Sunday, April 29, 2018
Introduction: The story of “The Rich, Young Ruler” is one that is repeated in all three of the so-called Synoptic Gospels. Once again, each one contains some variation is details, exactly the kind of thing you would expect from eye witness testimony. This man came to Jesus searching, he seemed to realize that something was missing from his life despite his religious and personal accomplishments. He was seeking, but he was not ready for the answer that he received from the Lord. Our tendency is to jump ahead to the end of the story and immediately to question the man’s motives. But this is not one of the lawyers who come to Jesus to test Him. This man runs to catch up with Jesus, and falls on his knees before Him, and asks Him about the way to life. And, importantly, the text tells us that Jesus loved him.
The three questions Mark has been answering in his gospel are before us again in this story: 1) Who is Jesus? 2) Why did He come? And 3) What does it mean to follow Him? Since Peter’s confession of faith in 8:29, and Jesus’ call to deny self, take up the cross, and follow Him (8:34) the emphasis has been on what it means to be a Christ-follower.
The context illuminates what is happening here. Jesus had just spoken about receiving the kingdom like a child. As Jesus sets out on His way to Jerusalem, this man runs up to Him with a question about “life.” As a Jew who knew the Scriptures the man was asking about life in the Kingdom. The question is an important one it seems to me. He wants to know if he is on track, is he on the right path. He is looking for assurance. That is important for all of us.
The Maine* Idea: Faith in Jesus, believing who He is and trusting in what He did for us, is the only way to True Life, a new life that will result in a new direction.
I. Jesus answers the man’s query first indirectly, with a question of His own: He essentially asks, “Who do you say that I am?” (17-18). This was not a deflection of the question, it really invited this young man to consider the heart of the matter. The foundational issue is recognizing who Jesus is and responding to Him.
17 And as He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and began asking Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 18 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.
The beginning of this encounter tells us something about the man who comes to Jesus. We know from the other gospel accounts that the man was a “ruler” (Lk 18:18), that He was “young” (Mt 19:20), and as we’ll see later in this account in Mark, that He was wealthy. Hence, we refer to him as “the Rich, Young, Ruler” even though we don’t have the latter two details in Mark. He was a respected person, a person of prominence. If he came into most churches he would be greeted and engaged in conversation. This guy would look like an ideal member and a potential leader! This stands in contrast to the little children that were being brought to Jesus in the preceding context. For a reader of the gospel, one might already wonder if a man like this would be ready to receive the kingdom like a little child?
First of all, we see a sense of urgency, as the man “ran up” to Jesus. Running in public would have been considered rather undignified for a person of stature. The man doesn’t seem concerned about that however. Jesus was leaving, and he had an important question to ask while he still had the opportunity. He seems determined to seize the opportunity. Was this “ruler” a member of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem? Did he have some knowledge of what they were already planning to do when He got there? We don’t know. It is quite a contrast to the story of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus in private, at night, with his questions (John 3). We have to acknowledge that this rich young ruler showed some discernment by coming to the One, the only one, who could meet his deepest need, and some transparency in the way that he did it. He was willing to be vulnerable and he came with a searching heart.
The man shows remarkable respect as he runs up and falls on his knees before Jesus. Think about who this young man is, a ruler, hence a leader who has risen in stature among his countrymen, and wealthy, someone who has been successful in building some comfort and security in this life. But he clearly knew that it was not enough. This doesn’t seem to be the approach of a self-righteous, arrogant person who thinks he is OK. Something was missing, and he knew it. So, he comes, and falls on his knees before this itinerate teacher, maybe around the same age as him, but widely regarded as a prophet, or something more, yet a man with no wealth or official status, with nothing of this world other than the clothes on his back, and he asks Him the most important question of his life. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
A “good” question (or, a question about good?). “…what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Many commentators and preachers seem to fixate on the word “do” in the man’s question. Is the man assuming that the life He seeks to inherit is based on human effort, his own good works? Maybe, but it is the same verb that we see in other contexts that doesn’t seem to rile interpreters in the same way. For example, we see in Acts 2:37, after Peter’s Pentecost sermon, that “…they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” They use the same word that we see in this context. Likewise, a little further on in Acts, the Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Those questions aren’t so different from that of the rich young ruler, are they? We’ll return to that question when we look at point two, below, and the second part of Jesus’ reply to the young man.
Jesus doesn’t seem disturbed by the verb that the young man uses, but He seizes first on the adjective that the man uses to describe Him, “Good teacher…” That word becomes an opportunity for Jesus to provoke the man to think about the deeper, and correct, meaning of his own words. He asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone!” It is as though Jesus is asking, “Do you know what you are saying when you call me good? Do you realize who I really am? Only God is good, so do you mean to say that you recognize Me as God?” It isn’t too different than the question Jesus asked the disciples back in Mark 8:29, “Who do you say that I am?” The man never responds to that question by the way. In fact, when he addresses Jesus again, he simply calls Him “teacher.” It is as though he wants to stop using language that evoked any questions. He had enough questions of his own, he was looking for answers not questions! He was respectful, yes, but far from grasping who it really is that stood before him! Apparently, he did not yet understand that Jesus IS the answer!
Jesus engages him further, giving him an opportunity to express his heart—and, at the same time, to expose his need. Because faith in Jesus, believing who He is and trusting in what He did for us, is the only way to True Life, a new life that will result in a new direction.
II. Jesus then reveals the man’s perspective: The man thinks “Life” comes from obedience. He was right to connect the two, but the truth is that obedience comes from life, and life is expressed as obedience (19-20)!
19"You know the commandments, 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" 20 And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up."
You know the commandments… When Moses received the ten commandments from God on Mount Sinai, they were written on two stone tablets by the finger of God. By their very nature we can’t miss that God is revealing absolute truth, an idea not too popular today. Many echo the words of Pilate these days, “What is truth?” It’s like some interpreters of the US Constitution that say it means whatever people today say it means. Others say no, it must mean what the framers intended. God’s Word is truth. The Ten Commandments were a succinct statement about morality and faithfulness, what God expected from His people. The first four commandments (based on the Protestant numbering) deal with God-ward commands, love the Lord alone, no idols, don’t take His name in vain, keep holy the Sabbath), while the rest addressed our attitudes and actions toward other humans. Jesus starts with the so-called second tablet of the Law, the man-ward commandments, those that have to do with loving our “neighbors.” Remember, Jesus is the discerner of hearts. He knows our thoughts, and He knows our need. He starts with these laws because they were where the young man was striving to please God. It seems to me that Jesus starts here because this man really treasured these commands and was trying to live them.
“Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth…” Now we can imagine Jesus breaking out his notes from the Sermon on the Mount and confronting the man on how he inwardly failed to keep the deeper intention of even these commandments. (Most of us who preach or teach on this passage are quick to do exactly that!) We can imagine Jesus doing that, but that would be only our imagination. How did Jesus respond to the man’s answer? The Bible tells us that He loved Him. It seems unavoidable that Jesus saw something commendable in this inquirer. He, of course, knew the man’s heart. As a “son of the covenant” did He see a sincere love for the Torah, a wanting and seeking to be obedient to the Law of God? Could it be that in all of his love for the Law, this young man had forgotten the primacy of loving the One who gave the Law? After all, faith in Jesus, believing who He is and trusting in what He did for us, is the only way to True Life, a new life that will result in a new direction: Life, then obedience. Life as obedience!
III. And He exposes the man’s need: Do we desire the Giver more than His gifts? Do we love Jesus more than life (21-22)?
21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Jesus knew the heart of this rich, young, ruler. He meets him at the point of his need. He loved him enough to tell him the truth. For all of his religiosity there was yet something that he lacked. Jesus has a way of breaking through our camouflage and our masks. He knows our hearts. Does that scare you? It shouldn’t. He knew the truth about you, and He still loved you so much that He laid down His life for you! Jesus knew this young man’s heart, and He “loved him.” So, He said what he needed to hear, knowing what was holding him back. He essentially pointed him back to the first tablet of the Law, and to the first commandment: “Are you willing to love me with your whole heart, mind, and soul?” By the way, we don’t know the heart or the thoughts of other people. But we do know that they need God. So, we need to love them enough to tell them the truth. This man had great possessions, and Jesus knew that his love for his wealth stood in the way of him loving God whole-heartedly. He needed a heart check. Jesus was, after all, on His way to Jerusalem, and to Calvary. That is not the way of comfort and security. It is the way to the Cross.
Think about Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22. God called Abraham to give up what he loved, the one on whom his hopes and dreams hung. Offer your son, your only son, Isaac. This was the son of promise, the son of Abraham’s old age, the one on whom all of his hopes and dreams hung—the son God himself had promised to him. Give him up? Offer him as a sacrifice? God essentially asked Abraham, “Do you trust me?” You know that story, Abraham and the boy went up the mountain. Abraham bound his son and laid him on the wood, preparing to offer him to God. And when he raised the knife to slay the boy God intervened—Now I know that you fear God, I know that you love me!
Back in our passage in Mark, this rich young ruler had either inherited great wealth, or had worked to achieve it. Money meant prestige, comfort, security. We, as American Christians in the 21st century, can relate to him. Even people considered poor in America are materially “richer” than 90% of the inhabitants of earth! (Why do you think there is a caravan passing through Mexico toward the border!). We are wealthy, and we are very attached to our “stuff.” Guess what, the Pharaohs tried, they were buried with riches and even servants, but you can’t take it with you! It was all there for thieves or archaeologist to dig up. Jim Eliot, one of the five young missionaries who lost their lives in reaching out to the Auca Indians in Equador, said: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” And there is so much to gain!
Jesus told the man to leave behind the things to which he was so attached, and to “…come, follow me…” Do those words sound familiar? Those are the same words that He had used as He was calling the twelve (cf. 1:17; 2:14). It is an invitation to discipleship, to become a Christ-follower. It is the same phrase He used when He explained the call to discipleship in Mark 8:34. It is a call to death, and an invitation to life, eternal life, abundant life, kingdom life. Here the One who is truly good stood incarnate before this young man. Emmanuel, God with us. And He loved him, and He told him to let go and to follow. “You still lack one thing,” Jesus said. That was an answer, and a call, for which he was not prepared.
This rich young ruler had great promise. He came to the right person. He asked the right question (or at least a good one!). But he wasn’t ready for the answer. The man’s reaction revealed where his heart was. His possessions had become an idol. Jesus was asking him, “Do you love me more than this? Will you trust me?” But it seems he felt the comfort that his wealth brought him here and now was not worth trading for the Via Dolorosa that would come with following Jesus – even if that meant hope for the age to come. He wouldn’t let go of the things that he could not keep to gain what he couldn’t lose. Tragic!
As Jesus will say in the following explanation there will be suffering as we live as kingdom citizens in a fallen world, yes, but also blessing. Eternal life is a quality of life, a path we walk in His presence. The man went away sad, disheartened. What (or who) did he go away from? He walked away from Jesus, the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Rather than following Him, he said “I love my goods more than I love the One who is Good.”
What is God saying to me in this passage? Faith in Jesus, believing who He is and trusting in what He did for us, is the only way to True Life, a new life that will result in a new direction (and a new obedience).
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? There is a warning in the story of the rich, young, ruler. We can be religious, seemingly good and respected by people, and still be far from God. Idolatry was not just a problem in the ancient world! Was it D.L. Moody who said, “You don’t have to go to far-away lands to find idols, American is full of them!” Yes, American Idol is not only a television show, it is a religion that is pervasive in our country—even finding its way into churches. We treasure our stuff rather than treasuring God.
Jesus doesn’t call all of us—or even many of us—to sell all that we have and give it to the poor. But he does tell us that we must love Him more than anything—to be willing to dedicate it all to Him—and to take up our cross and follow Him. Is there something in your life that you treasure more than God? The young man was right to see a connection between salvation, eternal life, and obedience. He just had the order wrong. It is not obey to find life, it is receive life, then walk in obedience. Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-10,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Life, then obedience. Life as obedience! Have you decided to follow Jesus? How then, should you live? Trust and obey, there is no other way! AMEN.
Sunday, April 22, 2018
Children and the Church
Introduction: Dr. Haddon Robinson told the story of an apartment fire in Harlem, in New York City. A blind child was trapped by a third story window, that opened to a narrow alley. Flames and smoke intensified, time was short. The rescue workers had difficulty getting a ladder to the window, so they held a net below and called to the child through a bullhorn, urging her to jump. But she stood at the window crying, afraid to jump, despite the pleas of the firefighters below who held the net which she could not see. Then she heard a voice she recognized. Her father had arrived at the scene and a fireman handed him the bullhorn. “It’s daddy, there is a net, we’ll catch you, jump!” Immediately the fear vanished from her face, and she jumped from the window into the rescuers’ net. What had changed? She heard her father’s voice, and she trusted him, completely.
Children, especially little children, are completely dependent on their parents, they have an almost simplistic devotion to them, they trust them implicitly. Jesus uses this encounter to hold up children as an example of how we must receive the Kingdom of God. This story stands in contrast to the rich, young ruler in the next scene, who asks about the kingdom, but who only with difficulty will enter it!
Context: Jesus has been patiently teaching the disciples about humility, service, and being at peace with one another. In short, He is showing what it means to follow Him. He used a question about divorce to point to God’s design for marriage… a picture of the church in relationship with Jesus, one man, one woman, learning and growing together, as long as they both shall live. And now, as He had done in Mark 9:36,37, He uses a child as an example of the dependency, trust, and devotion that is necessary for those who would enter the Kingdom of God. That brings us to…
The Maine* Idea: The dependent trust and simplicity of devotion of a child illustrates what it means to believe God. Do you believe?
I. The Setting: We need to value children as God does (10:13-14a).
13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant…
Imagine the scene that Mark describes here for us. The crowds are coming to Jesus, some, perhaps, hoping to see a miracle, some still trying to decide who this man really is, some perhaps hoping for confirmation that He is the Messiah. A few (like the Pharisees) looking for reasons to reject Him as such. As parents would often do with beloved and respected rabbis, many were bringing their children to Jesus, hoping that He would lay a hand on them and speak a blessing over them. Luke mentions in his parallel account of this event (Lk 18:15-17) that some even brought infants. The word “child” [paidion] used by Mark is usually used of a young child, though in a few cases it seems to refer to children from toddlers through elementary age (as in the feeding of the 5,000 [Matt 14:21]). It seems that at issue are the “young children” that are being brought to Jesus for blessing.
The disciples were rebuking the parents… (13). As a group, it seems, they intercepted the parents, preventing them from bringing these young children to Jesus. You can imagine the context – a growing crowd, people anxious to hear what Jesus would say, there was no time to allow for such distractions! I remember visiting a very large church down in Charlotte, NC. I knew the pastor of the Hispanic ministry at the church and we followed the senior pastor into the morning worship service. He had two staff members at his side, and they were a kind of “security team.” He needed to be focused on the service that was coming, and there was no time for him to be “distracted” by conversations on the way to the platform. So, if someone approached, one of the staff would intercept them and talk until the senior pastor had passed on his way to his seat near the platform. I don’t mean to say that was not valid, but it is striking to me how Jesus, in contrast, was so approachable – not only to rabbis or the wealthy, but even to children. In this case, maybe pressured or confused by Jesus’ teaching about what would happen in Jerusalem, the disciples sense of urgency led them to “rebuke” [epitimao, “censure, reprimand”] those bringing these children.
Their action seems surprising considering 9:36,37! There, as Jesus taught about humility and service, we read that 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."
Was this another lesson that didn’t yet “take”? I think by now we are getting the idea of not judging the disciples too quickly. In fact, we are the disciples, and too often we need to be reminded of lessons the Lord has already taught us!
Jesus was “indignant” = “a state of anger aroused by injustice” (14a). He intervened vigorously, not allowing the disciples to stand in the way of Him blessing these children, and their parents. We’ve seen as we have been going through the Gospel of Mark, that Jesus always had time for people. After all, He came to seek and to save the lost! Whether it was a leader taking Jesus to see his desperately sick daughter, or a woman suffering on the way who touched the hem of His garment, he would engage with the needy, those who knew they needed His help in the midst of their crisis, and He would meet them at the point of their need, and lead them deeper in their knowledge and trust of Him. Let’s be intentionally sensitive to needs around us! The disciples no doubt felt they were looking out for Jesus, keeping him from being overly burdened with unnecessary problems as they sought to keep away the people bringing their children. Jesus seizes the moment to help the disciples reorder their priorities, and to illustrate again what it really means to follow Him. The dependent trust and simplicity of devotion of a child illustrates what it means to believe God. Do you believe?
II. Serving: We need to bring children to Jesus, teaching them the truth (14b,16).
…and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God… 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
Considering the righteous indignation that Jesus felt in reacting to the disciples, He is amazingly patient as He corrects them with His teaching. He does not ask “How did you guys forget so quickly? Were you not listening?” No, He simply tells them not to hinder them, to let them come. He began his public ministry preaching the “Gospel of the Kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14,15) and now He perhaps shocks the disciples by saying that these kids are the example or the model of what a kingdom citizen looks like. Of course, the importance of teaching children the truth about God is foundational in the Scriptures. Following the greatest commandment, the call to love God wholeheartedly, is the call to teach the next generation about Him (Dt 6:5-9)…
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise… 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Love God, and teach your kids to love God! Many parents would not think of failing to provide the physical needs of their children: food, clothing, shelter, safety. And yes, kids need school to learn and grow intellectually. Yet many parents don’t embrace the need to teach them diligently about God. They can make up their own mind about that later. Really? Believing parents are called to teach them. The church comes alongside to help and support what is already being taught in the home.
Jesus clearly saw the importance of loving children and teaching them the truth about God. He tells the disciples, “Allow the children to come to me, and do not hinder them…” Considering that just a few verses earlier Mark had recorded Jesus’ teaching about receiving a child in His name (9:36,37) one might think this corrective would be unnecessary! The disciples needed repetition, and reminders, as do we. They wanted to keep the children away and allow Jesus to dedicate himself to what was important. Jesus, on the other hand, wants the disciples to understand how important children were to him, and to let them know that they could learn a few things from them as well!
For to such belong the kingdom of God… Now note carefully what Jesus is saying here, as it will be reinforced in v.15. He is not saying that only children will be in the Kingdom! He does say “…to such as these…” belong the kingdom. The kingdom is open to those who, like a child, affirm their absolute dependence, who trust Him implicitly, who love Him whole-heartedly.
And so, perhaps stunning the disciples, v.16 says, “He took them in His arms and blessed them.” This is a tender scene. Little children blessed and embraced by Jesus. The reformer John Calvin said, “Faith is not a distant view but a warm embrace of Christ.” We’ve seen Jesus’ love for children, and we need to love them enough to guide them, patiently, consistently, toward knowing Him and trusting Him for themselves. Kids are teachable, open to the truth.
How many in a typical church service came to Christ before the age of 20? A majority, in some cases maybe 80 or 90 percent! The older we get, the more hardened we can get against the things of God, the more unlikely it is that they will repent and believe. (Don’t give up witnessing to an aged friend or relative, with God all things are possible!). So, it is important for our Children’s Church, our Sunday School, our Word of Life Olympian ministry, our Vacation Bible School, to be “Gospel-Centered” in our teaching always. We want to point our children to Jesus at every opportunity, to teach them why He came, to show them what it means to follow Him. Here’s another quotation from the Reformer, John Calvin,
He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death. He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards. He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition. He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all. He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of our hearts by his Spirit. He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land. He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection. He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity. He is the strong and powerful Samson who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.
We want to show that to our children – that the whole Bible is about the Good News, and it all points us to Jesus. The dependent trust and simplicity of devotion of a child illustrates what it means to believe God. Do you believe?
III. Simplicity: We need to receive Jesus with child-like faith: dependent, trusting, devoted (15).
15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."
J. Gresham Machen said, “The more we know of God, the more unreservedly we will trust him; the greater our progress in theology, the simpler and more childlike will be our faith.” Simplicity. Machen was one of the professors who left Princeton Seminary ninety years ago in the face of encroaching liberalism to start Westminster Theological Seminary. He was dedicated to the pursuit of God, to knowing Him intimately. I think he would agree with the German theologian, who, after a lifetime of study was asked about the most profound truth He had learned in his study of theology. He said, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!” Simplicity. How does a child believe their parent? They take them at their word. Daddy says it, mommy says it, it is true. Simple. We are called to believe God like that. It is not that we have to have every mystery of the universe figured out. We listen to Abba, we take Him at His Word. God said it, that settles it!
Children are dependent on their parents to provide for them, to care for them, to keep them safe. Children depend completely on their parents for everything; food, clothing, shelter, protection. God is a perfect Father, His discipline is always with love, His compassion with sincerity, His instruction, the truth. We need Him for everything as well. We are dependent upon Him for our next breath, for health and strength to work… strength for today, and hope!
Someone has said that a child is not likely to find a Father in God, unless He finds something of God in His father. It seems that our human family is a grid that helps us understand God’s love for us and our security in Him. Sometimes people who have had an and absentee parent (or worse, an abusive one) find it difficult to believe—or maybe the difficulty is understanding what it means for God to be our loving, heavenly Father. The truth is, none of us had perfect earthly parents, but God is someone we can trust, always. He is good, all the time, He does all things well, He really will work all things together for our good (Rom 8:28). As a child depends on their parents, as they trust them implicitly, as they are devoted to them whole-heartedly, we must come to God, and cling to Him.
Children are trusting. I have a picture somewhere of our daughter Sarah when she was maybe two years old, jumping from a deck into my arms in a pool. Absolute trust. I remember she kept on doing it time after time. Until once I wasn’t ready and she experienced total immersion at a young age! Are we convinced, like a child, that God is trustworthy? Like the child in the burning building who heard her father’s voice and leapt to safety, will we cast ourselves into His arms? (Unlike me, He is completely trustworthy!).
Children, especially little children, are devoted to their parents. Their mother is the most beautiful woman in the world, their father the strongest or the smartest man. Why? The explanation is simple, they love their parents without conditions. A child wants, more than anything, the approval of their parents, they want to please them. Do we have that kind of heart for God? God is worthy of our trust and our devotion, we can depend on Him.
What is God saying to me in this passage? The dependent trust and simplicity of devotion of a child illustrates what it means to believe God. Do you believe?
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Parents are to take seriously the call to teach their children the truth of God. The church should prioritize coming alongside parents and supporting them in that process. Thankfully we seek to do that in our church—children’s church and Sunday School, Word of Life Olympians, we want to reinforce the teaching parents are giving their kids at home with Gospel-centered teaching of the Word of God. Not just Bible stories with a “moral,” but reminding kids that this is God’s book, and it is all about Jesus. God is holy and just, sin is a problem, but God so loved us He sent Jesus to be our sacrifice and our Savior! He came to seek and to save the lost.
As we see Jesus taking little children in His arms, we also see His heart for these young lives. Some here have lost children, or siblings, either through sickness or accident, or perhaps through miscarriage, or even abortion. We can surmise that children who die in infancy, or before they are old enough to know right from wrong—the age of accountability—are covered by the grace of God and are safe in the arms of Jesus. You will see them again if your trust is in Christ.
There is also a second emphasis in these verses, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” He is not calling us to be childish in our faith, but we should be child-like. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for not growing up, for still being spiritual babes when by then they should be teachers, ready for meat instead of still needing milk. Childish faith? No, that is not what Jesus is calling us to. Child-like faith: dependent, filled with wonder, whole-hearted devotion, implicit trust. “It’s Daddy, jump!” Do we trust Him? Do we love Him with our whole heart, soul, and mind? Then trust Him and follow Him. Amen.
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Marriage and the Church
Introduction: Preaching through books of the Bible, from time to time, brings us face to face with Scriptures that I would probably not have chosen to speak on. Today is one of those occasions! But all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable… So, with God’s help, we will look at this passage in its context, and consider God’s design for marriage. Of all human relationships, the Lord used marriage to describe His relationship with the church. He designed marriage as a key aspect of His plan for humanity before the Fall. In the midst of His good creation, it was not good for the man to be alone. Adam was incomplete until God created a helpmate suitable for him. When we come to the New Testament, the church is described as the Bride of Christ. We look forward to celebrating with Him one day at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Paul turns that around and says husbands—as you live in this fallen world—are to love their wives as Christ loved the church.
Throughout history, marriage and the family have been the fundamental building blocks of society. What has happened? Divorce rates have climbed dramatically since Word War 2. Some numbers may have dropped a bit over the last few years, probably because marriage is increasingly viewed as unnecessary by many today. Even by many professing Christians. “We love each other,” they say, “We don’t need society or the church giving us a label.” For those who do marry today the view tends to be easy in, easy out, so called “no-fault divorce.” The Pharisees come to Jesus with a question about divorce. Jesus shows that rather than focusing on a way out, believers should be dedicated to pursuing God’s plan for marriage.
Context: What does this teaching have to do with this context in Mark’s Gospel, and the emphasis we’ve been seeing on discipleship, serving, and in the immediate context, pursuing peace (9:50b)? My initial reaction was to think of it as a parenthetical teaching on a different subject. But let’s think this through. Could it be, that in this fallen world, as two different people are seeking to live life together, that God would use the give and take, the joys and the trials, the good times and the bad to teach us, to remind us about humility and the need to have the attitude of a servant, to conform us more and more to the image of Christ?
Paul Tripp talks about marriage rooted in worship, and he illustrates it with a triangle. At the apex, God as Creator—He designed marriage, He has a plan—if we are willing to receive it. At another point of the triangle, we worship God as Sovereign. He is Lord, and in His sovereignty He has brought you and your spouse together (or, if you are single, He has either given you the gift of singleness, or at the right time He will yet bring the right person into your life as you prayerfully seek His will). Since God is good and does all things well, His will is to use your spouse to grow your relationship with Him, to mature you as a disciple, to make you more like Jesus. If you are at a bad point in your marriage you might think, Lord, have you miscalculated here? That brings us to the third point of the triangle, God as Savior. He can redeem your marriage—for you both—for your good and for His glory. It strikes me that Jesus is approaching Jerusalem, where He will soon lay down His life to redeem His bride. Marriage and discipleship? Let’s look at…
The Maine* Idea: God’s design for marriage is evident in creation; one man, one woman, learning and growing together, until death do us part.
I. Setting: As Jesus moves toward Jerusalem the Pharisees again seek to trap him with His words, looking for a reason to accuse Him (1-2).
And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
This last section of Mark shows Jesus transitioning from Galilee to ministry in Judea, leading to the final confrontation in Jerusalem. The ministry in the south now takes center stage. Jesus’ popularity is evident as, once again, as soon as He appears in public, crowds begin to gather. And, as He was accustomed to do, He taught them. It didn’t take long for word to get to some Pharisees, who came to him “to test Him” (cf. 8:11). What exactly was their plan? R.C. Sproul suggests that it is most likely that they were wanting to lead Jesus into conflict with Herod Antipas. Remember the whole story with John the Baptist who called Herod out for marrying his brother’s wife Herodias, and John’s resulting imprisonment and eventual execution. If Jesus took a “hard line” on divorce maybe that would get Him out of the picture as well!
Some suggest that the question might have set up a “no-win” scenario in that someone would surely take offense at Jesus’ answer! There were two prominent rabbinic schools at the time. The stricter, more conservative teachings of Rabbi Shammai, and the more liberal school of Hillel. The stricter school allowed for divorce only in the case of adultery, whereas the more liberal school essentially allowed divorce for any reason at all – for example if a husband didn’t like his wife’s cooking. The predominant view of the time, propagated by the Pharisees, was that of the more liberal school. It may be that they reasoned that if Jesus took a hard line on marriage and divorce, His popularity would quickly fade. We are not sure of what the Pharisees’ plan was, but we know they wanted to “test Him,” to get something that would blunt His popularity with the people and his toleration by the authorities.
Importantly, the Pharisees were not on a quest for truth. They were not asking Jesus to arrange for a marriage conference so that they could improve their marriages. They were testing Him, trying to set a trap, looking for a reason to accuse Him rather than focusing on God’s design for marriage: one man, one woman, learning and growing together until death do us part.
II. A command, or a concession to human fallenness (3-5)?
3 He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" 4 They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away." 5 And Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.
Jesus knew the hearts and the intentions of the Pharisees, so He answers their question with a question: What did Moses say about it? They respond with a reference to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. There Moses said,
"When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, 2 and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, 3 and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.
Where is the commandment in those verses? The Pharisees themselves answer Jesus by saying that Moses allowed the husband to write a certificate of divorce. The NLT gets the idea when it starts Mark 10:4 with the phrase, “Well, he permitted it…” As you read the actual context in Deuteronomy, Moses is describing what was happening already, not prescribing God’s will for the situation in v.1. The only prohibition comes in v.4, seemingly to protect the wife against her husband taking an “easy-in/easy-out/ok-I’ll-take-you-back-when-it-fits-my-plan” kind of behavior. The man who divorces his wife was not allowed to take her back if she had married another. Divorce was a concession to the hardness of human hearts. Jesus will show in the following verses that God had no provision for divorce in the beginning—that came with the Fall. We’ll see that God’s design for marriage is evident in creation: one man, one woman, learning and growing together, until death do us part.
III. God’s Creation-Design for Marriage: One man, one woman, for life (6-9).
6 But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 7 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and they shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."
Notice how Jesus responds – the Pharisees are trying to “test Him” with their question about divorce, and Jesus points them back to the more fundamental question, God’s design for marriage as revealed in the very first book of the Bible, Genesis (Gen 1:27: 2:24). In the pre-Fall creation everything was pronounced “good” [tov] by God. The only thing that was “not good” [lo-tov] before the fall was the man being alone. God’s design for creation was incomplete. And so, He made Eve, to complete Adam. And it was good. Now they could experience the fullness, the abundant life [shalom] for which they were created.
Genesis describes “leaving” and “cleaving.” A lot of problems in marriages result from our failure in one of those areas. “Leaving” speaks about a man separating from the family of His birth, and taking responsibility as the head of a new family unit. And “cleaving,” speaks of sexual intimacy yes, but also loving, leading, protecting and providing. It doesn’t mean we have no relationship with our parents of course (that was very important in first century Judaism). But it does imply independence, taking responsibility. Two people committing to one another, for a lifetime together. God’s design for marriage is evident in creation; one man, one woman, learning and growing together, until death do us part.
IV. The consequence of illegitimate divorce (10-12). The prophet Malachi said, “God hates divorce…” (Mal 2:16).
10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
The disciples, as they often did, ask Jesus in private for some clarification of His public teaching. Let’s make something clear: none of the gospels is intended to give an exhaustive account of what Jesus said and did. They are reporting part of what Jesus spoke about, since they want to apply His teaching to the needs of a specific community. Mark is writing to a community under persecution in Rome. And he is emphasizing God’s design, His intention for marriage in Creation: one man, one woman, learning and growing together, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, through good times and through hard times, until death parts them. He is specifically writing against any “easy in, easy out” view of marriage. God’s plan is for a lifetime commitment. Think about the church in Rome, undergoing persecution. As a husband and wife live, and one day die, as pilgrims in a fallen world, they can learn and grow together. They are stronger together than either of them could be alone. God will use your marriage, if you will allow it, to grow you to be more like Jesus. In a sense it is like a microcosm of the church, your spouse is the heart of your oikos.
So then, is divorce always sinful? We can say that there is always sin in a divorce, but not every person involved in a divorce has necessarily sinned. The Old Testament does not actually talk about adultery as a ground for divorce—why? Under the Law, the penalty for adultery was death (Lev 20:10). If an adulterous spouse was executed, the innocent party would naturally be free to remarry! Of course, in the first century, under Roman rule, the Jews had only limited freedom to carry out such penalties. So then how should it apply in the church? Matthew gives a more complete version of Jesus’ teaching on this day in Matthew 19:8,9…
8 He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality [porneia], and marries another, commits adultery."
It seems clear that Jesus was giving an “exception” with this statement, saying that unfaithfulness, a capital crime under the Law, would be legitimate grounds for divorce. There is no command that divorce is necessary, but it would be permissible. I’ve known cases where there has been unfaithfulness, and then repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. One public example of this was Pastor and writer Gordon MacDonald and his wife. He broke his vows, his wife could have divorced him, but God saved their marriage. So, divorce is an option for the offended party in the case of adultery. Is that the only situation?
The Apostle Paul also addresses the matter in I Corinthians 7:13-16,
13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?
You might ask, “What if my spouse doesn’t believe?” Paul says here, if they will stay with you, you should be willing to stay with them! The situation here is probably a case where one spouse came to faith and the other was not yet ready to make that decision. Paul says you are still “one flesh,” you are married, and God would have you to be faithful to that commitment.
Notice, the unbelieving spouse is “set apart,” as are the children – Next week in our context in Mark we’ll see how important children are to the Lord. Children are a gift from God, and we are thankful for parents who desire to raise them in the way of the Lord. They are saying their children have been set apart by God and for God. There is also a sense in which a spouse who has not yet believed is “set apart” by a believing spouse, and their children are “set apart” as well. How? They live and grow up exposed to the gospel, hearing Scripture, being prayed for, seeing the difference Jesus makes in a person’s life. That has a tremendous impact on children and often they come at an early age to faith in Christ.
But what if the unbelieving spouse leaves? Then the believer is “not enslaved.” This is the second circumstance where a divorce might be permissible. This seems to say that in the case of abandonment by an unbelieving spouse if the “brother or sister,” the believing spouse, the one who is who is left behind, desires to remarry he (or she) is free to do so, “he is not in bondage.” Reconciliation should be sought, staying celibate is an option, but if there is no other way, the believer is allowed to marry, “in the Lord.” Why persevere when marriage gets difficult? Remember the triangle: we worship Him as Creator, Sovereign, and Savior. Paul says, “How do you know if you will save [your husband/wife]?” We know that we don’t save anyone, but Paul is speaking a kind of “shorthand” here: “Save” in the sense, “used by God that our witness might win them to Christ.” We see similar language in I Peter 3:1-2,
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives- 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
That is how deeply God values the marriage relationship, that is how important it is to Him. What God has joined together, let no one separate.
What is God saying to me in this passage? God’s design for marriage is evident in creation; one man, one woman, learning and growing together, until death parts us.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? If you are single you might think, should I have stayed home today? What does this have to do with me? If God hasn’t given you the gift to remain single, you need to understand the blessing and plan of marriage, and the need to keep worship of Him at the center of your life as you seek His will for the future. He has a plan, He is in control, and He is gracious.
If you are divorced you may be thinking, “Did I handle things in the best way? Did I sin? What now?” There are situations where one person is the victim, the one sinned against in a divorce. Whatever happened, you can’t change the past, and even if you shared the blame, divorce is not the unpardonable sin. If you are remarried, dedicate yourself to making your current marriage what God intends it to be… a reflection of Jesus’ love for the church. Your marriage can lead you deeper in your worship of the Lord, as Creator, Sovereign, and Savior.
Remember, in a perfect world before the fall, God said it was not good for the man to be alone… Then He created Eve. Our Creator is also our King, He is sovereign, and He has arranged the circumstances of your life for your good and for His glory. Perhaps you are at a hard point in your marriage—you are not sure if you are going to make it. Know this: with God all things are possible. He is also our Savior, and He can redeem your marriage and use it for your good, and for His glory. Commit yourself to being the best spouse you can be, that you might, together, become more like Jesus. Let’s commit to being the men and women God intends us to be, for the glory of God. One day we’ll celebrate at the marriage supper of the Lamb! AMEN.
Sunday, April 8, 2018
Having a Heart for Discipleship
Introduction: The film 127 hours tells the story of Aron Ralston, who became trapped when a boulder dislodged while hiking in a canyon in Utah and pinned his arm. For 5 days, he pushed and pulled and tried to chip away at the rock with his pocket knife. When he accidently put the knife into his thumb, he realized his hand was dead, and was actually beginning to decompose. His water was gone, his situation was hopeless, he knew he would die unless, armed only with a now dull two-inch pocket knife, he could amputate his own arm. And how would he get through the bones anyway? What would you do? Could you cut off your own limb if you were convinced it was the only way to save your life? Thankfully, most of us will never have to make that choice. We do, however, have choices to make.
Jesus uses the language of amputation here, but He is obviously speaking figuratively. One of Mark’s interests in this gospel is to answer the question, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” This kind of shocking language will make it clear that there is nothing “casual” about following Jesus—the is no room for “easy-believeism,” we are called to put off the “old man” and to put on Christ. We cannot choose to hold onto the things in our old life that we know are displeasing to God. Toward the end of his life, my dad lost a leg due to complications from diabetes. The circulation got so bad, that his leg was essentially dying. It got to the point that the only way to save his life was to take his leg. Jesus isn’t talking here about physical surgery, but we may need radical surgery if we want to follow Him.
Context: Let’s back up and remember the context in Mark 9. The nine disciples who awaited the return of Jesus and the three who ascended the Mount of Transfiguration had been unable to cast a demon out of a boy who his father had brought to them. Jesus came down the mountain, and He healed the boy and later reminded the disciples about the importance of prayer. Continuing the theme from chapter 8, He again taught them about His impending betrayal, death, and resurrection. And again, as 9:32 tells us, “But they still did not understand what He meant and they were afraid to ask Him about it.” Instead, they began arguing among themselves about who was the greatest! That theme continues into this context, this time it is John who speaks up, and tells Jesus, perhaps proudly, about how they had rebuked someone who was casting out demons in His name, but was not following their group. And once again, Jesus needs to correct His followers…
The Maine* Idea: Rather than judging the motivations of others we should guard our own hearts as we serve Christ in the world.
I. Do not dare to judge the motivations of others (38-41).
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.”
First of all, let’s be clear about what Jesus is not saying here. He is not telling the disciples (and us) that we should not use discernment with respect to the teaching and doctrine that we hear. Quite the contrary, the Bible is full of admonitions to that end. The Bereans in Acts 17:11 are commended for testing the teaching they heard from Paul against the Scriptures (the written Old Testament at that time). We are called to search the Scriptures and to discern sound doctrine (1 Tim 1:6-11; 2 Pet 2:1-3). The root of the word “disciple” is from the word “to learn.” A disciple is one who is learning, seeking the truth that God has revealed to us in His Word. The issue the disciples had with the exorcist they mention is that he was not a part of their group, he wasn’t following them in their itinerate ministry. We don’t know anything else about him, other than what he was doing: casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The language John uses seems to indicate that man was doing that effectively, successfully. Their only objection was that he wasn’t a part of their group! So, they tried to forbid him.
When I read this, the first thing I thought of was the very different story in the book of Acts.
13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "I adjure you by the Jesus, whom Paul proclaims." 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?" 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled… (Acts 19:13-17).
This was not that! Here in Mark this guy was seemingly successful in casting out demons. In another context, Jesus does warn that some, who He never knew, would cast out demons and do other signs in His name (Mt 7:22,23). How could that be? It seems to me, that Satan, the great liar and counterfeiter, might make it appear that someone who was not a believer was casting out demons. That person could then deceive both himself and others. In Acts 19, as the early church was expanding, God was glorified by the “fake exorcists” being exposed. It’s clear from that story that an unbelieving human has no authority in the spiritual realm. The man that John refers to, as far as we know, was a believer who was not part of their group. Maybe someone like the man in Decapolis who Jesus freed from the Legion, and then told to go home to his own people? We don’t know. The point is, we don’t know (and can’t judge) the hearts of others. Paul said,
Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God… (I Corinthians 4:5).
We are not the ones who should judge the motives of others! Jesus, of course, knows the heart of every human. He knows our heart, and He knows the heart of every person. The day will come when He will judge, and our hearts will be exposed. We need to leave that to Him! Our lesson this week with the Olympians focused on this same point: its not just important to do random acts of kindness, those are fine, but for the believer in Jesus, the real question is why do we do it? What is our motive? Do we serve with a purpose? Is it because we love Jesus and want others to know Him? God knows our hearts!
V.41 says “…whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” The NLT gets the sense well, “If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.” Who would show you kindness because you belong to Jesus? Another Christian most likely! Jesus said, “By this men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another…” (John 13:35). Jesus said they will be rewarded. I think that is talking about in eternity. The point is that He knows hearts and motives and their will be a day of accounting. For our part, rather than judging the motivations of others we should guard our own hearts as we serve Christ in the world.
II. Do not neglect to guard your own heart (42-48; cf. Prov 4:23).
42 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 44 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 46 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 'where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'
Causing a Child of God to stumble is that serious (42)! Jesus had just used a child as an example of someone we should receive. Is he referring here to young children? He may be, but I think it is broader, He is referring to his followers more generally, as He calls them “little ones who believe in Me.” We are not only his followers, we are His children. John said in John 1:12, “As many as received Him, to those who believed on His name, He gave the right to be called children of God…” [In fact both Paul and John use the phrase ‘my little children’ to talk about believers in their charge (Gal 4:19; I Jn 2:1)]. “To cause someone to sin,” the word used is skandalizo, “cause to stumble,” we get the English word “scandalize” from the same root. It’s used 29 times in the New Testament, 3 times by Paul (I Cor 8:13 twice, and in 2 Cor 11:29), all the rest by Jesus, four times in these verses. He has just told the disciples not to forbid another person from doing a good work in His name, but now He gives this stern, almost dreadful warning: Anyone who causes one of His children to stumble will face serious consequences: “It would be better for a great millstone to be hung around his neck and be cast into the sea.” A great millstone would be a huge, wheel shaped stone that was turned by a beast of burden to grind grain. The picture is powerful… and horrible. It is a strong warning to teachers and preachers, but I believe it applies to all of us. Be that careful about what you say. James warned about the tongue, and that “…out of the same mouth come praise and cursing… this should not be…” (James 3:1-10). Guard you heart, because out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks!
Hell is Real (43-48). I am choosing not to devote this message to talking about hell, because I don’t think that is the main point. Jesus goes from warning about causing others to sin, to calling his hearers to be on guard against those things that would cause themselves to sin. He is not arguing for Hell, but assuming it in this context. The word Gehenna refers to a valley, southwest of Jerusalem. It was an accursed place, because there, children had been offered as sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (Jer 32:35). It later became a garbage dump which was always smoldering as the fires burned the refuse. It was a place of uncleanness where worms and maggots ate rotting garbage. That came to be viewed as a picture of eternal judgement and suffering in hell. The same picture of conscious suffering of dead unbelievers was reflected in Jesus parable in Luke 16:20-28,
20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.' 25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' 27 And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house- 28 for I have five brothers- so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.'
Jesus is not giving an extended teaching on future judgement or rewards, but He does assume the reality of both. God will judge, and the time for believing and repenting is now. Today is the day of salvation.
In our context in Mark 9, Jesus is saying that we should let go of anything that would keep us from trusting and following Him. His point is, that not only should we not presume to judge others, but that we are responsible to guard our own heart (Prov 4:23)! Now it is clear that Jesus is using hyperbole, a deliberate exaggeration to emphasize His point, and it most definitely not advocating cutting off body parts. Mutilation of the body in any way would have been something pagans did, but was an abomination to the Jews, and was strickly forbidden by Scripture (Dt 14:1; 23:1; I Kgs 18:28). His point seems to be: examine your heart, make sure you love God more than you love the world. Rather than judging the motivations of others guard our own heart as you serve Christ in the world.
III. Do not doubt that God is working to purify and mature you (49-50).
49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."
These two verses are a challenge to me, particularly v.49. Salt preserves and gives taste. Fire consumes or it purifies. It seems, perhaps, like a mixed metaphor: as we cover food with salt to preserve it, we also will be “purified” in every part of our life, as God works through the suffering we experience? Leviticus 2:13 talks about adding salt as a purifying agent to OT sacrifices. From that text Strauss suggests, “The combination of salt and fire may indicate the purification that takes place through the fires of persecution and trials as believers offer themselves as living sacrifices before God (Rom 12:1-2)” [Mark, p.414].
We are called elsewhere to be salt and light in the world, and at the heart of that is our calling to bring the Gospel to the lost. Here we are called to “have salt in ourselves.” Maybe the idea is: “Be the preserving, ‘savory’ influence in the world that you are supposed to be!” After all, what good is salt that has lost it’s saltiness?! We do that by not judging the heart of our brother, but rather examining our own hearts, our own motivations, striving to mature into the disciples the Lord wants us to be.
Therefore… pursue peace with one another. This last phrase seems to me to tie the passage together. Rather than forbidding and judging the motives of another (like the man casting our demons), why not embrace the things that make for peace, and see how God is glorified in the process!
That is what God is saying to us, the Maine* idea in the passage… Rather than judging others we should guard our own hearts as we serve Christ in the world.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Aron Ralston was pinned between a “rock and a hard place,” and he had a decision to make. He had no tool to cut through the bones of his forearm. Using his body weight and what strength he could muster, he snapped the bones, one at a time, and made a tourniquet, took his dull pocket knife and began, layer by layer, cutting through the soft tissue. Six hours later, he was rescued. He gave up part of his arm, but he saved his life. The Bible warns us about our hands, our feet, our eyes… a song for children says – be careful little eyes what you see… little hands, what you do… little feet where you go… It’s a call to holiness. And it starts in the heart. Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Above everything, guard your heart, for from it are the well springs of life.” Are our hands occupied in doing things that honor God? Do we go to places, or into situations, where we know we’ll be tempted and our witness may be ruined? What do we look at? Have you, like Job, made a covenant with your eyes? Above everything, guard your heart, your whole life depends on it. AMEN.