Sunday, March 25, 2018
The Coming of the Servant-King
Introduction: We are jumping ahead a couple of chapters to look at Mark’s story of the Triumphal Entry. After Easter, we’ll go back to Mark 9. Contrast the scene that we see here in Mark 11, and the story as it unfolds, with the vision in Revelation 19:11-16,
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Of course, Revelation is a vision seen by John and full of symbolism, even so this is a messianic picture that is strikingly different than what we see in the Palm Sunday event: A white horse, a crown, white linen, a sharp sword, the armies of heaven! This “triumphal entry” is still future. His coming in our context in Mark reflects the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, “…humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” It is interesting the John, Matthew, and Luke all quote Zechariah and draw attention to the fulfilling of the prophecy. Mark simply tells the story, allowing his biblically literate readers to catch the allusion. Both Revelation and the Gospel account are true. Before the Kingdom is established the work He came to do needed to be accomplished. That brings us to…
The Maine* Idea: The King has come and the King is coming. He came first as the Servant-King, willingly laying down His life to make a way for fallen humans to become kingdom citizens. Is Jesus your King?
I. Jesus is the Promised King: He again showed His sovereignty as He guided the disciples to procure a donkey’s colt for His entrance into the city (1-6).
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, "Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.'" 4 And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go.
The villages of Bethphage and Bethany, on opposite sides of the Mount of Olives, about a mile across the Kidron Valley from the East Gate of Jerusalem were an area Jesus knew well. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived in Bethany and it seems Jesus stayed with them when He was passing through the area. John tells us the whole story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, apparently sometime just before this final entrance into the city. Remember that some describe Mark as a “narrative of the passion with an extended introduction.” The whole of the Gospel of Mark has been pointing ahead to the this final trip to Jerusalem, and this scene introduces the last third of the Gospel, giving us some highlights and an eyewitness perspective of The Passion week, from Palm Sunday to the Resurrection.
As far as we know, Jesus had never ridden an animal before. He walked everywhere. It was necessary for the Scriptures to be fulfilled, and this would be one more detail that would essentially proclaim publicly that Jesus is the Messiah. But I want to focus on one other detail here. Notice how Jesus instructs his disciples, tells them exactly what will happen, tells them what to say, and what to do. Some suggest that Jesus may have made prior arrangements to borrow someone’s donkey. Go to the village, you’ll see the donkey, the people will ask why you are taking it, and tell them the pre-arranged password, “the Lord has need of it.” Then they’ll let you take it. Of course, it could have happened that way, Jesus had been through the area and was no doubt known to a lot of people. But nothing in Mark or the other gospels gives us any hint that Jesus had made some kind of behind the scenes arrangements. Mark wants us to see that Jesus is in control, that He is guiding the story, that He knows things that no mere man could possibly know. This is one more indication that He is the Sovereign King, the Lord of history.
Read these details and recognize that Jesus is the Messiah: The King has come and the King is coming. He came first as the Servant-King, to willingly lay down His life to make a way for fallen humans to become kingdom citizens. The question for you this morning: Is Jesus your King?
II. He allowed the People to Proclaim His kingship: The reactions of the people spontaneously fulfilled Scripture and pointed to Jesus’ messianic identity, even though they only saw in part (7-10). Ironically, their actions this day would also announce His arrival to the leaders, and set in motion the opposition that leads to the Cross. Up until now, Jesus had repeatedly told the disciples and those who He healed and set free from demons not to talk about His messianic identity. But the time for silence was past. When the leaders complained about what the people were implying Jesus said if they were silenced the stones would cry out!
7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!"
The donkey’s colt would carry Jesus into the city in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 and Genesis 49:10,11. As Jacob was near death and blessed His sons, he said of Judah,
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor. 11 He ties his foal to a grapevine, the colt of his donkey to a choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes… (Genesis 49:10-11, NLT)
The coming of the promised King, a donkey’s colt, washing His clothes in the blood of grapes, could it be a veiled reference to Palm Sunday, and to Good Friday? He is the ideal descendant of Judah, the King who all nations will honor! Zechariah’s prophecy is likewise fulfilled in the triumphal entry…
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey… (Zechariah 9:9).
The shouts of the people were also drawn from the Scriptures, from Psalm 118:25-26,
25 Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.
What they were saying was true as they quoted the psalm, but ironically, they did not understand the full import of their words. The phrase, “save us” is from the Hebrew hoshiah nah, often transliterated “Hosanna.” He came to save, but not in the sense of a military deliverance. The salvation most needed was spiritual, and that is what Jesus came to provide. He came to be our substitute, to be our Passover. The great irony in the shouts of the people is that in the immediate context of the Psalm the coming rejection and death of the Savior is alluded to. Just a couple of verses before we read in Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” We’ve seen throughout Mark the rejection of Jesus by the leaders. He was rejected in His hometown. Even the gentiles in Decapolis asked him to leave! As John said, “He came unto his own, and his own received Him not” (John 1:11). He was the Stone rejected by the builders. Immediately after the verses shouted by the crowd, the psalmist said in Psalm 118:27, “The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” The final Sacrifice would be offered at this feast. Not a lamb, but the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! This is why He came. Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us (I Cor 5:7b).
The crowds did not yet understand. His own disciples still didn’t get it. But Jesus, as the Passover-King, guides this story into Jerusalem, through the upper-room, to Gethsemane, and right to the Cross. God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world so that we might live through Him (I John 4:9). Jesus came to undo the Fall, to make a way for sinners to be reconciled to God—and through His resurrection to give us Easter hope, the hope of the restoration of all things. He came that we might have life, and that more abundantly. To borrow a motto: that is the way life should be!
After the resurrection Jesus told His disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44). In this passage we see reference to the three parts of the Hebrew Bible: the fulfillment of passages from the Law (Gen 49:10,11), the Prophets (Zech 9:9), and the Writings (Ps 118:25,26) as Jesus enters Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd. Of course, we have the whole story, so we know more than the crowds or even the disciples about what would soon happen.
The King has come and the King is coming. He came first as the Servant-King, willingly laying down His life to make a way for fallen humans to become kingdom citizens. Is Jesus your King?
III. Jesus came as the Passover-King: He came for Passover, and entered the Temple, the building that signified the need for atonement and showed the separation between fallen humans and Holy God (11).
11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
This verse seems almost anticlimactic in light of the excitement that led up to it. Jesus enters the city with the fanfare and excited shouts of the crowd, and then goes into the temple, looks around at everything, and since it was already late, went out with the disciples back to Bethany. This is a detail in Mark that I had simply skimmed over through the years. Matthew goes right to the Temple cleansing the next day. Mark shows us that Jesus was contemplative, deliberate. Why did Jesus go the temple? What was He thinking as He looked around?
First of all, let’s remember the context. It was Passover week. Jesus had been teaching the disciples during this journey to Jerusalem that it was necessary for the Son of man to be handed over to sinners and put to death, and that He would rise again the third day. They couldn’t understand, they couldn’t grasp the plain meaning of the words. Perhaps the triumphal entry itself stirred their messianic hopes. Would Jesus at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? Jesus goes straight to the Temple, enters, and looks around. Preparations for the arrival of the pilgrims for the feast were surely already happening. People would be coming either with their own sacrifices, or with some kind of currency that they could use to buy an animal to sacrifice. The outer courts of the Temple had become a place of commerce. The near context will show us Jesus returning there and over-turning the tables of the money changers. The worship of Israel had lost its focus!
Think about this: the Temple represented the place of God’s presence in the midst of the people. When Solomon’s Temple was dedicated the Glory of God descended on the building. Now, God incarnate stood there, looking at the place that also represented the separation between sinful humans and Holy God. The sacrifices were offered there, underscoring the sin problem, the necessity of a substitute, the need for the shedding of blood for the remission of sins. Jesus is King, but He came as a Servant-King, the Passover-King, the Shepherd of Israel was also to be the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world! The final sacrifice would soon be offered, and the veil of the Temple would be torn in two, from top to bottom. In Christ alone, Hope is found!
What is God saying to me in this passage? The King has come and the King is coming. He came first as the Servant-King, willingly laying down His life to make a way for fallen humans to become kingdom citizens. Is Jesus your King?
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Dates on the church calendar, like Palm Sunday, can be useful reminders of important moments in the unfolding of the Story of Redemption. But we need to guard against familiarity clouding our understanding of what God is saying to us. Open the eyes of our hearts Lord! What did Jesus think as he entered the city, went to the Temple and looked around? We know from Luke’s Gospel that He wept over the city as He approached…
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation…" (Luke 19:41-44).
The Prince of Peace, the One for whom then nation had waited for centuries had come, and the leaders did not recognize Him, they did not receive Him. Consequently, judgement would come on Jerusalem. In AD 70 the Romans would raze the city and the Temple. And a blindness in part would continue for Israel, until the fulness of the gentiles comes in. As Jesus looked around, did He see the blindness of the leaders? Did He anticipate God’s chastening on the nation? Did He contemplate the judgement that He would bear in His own body on the Cross? What does He think as He looks around at our worship today?
I hope He sees a grateful people, not perfect, but forgiven, clothed in His righteousness, repentant and believing, worshipping Him together in Spirit and in Truth. Desiring to walk as He walked, in holiness. Seeking to bring the message of His grace to the world. Is Jesus your King? Live then as a Kingdom citizen in this fallen world! Forgiving, extending grace, showing kindness, choosing to love. People will notice, and God will be glorified. AMEN.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Introduction: I like the title of a book by James W. Moore: Yes, Lord, I Have Sinned but I Have Several Excellent Excuses. That is a sermon in itself! In that book he tells a story that is a good introduction to our passage today…
In the golden days of the settling of the West, one of the major means of transportation was the stagecoach. But did you know that stagecoaches had three different kinds of tickets — First class, second class and third class? A first-class ticket meant you could sit down. No matter what happened, you could remain seated. If the stagecoach got stuck in the mud or had trouble making it up a steep hill, or even if a wheel fell off, you remained seated because you had a first-class ticket.
A second class ticket meant that you got to sit down until there was a problem, and then you had to get off until the problem was solved. You got off, stood to the side, and watched somebody else fix the problem. When the situation was corrected, you could get back on the stagecoach and take your seat again because you had a second-class ticket.
A third class ticket meant that you got to sit down until there was a problem, and then you had to get off and push! You had to put your shoulder to it and help solve the problem, because you had a third-class ticket...
A second class ticket meant that you got to sit down until there was a problem, and then you had to get off until the problem was solved. You got off, stood to the side, and watched somebody else fix the problem. When the situation was corrected, you could get back on the stagecoach and take your seat again because you had a second-class ticket.
A third class ticket meant that you got to sit down until there was a problem, and then you had to get off and push! You had to put your shoulder to it and help solve the problem, because you had a third-class ticket...
…When I was living in China I saw the principle of the third-class ticket in action. I was riding on the bus one day on a six-lane road when we passed another public bus at an intersection. That bus had broken down and so everyone had gotten off and the passengers were pushing their bus through the intersection! It is assumed that because you are riding on the public bus you have a “third class” ticket. Second class ticket holders take a taxi and first-class ticket holders have their own car or a car and driver.
He then makes his point that “Here in North America we lead a first-class ticket lifestyle where no one would think passengers should push a public transit bus down the road.” What kind of ticket do you think the disciples were thinking they should have in our context? What was Jesus trying to teach them about what it means to follow Him? Let’s make it personal: What kind of ticket do you and I think we should have? Are we here to be served, or to serve? If we see a need, do we step in and put our shoulder into it, or step back, and assume someone will do it? What did Jesus mean when he said He came to serve? What did He mean when He said that we need to serve one another? That brings us to…
The Maine* Idea: Jesus came as the promised Servant, and He calls us to serve Him by serving others. We’ll look at that from three perspectives, 1. The Foundation, 2. The Attitude, and 3. The Practice of Authentic discipleship.
I. The Foundation of Authentic Discipleship: The Gospel (30-32). After being with the three disciples on the mountain, Jesus came down and set free a boy who had been demon-possessed. His ministry is now focused primarily on teaching the 12, but He is still moved with compassion by the needs He confronts on the way.
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise." 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
Jesus is heading south toward the Sea of Galilee and the town of Capernaum, which had become His base of operations for the ministry in Galilee and beyond. We are told that He “did not want anyone to know.” Why? He was passing “through Galilee” on His way to Jerusalem. He was focused on teaching the disciples about what would happen, what had to happen, when they got there. Just as He had told them in 8:31, he tells them again here, and still they don’t understand. “The Son of man is going to be delivered into the hands of men…” The same verb appears in the Greek translation, the Septuagint, of Isaiah 53:6, and then twice in 53:12. That context of course is a detailed prophecy of the Suffering Servant, the One who would bear our sins. Jesus is laying a foundation for the disciples’ future understanding of the Cross and Resurrection in the light of Scripture.
“…they will kill Him…” The Son of Man will be delivered in the hands of men and they will kill Him. “Delivered” is the passive voice. Delivered by who? At one level by the religious leaders. At another level, by the will of the Father (Acts 2:23; Rom 8:32). It was necessary for the Messiah to die—He came to give His life as a ransom for many. I don’t think the disciples could understand the meaning of Him rising from the dead, because they couldn’t grasp the idea that He would be killed. All of their messianic hopes were focused on victory and deliverance. It was unthinkable that the Messiah would be rejected and killed. That was an oxymoron, it was a contradiction, it made no sense. That is why they could not even get to the second part of Jesus’ statement: “…after three days He will arise…” Even coming down the mountain after the transfiguration the three were questioning among themselves what this rising from the dead might mean. So,“they did not understand…” At least not yet. John Calvin said, “So great is the influence of preconceived opinion, that it brings darkness over the mind in the midst of the clearest light.” Soon the veil would be lifted. After the cross and resurrection Jesus would “open their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44,45). We are part of the post-Pentecost church. So we understand that the foundation of authentic discipleship is the Gospel. That means we must understand who Jesus is and what He did for us. And we must be willing to take up our cross and follow Him. Jesus came as the promised Servant, and He calls us to serve Him by serving others.
II. The Attitude of Authentic Discipleship: Humility (33-35).
33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."
Alistair Begg preached this passage focusing on two questions: 1) A question the disciples were afraid to ask (32), and 2) A question the disciples were ashamed to answer, which we see here in verse 33, “What were you discussing on the way?” Why would they have been ashamed? They kept silent because “…they had argued with one another about who was greatest…”! Think about that in light of what Jesus had just been teaching! He would soon be delivered up and killed. He came to lay down His life for all who would believe. The disciples not only did not understand, they were afraid to ask about it and turned the subject to themselves. Remember Mohammed Ali’s line, “I am the greatest!” My dad used to like the country song that had a line, “It is hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way.” Pride is something that fallen humans don’t have to learn it seems! Benjamin Franklin said,
There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.
None other than the famous preacher Dr. Harry Ironside told a story on himself. He was once convicted about his lack of humility, and a friend recommended as a remedy, that he march through the streets of the city wearing a sandwich board, while shouting the scripture verses on the board for all to hear. Dr. Ironside agreed and he did it. When he returned to his study and removed the board, he said "I'll bet there's not another man in town who would do something as humble as that." Oh well! We can learn from the words of some saints from the past. Augustine famously said, “Should you ask me: What is the first thing in religion? I should reply: the first, second, and third thing therein is humility.” Let me quote again this eloquent statement by Andrew Murray on the subject…
“Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.”Remember that Jesus had just been teaching the disciples about His impending suffering and death, and rather than searching what that might mean they were arguing about which of them was greatest! Paul reflected on the Christ’s example when he told the Philippians, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Phil 2:5). The Cross would be the ultimate example of the attitude of THE Servant. Just in chapter 8 He had challenged the crowd along with the disciples: “If anyone would be my disciple, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Me.” They were not there yet… instead of pondering or even questioning Jesus, they were sounding a little like Mohammed Ali, arguing about which of them was greatest!
Jesus asked them what they were talking about on the way, but, apparently they were ashamed to answer. Obviously, Jesus knew what they were talking about—His teaching afterward shows that. But, as the Master-teacher, He was using questions once again to provoke their reflection, in this case to expose the attitude that they will need as His disciples. Jesus himself was their example. Becky R. is working on a Good Friday program, which includes the scene in the upper room, as Jesus, God incarnate, washes the feet of His disciples. As they are no doubt embarrassed by the humble service rendered by their Master, He concludes, “As I have done for you, so should you do for one another.”
“…if anyone would be first he must be last, and servant of all…” The path to greatness is not what they expected. It is through humility, through serving, through putting others before ourselves. It may have been Andrew Murray who said, “the humble person does not think meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all!” Rick Warren paraphrased that when he said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” So we don’t conjure up some sense of humility, because once you think you’ve achieved it, you’ve lost it. Instead it is found in focusing on the Lord, on knowing Him and loving Him and serving Him, and then seeing with His eyes the needs of people around us. Charles Spurgeon put it this way,
…he who would be chief, must always be aiming at the rear rank, willing to do the most humble service and to be the lowest menial in his Master’s service. Only in this way can we rise. In Christ’s Kingdom, the way to go up is to go down. Sink self and you shall surely rise.
That is contrary to popular thinking! God’s ways are not man’s ways. Jesus came as the promised Servant, and He calls us to serve Him by serving others.
III. The Practice of Authentic Discipleship: Serving (36-37).
36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."
Remember the three questions that Mark is answering for us as he writes his Gospel: 1) Who is Jesus? 2) Why did He come? And 3) What does it mean to follow Him? The disciples are starting to get a sense of the answer to that first question, at least realizing that Jesus is the Messiah, and slowly perceiving that He is more than a mere man. Why did He come? He has begun to teach them explicitly about His impending death and resurrection, but the meaning of His words seemingly eludes them still, they cannot understand. They are obviously struggling as well in understanding the answer to the third question. What does it mean to follow Him? Here, He gives them an illustration, taking a child from the crowd, then picking him up in His arms.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…” Children were not the center of the universe in the first century. They were to be taught the truth. Godly parents understood that they were called to train them in the way of the Lord. But children and women had worth only in relation to the head of the household. Remember the reaction of the disciples when parents brought their children to Jesus? The disciples wanted to keep them away! We’ve got important things to do, important teaching to hear! They had no time for a bunch of kids. That is until Jesus said, “Do not forbid them… of such is the Kingdom of God!” I am thankful that we have parents in our church who prioritize teaching their children, and workers that dedicate themselves to partnering with parents in training their children. They are so close to the heart of God that Jesus says here, “whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…” By holding up a child, one who was considered of little worth, Jesus is calling His hearers to not think more highly of themselves than they ought.
“…whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” Later Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father and it is enough for us!” Jesus answers, “Have I been so long with you and you still do not know me? He who has seen me has seen the Father!” Such is the unity in the Godhead – Father, Son, and Spirit. Three persons, one divine essence—one God! To receive Jesus is to receive the Father. “No man has seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known!” Now remember the sequence: receive a child, receive Jesus, receive the Father. Children are close to the heart of God. God doesn’t call only the highly exalted in the eyes of society – He doesn’t only call the powerful – we are called to bring the message of his grace to the humble and to outcasts: Jesus said “I have come… to call sinners to repentance!”
What is God saying to me in this passage? We are called to Gospel-Centered discipleship. The foundation is the Gospel: Jesus came as the promised Servant, and willing laid down His life for us. He humbled himself, taking the form of a Servant. He obeyed the Father’s will, even to the point of death on the Cross. He calls us to follow Him—to serve Him by serving others.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Remember Moore’s book I mentioned at the start: Yes Lord, I have sinned, but I have several excellent excuses! Really? One writer said, “An excuse is the skin of a reason, stuffed with a lie!” Do you believe that Jesus came as the Suffering Servant prophesied in the Scriptures? Do you understand that we are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and to follow Him?
Are you willing to serve? God gets to make the rules, and He has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation, so we urge men on behalf of Christ: Be reconciled to God! All of us have a part in that mission. He has molded each of us into the unique person we are. He does all things well, and He has a plan. You and I are a part of it. Though we are all different, we are all called to serve God by serving others. None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. You might think, “I’ve done my part.” Really? I truly believe that God will give us work until our life is over, and life until our work is done. So let's put our shoulders to it, together. Until He returns or takes us home, we need to be fully engaged in His mission together! AMEN.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
I Believe… Help My Unbelief!
Introduction: Have you ever had the experience of coming down from a “mountain top” experience, and then immediately been confronted by the reminder of the struggles of life in a fallen world? Elijah certainly had one after contending with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18). After seeing God send fire down from heaven before the people, he heard Jezebel had sworn to put him to death, and in despair he prayed for God to take him (I Kings 19:2-4)! Moses spoke with God on Mount Sinai, he entered the cloud that covered the mountain and received from God the Law (Ex 31). When he delayed in returning the people had Aaron make a Golden Calf, and they set it in the center of the camp and were having a party!
What about you? You return from a Christian conference or a retreat and you are feeling on top of the world. And then you get home, and the bills are still waiting to be paid, your spouse has a “honey do” list that won’t quit, and you have to go to work on Monday morning and deal with your boss! Think of this experience for the disciples. On the mountain, “meeting” two Old Testament heroes of the faith, Moses and Elijah. They see Jesus transfigured, His glory shining through, hearing the voice of the Father, “THIS ONE is my Son, hear Him!” That is where our passage starts…
The Setting: Jesus descends from the mountain with the three disciples… and they find the scribes arguing with the remaining disciples! (14-16). Do you ever think (or wish!) that a mountaintop experience with the Lord may never end? Someday, but for now He has left us on assignment in a fallen world! Why do you think we see so many imperatives in the NT telling us how to live as His disciples? In fact, sometimes the “highest highs” are followed by our greatest challenges! God is present on the mountain and in the valley! Jesus and the three come down the mountain…
14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, "What are you arguing about with them?"
Once again, the scribes appear, and are apparently arguing with the nine disciples who had stayed behind while Jesus was up on the mountain with the three. We are immediately reminded of the antipathy that existed between the religious establishment and Jesus (and His followers). As the Pharisees had been waiting when he crossed from Decapolis to Dalmanutha (Mk 8:11), so now the scribes are there, arguing with His disciples, when Jesus descends the mountain. The three are probably bursting at the seams, wanting to say something about what they had just experienced on the mountain! But they had been instructed to not say anything until the Son of Man is raised from the dead… whatever that meant (we know better that the disciples did at that moment!). Jesus asks, “What are you arguing about…?” Question: Do you think He needed to ask? After what just happened on the mountain, is there any doubt? He is the Son of God! He asks, as a teacher, giving an opportunity for someone’s faith to be deepened. Another teaching moment!
Why were the people “greatly amazed” when they saw Jesus? It is a very strong expression. It seems to say more that they were glad to see Him, or that they were excited by His return. It seems to evoke again the setting on another mountain, 1500 years earlier, when Moses came down the second time from being in the presence of the Lord. We read about that in Exodus 34…
30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34 Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him… (Exod 34:30-35).
In our context Mark doesn’t say anything about Jesus’ face shining (that was mentioned by Luke and Matthew) but it seems likely he wants us to think back to that story. Here, without any explanation, he tells us that the people were “greatly amazed” when they saw Jesus. Rather than being afraid to come near him, as happened at first with Moses, the crowd “ran up to Him, and greeted Him.” (Remember the three were terrified at first when they saw Jesus transfigured before them [Mk 9:6]). Are we to see a contrast here between the Law, represented by Moses, which exposes our sin and our unworthiness, and Grace, represented by Jesus, which offers forgiveness and hope? It seems Mark is inviting us to see that One greater than Moses, the one of whom Moses wrote and to whom he pointed, was present. Because of who He is, because of what He has done, we need to look to Him and trust Him as we carry out His mission in the world. It is not about us, we are in a spiritual battle, and the battle is the Lord’s! We need to trust Him…
The Maine* Idea: Faith and prayer are necessary to compassionately carry out God’s mission in the world. First we see…
I. Compassion: Jesus shows His compassion by inviting a father to bring his needy son before Him (17-22).
17 And someone from the crowd answered him, "Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able." 19 And he answered them, "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me." 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
Jesus asked what they were arguing about. Again, Jesus is showing compassion, teaching, leading those with ears to hear closer and deeper. And it is not the disciples or the scribes that speak up, but a man steps forward from the crowd. He had brought his son to Jesus – and in the Master’s absence, the disciples could not help. It seems this was at the heart of the argument, possibly the scribes using their inability to cast out the demon as evidence against their Teacher. Or, it may be that they were challenging the legitimacy of the disciples themselves in their ministry of healing. Mark says there was a sharp dispute. At the heart of the matter was an inadequate understanding of who Jesus is.
Just as He had with the Pharisees at Dalmanutha, Jesus laments the unbelief of “this generation” (Mk 8:12). The scribes and the Pharisees represented the unbelief of the leaders of the Jews. The challenge to the ministry of the disciples was at it’s heart a challenge to the authority of Jesus himself. Unlike the refusal of Jesus to grant the request of the Pharisees for “a sign from heaven,” Jesus compassionately addresses the plea of this father on behalf of his demonized son. He is not looking for a sign, he is looking for grace!
Jesus calls for the boy to be brought to Him. Was it necessary for Jesus to be near the boy in order to cast out the demon? Remember the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7? She came to Jesus pleading with Him on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter. And though she was a gentile, in response to her humility and faith, without going near the girl or speaking to the demon, seemingly by a mere act of His will, He told her to go home, her daughter was free from the demon. And she was! It may be that Jesus wants this father, along with the disciples, the scribes, and the crowd that was gathering, to hear His words and see his authority.
Jesus again compassionately engages the father, leading him to express his need. The demon, seemingly senses who it is that he is near, and convulses the boy violently. Jesus asks the father how long the boy has been like this (21). This is not a doctor taking a medical history, it is the compassionate Lord of history allowing the man to express his need, his helplessness as he has seen his son, since he was young, in the grasp of this demon apparently bent on his destruction. The father pleads with Jesus on behalf of his son, “…if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” We see the man’s limited understanding and his struggle to believe as he pleads with Jesus for help. As we see Jesus compassionately interact with him, we need to be reminded that faith and prayer are necessary to compassionately carry out God’s mission in the world.
II. Discerning needs: Jesus leads the boy’s father to deeper faith (23-24).
23 And Jesus said to him, "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes." 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!”
IF? Faith means trusting God, believing God is bigger than the challenges of life. Some of you may have noticed the little plaque in our kitchen, “Don’t tell God you have a big problem, tell your problem you have a big God!” There is a second, smaller plaque by the door, it says, “The Battle is the Lord’s!” Jesus discerns where this man is, and His words and actions lead the man deeper, closer to Him.
Remember the Peanuts cartoon with Linus and Lucy looking out the window while the rain was falling. Lucy asks, “Boy, look at all that rain! What if it floods the whole world?” Linus replies, “It will never do that. In the ninth chapter of Genesis God promised Noah it would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” Lucy sighs, “You’ve taken a great load off my mind.” Linus agrees, “Sound theology has a way of doing that.” This father, came to the right person, to Jesus, but he needed some sound theology! He needed to know that Jesus is God, and the nothing is impossible for God!
Immediately the father cries out to Jesus. In response to Jesus’ statement that “all things are possible for one who believes” the man confesses both his mustard-seed faith, and his need for more. “…I believe; help my unbelief!” Is this a contradiction? Not at all! It is honesty, transparency before the Lord. In fact, in crying out to the Lord to help his unbelief, the man is both expressing humility and showing faith! It is not the greatness of our faith, but the greatness of the One who is the object of our faith! So we trust Him, we look to Him. Faith and prayer are necessary to compassionately carry out God’s mission in the world.
III. Authority: Jesus showed his authority in casting out the demon and raising up the boy (25-27). I am reminded of the words of Jesus in the Great Commission: “All authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth…”
25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, "He is dead." 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
The outcome was not in doubt: Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. He spoke, rebuked the demon, and it was gone. The language that Mark uses here is pointing us ahead to another deliverance that will be effected for all who believe. First, the words he uses to describe the boy’s state after the exorcism is strong: 1) he was like a corpse; so much so that, 2) Most of them said “He is dead.” The repetition draws us in, Mark is painting a picture, giving an illustration of the resurrection power of the Lord. Not that the boy literally died, but he appeared so to those present. He was “like” a corpse, and some thought he had actually died. Jesus of course truly died and was buried. Since the fall “…it is appointed unto man once to die...” And then Jesus took his hand, and 1) “lifted him up,” and 2) He arose.
We see both terms used to describe the resurrection of Jesus and our future resurrection. For example, the term translated “lifted up” is used in I Corinthians 6:14 – “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” We also see the word in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, “…and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” So, the term can refer to both the resurrection of Jesus, and the future resurrection of believers. The term second term, “he arose,” can also be used to refer to the resurrection, as in 1 Thess 4:14, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”
Now remember that Jesus had begun teaching the disciples about his coming death and resurrection, but they didn’t have “ears to hear,” they could not understand. Even as they came down the mountain, he repeated the teaching, and the three did not understand what He meant (Mk 9:9-10). It seems likely Mark used these terms to describe the actions of Jesus to prod the reader to think ahead to His resurrection, and perhaps to consider that He will likewise “raise up” all who have put their trust in Him. Paul said the same thing to the Corinthians when he wrote,
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ… (I Cor 15:20-23).
In setting the boy free from the demon, Jesus is giving a picture, an illustration, of the future, final deliverance He will provide to all who believe. In the meantime, we trust Him, because faith and prayer are necessary to compassionately carry out God’s mission in the world.
IV. Praying: The disciples needed to understand their dependence on the Lord to carry out His mission in the world (28-29).
28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?" 29 And he said to them, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer."
One obvious deduction from what Jesus says: If the disciples had prayed, they hadn’t prayed enough! Prayer is a cry for help. It is an expression of humility and faith. It is an acknowledgement of our dependence on Him. We are engaged in a spiritual battle, and prayer reminds us that “the battle is the Lord’s!” We pray because we trust Him, we believe Him, and as we pray we draw nearer to Him and He grows our faith. We believe, and He helps our unbelief!
Does prayer really accomplish anything, does it make a difference? James said “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much…” (James 5:16). One preacher told the story of George Mueller, a great man of faith, who began to pray for five of his friends who did not know the Lord…
…It was not until five years later that the first one of them came to Christ. After five more years, two more of them became Christians, and after twenty-five years the fourth man was saved. He prayed for the fifth friend until the time of his death, a few months after which the last friend came to salvation. For that friend Mueller had prayed more than fifty years! (MacArthur, Matthew, 3:81).
That is persistent, believing, persevering, prayer! Have you felt discouraged that some in your oikos, your friends and family, continue to resist the Truth? If God has put them on your heart, keep praying! Perhaps the delay is to grow your faith!
What is God saying to me in this passage? Faith and prayer are necessary to compassionately carry out God’s mission in the world.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? I don’t know if you are on a mountain-top right now, glowing in the presence of the Lord, or in a valley, struggling to believe God to help you through this present darkness. Know this: Mountain-top or valley, God is real, and He is good, His steadfast love never wavers. Furthermore, we have a high-priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses, who experienced life in this fallen world and was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin! He works in the valleys and on the mountain tops to grow our faith, to lead us deeper, to draw us closer. For myself I enjoy the mountaintops more than the valleys, but I have to say that it is sometimes in the valleys that I have learned the most, and grown the most. Could it be that those are the moments when we pray, like the man in this story, Lord I believe, help my unbelief! AMEN.
Sunday, March 4, 2018
On the Mountain with Jesus
Introduction: The transfiguration was, for the inner circle of the disciples, both literally and spiritually a “mountain top” experience. It was a revelation that, for a time, they would need to keep to themselves, but which would no doubt provoke them to consider more deeply what it revealed about who Jesus is, and even invite them to consider what He came to do. They didn’t get it then, but after the cross and resurrection their minds would be opened, and this experience on the mountaintop would be with them the rest of their lives. We read in 2 Pet 1:16-18,
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
That was a mountain top experience that would bolster their faith even in the valleys of persecution, imprisonment, and exile. Even as they faced the sword!
Context (1). Jesus was just teaching on the cost of discipleship, and His allusion to the coming glory of the Son is followed by a reference to the coming of the Kingdom in power…
And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power."
Scholars debate quite bit about the reference to seeing the kingdom of God after it has come with power. To what is Jesus referring? There are no doubt other elements yet to come—the Cross, the Resurrection, Pentecost—all revealed the advance of the plan of God for those with eyes to see. Even the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, nearly forty years later, would be a sign that the time for those provisional sacrifices was past, Jews and Gentiles alike must come to God on His terms, through faith in the Son. Yet this revelation of the Son, without question, is a glimpse ahead to the glory with which He will rule the nations in power.
The Maine* Idea: Jesus is the promised Rescuer, the Son of God, who would lay down his life to save us, and then be vindicated in the resurrection. Hear Him!
I. Look: The transfiguration (2-4). Do we have eyes to see? Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God…” (Heb 1:3).
2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.
This journey up the mountain and the subsequent revelation is also related in Matthew and Luke, with some additional details. Calvin called this scene a “…temporary exhibition of His glory…” His deity had largely been veiled by His human nature through the years since the virgin birth. Now, as the Cross is drawing nearer, for a moment, the glory of God shines through, revealing to these disciples His divine nature. They had confessed Him as messiah, but they needed to understand more fully what that title meant as it applied to Him, the God-Man.
It was six days after Peter’s confession (on behalf of the disciples) that Jesus is the Messiah. Also, it is six days since He began to plainly teach them that it was necessary for Him to be rejected, suffer, die, and be raised from the dead. They didn’t yet understand, they only saw in part. So, Jesus takes a smaller group with Him up the mountain, and they get some “intensive training”!
We don’t know for certain which mountain this scene took place on. Since they were, the last we know, in Caesarea Philippi, it is reasonable to guess that it may have been Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in the region. Luke, as he frequently does in his gospel, lets us know that they went up the mountain to pray. In light of the journey to Jerusalem that would follow, and what had to happen when they got there, we can see a prelude to Gethsemane as the impending weight of what Jesus would accomplish for us drew nearer.
Jesus took these three with Him, apart from the others, and on the mountain He was transfigured before them. The Greek word used is the same root from which we get our English word metamorphosis. His form changed, his clothes became radiant, intensely white. Matthew adds the detail that “…his face shone like the sun…” (Matt 17:2). As if that wasn’t awesome enough, then Moses and Elijah appear, and are talking with Jesus! The scene, and the appearance of these two prominent Old Testament characters, drives our minds back to other moments when God’s glory was revealed. That is how the disciples took it, at least in retrospect. John would later write, “…we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father…” (John 1:14b). The writer to the Hebrews understood, “…He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…” (Heb 1:3a). And as I noted earlier Peter said in 2 Peter 1:16, “…we were eyewitnesses of his majesty…” There are some mountaintop moments we will never forget! This was one such moment for Peter, James, and John.
Have you been on the mountain with Jesus? I don’t mean literally, but spiritually? Maybe, when you first believed? When you experienced a moment of rededication or commitment? He is still there! Remember the story of the old man and his wife driving in their car. She looks out the car window, then across the car’s bench seat to her husband. She asks, “Dear, why don’t we sit close together like we used to?” He looks from behind the steering wheel, and said, “Well, I haven’t moved!” God hasn’t moved! Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you! Remember, He sent His Son, Jesus, the promised One, who would lay down his life to save us, and then be vindicated in the resurrection. Listen to Him!
II. Listen: In Word and Action hear the Father affirm the Son (5-8)!
5 And Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus...
Peter’s “reaction” (5-6). As usual, Peter speaks first. Rather than taking time to look and listen, he speaks, perhaps rashly. R.C. Sproul says the implication is that he was “babbling.” Mark explains, he didn’t know what to say, and they were all terrified. Not so surprising considering the circumstances!
There are a lot of things we don’t know about this scene. For example, how did the disciples know that these two guys were Moses and Elijah? They didn’t have any pictures… or paintings, not even a description to go by! They weren’t wearing name tags! I am pretty sure they hadn’t seen Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments! It must be that they were given illumination, revelation from God. He opened their eyes to the identity of these men of God from the Old Testament. What motivated Peter to suggest building tents for the three? We can only speculate. Luke alone tells us that Moses and Elijah were speaking with Jesus about His departure that would be accomplished in Jerusalem. The word translated “departure” is not a common one in the New Testament, you might recognize it: exodos. It is used elsewhere to signify the departure of God’s people from bondage in Egypt. Would the presence of Moses on the mountain have been enough to cause Peter to reflect on the Exodus from Egypt? And why Elijah?
My initial thought was that these two men represented the Law and the Prophets, that is, the Old Testament Scriptures that Christ came to fulfill. I think that is true, but there is more to it. God first revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush, calling on him to lead the people out of bondage. Where did that happen? At a mountain, Horeb (Sinai), the Mountain of God (Exod 3:1). Moses later went up that same mountain to receive the Law, and there experienced the glory of the presence of the Lord. When he descended the mountain, his face shone from the reflected glory of God, so much so that he needed to cover his face in the presence of the people! The people had been delivered from Egyptian bondage, but they would quickly show that they needed to be delivered from bondage to sin. Even while Moses was on the mountain, getting the Ten Commandments—which called them to love God alone and told them not to make any graven images—they made a golden calf and worshipped it!
Five hundred years later or so, after a great victory on one mountain, Elijah would run to another. For forty days and nights he ran from Mount Carmel down to the Sinai and that same mountain. There after a great wind, an earthquake and a fire, he would hear the still, small voice of the Lord. He lamented to God, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." The people were unfaithful, they had forsaken what? The Covenant. The Law that had been given when God revealed himself to Moses on the Mountain. Now, on another mountain, the Son is revealed, and He is speaking with Elijah and Moses.
The Father’s Revelation (7-8). What a powerful revelation in word and act of the same truth that the writer to Hebrews expressed: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Heb 1:1,2). The cloud enveloped all of them, including Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. The Father says “THIS ONE is my beloved Son, hear Him!” The cloud lifts, Jesus is there alone. Not Moses or Elijah, but Jesus is the promised Son, the Rescuer for whom they had been waiting! Kent Hughs said,
“For a brief moment the veil of Jesus’ humanity was lifted and His true essence was allowed to shine through. The glory which was always in the depths of His being rose to the surface for that one time in His earthly life. Or, put another way, He slipped back into eternity to His pre-human glory. It was a glance back and a look forward into His future glory!”
This same Jesus is the promised Rescuer, the Son of God, who came to lay down his life to save us, and afterward be vindicated in the resurrection. Hear Him!
III. Learn: The Father’s plan must unfold as it is written (9-13).
9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11 And they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" 12 And he said to them, "Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him."
Jesus’ Restriction (9-10). For a time at least, this mountain top experience was not something to be shared. Just as Jesus had told all the disciples back in Mark 8:30 after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, to “tell no one,” here He tells the inner circle, Peter, James, and John, not to say anything until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. He continues to teach them, laying a foundation for their understanding of the Gospel when their minds would be opened after the resurrection. Once again, the disciples fall short in understanding what Jesus is talking about, “questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.” They can’t grasp the truth of what He was saying, what had to happen. “What is this about rising from the dead? He is right here with us!” They didn’t understand yet what He had begun to plainly teach about the necessity of His suffering, death, and resurrection. They were getting a sense of who He is, but didn’t yet fully grasp why He had come. So, they change the subject. What about Elijah coming first? In fact, we do read in Malachi 4:4-5, right at the end of the Old Testament…
4 "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at [Mount] Horeb for all Israel. 5 "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.”
Remember Moses, the Law he received on the mountain, the promise that He would send Elijah… They had just been on a mountain, and seen Jesus transformed, Moses and Elijah talking to Him, a cloud descending over them as it had at Horeb, and heard the voice of the Father! Then Jesus clarifies that Elijah has come, and they did whatever they wished to him. Matthew tells us that then the disciples understood that He was talking about John the Baptist, who, as his parents were told, came in “the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). Jesus points ahead to the cross, essentially saying that as He will suffer and be put to death, the forerunner experienced that same treatment by the world: “And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” They did the same thing to John! Martin Luther called this “the theology of the Cross,” that is, there is no path to glory, except through suffering.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Jesus is the promised Rescuer, the Son of God, who would lay down his life to save us, and then be vindicated in the resurrection. Hear Him!
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Think about that gathering in the upper room, 2,000 years ago. Jesus, celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples, remembering the deliverance from Egypt. That meal was an invitation to look back and remember the redemption that God had provided, leading His people out of slavery, and eventually, into the promised land. The disciples would only understand afterward what Jesus meant when He said, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood…” For months Jesus had been teaching the disciples that is was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer and be killed, and to be raised up on the third day. A small group of them saw even more as Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, as He conferred with Elijah and Moses. They heard the voice from the cloud: “THIS is my beloved Son, hear Him!” Mark Strauss said,
The promise of the transfiguration is that this suffering and sacrifice are not in vain. The vision of the glorified Christ is confirmation that after His humiliation, suffering, and death will come his vindication and glorification. This is a message not just about Jesus, but about all who follow him in authentic discipleship. Whatever the difficulties we face in this life, God is the sovereign Lord of history, who will restore and reward all who remain faithful to him… (Mark, p.391).
Or, as the apostle Paul wrote, “…the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…” (Rom 8:18).
This table is a call to remember who He is, the eternal Son of God, the One through whom and by whom and for whom the universe had been created! Remember also what He did for us: He left the glory of heaven and came into this sin-cursed world to die for our sins, to reconcile us to God! He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” We are called to remember the Cross, and in view of what He has done for us, to be willing to take up our cross, and follow Him. Let this table be a time to look back with thanksgiving, and to look ahead in faith. AMEN.