… in health Because sickness is too demanding… for richer and richer… as long as I feel love for you.”

Jesus is not so much interested in feelings as He is fealty – which is a little-used word that means faithfulness to your Lord.

Marriage is a promise made to God.  Even if you did not make vows to God, marriage is not a human institution; it is His creation ordinance for the protection, the provision, and the preserving of the human race.  You have a responsibility to God to live within His definition of marriage.

Mar 10:10  In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter.

No matter how long you’ve been a Christian, there are always questions, or things that need clarifying, in terms of exactly what we believe.

Mar 10:11  So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.
Mar 10:12  And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

You might be wondering why, since Jewish women had no right to divorce under the Law of Moses, Jesus would mention them divorcing their husbands.

Israel was occupied by Rome, and under Roman law, women had more rights than under the Law of Moses.  Mark’s Gospel was written with a Roman audience in mind, so his mention of women divorcing their husbands makes sense.

Also, as the Gospel went forward, and out to the Gentiles, this issue would come up again and again among the non-Jews.

“Divorces” here must mean “divorces without biblical grounds.”  It must mean that, because, as we’ve seen, elsewhere Jesus and Paul establish that there are biblical grounds – namely sexual immorality and abandonment.

What Mark’s omission is telling us is that the Holy Spirit wants to emphasize a different aspect of divorce.  Namely, He wants to emphasize what it does to your spouse.

Jesus says you commit adultery “against” your spouse.  It indicates the adulterer injures his or her spouse.

Adultery causes injury; it harms your spouse.  I was going to talk about some of the pain, but I don’t want to cause any of you to relive the pain you’ve gone through, or are going through, on account of the infidelity of a spouse.  I think it’s obvious it hurts.

Is that the kind of person you want to be?  One who knowingly, unashamedly, injures the person you once promised to care for in any conditions, “til death do you part?”

I would hope you’d say, “No, I don’t want to be that person.”

Sexual sin, overall, causes severe injury.  While you are focusing on the temporary physical and emotional pleasure it seems to bring you, you’re ignoring the lifelong pain it inflicts savagely on others.

In a passage about maintaining sexual purity, the apostle Paul warns “that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified” (First Thessalonians 4:6).  The idea of “defraud” seems to be that you injure their walk with the Lord by taking advantage of them simply to satisfy your own lusts.

Not sure how the Lord will avenge the defrauded person but you shouldn’t want to find out.

In the midst of a long passage warning against adultery, the writer of the Proverbs says,

Pro 6:27  Can a man take fire to his bosom, And his clothes not be burned?
Pro 6:28  Can one walk on hot coals, And his feet not be seared?

Then he summarizes, saying, “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul” (6:32).

If you think this sounds old fashioned, it might surprise you that adultery is still a crime in twenty-one of our United States.  Cases are still prosecuted.

Let me briefly address one concern some of you might have.  Let’s say you realize that you had no biblical grounds for your divorce and are now remarried.  Are you therefore guilty on habitual adultery?

No; you are not.  The apostle Paul, addressing some of these complicated issues, advises, “Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called” (First Corinthians 7:20).  Today, if you are married, you are to stay in that marriage.  If you got there by committing sin, confess it to God, and repent, and thank Him for grace that is sufficient for all of our many sins and failings.

If you are casual about divorce, you are derelict in your marital duties, towards God and towards your spouse.  You’re likely thinking too highly of yourself, and not as a servant.

Don’t be a derelict.  Be a disciple.

It comes down to this: “Are you living to please the Lord, or not?”

Answer that question in the affirmative and your marriage will be transformed into a beautiful garden.