The Classic Christmas: Expecting consolation and redemption

At Christmastime children are overwhelmed with expectation. The soundtrack for the childhood Christmases of many was the Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas record. The Chipmunks hit was “Christmas don’t be late”. One of the lines in the song is, “we’ve been good, but we can’t last, hurry Christmas hurry fast” and another line is, “we can hardly stand the wait please Christmas don’t be late.” This song strikes a chord with every child as they see the pile of gifts grow under the tree and door after door open on the Advent calendar.

One of the elements of celebrating the classic Christmas, is enjoying the expectation that’s cultivated during this season. A major part of our celebrating is looking forward to what is to come at Christmastime. We look back on Jesus’ first coming which causes us to look forward to his second coming and both of these work change in our hearts now, today. Jesus is the one who was, who is, and who is to come and this is communicated at Christmastime. So as exciting as it is to create that atmosphere of expectation and anticipation in our observance of the holiday, that same attitude should infuse our faith all the time. If we aren’t filled with an expectation and an anticipation as we wait for the Lord to move in our lives and in this world, then we aren’t properly understanding the Scriptures.

When Jesus instructed his disciples to pray “your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as in heaven,” this was a lesson in expectation. Not only can God move in our midst, but he will. Not only can God establish his rule on earth fully and completely, but he will. Not only is he transforming our hearts and lives into people who will live forever, it’s a work he will complete resulting in eternal life. This expectation is seen in the Scriptures and in the Christmas story.

In Luke 2:22-24, Mary and Joseph were careful to obey they law in regards to this son that God had given them. The law required a lamb to be sacrificed when the first son came. There was a provision in Leviticus 5 that allowed the sacrifice of pigeons or turtle-doves if a family was too poor to have a lamb. As an aside, this is evidence that Mary and Joseph were of humble means. Jesus wasn’t only born in a stable because there was no room at the inn, they couldn’t afford anything more. But going back, verse 23 is a quotation from Exodus 13:2. Now, why would the exodus story be reference here? Exodus 12 is the story of the tenth plague and the Lord delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt by the blood of lambs. Exodus 13 begins the journey to the promised land where God says he will lead them and not leave them. And in Exodus 13, God says that as part of this redemption, any time the first male is born, whether to a mom and dad, or to livestock, that male is to be set apart for God. The firstborn male belongs to God, so this is the observance that Mary and Joseph were participating in. The fact that they take Jesus to the Temple for their “purification” as it says in verse 22, is a demonstration of their faith in God and that God delivers his people and leads his people. The firstborn belonged to God, so they had to take the firstborn to the Tabernacle in Exodus, or the Temple in Jesus’ case. Exodus 13 says that families had to pay a sacrifice to purchase their sons back from God. This new birth and purchasing back with a sacrificial lamb was to be a symbol of how God had redeemed Israel from slavery. Whenever a family had their first son, they would sacrifice a lamb. This was to point to God’s redemption of Israel from slavery. The firstborn animals were given to the temple, but the firstborn sons had a lamb substituted for them. The lamb was killed to purchase them back, just like what happened in Egypt.

This is the gospel in the Old Testament. Jesus is the firstborn son given as a sacrifice. He is the firstborn and the Lamb that redeems us from slavery. The firstborn is given by the Father so that we all might be redeemed from slavery and exile. So these couple of verses here in the middle of the Christmas story aren’t only to show that Mary and Joseph obeyed the Law. This points to who this firstborn son is. He is the one who will be given as a sacrifice to release us from slavery to sin and death.

This ceremony was observed by Mary and Joseph, and when they arrive in the Temple, there are people there worshiping. We see one of them in Luke 2:25-35. He was an old guy named Simeon. The defining statement about Simeon was that he was waiting for the consolation of Israel. This idea of Consolation, carries the Exodus story forward again. Consolation can mean comfort, help, or encouragement depending on the context. In this time period many people were waiting for God’s Messiah to come and restore Israel as a political and military force. In Jewish thought, this Messiah was called by many names, but one was the Consolation of Israel. Israel had endured oppression and been ruled over for centuries and the expectation of the Messiah coming was growing and growing. This Messiah would be the one who would bring comfort in the midst of the oppression of this Exile and slavery under the Romans. During this time, many false-messiahs did come and attempted rebellion only to be crushed. So, for someone like Simeon to be expecting the Messiah in this time period, wasn’t the same as the people saying that the world is going to end on December 21st. It was different from that. This Messiah, or the one who would bring consolation to Israel, would restore Israel and overthrow the Romans. Consolation in this sense relates to what was lost or broken. Although Israel was a broken people, the Messiah would bring consolation and restore it.

This echoes back to the Exodus story on how God brought Israel out of Egypt as a great nation. The Messiah would make Israel even greater than before. Israel entered Egypt as a family but emerged as a nation. It was expected that the Messiah’s work would restore Israel in similar fashion. Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died. In his long life, it’s likely that he saw or heard about more than one false-messiah. He wasn’t promised that he would live to see the results the Messiah would bring for Israel, but he would see him. So he went to the Temple which would be the proper place to meet the true Messiah, and there he waited with faith and hope, and he expected to see the Messiah as the years and decades passed. But, God keeps his promise to Simeon.

We don’t know how he knew, but when he saw Jesus, he knew he was the Messiah. He didn’t need to see the water turned to wine, the healing, the triumph over demons, the betrayal, the crucifixion or the resurrection. He knew what God was going to do. God was going to bring Consolation to his people through the this baby. Verses 29-32 are a song of Blessing that Simeon sings. He sang a song about Jesus being Israel’s consolation. This baby he is holding is the conquering Messiah who will be the light to the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel. He knew that God had brought light and Glory in this Baby. God had not abandoned his people in their suffering, but he brings consolation by joining with them in their suffering. He did it in Exodus bringing them out of Egypt and this Gospel is showing us he is doing it again in Jesus.

As this scene is unfolding in the Temple, a woman in her mid-80’s walks into the Temple just in time to see this. Her name was Anna and we read about her in Luke 2:36-38. She was a prophetess. Her life was devoted to worship in the Temple. She came to the Temple at the same time Simeon was holding Jesus and also realizes that this baby is the Long Expected Messiah. So, she begins to tell the other people in the Temple. It says she spoke of him to “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” With Simeon, we talked about the Messiah bringing consolation and with Anna we see the Messiah is also going to bring redemption. Consolation relates to what is lost and broken. Jesus consoles by bringing restoration. Redemption relates to rescue from danger, release from slavery, or ransom from indebtedness. Again the story of the Exodus is echoed in Luke 2. People expected the Messiah to release Israel from Roman oppression and bring redemption. This baby will pay the ransom of Israel, Jesus will bring redemption to Israel. But it won’t just be for Israel, but as a light to the Gentiles as well. Jesus doesn’t free Israel from the Romans, but he frees humanity from sin’s oppression.  He brings a redemption that causes release from the captivity of death to eternal life. He pays the penalty that sin would have exacted from us and gives us resurrection instead. Because of Jesus, God offers us consolation for our past and redemption for our future. He forgives us of our past and he gives us freedom for our future. He pardons our sin and he seals our salvation.

Simeon and Anna lived in faith and hope for decades before seeing God fulfill the expectations that he placed within them by allowing them to see Jesus. Jesus the Messiah who is Israel’s consolation and redemption is also ours. Our attempts to find meaning and fulfillment in the pleasure, or power, or possessions of this world leave us empty and unsatisfied. They leave us longing for the consolation and redemption only found in Jesus. Our suffering, heartache, and brokenness fuel this same longing. When tragedy comes, we want it undone. We want it to come untrue. When the realization of that impossibility overwhelms us, we cry out wondering how God lets these things happen. Answer elude us all, but even if we had answers, it wouldn’t be enough. We want justice and restoration. And when we consider how even the best of lives eventually intersect with tragedy and death, we don’t know why God allows our world to operate this way.

What does all of this mean? Why do people go into theaters and schools and shoot people? It’s illogical, senseless, but most specifically, it is evil.

Where is God in all of this? He is infinitely strong so he will bring justice and he is infinitely good, so he has reasons which reason cannot comprehend. But most importantly, he has not abandoned us. One thing this does NOT mean is that God does not care. God identifies with those who suffer. He joins himself with Israel, with Mary and Joseph, with Simeon, with Anna, with people in Newtown, CT, and with us. He doesn’t merely watch us suffer, he steps into our suffering and he conquers it. He submits to death and then overwhelms it. God knows what it’s like to lose his son in a senseless act of violence, in a display of sinfulness and evil. And it is because of this that like Simeon and Anna, we await the Messiah who will bring us Consolation and redemption. His Kingdom will come and his will, will be done on earth as in heaven. He will reign in righteousness and justice, love will be his law, and we will be his people and he will be our God. Let today be the day you trust in Jesus for your consolation and redemption.

Review and Reflect on Mark 11:12-26; The Barren Temple illustrated by the Withered Tree.

Amid the cheers of the crowd, riding on a colt, Jesus displayed himself as Israel’s King. Everything about what Jesus was doing was showing how he fulfills God’s promises. Jesus was riding into Jerusalem as Israel’s King, just like God had promised. When he arrived at the Temple, he looked around and saw a disturbing site. So he leaves. He goes to a neighboring village for the night, and the story continues in Mark 11:12-14.

Jesus is on his way to the Temple in Jerusalem and stops at a fig tree for breakfast. The tree looks fine on the outside, but upon close inspection, there is no fruit. A fruit tree with no fruit is good for nothing. Jesus curses the tree because it has no fruit, and we know this is more important than simply the reaction of a hungry man because it says in verse 14, “his disciples heard him say it.” This seemingly irrelevant little story will become important after what Jesus does next when he gets to the Temple in verses 15-25.

The Temple had become both a patriotic and a religious symbol. It was a source of national pride for Israel. It came to be recognized as a symbol of God’s favor upon Israel and as a symbol of Jewish identity. And this may not sound all that bad, but it wasn’t supposed to be any of those things. The Temple was for worship. Allowing commerce and politics and nationalism to enter into it was a degradation of its intention. The Temple wasn’t supposed to be just another place, it was a place to meet with God. Jesus opposes this corruption of the Temple and for the next several passages, until Mark 13, we’ll hear him talk about these things. Jesus wasn’t against the Temple, but he was against what the Temple had become. It was no longer a place to worship or pray, it was the center of politics and commerce. It wasn’t only that people were being exploited by the money changers and animal salesmen, people were buying things in the Temple and walking through the Temple courts on their way to do other things. So, by the time we get to Mark 13, we will hear Jesus say that the Temple will be destroyed and replaced. Worship impacts all of life, and they were letting life impact their worship. Things were upside down. People made money there. People were networking and politicking. People were walking through the courts because it was closer to their destination than walking around. The time for formal worship was to place all other aspects of life in perspective, and they had rearranged worship to fit aspects of life into it.

Bring this to our present day. We gather for worship as a church for a small period of time weekly. This time allows the rest of our lives to be focused and ordered accordingly. Worshipping God is focusing on what is most important and it also shows us how the rest of our lives can be focused on God. These people looked at God through the lens of life, rather than looking at life through the perspective God gives his people. We experience this same temptation in our day. Business, networking, politics, and many aspects of our lives are brought into worship when they should be left outside. Our worship of God informs and directs all of those things, but if we aren’t careful we will approach God with all of those things. We’ll worship business, social life, and politics and we will ask God to bless it; when we should worship God alone, and ask him to direct our involvement in all other various aspects of life for his glory. Not that those other aspects of life aren’t important, but their importance hinges upon God being placed in the center of our lives. Without taking regular time to specifically devote ourselves to worshipping God and aligning our hearts with him, we are in danger of moving his place in our lives from the seat of Lordship to the guy who helps me do the stuff I want to do. This is called idolatry and this is what Jesus saw in the Temple that day.

In Verse 15 Jesus addresses everything going on in the outer court of the Temple. He doesn’t single out those who were selling, but also addresses those who were buying. In Verse 16 it says people were carrying merchandise through the courts. The Temple had several layers leading up to the innermost place called the Holy of Holies where the high priest went once a year to make sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. Where Jesus is at this point, is in the outermost court called the Court of the Gentiles. This was where Gentiles (non-Jews) who wanted to worship God could come and do so. In verse 17, Jesus begins to teach after he has just wrecked the place and his words are from Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7.

Isaiah 56:6-8 is about foreigners who don’t belong to Israel that God will include in his people. Jesus was calling attention to the plan of God to allow foreigners to come to worship him. The people who oversaw the Temple had allowed things to be put in place that hindered this. Jesus saw the place where Gentiles were permitted to worship become commonplace and no longer sacred. The commerce and activity happening everywhere in the Court of the Gentiles wasn’t worship, and Jesus acts to restore the sacredness of that place. His actions included knocking over tables and scattering money everywhere. He stopped people who were cutting through the Temple courts and told them to leave. In doing this, Jesus references the passage from Isaiah which talks about God including foreigners in his plan when he restores God’s people and rescues them from their exile.

The other passage he quotes is from Jeremiah 7:2-11. This passage is a condemnation of the people of Israel. Although they had a temple to worship God, it hadn’t translated into a life that worshipped God. They trusted in the existence of a Temple rather than loving God and living rightly. In Jeremiah 7:6, the reference is again to the foreigner in addition to orphans and widows. Jesus is quoting these two passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah to condemn Israel’s religion. They thought that just because they had the Temple, this meant they were right with God. But they had neglected to love God and people from their hearts, and their religion was only outward, not from their hearts. Isaiah and Jeremiah condemned Israel when they turned away from God. They warned God’s people of a coming exile if they didn’t turn back to God. They refused to do so, and were taken away to foreign lands. Jesus is calling Israel to true worship again, and in Mark 11:18 we see that the response of Israel’s leaders is to try to kill Jesus. Just like Israel in the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah, in Jesus’ day they refuse to worship God properly, but live for their own desires and pursuits. Verse 18 says that the leaders were afraid because the crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching. They were going to have to do something quickly, or Jesus would be made King and the leaders would lose their positions of influence and comfort that they had.

In verses 19-25, it’s clear now that Jesus cursed the fig tree, not because he was hungry and it didn’t feed him, but as a symbol or metaphor for what was happening in Israel. The barren temple is illustrated by the withered tree. This is why the story about the fig tree has the story of Jesus cleansing the temple in the middle of it. Jesus is effectively saying that Israel has become a tree without fruit. They bear all the marks of religion yet they don’t know God. About this passage, Tim Keller says, “Jesus was returning to a place that was religiously very busy, just like most churches…but the busyness contained no spirituality. Nobody was actually praying.” Jesus goes into the temple and there is no worship. No one was praying.

Of all the things we might do as a church and as individuals, we must worship God. There are different ways to do this, but primarily in the church, it has to do with singing, praying, and reading and preaching the Scriptures. If we neglect worship, we are club, or a benevolent organization, but we are not a church. So, among the other things that churches do, our primary focus must be worshipping God when we gather. No other place does this, only the church. We can get advice from all kinds of places, but we only know God through his word.

The day after Jesus goes to the Temple; Peter recognizes the fig tree and points it out to him. Then, Jesus begins to talk about praying. The focus of the Temple should have been prayer, but that had been replaced. So Jesus is teaching that although the Temple has now become an example of Israel’s fruitlessness, prayer remains an essential aspect of worship. He is also teaching that prayer doesn’t have to happen only in the Temple, but you can pray anywhere. Jesus tells his followers that prayer is the way in which the power of God is translated into daily life.

Verses 24 and 25 give us two instructions regarding prayer. First, if we ask God believing that he will give it, it will be ours. Secondly, when we pray we are to release anything we hold against anyone by forgiving. We talk a lot about the first and not so much about the second. God has the ability to throw a mountain into the sea, it says in verse 23, and when we believe in God’s power, we will pray accordingly. But our prayers are a place where theology and life intertwine. Loving God cannot be separated from loving people so we when we pray our theology that informs us of God’s ability, must be joined with the practice of forgiving others of their wrong against us. God doesn’t count our many sins against us, and we have no right to count the sins of other against them. Prayer is affected by our view of God and our view of others. God made a way for us to be reconciled to himself so in our application of that reconciliation, we must also reconcile ourselves to one another. In talking about prayer, here Jesus speaks to the vertical and horizontal aspects of the Gospel.

Jesus died for our sins and rose again giving us eternal life. But that eternal life is not just with him, but with all who turn to him in faith. So, it’s likely that you will spend eternity with people you don’t particularly care for. In fact, it’s possible that you might spend eternity with people you might actually hate. God hasn’t turned me or you away, and he won’t turn away anyone else who comes to him believing and trusting what Jesus has done. The Gospel affects us in a God-ward way and an others-ward way. At Shore Community Church, we say that our goal is to Love God and Love people. Jesus teaches that here with his instructions on prayer. He says, believe that God can do anything you ask, but your prayers are affected by whether or not you forgive other people.

Review and Reflect on Mark 10:17-31

The story of this wealthy man in Mark 10:17-31 is a contrast to the previous few verses about those who enter the Kingdom like children. This story describes again the intensity and seriousness of following Jesus: he tells this man to sell everything he has! Although God may not call me or you to do that, we have to be careful not to temper this message. Jesus does and will call people to forsake everything in a physical and tangible manner. Some have given away wealth, others fame, and still others their physical lives. So, when we approach a passage like this we need to make sure we feel the tension and the weight of what it would mean for us to sell all that we have and give the money to a homeless shelter. For some of us it is inconceivable that we would do this. For others of us, we know that if we had to do it, we would immediately get to work rebuilding what we had. God gives us everything we have to leverage for his Kingdom and his glory. Our temptation is to leverage it for our own comfort and pleasure. God gives us the time we have, the talents we have, and the treasure we have to bring people to him, to build the church body, and to honor him.

You might call these things “The 3 T’s” – Time, Talent, and Treasure. We are all given the same amount of time in our days and weeks, and it’s up to us to make the most of that time for the Kingdom of God and not squander it. Everyone is busy, the question is, are you busy in a way that honors Jesus? Also, we all have some type of talent or gifting that God has given us. People are naturally good at certain things or are naturally inclined to doing other things, and we have opportunities to use those talents for the glory of God. The Bible also talks about spiritual gifts like mercy, giving, leadership, teaching, hospitality, and many others. God equips each of us with gifts to serve the whole body. Although some gifts are in plain view, others are behind the scenes, but if any of us neglects to practice our gifts, the whole body suffers. In the church, our lives in Christ are intertwined; we are not completely separate and autonomous. There needs to be those who teach, those who listen, those who perform acts of service, those who encourage, and those who practice lots of other gifts. Many times, each of us have a combination of talents of differing degrees and it practicing them, we find how we can best serve the body. Practicing our gifts is to build up the church: to build in numerical growth, and to build the body spiritually. We all are given time, we all are given at least one talent or gifting, and then we all have Treasure. Some of us don’t have much and some of us just think we don’t have much. Whatever we have, we have an opportunity to leverage for the Kingdom of God and to see it as a tool rather than a goal, as a means of worshipping God rather than an object of worship itself. In the Gospel of Luke we see this element of our treasure discussed in several places especially in Luke 16:10-13 where Jesus says we cannot love both God and money.

This was the source of the internal struggle of this man in Mark’s Gospel. He had lived his entire life properly and uprightly, but there was a void, a problem in his soul. He followed all the rules and lived morally. But, he was trying to serve both God and money and Jesus knows it. So, this man asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”, and Jesus responds with theology, with love, and with application. Jesus’ response is deep, authentic, and simple.

First, in verse 18 Jesus responds to this man with theological depth. He responds to the man’s greeting “Good Teacher” by saying “There is none good but God.” Jesus recognizes this man has come to him with sincerity looking for answers, but out of the gate, Jesus reminds him that even with his moral achievement that doesn’t make him good. Only God is good. There are aspects of goodness reflected in humanity because we are made in God’s image, but the only one who is good in essence, who defines goodness, and who is the embodiment of goodness is God himself and God alone. Jesus responds this way because if we properly understand goodness, this man is correct. Jesus is good because he is God. So when Jesus responds to this man’s search for filling that eternal void in his spirit, this isn’t simply moral advice dispensed by some guru. Jesus speaks the word of God. He speaks from authority and he speaks not just advice, but truth. This man has undoubtedly heard of Jesus’ reputation and authority and this is why he comes to this teacher and healer. But Jesus lets this man know a little more about him than most do, although he does it in a cloaked manner. Jesus hints to this man at his divinity. He’s not just a healer and teacher, but God in human flesh. This is a deep theological truth, but it is also immensely important for people who follow Jesus to understand. Jesus is a man, he is a teacher, he is a healer, and he is also God. He is God and man together in one person. So when we speak of God we speak of Jesus and when we speak of Jesus we speak of God. Jesus is our friend and brother, and he is also our King and God. This should give us comfort when we are lonely or discouraged and it should cause us to fear when we are tempted by our sin.

Another theological point of this passage is found in the interaction Jesus has with his disciples about this discussion with the rich man. In verse 17 the man asks about eternal life and in verse 23 Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God. Then Jesus mentions eternal life in verse 30 in speaking of the age to come. Our understanding of eternal life should be more shaped by Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God than by popular conceptions of clouds, harps, golden halos, and angels. Living in God’s Kingdom is eternal life and there is not eternal life outside of God’s Kingdom. There are quite a few more references to the Kingdom of God than to eternal life in the New Testament. Eternal life is much bigger than we can conceive it to be. Eternal life exists in the context of God’s Kingdom. He is infinite and so is his rule, so life in and with him will surely be much greater than the popular conceptions of the afterlife. Jesus teaches about the Kingdom that has come and has begun, but it continues eternally and we are invited into eternal life in his Kingdom if we believe and repent. Jesus calls this rich man, and his disciples to a greater depth in understanding who he is.

Secondly, Jesus responds to this man in Verse 21 with authentic love. Before Jesus gave instruction to him, he loved him. He felt compassion for him. Remember that Jesus is the true King who has compassion and love for his people. This man is often referred to as the Rich Young Ruler because Matthew notes his youth and Luke refers to him as a ruler. In Tim Keller’s book “King’s Cross“, he notes that one of the reasons Jesus loves him is because of his status. Like this man, Jesus is young, around 30-33 years old. Like this man, Jesus is a ruler, his Kingdom knows no end. Like this man, Jesus possesses great wealth, he owns the cattle on a 1000 hills. The rich man recognizes Jesus as a good teacher, but has no clue with whom he is speaking. Jesus has authority and wealth in an infinitely greater way than him. And yet, at the prime of his life Jesus in his early 30’s Jesus will forsake it all and go to a cross. He tells this man to give away his wealth because of its stranglehold on his heart. But Jesus can tell him to do so with integrity because he is doing the same thing, but to an infinitely greater degree. Jesus gives up a heavenly throne to rescue people like this man, and when he says, give your wealth to the poor, he knows exactly what that means because he has done no less.

The third ways Jesus responds to this man is with simple application. Jesus says, all you have to do is sell everything and follow me. All you have to do is deny yourself and pursue the cross for your life. The man understands this command because it is simple, but it is so difficult for him that he leaves full of sorrow. It says he’s “disheartened”. Other translations say he is “grieved”. Why? Because he knew he wouldn’t do it. Jesus requires him to forsake what is most dear to him, his wealth. And he loves God, but not quite as much as he loves his money. More than this Jesus doesn’t require him only to give up what he has, but to set a new course for the future as well. Jesus says “follow me”, no longer is he to pursue God and money, but only God. Jesus is calling this man, to give up what he can gain in this life, to gain the next life. He has said this before in other places. He says it in chapter 8 when he says “deny yourself” and he has just said it in verses 13-16 saying that we must receive the Kingdom like a child. For some people, God will remove obstacles that prohibit us from coming to him, but in this case, he asks this man to remove the obstacle himself and give away his wealth. Sometimes we need to pray for God to remove what is holding us back, and other times we need to pray that God would change our hearts to help us love him more than our stuff and ourselves. Jesus’ Disciples sensed the magnitude of this simple command as well. We see Jesus interact with them in verse 23-31. In verses 23 and 24 Jesus tells his disciples twice “How difficult is it for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God”. He says it twice so we should make sure to hear it. In verse 25 Jesus says his famous saying that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” than for the rich to enter the Kingdom. It’s impossible Jesus says. There’s not a chance it’ll happen.

Verse 24 says the disciples were amazed at this and in verse 26 it says they were exceedingly astonished. They say in verse 26, “Who can then be saved?!?!” Jesus says that God will make a way in verse 27. It is impossible for us to save ourselves. It is impossible for us to squeak by and obtain eternal life in God’s Kingdom. But, what is impossible for us is possible with God. He would make a way for people who continually turn away from him to pursue ourselves and our own desires and pleasures to enter his Kingdom.

Then in verse 28, ol’ Peter chimes in. He calls to attention that these disciples have given up everything to follow Jesus. “But we have given up everything, does that mean at least we will get eternal life.” “Look at us” he says. “Look at me!” – I left everything, I give 10%, I go to church every week, I sacrificed something for God, I, I, I….If you are still looking at what you have done, then you aren’t looking to Jesus for your salvation, but to what you have done. Jesus’ response to the question “Who can be saved?!?!” is crucial. Though we would attempt to gain the Kingdom through wealth, influence, power, or even our own righteousness, it’s insufficient and sub-standard. This is not how eternal life in the Kingdom is gained. Jesus changes everything. This is why he says in verse 31, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Whatever you forsake or lose in this life will be gained in the next.

But the difference between what you can gain in this life and what you can gain in the next is infinite. The more we realize this, the less we will live for the things of this world and live for the one to come. What are you living for? Can you sincerely and truly say you love Jesus more than your financial portfolio? Jesus loved this man and he saw that the greatest obstacle to life with God for this man was his wealth. Jesus loves you and if there are things in your life before him it is dangerous and destructive whether they are matters of wealth, relationships, hidden addictions, or anything else. When we read this story, it should cause us to repent of anything we are pursuing or loving more than Jesus. Do you love God more? More than your wealth? More than your hobby? More than your job? More than yourself? Don’t forget that he loves you so much he went to a cross for you, so anything that hinders us from loving him, is not good for us. Open your heart and life to him today and give him everything.

Acknowledgements and Sources.

Acknowledgments and Sources used for “The Gospel of Mark”

In the interest of giving credit where it is due, I (Kyle) wanted to post references to the sources that have impacted my thinking on Mark’s Gospel. I have used them heavily in my sermons and blog posts and I am grateful for the diligence and hard work of these scholars. Most of the ideas in the study of Mark’s Gospel were profoundly impacted by these sources. These sources, in no particular order, are:

Review and Reflect on Mark 7:24-30

At this point in the story, Jesus has been continually travelling, teaching, and healing as he has gone about proclaiming the Gospel. When we read “Gospel” in this particular book of the Bible, we are to understand it as Jesus’ message that the promised Time is fulfilled and God’s Kingdom has come close enough to experience. And since chapter 1, we seen that the response we are to have to this message is belief and repentance. Proclaiming this Gospel and calling for this response has been the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. As we began to see in chapter 6, his schedule is wearing on him, and he has tried to take time to get away for rest and refreshment, but people keep showing up. So he leaves town again, but this time he heads out-of-town and goes to a neighboring non-Jewish territory.

First, read Mark 7:24-30.

Verse 24 shows that Jesus retreated to a place to hide, but he couldn’t. Even in the non-Jewish region near the cities of Tyre and Sidon which were along the Mediterranean coast, Jesus’ fame has spread so that he cannot hide. He wasn’t even in the city, but in the vicinity, he was out in the country and his reputation was known there. In verses 25-26 A woman, who was a Gentile (not Jewish), and had a daughter with a demon, which was the mark of uncleanness, comes to Jesus begging for help. These are three strikes against her, yet Jesus hears her.

The fact that he even had a conversation with her went against multiple acceptable norms of his day. Yet, she was in need, so he pauses to hear her. Each time Jesus has addressed the crowds in Israel, or even his disciples, he is met with astonishment. They see what he is doing, and they hear what he is saying, but they have no clue what it means. Yet, here, in a non-Jewish land, Jesus is met by a non-Jewish woman who has understood what he is saying and doing. Verse 26 says that she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And Jesus responds to her in a way that when we hear it we think, “man, that’s harsh”. Partly, this is conducive of the Jew/Gentile relationship in which there is a mutual disregard on racial grounds. The other part is this is a parable. He speaks to her in what may be derogatory, but he doesn’t outright call her a dog, although he uses the example of a dog in the parable.

When we come to Jesus, part of believing and following him is understanding what he says about us. The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. A lot of people take offense when they are told that in their hearts and with their actions they have offended God. Our pride often causes us to try to justify ourselves rather than agreeing that our hearts are turned away from God. We say things like, well I’m not as bad as other people, or as bad as I could be. Or “I try to do the right thing” or “I’m nice to people and I help people and do good things”. Just because we are not hateful or as bad as we could be doesn’t mean we haven’t offended God. Our pride causes us to declare that God must accept us, but even this is an affront to God’s holiness. When Jesus says, believe and repent, this is included in what he is talking about. If we are going to follow Jesus, we have to believe what he says about the condition of our lives, and we have to repent from our pride and our attempts at self-justification.

This woman reacts humbly when Jesus compares her with a dog in his parable. She lived in close enough proximity to Jewish people and culture that she would have known that even speaking to Jesus was violating multiple different social and religious customs of the day. (By way of clarification, I’m not saying that women are inferior, but in the culture of 1st century Palestine, women were not treated with equality, to say the least.) She, no doubt, knew well who she was, a woman, a Gentile, and unclean by association with her demon-possessed daughter. This women comes to Jesus because she didn’t allow her inferiority to prevent her from coming to him. She didn’t say to herself, “I’m just not the kind of person that follows Jesus.” She had no thought that he might not accept her. Many people refuse to come to Jesus because they refuse to recognize who they are in light of who he is because of their pride. Other people refuse to come to Jesus because they fully understand who they are and don’t believe that they can be forgiven. They think they are just too sinful, or too messed up for God to love them. This refusal is no different from the refusal of the prideful person. If you don’t believe that God can love you, if you don’t believe that God’s mercy extends to even you, then you have refused it. We are invited to put ourselves in this woman’s shoes. Unclean and unworthy as we may be, we can come boldly to Jesus because his love and mercy are far greater than our estimation of them. We are more wicked than we like to admit, but we are far more loved and have received far more mercy than we would ever hope to believe (Keller).

This is the double-edged sword of responding in belief and repentance to the Gospel of Jesus. We have to agree with what he says about us, but in responding properly we also experience love and mercy like we could never have expected. This woman approaches Jesus with no pride, nor doubting his mercy for a person like her.

About this, Tim Keller writes:

You know why she has this burst of boldness, don’t you? There are cowards, there are regular people, there are heroes, and then there are parents. Parents are not really on the spectrum from cowardice to courage, because if your child is in jeopardy, you simply do what it takes to save her. It doesn’t matter whether you’re normally timid or brazen – your personality is irrelevant. You don’t think twice; you do what it takes. So it’s not all that surprising that this desperate mother is willing to push past all the barriers.

A mother will do what it takes to do whatever needs done for her children. So, Jesus responds to her in this harsh way, because he has come as Israel’s Messiah and she is not Jewish. But this is a sign pointing forward that even though he is Israel’s Messiah, he is not ONLY Israel’s Messiah. In verse 28, she speaks to him about the dogs being able to eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table. The Bread is clearly meant to point to the blessings of the Messiah’s ministry. It is first offered to the Jews, then the Gentiles. But, Jesus’ affection is won by this Gentile or non-Jewish woman. This, along with the healing of the man possessed by an army of demons, and the teaching on the dietary laws (here and here) are all pointing together toward including non-Jews in God’s plan. Those who are not children will eat the Bread as well. The disciples are continually cast in the light of not understanding Jesus’ teachings or actions, but here this woman who is not even Jewish understands Jesus well enough to convince him to help her. It would have been unacceptable for Jesus to enter a gentile house so he pronounces this exorcism even though he is nowhere near the demon-possessed girl. This further shows how Jesus’ word has authority even where he himself is not present.

Verse 28 is the only time in Mark’s Gospel when someone calls Jesus “Lord”. Although this would be a normal way to address a stranger, the fact that this is the only example should call more to our mind. This woman understands Jesus’ authority even better than the men who are his Jewish disciples. This passage is a subversive one to say the least. The woman is a model of humility and faith. She is not Jewish, but she believes in Israel’s Messiah. So this passage seems negative, reads negative, but it’s actually not. She is a sign that the Gentiles will soon have access to the redemption, rescue, and restoration that comes through Israel’s Messiah Jesus.

Review and Reflect on Mark 4:35-41

Jesus has just finished teaching about responding to the Gospel in belief and repentance. He has taught how this response relates to those who are inside and outside the Kingdom of God. And lest we forget who this is who is saying these things, there is one final story in the context in Mark 4:35-41.

After spending the day teaching, they set out on the Sea of Galilee to cross to the other side in the evening. As they are sailing across, a storm blows up suddenly, which happens in the Sea of Galilee, and it was so violent that it started filling the boat with water.There is a contrast in verse 37 to Jesus sleeping in verse 38 that is almost humorous if you think about the situation. So they wake Jesus up, and ask him a question that all of us will probably eventually ask God if we haven’t already: “Don’t you care?!” They say “don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Don’t you care that I can’t pay my bills? Don’t you care that I’m sick? Don’t you care that someone I love has died? God, Don’t you care about what I’m going through?! This is not a new question for God, so we have it recorded here in Scripture so we know we aren’t alone in asking it. This is an important question that we have to answer. Does he care or doesn’t he? This is where the depth of our theology intersects with human suffering. All of a sudden God isn’t just an abstract idea anymore but someone who can affect my circumstances if he wants to. Remember, Jesus’ message is that God’s kingdom has come. He can help me if he wants to, but if he doesn’t want to, why not? These are tough questions.

Does God care about our suffering? Let’s think about it. If God didn’t let bad things happen to people to he loves, then only good things would happen to people he loves. Then, since bad things happen to everyone this means God would love no one. This is where many people stop, so they reject God and believe that either there is no God, or if there is one he certainly doesn’t care about me, and if he does care about me, he’s mad at me. Bad things do happen to everyone, even the billionaire who invented Red Bull died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 89. Bad things happen to billionaires, bad thing to happen to people in poverty. We can either stop there, or we can keep going. I want to keep going.

By definition, what makes God, God, is that he is all-powerful among other things. If God is not all-powerful then he is not God. If he is all-powerful, he must be stronger than our circumstances. Since God is God, his love is expressed and enacted in ways that are greater and more profound than our understanding of why good or bad things happen to good or bad people. If you have a God to be mad at for causing your suffering or sorrow, then you also have a God who understands things that you possibly cannot and loves you more than you can possibly know. We can’t have it both ways. If God caused it, he is strong enough and loving enough to have his reasons. If he’s not strong enough or loving enough, then he couldn’t do anything about it, and this is not the God of Christianity, but a mere idol. We are either at the mercy of the storm, or in the hands of an all-powerful, all-loving God.

So our premise that God won’t let his people go through peril and suffering is wrong. It’s bad theology. Good theology understands that God can let bad things happen to people he loves because he is God and he has loving purposes that are greater than even our suffering. So in the midst of our suffering, no matter how horrible, we cannot doubt that God loves us and cares deeply for us. This is why the Bible says, “cast all your anxiety on him, for he cares for you”.

We may not understand our suffering, and we might even be angry at God for allowing it, but we cannot think that he doesn’t care for us in infinite ways that we will spend eternity with him learning. Those who reject belief in God, are forced to be victims of Nature. Nature is going to wear you down and destroy you, it doesn’t love you. We will all fall victim to tragedy, or illness, or the wearing down of the body in old age. Nature is violent, overwhelming and unmanageable. We can fight against it, but we cannot endure forever. Jesus also lets things happen to us we don’t understand. He allows or even causes Nature to exact a toll on us. He cannot be controlled or manipulated. There is a crucial difference though. Nature is indifferent to humanity, Jesus is filled with love for us. He is great enough to have reasons to make us endure tragedy and trial even if we don’t know those reasons. Of course this is not simply an exercise in reasoning, this truth of God’s love for us even in suffering must be believed and we must feel it within us, it’s not just a matter of being convinced.

(Tim Keller’s book “The King’s Cross” was instrumental in helping me think through these things in light of this passage, I highly recommend it.)

So the disciples ask him, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” And Jesus responds. Jesus speaks to the storm like you speak to a belligerent child. He says, “Enough” or “Stop” or “Quiet”. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t perform an incantation. He simply speaks, and like a compliant child, the storm obeys, and everything is calm. Then he asks them a question, “have you still no faith?” or “do you still have no faith?” They hadn’t yet understood that this man preaching the coming of the Kingdom of God was the King himself. This is what his parables were about. When the one who created the wind and waves commanded them, they obeyed. A few weeks ago we looked at Jesus teaching about the Sabbath day and saw that as it relates to Sabbath, Jesus says, “I don’t just instruct you to rest, I am rest.”Here he says, “I don’t just display power, I am power”. They were afraid of the storm, but now they are terrified of Jesus. And the disciples respond by asking one another, “Who is this?”

And we are left with this question for ourselves as well. Who is this Jesus to us? To you? to me? Is Jesus really the King who is bringing his Kingdom and one day, perhaps soon, it will come in all of its fullness and completion.  Who is this Jesus? Is he the all-powerful, all-loving God who rules over our joy and our suffering? If not, who is he then? Don’t reject or accuse him, believe and follow him. We rest in his strength and in his love for both today and for the future. Will you follow him?