Saturday, April 27, 2019

His Story Continues (…and it includes you!) - Mark 16:8-20

His Story Continues (…and it includes you!)
Mark 16:8-20
Introduction: Whatever else I say today I want to encourage your confidence in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. The God who is has spoken. He has revealed himself in His Word. As surely as Moses went up the mountain and received the Ten Commandments from God, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable…” (2 Tim 3:16). Or as Peter said, “Holy men of God spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit…” (2 Pet 1:21). So, God inspired the biblical writers to put down in writing the exact words He intended, He also supernaturally guided His people to recognize and preserve them as Scripture. It is through God’s Word that we know Him, and we learn what He expects of us (read Psalm 119!). We are going to take another look at what I believe is the original ending of Mark, 16:8, and also the “appendix” that has been preserved in verses 9-20.  The fact of the Resurrection, and the implications of it, are the foundation and the fuel of our faith. It is the foundation because everything else is built on it, it is the fuel because it energizes us to be faithful. Think about what the resurrection means! In the words of one theologian…
The present age is Eastertime. It began with the resurrection of the Redeemer, and it will end with the resurrection of the redeemed. Between lies the spiritual resurrection of those called into new life through faith in Christ. And so, we live between two Easters, and in the power of the first Easter, we go to meet the last Easter…” (Eric Sauer, Triumph of the Crucified).
       In the light of the Resurrection we’ll look at an intentionally abrupt ending, what it might mean, how it should impact us, then we touch on three more “A’s”: 1) The Appearances of the risen Lord; 2) The Assignment that is our mission in the light of the Resurrection; and 3) The Ascension of the Lord, and the implications of it as we carry out that mission. This will all point us to…
The Maine* Idea: We are called to believe God, taking Him at His Word, trusting in His presence and protection, as we bear witness to His grace. First…
The Context: Mark 16:8 and the ending of the Gospel… Mark abruptly ends the story, calling us to action: How will they hear lest someone tell them?
8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
       It is after this verse that the ESV says, “SOME OF THE EARLIEST MANUSCRIPTS DO NOT INCLUDE 16:9-20.” Other translations may have an asterisk or a footnote indicating the level of confidence they have in what’s become known as the “long ending” of Mark. Because virtually every edition of the English Bible will make some reference to this, let me briefly explain what is going on.  You all know that the Bible was written over a long period of time, roughly 1500 years or so. It is actually, in a certain sense, not one book, but a whole library of 66 books, written by different writers at different times to different audiences. At the same time the Bible itself teaches that all Scripture is inspired by God… and so, He is the Author of the whole Bible. I don’t think anyone will be surprised when I say that we don’t have the original of any of the biblical documents. We have copies of copies. And because these documents were copied by hand, there are occasional, usually very small, variations… a word spelled differently, a word substituted for a similar word, sometimes the difference is just a letter or even a stroke, a part of a letter. Only in two cases is there a substantial paragraph that is in question: the story of the adulterous woman in John 8, and the so-called “long ending” of Mark. [We looked at John 8 a few years back, and my argument there was that that seemed to be an historical event from the life of Jesus, but not an original part of the Gospel. It illustrates beautifully the biblical doctrines of grace and forgiveness. So we can read it, appreciating it as a powerful illustration, but our doctrine is only supported by it, not derived from it.] Today we’re dealing with the ending of Mark.
       The manuscript evidence is strongly in support of the position that v.8 was the original ending of this Gospel. The oldest manuscripts don’t have it. Verses 9-15 were probably an appendix, added by someone with knowledge of the other gospels, intending to summarize what happened next. In subsequent copies, that appendix was merged by someone into the text. I think we can read it, comparing it with other Scriptures, and still be edified by the doctrines we see here.
      If I am right about this, why would Mark end his gospel so abruptly, at verse 8? Remember Mark wanted His readers to know the answer to who Jesus is. Mission accomplished! He is the Son of God, the God-Man. He was also showing us why He came, why it was necessary for Him to suffer. He endured wrath so that humans, by grace through faith, could be reconciled to God. So, Christ died and rose again, finishing the work He came to do, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. And in ending with the word of the angel and fear of the women, Mark is encouraging His readers to take up their cross and follow Jesus, to be willing to risk speaking the truth with boldness. What if the women had remained silent? What if you remain silent? How will they hear? That brings us to…
The Maine* Idea: We are called to believe God, taking Him at His Word, trusting in His presence and protection, as we bear witness to His grace.
I. Appearances of the Risen Lord (9-14; cf. Lk 8:1-3; Jn 20:18; I Cor 15:6-8).  
9 [Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.  10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept.  11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.  12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country.  13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.  14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 
      I see at least two important themes in these verses. First, notice the specific reference to Mary Magdalene, one of the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee to Judea. Here, Mark specifically mentions a detail that he had not brought up before, which is recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke. This woman, now a follower of Jesus, had formerly been demon-possessed! Luke 8:1-3 reports,
…Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him,  2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,  3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
So, this Mary, along with other women, had been set free from demons, and had clearly believed in Jesus. They followed Him, and they also provided for Him and for the disciples!  John also reports that Mary was among the first to see the resurrected Christ, and that she brought word to the disciples…
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"- and that he had said these things to her… (Jn 20:18).
        Slowness to believe, based on the testimony of others, is a theme that shows up in various NT contexts. Perhaps the best-known example is that of “doubting Thomas,” in John 20. He was absent when Jesus first appeared to the other disciples. He said the unless he could see the nail prints in His hands, he would not believe! Jesus appeared again, this time with Thomas present, and the rest is history. The famous point that Jesus made is the lesson here: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!” Missouri is called the “show me” state, the disciples were seemingly “show me” followers of Jesus at this point. Mark wants us to receive the Word for what it is, the Word of God, and He wants us to take God at His word. That is faith. That is the Maine Idea I want to emphasize today… We are called to believe God, taking Him at His Word, trusting in His presence and protection, as we bear witness to His grace. So we see the Appearances of the Lord, and secondly, in light of the resurrection, the…
II. Assignment: He IS Risen! Go and Tell! (15-18; cf. Mt 28:18-20).
15 And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;  18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." 
      This passage, for the most part, reflects on the Great Commission that appears at the end of Matthew, and in different form in Acts 1:8. In Matthew we read,
18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20).  
There is no doubt that Jesus repeated this idea in different ways over the 40 days that He appeared to the disciples between the resurrection and the ascension. In Acts 1:8 He said,
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
These passages are complementary, not contradictory.  In Acts Jesus emphasized the importance of being a Spirit empowered witness. In Matthew He emphasized disciple-making in the light of His authority and presence, while in Mark He is teaching that the apostolic proclamation would be accompanied by attesting miracles, and that is exactly what we see in the book of Acts. That idea is stated clearly in Acts 14:3 with respect to the ministry of Paul: “speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” We see that in the ministry of the apostles, starting with Pentecost.
       We see speaking in tongues three times in Acts, and many miracles of healing, but what about handling snakes and drinking poison (18)?  We don’t see these referred to anywhere else as signs accompanying the preaching of the Gospel. We do have one scene, reported in Acts 28:3-6, when Paul was ship wrecked on his way to Rome…
3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand.  4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, "No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live."  5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.  6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.
In the context of Acts there is no indication that this is something to be purposefully imitated. Paul did not seek out a viper to handle! The point in Acts is that God miraculously delivered Paul, because Paul was to be His witness in Rome. There are a few snake handling churches still today in the US, but it is literally, a dying religion (!), and it is based on a misreading of Scripture. I’ve read testimonies, particularly of believers in third world mission fields, who were given poison, and it pleased God to protect them from any harm. That is not promised! Nothing is too difficult for God, when it is His will to intervene in history He still does miracles. But it is the preaching of the Gospel, the Word of God written, and proclaimed, that evokes faith in those who believe.
       Put all this back into the context of Mark 16:8. The women were terrified, and said nothing at first. We know that changed quickly, that very morning. This scene made me think of God’s question to Isaiah: “Who shall I send, and who will go for us?” That is Mark’s question to his readers, and God’s question to us. Will we reply with Isaiah, “Here I am, send me!” In the light of the resurrection, we are called to believe God, taking Him at His Word, trusting in His presence and protection, as we bear witness to His grace.
III. Ascension: He is at the Father’s right hand, even as He builds His church (19-20; cf. Acts 1:9-11; 7:56; 14:3).
19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.  20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.
       As does Luke at the end of His Gospel and again at the beginning of Acts, so the writer of Mark’s long ending affirms the ascension of Christ. Luke tells us,
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,  53 and were continually in the temple blessing God… (Lk 24:50-53).
Then again we read in Acts 1:9-11,   
9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,  11 and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
Later in Acts, as Stephen is being stoned, just before his death he says, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). So, the ascension encourages suffering believers to persevere, knowing that our High Priest and Advocate is at the Father’s right hand (cf. Ps 2, Ps 110:1-2). Jesus is the victorious, living, and returning Lord! Until that Day we are His ambassadors, declaring the Gospel to the world!
What is God saying to me in this passage? That is the Maine* Idea: We are called to believe God, taking Him at His Word, the testimony to His resurrection gives us a basis for our faith. So, we believe Him, the Son of God, trusting in His presence and protection, and we obey Him as we bear witness to His grace.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? I hope this study of the Gospel of Mark has led you deeper in your faith, and stronger in your understanding of our great salvation. Are you hungry for more? Do you long to go deeper? Let’s close with a prayer from the apostle Paul, Ephesians 1:16-23,   
16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,  17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,  18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might  20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,  21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,  23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.   That is who you are in Christ, that is what you have in Him!    Amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

This Changes Everything! - Mark 16:1-8

This Changes Everything!
Mark 16:1-8
Introduction: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! One special boy understood the importance of that message…
Little Philip, born with Down's syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday School class with several eight-year-old boys and girls. Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences, according to an article in leadership magazine. But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group, though not fully. 
The Sunday after Easter the teacher brought… [empty plastic eggs]. Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the… [plastic egg]. Back in the classroom, they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion. After running about the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one. After each one, whether a flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh. 
Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside. The children exclaimed, “That's stupid. That's not fair. Somebody didn't do their assignment." 
Philip spoke up, "That's mine." 
"Philip, you don't ever do things right!" a student retorted. "There's nothing there!"  
"I did so do it," Philip insisted. "I did do it. It's empty. the tomb was empty!" 
Silence followed. From then on Philip became a full member of the class. He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off. At the funeral this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar not with flowers, but with their Sunday school teacher, each to lay on it an empty plastic egg. (Unknown).
I don’t know if these were based on that story, but Mary Ann has a set of “resurrection eggs” that each contain symbols of the gospel message. The last one is empty, reminding us of the empty tomb. Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen! That is not a story. It is not a myth. It is a fact of history. And that truth changes everything.
       The resurrection of Jesus is not just a religious story we tell at Easter time. It is not just a facet of the Christian tradition.  It is a historical fact, and the foundation of our faith! Paul spoke to the importance of the resurrection in I Corinthians 15,
13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.  17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (I Cor 15:13-20).
That is pretty emphatic, is it not? If the resurrection is not true, our faith is usesless, we are still in our sins, we are of all men most to be pitied. But if it is true, and it is, it changes everything!  Ignatius of Antioch, was being taken to his execution in AD 107. He was expecting to be thrown to the lions, and may have reflected on those verses written by Paul when he wrote the following…
If you come across somebody who says that Jesus Christ never lived, or that He is just an idea, or a concept, or a myth, shut your ears to him.
     Jesus Christ was born into a human family, a descendent of David.  His mother was Mary. He was persecuted under Pontius Pilate, a fact testified to us by some who are now in Heaven, and some who are still alive on earth.  How can this be a phantom, or an illusion, or a myth?  These are facts of history!
     It is also a fact that he rose from the dead (or rather that his Father raised him up).  And that is the most important fact of all, because his promise is that the Father will also raise us up, if we believe in Him.  So if Christ Jesus is not alive, neither shall we be.  There is nothing left for us to hope for if he is just an idea or a fantasy.
     In any case, if he only appeared to rise from the dead —why should I be in chains for this “myth”?  Why should I die to support an illusion?  I am prepared to die for him, the true and real Son of God.  But no one is prepared to die for a shadow.
The resurrection is not just a story we tell once a year at Easter. It is the very foundation of our faith! The tomb was empty, and that truth changes everything! 
       As we look at this account, we will realize that the disciples, amazingly, were not expecting the resurrection of Jesus. I say this was amazing since Jesus had, multiple times, clearly predicted His death and resurrection! We’ve looked at three of those passages several times on our walk through this Gospel. After the disciples first confess that Jesus is the Messiah, we read in 8:31 Jesus explicitly teaching them about what had to happen. They needed to learn what the Messiah came to do…
Mark 8:31   31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
A chapter later, after casting out a demon from a boy that the disciples had been unable to exorcize, Jesus was teaching His disciples, and in 9:31 He says to them…
Mark 9:31  "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."
Essentially the same teaching. Then again we read in…
Mark 10:32-34   32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,  33 saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles.  34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise."
Each time, after Jesus’ teaching, the disciples said or did something that proved they did not understand.  After the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus had told Peter, James, and John to tell no one about what they had seen until after He rose from the dead. So we read in 9:10, “…they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.” They would soon know! That is…
The Maine* Idea: The resurrection changes everything! It proves that He is who He claimed to be and that He accomplished what He came to do! We’ll look at Mark’s account of that morning and consider 1) The devotion of the women, as only they, among the followers of Jesus, risk going to the tomb on Sunday morning to anoint the body of Jesus; 2) The declaration of the angel in 5-7, appearing as a young man dressed in white who declares the Good News, He is not here, He is risen, and finally; 3) The deduction of the witnesses, as it strikes them as to what this must mean!
I. The Devotion of the Women: Only they, among the disciples, risk going first to the tomb to anoint the body of the Lord (1-4).
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  3 And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?"  4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back- it was very large. 
      The disciples had been scattered, and are still out of sight. These faithful women, who had followed from Galilee, watched from a distance at Golgotha.  and had followed Joseph to the tomb, are first to arrive. Again, the fact that Mark reports that these women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb and that they received the angelic announcement of the resurrection, is a powerful testimony to the authenticity of the record. Women were truly second-class citizens in the ancient world. At the time of Christ they were not allowed to testify in legal matters. They were considered unreliable witnesses. If Mark was making this story up, he would not have had the first witnesses as women! But he reports it that way because that is the way it happened.  As God inspired Mark to write this account, he highlights the role of these women as faithfully following Jesus, from Galilee to Jerusalem, they are watching as He is crucified (while the men were scattered, and nowhere to be found), they follow Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb when Jesus is buried on Friday afternoon, and they arrive at the tomb to tend to His body on Sunday morning.
       It seems only on the way do they start to think about how they are going to move the huge stone they saw rolled in place to seal the tomb (3).  God had a plan about that. They arrive, and the stone is already moved! Who moved the stone? That the title of a book about the resurrection by a man named Frank Morison. He set out to disprove the resurrection, and like many before and after him, when He looked at the facts and considered the evidence, like the centurion at the cross, like the thief crucified at the side of Jesus, his heart was opened to the truth—surely this man was the Son of God!  Dr. Simon Greenleaf, founder of Harvard Law school had a similar experience. His book was entitled, The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence.  Lee Strobels’s The Case of Christ is a modern example. He arose! The resurrection changes everything! It proves that He is who He claimed to be and that He accomplished what He came to do!
II. The Declaration of the Angel: He is risen; He is not here (5-7).
5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.  6 And he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.  7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you." 
       An alarming sight (5). Mark describes this scene in the simplest, most straightforward terms. A young man, dressed in white. We know from the parallel accounts that this was indeed and angel, and his appearance was like lightening (Mt 28:3) and he was dressed in dazzling apparel (Lk 24:4). The word Mark uses here can have the sense of “amazed” or “alarmed,” or even “distressed.” No wonder! They were already distressed about the events of that week, but now they find the tomb open and the body gone, and this angelic figure seated in the tomb! As shocking as all that was, I assume that what He says goes even further…
        A shocking statement (6). They were alarmed at the sight of this angelic figure sitting in the tomb. Wouldn’t you have been?! But the announcement the angel made had to be even more shocking: He is risen! These women may have been there in Capernaum when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus to life. More recently, they might have been at the grave of Lazarus when Jesus called Him forth! But Jesus now had died. They saw His dead body taken down off the cross, wrapped in linen by Joseph of Arimathea, laid in a tomb, and then a rock rolled in front of the door to seal it in. He’s alive? Do you know what this must mean? Yes, this was a “shock and awe” moment!
      Look at the place where they laid Him – It is as though the angel is saying, “Impress this on your mind, consider what it means, you are going to be a witness to this earth-shaking event! This changes everything!”
      Go and tell the disciples and Peter… Why does the Angel specifically mention Peter? Remember his response when Jesus looked at him in the courtyard of the High Priest, after Peter had denied Him three times? He was broken.  Broken and broken-hearted, Peter needed restoration—he had denied the Lord. It’s hard to read that “Go and tell” without thinking of the Great Commission, and our mandate to share the Good News of Jesus with the world around us (see I Corinthians 15:1-3; Matthew 28:18).
      …he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you."  Remember that after Jesus predicted that they would all be scattered, and that Peter would three times deny Him, Jesus said to them,
"…You will all fall away, for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'  28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee."  29 Peter said to him, "Even though they all fall away, I will not." (Mk 14:27-29).
We know how that worked out for Peter! But consider the grace that Jesus is extending. They would all desert Him, Peter would deny Him, but Jesus would be raised and go before them to Galilee. That speaks to restoration and forgiveness. Even for Peter, and even for us! God’s grace is bigger than our sin. That is why Jesus came, that is why He died. And the resurrection changes everything! It proves that He is who He claimed to be and that He accomplished what He came to do!
III. The Deduction of the witnesses: Consider what this means! (8).
And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
       Astonished and fearful they fled from the tomb! One preacher said, “The resurrection confronts before it comforts.” That has been true of other miracles that Jesus did earlier in his ministry. Jesus was giving glimpses of the future kingdom and clues to His identity in the acts of power He did. They were signs, testifying to His identity, revealing the presence of the Kingdom in the person of the King!  They didn’t just casually leave the tomb, chatting about the theological implications of what they had just seen. Mark tells us they “fled the tomb.” He uses three words to describe their feelings of awe at that moment: trembling… astonishment… afraid… That shouldn’t surprise us too much in the light of what we have already seen in our survey of the Gospel of Mark. It is the response of humans as they get a glimmer of the answer to their question: “Who is this man?” (cf. Mk 4:40-41). Sinclair Ferguson said,
In Mark’s Gospel, this fear is always man’s response to the breaking in of the power of God. It is the fear the disciples experienced when Jesus stilled the storm; the fear of the Gerasenes when Jesus delivered Legion; the fear of the disciples as they saw Jesus setting His face to Jerusalem to die on the cross. This fear is the response of men and women to Jesus as He shows His power and majesty as the Son of God…” (Let’s Study Mark, p. 271)
       I believe Mark intends us to understand that they went directly to the disciples, speaking to no one on the way (8).  It doesn’t say that does it? Remember that Mark is writing to a group of believers, a church. They had heard the Gospel message, they knew the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus from the testimony of the Apostles. I Corinthians was one of Paul’s early letters. In chapter 15 of that letter Paul says that Jesus appeared to Peter, and to the twelve, and on one occasion to more than 500 brothers at once! We learn from the book of Acts that after the resurrection Jesus appeared to them over a period of 40 days, teaching about the kingdom, until he ascended to heaven. There is a phenomenon in reading the Bible that is called “intertextuality.” The writers of Scripture could assume that their readers had a context, a background, that would inform how they hear the story. We’ve seen that in Mark’s allusions to the Old Testament Scriptures. I think that same principle extends to the teaching and preaching of the apostles that was at the heart of the faith of the church from the beginning. Of course the women eventually took courage and told the apostles what they had seen! If not, they would never have gone to the tomb to see!
      More than likely these women ran in silence back to the house where the disciples were huddled. All the while, considering what all this meant, what they had seen and heard. Their excitement probably grew as they drew nearer. The evidence was compelling, evidence that demands a verdict! If the tomb was empty, that means that Jesus conquered death—He really is who He claimed to be! Sinclair Ferguson wrote,
Mark began his Gospel by telling us who Jesus is. He wrote his Gospel to make us ask the question: Who is Jesus? And answer it accurately. Now he shows us the nature of a true response to Jesus. It is to be moved with a sense of awe and wonder that the Son of God came among men, and lived and died and rose again for our salvation. That sense of awe is the beginning of a new life of fellowship with a risen Lord…” (Ibid, p. 272),
What is God saying to me in this passage? The resurrection changes everything! It proves that He is who He claimed to be and that He accomplished what He came to do!
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Over the last two years we’ve been looking at Mark’s Gospel from the perspective of three questions, Who is Jesus, why did He come, what does it mean to follow Him. The resurrection is the exclamation point at the end of this Gospel. He is God, the Son. He came to rescue us from wrath, to reconcile us with God. Will you trust Him? Will you follow Him? AMEN.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Triumph of the King - Mark 15:42-47

The Triumph of the King
Mark 15:42-47

Introduction: One year ago, on Palm Sunday 2018, we looked ahead two chapters from where we were in our Mark series to look at Mark’s account of the Triumphal entry ( ).  We actually got to that point of the Gospel, a couple of months later, in June 2018. It has taken as that long to get from Palm Sunday to Good Friday in our study of the Gospel of Mark! (Either we’re being really thorough, or I am more than a little slow. Probably some of both!). Rather than going back to that scene this morning, I want to stay on track so we can look at Mark’s report of the resurrection next week, in its context. So, I’ve decided to look at our current passage in Mark 15, the burial of Jesus, in the Light of the Triumphal entry.
       Think about the unfolding of the story: On Palm Sunday, Jesus entered the city to the cheers of the crowd: the King is coming! He entered the Temple that day and Mark says He looked around at everything before returning to Bethany (Mk 11:11). Now, five days later, He has been crucified, the veil of that same Temple has been torn from top to bottom, and He lay dead in the tomb. From Triumph to the Tomb? The King is coming! The King is dead? What did this mean?
     This is not the unfolding story that anyone had expected earlier that week. Well the religious leaders did want to put Him to death, but not during the feast, they didn’t want risk a popular revolt. And yes, His admirers might have been a little surprised by His lowly entrance into the city, riding on a donkey’s colt. But they still hailed Him in messianic terms as their coming King and Savior. They may have expected a messianic entrance more like we read 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.
That is more like it!  That is the kind of power and reign we can relate too! A white horse, a sharp sword, ruling the nations with a rod of iron! At least if this was my plan (or maybe yours) we would write it that way. That day is coming, but that day is still future. He came the first time to make a way for humans to be included in His future kingdom. God had a plan. He was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. He came first as the Passover-King, the King who is also the Lamb.
       His first coming was as a Suffering-Servant and God had already embedded the details of His plan in the Scriptures through the ages. On Palm Sunday they quoted Psalm 118:24-25, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name to the Lord!” Only later, when their minds were opened, when they were given the Spirit to illumine their understanding, only then would they see and put it all together, and look back a couple of verses to 118:22, “The Stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Ironically, the word “King” is applied to Jesus only here in chapter 15. Six times. In Pilate’s questioning, in the mocking of the soldiers, and it is the charge that is nailed to the cross, the charge for which He is executed: The King of the Jews (15:26). Even as He died, we’ve seen that He was in control, as He fulfilled the Scriptures and carried out the plan of God.
The Maine* Idea: Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was buried… fulfilling the Divine plan, and confirming His identity as Messiah.
I. The Courage of Joseph: He took courage, and at great risk stood and asked for the body of Jesus, planning to give Him a respectful burial (41-43).
42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 
       The Day of Preparation before the Sabbath was a time of great care being taken to maintain kosher, and to prepare for worship. That would seem to be even more diligent during a Feast. You would not want to do anything that would exclude yourself from worship. The Sabbath would begin at sunset and it was already afternoon. When Herod had killed John the Baptist, John’s disciples at least came to claim the body and give him a proper burial (Mk 6:29). The disciples of Jesus are not mentioned in this scene in Mark. From John’s account, we know that John had been there at least part of the time Jesus was on the Cross, but even there we read nothing about his disciples stepping up to claim and bury the body of the Lord. Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered. They had scattered, and it seems were still in self-preservation mode. But someone steps up, from an unexpected direction.
       Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, that is, the Sanhedrin, comes forward. Mark doesn’t give us a lot of information about Joseph, it seems that in his usual fashion, he is allowing the man’s actions to speak for itself. Mark doesn’t tell us if Joseph had been present when the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus. It seems unlikely, since no voice of dissention is mentioned. We get a clue to his authentic faith in that Mark simply says He was “also himself looking for the kingdom of God.” Luke gives more information,
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man,  51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God…” (Luke 23:50-51).
So, Joseph was the minority opinion, and did not see Jesus as a threat. But is that all? Matthew tells us even more, saying that Joseph had become a disciple of Jesus (Mt 27:57), and John adds that he “…was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews” (Jn 19:38). Now think about what Joseph does in asking for the body of Jesus. First of all, from a political perspective, he is aligning himself in some way with this man who had just ordered executed, coming before Pilate himself. Would it put him at risk with the civil authorities? Maybe. What He was doing, and would do, would also be done in broad daylight in a public place. There is no doubt that word would get back to the rest of the Counsel.  His standing in the council, maybe his position, maybe worse, would have been in jeopardy.
       It was also the eve of the Sabbath, during a religious feast. Going into the home of a gentile, not to mention handling and burying a body, would have rendered him ceremonially unclean, and so unfit to participate in the Temple worship.  Even so, despite the risk from the civil authorities, from His colleagues in the Sanhedrin, and even the risk to his personal readiness for worship, Joseph of Arimathea “took courage,” and he seems determined to give Jesus a respectful burial. It was the least he could do for this righteous man who had been treated with such injustice! John tells us another member of the council, Nicodemus, who had come to Jesus at night (Jn 3:1-9) and had spoken up before the council saying that He should be given a fair hearing (Jn 7:51), went with Joseph, bringing along spices to put on the body for burial (Jn 10:39). Mark is giving us the Reader’s Digest version, and doesn’t mention Nicodemus. Did servants go with them? Maybe, but we are not told.
      It seems there is a lesson here for us. Are we guilty of trying to be a secret disciple of Jesus? We know who He is, we’ve trusted Him, but we don’t want to stand up and step out and say, “I am a follower of Jesus!” We are here for a purpose, to be a witness. He calls us to be ready, with gentleness and respect, to give a reason for the hope that is in us. Take courage! It probably won’t cost you your life. And because He arose, no matter what, if you know Him, you are going to be alright! He’s got you!  After all, Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was buried… fulfilling the Divine plan, and confirming His identity.
II. The Concession of Pilate: Who was surprised, and after inquiring of the centurion released the body to Joseph (44-45).
44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead.  45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 
       Pilate was seemingly a man doing his best to maintain peace, with little attention to justice or to doing what was right. He had clearly seen no threat in Jesus. Even when the crowd, manipulated by the leaders, called for his execution, Pilate asked “Why? What evil has He done?” (Mk 15:14). The clear indication is that Pilate’s examination of Jesus produced no charge worthy of execution. Though he accedes to their demands, he knew their charges were without merit (15:15). This context confirms that. If Pilate thought Jesus really was an insurrectionist and rebel, there is no way He would have granted the body to Joseph. Such criminals who challenged the rule of Rome were made an example of, and usually left for an extended period on display after death, to be picked at by animals, until the stench required that they be thrown into a common grave, in a place set apart for criminals. That doesn’t happen here. God had a plan.
      Pilate was surprised to hear that He was already dead since crucified men lingered much longer normally, typically at least a day or two. It had only been six hours! Remember, a brutal scourging preceded the crucifixion of Jesus, with the result that He was too weakened to carry His cross the full distance to Golgotha. Even so, He was in control of what was happening as He carried out the Father’s plan. The darkness and despair gave way to a cry of triumph, recorded by John: “Tetelestai!” That is, “It is finished… [the debt is paid…]” And then He committed his spirit to the Father, and breathed His last. No one took His life, He laid it down of His own accord (and He would take it up again, but that story is for next week!)
      Remember that the soldier, who had seen many die before, was so taken by the way He “breathed His last” that He said “Surely this man was the Son of God.” And so, Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus had already died, so much so that he summoned the Centurion and inquired if it were so. The Centurion knew death when he saw it. Carrying out these executions was a part of his responsibilities. Though he might still have been shaken by what He had just seen, the way Jesus died which led Him to confess Him as the Son of God, he told Pilate is was so, (time of death 3 PM, more or less) the “King of the Jews” hung dead on the Cross.
       Only with that confirmation does Pilate release the body to Joseph. He was a respected member of the Sanhedrin after all, so it would not be a problem with the Sanhedrin. And even if it was, Pilate knew their motives, their jealousy, and perhaps He viewed this as a way of affirming that he was not guilty of this man’s blood. But Pilate was not guiltless. Knowing Jesus was innocent he ultimately gave in to the leaders who cried out for His blood. Ironically, Pilate would be forgotten to history except for being mentioned in the gospels, and a line preserved by the church in the so-called Apostles’ Creed that says Jesus was “…was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried…” But nothing was going to interfere with God’s plan. And so, at this Passover of the Jews, Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was buried… fulfilling the Divine plan, and confirming His identity.
III. Confirmation by the Witnesses: The witness of the Centurion, and the actions of Joseph in preparing the body and sealing the tomb, the witness of the women, all confirmed He was dead and also fulfilled Scripture (46-47; Isa 53:9).
       When Paul summarized the gospel message he had preached to the Corinthians, he said that “…Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and was buried, and was raised again the third day according to the Scriptures.” The fact that Jesus died and was buried—sealed in a tomb, was confirmation of His death, which would also testify to miracle of His resurrection.
46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.  47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
Once again, without giving a specific citation, Mark’s telling of the story of Jesus invites us to think back to the Old Testament, specifically Isaiah 53:9. The translation of the NASB is helpful, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death…” The first phrase indicates the expected disposition of the body of someone condemned for insurrection… the body left on the cross to be scavenged by animals, until it was removed and cast into the smoldering fire at the garbage dump, or at best thrown into a common grave, usually not much more than a ditch, along with other executed criminals. Truly, “His grave was assigned with wicked men…” But that was not the plan of God.
      Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus in his own tomb, a tomb that had never been used. How do we know that? Well who else’s tomb would it have been? He didn’t buy it that day!  He didn’t just come across an empty tomb and take it! But we also have the other Gospels to fill in the gaps for us. We read for example in Matthew 27:59-60,  
59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.
Think about this: this was Joseph’s tomb, intended one day for His own burial, and Christ took Joseph’s place in the tomb. And in a real sense, He took your place and my place and the place of every one through the ages who would one day put their trust in Him. Paul said in Romans 6:23 that “…the wages of sin is death…” He wrote in Romans 5:12 that, “…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” All but one that is. The God-Man, Jesus Christ, was without sin. He was righteous and holy. Yet He died for us, and was buried. Did Joseph see Jesus as His substitute? Did Barabbas? Do you? He died, so that we could have new life. That’s the Maine* idea in this passage…
What is God saying to me in this passage? Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was buried… fulfilling the Divine plan, and confirming His identity.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Joseph of Arimathea had clearly been drawn to Jesus. Mark tells us he was looking for the kingdom of God. Matthew and John call him a disciple, albeit a secret disciple, of Jesus. I believe the message Mark wants us to take from this is that we too should stand up and speak up for the Truth. He has placed each of us where we are. He is the Lord of the Harvest. There are people that God has sovereignly placed in our lives, and He has strategically us in theirs. They need to know the truth. Do they know you know Jesus? Next week we celebrate the resurrection. Can you invite someone to hear the message of the Gospel? It could be the day they see their need, and put their trust in Jesus. The King is coming! Let’s be faithful!  AMEN.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

We Beheld His Glory! - Mark 15:37-41

Mark 15:37-41
Introduction: April 15th is fast approaching, and it may be that a few of you at least are still under pressure to get your tax returns in order! A few of you prepare taxes and are hard at work helping others get their returns in order!  An axiom of American life is that only two things are certain: death and taxes! That has not always been so, both of those are part of life in a fallen world! I don’t think we’ll worry about taxes in the New Heaven and the New Earth, but for now, they must be paid! It is also true that with the Fall of Humans recorded in the Bible in Genesis 3, came the certainty of death. From that time, until the future resurrection, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgement...” (Heb 9:27). As the Apostle Paul said in Romans 5:12“…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” Since the Fall, humans, born in sin, are by nature children of wrath, and, apart from Christ, deserving judgment, separated from God by sin. The Good News is that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:19). God so loved the world that He gave His only Son... At the baptism of Jesus the heavens were “ripped open” [schizo] and the Father testified that Jesus is the Son. Now at His death, the Veil of the Temple is “ripped open,” [same verb, schizo] and a centurion confesses that He is the Son of God.
     We will look at these verses from three perspectives, 1) Unveiled Glory: His death opened the Way to the presence of God. 2) Unqualified Confession: A gentile, a Roman Centurian, recognizes the King, confessing Him as the Son of God; and 3) Unrestricted Discipleship: All are called to follow Him, there are no social or cultural barriers to being a Christ-follower, whosoever will may come! These three points lead us to…
The Maine* Idea: The death of Christ opened the way into the presence of God for all who believe.
I. Unveiled Glory: The Way is now open to the presence of God (37-38).
37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.  38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 
      First let’s look again at v.37 and the death of Christ: After scourging, mocking, and crucifixion, Jesus breathes His last (37). Death came into Creation as a result of sin, but Jesus died not because of His own sin—He was sinless—but because of the sins of humans. As the Apostle Peter wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed…” (I Pet 2:24). Mark wants us to see the immediate connection between the death of Christ, and what follows…
       As He dies, the veil of the Temple is torn, from top to the bottom (38). There were a few “veils” or “curtains” in the Temple, Mark isn’t specific, but when we put the gospel accounts together we realize this was the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies (or, The Most Holy Place) which housed the Ark of the Covenant. Mark gives no commentary about what this meant or why it happened, he simply reports the direct connection between the death of Jesus, and the rending of the temple veil, from top to bottom.
       The Veil separated the Holy of Holies, the place of the Presence (Exod 26:31-33; Lev 16). The Tabernacle in the wilderness was the forerunner of the “House of God” that would later be built by Solomon in Jerusalem. It would be stripped by the Babylonians in 586 BC and later rebuilt during the return of the remnant during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Finally, it would be rebuilt during the reign of Herod the Great, continuing to the time of Christ. The basic layout was the same, emphasizing the Sanctity and Separation of the Holy of Holies which housed the Ark of the Covenant.  We read the instructions concerning the “veil” in Exodus 26:31-33,   
31 "And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it.  32 And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver.  33 And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy.
       The Temple in the time of Jesus was described by the Jewish Historian Josephus, and according to him the veil was about 30 feet wide, and 60 feet high, and it was the thickness of a man’s palm, about 4 inches! He said it was so heavy it took 300 men to hoist it into place! That is impressive, but the sanctity of that inner part of the Temple emphasized still more the transcendence of God, His unapproachable holiness. You recall that when Moses came down the Mountain his face glowed from having been in the presence of God, so much so that he needed to wear a veil to shield his face from the people. God’s presence descended on the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and later on the Temple in Jerusalem, and the veil shielded the people from his glorious presence. Only the High Priest, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, after offering a sacrifice for himself and for the people, could enter the Holy of Holies. Some traditions say they actually tied a rope on his foot so that in case he fell unconscious or died they could pull him out! God’s presence was unapproachable. Now think about the significance of the rending of the veil, not from below, as it might be done by some human means, but from the top to the bottom!
       Jesus, by the sacrifice of Himself, gave access to all who know Him. The language Mark uses to describe this event is remarkable. In chapter 1, at the baptism of Jesus, the heavens were “ripped open” [schizo] and the Father testified from heaven that Jesus is the Son. Now at His death, for only the second time in this Gospel, that same verb is used again, this time as the Veil of the Temple is “ripped open,” from above! The Father testified verbally to the divine sonship of Jesus at His baptism. Now He testifies in action, as God Himself rips open the veil, symbolically showing that the old way of sacrifice is finished, and that the way into His presence is opened. We’ll see that He uses a Roman Centurion to make the verbal declaration that this is indeed the Son of God!
       More than any other New Testament author, the writer to the Hebrews fleshes out the parallel between the earthly Temple and the throne of God in Heaven. It seems like Isaiah got a glimpse of the heavenly temple in his vision in Isaiah 6, and the glorious presence of the King. Hebrews talks about Jesus, as our great High Priest, entering the presence of God on our behalf. We read in Hebrews 9:11-12,  
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent ( not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)  12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
And so, as Paul says in Colossians 1:21-22,  
 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,  22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him…
Now get this: as result of what Jesus has done for us, we are holy, righteous before God! And so, we have direct access opened into His presence. Hebrews 10:19-22 says, 
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
So, we see Unveiled Glory, as the way is opened, that points to the Maine* Idea: The death of Christ opened the way into the presence of God for all who believe. Next we see an “Unqualified Confession,” as a Gentile recognizes the King (39).
II. Unqualified Confession: A Gentile Recognizes the King (39).
39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" 
      The Centurion was a Roman soldier who traditionally would have had about a hundred men under his command. It was probably a small team of only 4 or 5 that, under his command, accompanied the condemned men to their execution. This man had witnessed and carried out many crucifixions, no doubt. But he had never seen anything quite like what happened that day.  Think about all that he had seen. We only have a part of it in Mark, but we know the rest from the other Gospels: The way Jesus endured in silence the mocking and the insults; The way he prayed for His executioners, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”; How he made sure his mother was cared for, how he offered hope to a condemned man at his side; The hours of darkness in the middle of the day had to be terrifying; The cry from Cross, did he understand what Jesus said?; Then a final strong cry, as He “breathed his last.” He had seen many die before, this was not his first crucifixion, but it was unlike any he had seen or would ever see. And so, Mark tells us, “When he saw that in this way he breathed his last…”
       Not only what He said, but the way He said it seems to have astounded the Centurion. Was it the power of His voice, impossible it seems after scourging and six hours hanging on the cross? Was it the way He seemed to be in control through it all, talking to his mother and John, speaking so confidently to the condemned man at his side? Was it His seeming control over the moment, when it was finished, when He breathed His last, and committed His Spirit to His Father? Mark takes us from Calvary, as Jesus dies, to the Temple, and the veil is rent, and then back to the Cross, where the Centurion says more correctly than anyone so far in Mark, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Notice the strategic references to Jesus as the Son of God earlier in this Gospel:
Mark 1:1  - The opening verse of the Gospel, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Mark 1:9-12 -  At His baptism we read “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."  12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
Mark 9:7-- On the Mount of Transfiguration, three disciples present, Peter, James, and John, and Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, “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 only.
How much did the Centurion know and understand about Jesus? We can’t say for sure. But Mark wants us to see that this Gentile soldier seemingly got it right, at least in terms of the title he ascribes to Jesus. As readers of the Gospel the believing reference to the Divine Sonship of Jesus must command our attention. The reference to the “rending” of the heavens at the baptism, and again the “rending” of the Temple veil here, draws these events together. As the heavens were rent and the Father testified to the Divine Son at His baptism, so the Temple Veil is rent, and this Roman confesses Him as God’s Son… The best the disciples have done so far is call Him “Messiah.” Until now, the only positive confession of Jesus as the Son of God came from the Father (1:11; 9:7). A couple of demon possessed people, in fear of judgment, had used the title, but clearly in fear, not in faith. The first believing confession by a human comes from this Gentile, apparently the one who had been in charge of His execution!
       That is the Maine* Idea: The death of Christ opened the way into the presence of God for all who believe.  We’ve seen 1) Unveiled Glory and 2) Unqualified Confession, let’s touch on a final point…
III. Unrestricted DiscipleshipALL are called to follow Him, regardless of racial, economic, or social standing (40-41; Gal 3:28). We’ll see more on the women the next two Sundays…
40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.  41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
      This detail, the mention of faithful women, who are at least nearby, watching in the distance, is striking. Women had no standing to testify in legal proceedings, they were truly second-class citizens in the first century. That does speak to a couple of things,
       1) First, the authenticity of Mark’s account, if you were making this up you wouldn’t make women, in that context, the faithful witnesses to his execution and the first witnesses of his resurrection! Mark records it that way because it is history, that is the way it happened!
       2) I think there is also a lesson here. He also would remind us that God is no respecter of persons. In God’s eyes social status, gender, race, the things in our past, our level of education, the size of our bank account, the kinds of things that humans have allowed to stratify our standing in society, none of it matters to God. The ground is level at the foot of the Cross!  So Paul could state so emphatically in Galatians 3:28, confirming in a didactic context exactly what we see happening already in the ministry of Jesus:  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Heaven is going to be a colorful place, and the kinds of things that we foolishly allow to divide us now will be forgotten.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Why did Jesus come? To open the way for us to have unrestricted access into the Presence of God. Who is Jesus? Yes, a descendant of David according to the flesh, but not merely that. He is the Son of God. What does it mean to follow Him? Like these woman, following, serving, loving Him and trusting Him. That is the Maine* Idea: The death of Christ opened the way into the presence of God for all who believe.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? If you have not yet submitted to Uncle Sam his due, He will come knocking! Death and taxes. It is appointed unto men once to die… and then what? Either we’ll stand before the Great White Throne and be judged for our unbelief, or, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, we will come to His judgment seat, and stand before Him forgiven, at peace with God, reconciled to Him. If you are not certain about where you stand with God, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. None of us knows how much time they have left. Are we ready?
       On Wednesday night Pastor David said he had gotten a call from a friend from his former church. She found out she is dying, and they told her that it might be that very day. Only God knows when. The question is, then what? Pastor David’s friend said yes, she was ready. Are you? If you feel a tug at your heart, something drawing you to Him, calling you to make sure, could it be that God, by His kindness, is leading you to repentance and faith? Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock, if anyone open the door I will come into him and sup with Him, and he with Me…” Paul said it this way: Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Make certain, the price has been paid, the gift is being offered, trust Him!
       We celebrate the Lord’s Table monthly at our church. It is a visual, palpable reminder, that Christ gave to the church, of the glorious message of the Gospel. The disciples were celebrating Passover with Jesus, a time to remember the deliverance of the people from slavery in Egypt. The blood of the Lamb over the door in the Jewish homes promised life in the home, instead of judgement. That deliverance was a picture of what Jesus accomplished this last Passover in Jerusalem. He was without sin, a spotless Lamb, and He was slain so that by His blood we are redeemed and justified, declared righteous before God. The ordinance is a perpetual reminder of what Christ Has done for us.   AMEN.