Month: April 2015

Mark 01v01-11, “The Gospel of Mark”

1456053183_thumb.pngAround the world today, Christians will gather together to do what they have done for 2,000 years. They will open their Bibles to see and hear the Word of God. But the big question that many ask, is this: “Is the Bible reliable? Is it really the Word of God?” I want to begin by considering that question and by focusing on the Gospel according to Mark. Stay tuned!

Some have claimed that the Gospels are forgeries, imaginary stories that were the product mostly of legends that had developed about the life of Jesus well into the second century, many decades after the events in the life of Christ. We are told that the earliest witnesses to the New Testament documents got it wrong. Two thousand years have passed and somehow some think that we are in a much better position to determine what actually happened and who wrote the Gospels and letters of the New Testament. We are told that the Gospels which bear the names of Matthew and of John, for example, were not actually written by Matthew and John. They may not even have been written in the first century.

We are told that as time passed, people began to put their faith in this legendary Jesus, one that was the product of vivid imaginations. A Jesus that could walk on water, opened blinded eyes, feed multitudes with a meager lunch, raise the dead, and even die himself and come back to life again. Stories that gullible people of days gone by could swallow, but impossible to believe for intelligent people of the 21st century.

In order to get people to believe such myths, the authors of such works would attribute their works to such people as Thomas, Mary, Philip, and Nicodemus. In fact, we do have documents by those names

  • The Gospel of Thomas (2nd century)
  • The Gospel of Mary (2nd century)
  • The Gospel of Philip (3rd century)
  • The Gospel of Nicodemus (5th century)
  • There is even a Gospel of Judas

We are told that these books have just as much right to be in the New Testament as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

But in fact, the so-called Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Philip, Nicodemus, and Judas have very little to do with the life and ministry of Jesus and were mostly unknown in theological discussions and writings. They never played an important role in the life or teaching of the church.

Some people dismiss the Gospels that we find in the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as inventions of the church. They want us to believe that these books were not actually written by their namesakes. They want to believe that the early church invented these Gospels and then attached the names of important people to them. That is certainly the case in the Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Philip, and Nicodemus. On that point, everyone is in agreement.

But if the early church were making up these stories, why would they ever attribute a Gospel to someone like Mark? Mark? Who was Mark? Mark was not one of the twelve apostles. He was not one of the seven chosen deacons of Acts 6. No, Mark was not the illustrious name that you would want to attribute a Gospel to. Besides the fact that such a theory makes no sens, it goes against history and the testimony of over 5,700 Greek manuscripts, some from as early as the first century.

No, the reason that this so-called second Gospel is attributed to Mark is simply because it was written by Mark.

 

1. So Who Was Mark?

Mark was also called John Mark, and he was a cousin of Barnabas. Barnabas and Paul were sent by the church at Antioch to take an offering to the brothers in Judea (Acts 11:29),

When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, taking John Mark with them (Act 12:25 NLT).

Later when Barnabas and Saul are sent by the church at Antioch on their first missionary journey, they take Mark with them, but the story does not end well. Luke describes that first missionary journey in 75 verses, but by the time he gets to the tenth verse of his narration, John Mark has abandoned Paul and Barnabas, returning to Jerusalem. John Mark turns out to be a missionary dropout. On his first missionary journey with the Apostle Paul, Mark went crying home to Mama. Paul was so disappointed with Mark, that he refused to let him go with him on his next missionary journey, so Barnabas took his cousin and they went to Cyprus.

The “Gospel according to Mark the Dropout” doesn’t sound like it will hit the bestseller list.

But of course, the story does not end there. Paul and Mark are eventually reconciled and Paul acknowledges that Mark “will be helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11. See also Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24.)

1.1. Mark’s Source

But where did Mark get his information? How did he write this gospel?

Some people have a very mysterious idea about Scripture. They think that everything that we read in the Bible came be revelation. The Bible states that all Scripture is given by inspiration, not by revelation. God inspired and directed the writers of the Bible to write what they wrote, but when it comes to history, it was not simply revealed to them; they already knew what had happened. Matthew and John were eyewitnesses to what Jesus did. Luke tells us that he carefully researched everything that he wrote and consulted eyewitnesses, as he says in his introduction,

Luke 1:4 NET so that you may know for certain the things you were taught.

Matthew and John were eyewitnesses. Luke carefully researched and consulted eyewitnesses. So how did Mark know what to write?

Mark may have been a witness to Jesus. Perhaps he had seen Jesus with his own eyes. We know that he lived in Jerusalem. And some New Testament scholars think that he may be that young man who escaped being taken prisoner by the guards the night that Jesus was arrested. Mark alone records these lines that seem to have nothing else to do with the story:

Mark 14:51-52 ESV And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

That may be Mark’s signature. But one thing is certain. He has seen Jesus through the eyes of Peter. Yes, there is huge evidence in the New Testament itself and in the testimony of the early church that Mark travelled with Peter as his interpreter.

The first and last references to John Mark in the New Testament are quite interesting because in both references, Mark is associated with the Apostle Peter. In Acts 12, Peter had been imprisoned. King Herod intended to execute Peter but an angel opened the prison doors and Peter found his way to the house of Mary, the mother of — John Mark where the believers were praying for Peter’s release.

Acts 12:12 ESV When he [Peter] realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.

That means that John Mark was well known to the believers and to the Apostle Peter.

The final New Testament reference to Mark is in Peter’s letter from Rome:

1 Peter 5:13 NLT Your sister church here in Babylon [Rome] sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.

Peter calls Mark his son. Mark would be his spiritual son. This fits in perfectly with what early and reliable witnesses tell us about Mark. He served as Peter’s interpreter, and the Apostle Peter himself was the chief source of Mark’s Gospel.

It is also interesting to note that Simone Peter is the first and last disciple to be mentioned in the Gospel according to Mark. Simon Peter is the first disciple to be mentioned in the first chapter when Jesus says to him, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Peter is also the last disciple mentioned in this Gospel when the angels tell the women,

Mark 16:7 ESV 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.”

Mark’s Gospel is not about Peter; it’s about Jesus Christ, but it is through the eyes of Peter, that John Mark has seen him clearly.

1.2. Title: The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

So we come to the title: The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Mark begins at the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry. Unlike John, Mark does not start in eternity past. John starts like this:

John 1:1-3 (ESV) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not give us the genealogy of Christ, tracing his earthy parentage back through King David to Abraham or back to Adam like Matthew and Luke. Mark contains no birth narratives, no angelic appearances to Mary and Joseph, no trip to Bethlehem, no flight to Egypt, no return to Israel, no visits to the temple as a young boy.

No, Mark begins at the beginning of the earthly ministry of Christ. This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

1.2.1. Major Theme

Here we come to the major theme of each of the Gospels: the man called Jesus. Mark entitles his Gospel, “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The question is, Who is Jesus Christ? The question of “Who?” comes up again and again in this gospel.

For example, in chapter 4 of Mark, Jesus and the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is sleeping in the bottom of the boat when the disciples find themselves in a terrible storm in the middle of the Sea. Water begins to fill the boat and the disciples fear for their very lives. They wake up Jesus.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mar 4:38 ESV)

Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, and suddenly the wind stopped and there was a great calm.

Mark 4:41 NLT The disciples were absolutely terrified. [They are apparently more terrified by Jesus than they had been of the storm.] “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

That is the question: Who is this man?

On another occasion, four men bring a paralytic to Jesus. There is such a crowd in the house that they cannot get close to Jesus, but they have an idea. They go up to the rooftop — roofs were very accessible. They remove part of the roof and lower the man down, right in front of Jesus!

Mark 2:5-7 ESV And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

To show that this is not empty talk and that he did indeed have the authority to forgive sins, Jesus healed the paralytic.

Mark 2:12 NLT And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

The scribes had asked, “Who can forbid sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7).

Later, at an important turning point in this Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples,

Mark 8:27 NLT …”Who do people say I am?”

After hearing their answer, he asks them a second question,

Mark 8:29 NLT …”But who do you say I am?” …

That is also a question that you will have to answer. What do you think of Jesus Christ? Who is he? Who is this man?

The demons know who he is. As Jesus was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum,

Mark 1:23-25 NLT Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting, 24 “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are– the Holy One of God!” 25 Jesus cut him short. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered.

A few verses later we read,

Mark 1:34 NLT So Jesus healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons. But because the demons knew who he was, he did not allow them to speak.

Over and over again, Mark wants us to see who Jesus is, but already in the title he tells us exactly what he wants us to know:

Mark 1:1 ESV The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark tells us that this is all about Jesus. Immediately he tells us two things about Jesus:

  1. Jesus is the Christ. The word Christ is a title. It comes from the Greek word χριστὸς (christos) and is a translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah which mean anointed. Three classes of people were anointed: priests, prophets, and kings. The anointing meant that they were especially qualified serve by the help — the anointing — of the Holy Spirit. Through the centuries, God had promised to send His Anointed One. Now the time had come. Jesus is that Christ. So Mark gives the title of his book: “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
  2. But Jesus is more than anointed with the Holy Spirit. The full title of Mark’s book is, “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus is not only the Anointed One, the one that God had promised through the ages. This Anointed One, born of the virgin Mary, is also the Son of God. Mark tells us in the title what he will show in this Gospel. Jesus demonstrates time and again that he is the Son of God. This speaks of his divine nature. He is not another god. He is, as the New Testament says elsewhere, God “manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16).

Here you have, then in the title of this Gospel, the message that Mark wants to communicate: This is the Good News that the promised Christ has come, and he is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

1.2.2. John the Baptist, Forerunner of Christ

In the next verses, we read about John the Baptist. It may be surprising that John is suddenly introduced since this gospel is all about Jesus Christ. What does John have to do with it?

John the Baptist has a unique role in the Gospel story. His role is so important that even his coming was prophesied in the Old Testament and is highlighted in each of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. John the Baptist is the forerunner of Jesus Christ. He was sent before Christ to announce his coming. He points not to himself, but to Jesus Christ. Jesus does not suddenly appear on the scene announcing a new message. He is announced ahead of time.

The Old Testament had announced in many ways and with great precision the coming of the Christ so that when he came, we would have proof that he was the one who was promised because he would have the proper credentials. Hundreds of years before his birth, the details of his parentage, his birth, his mission, his life, his death, and his resurrection were announced by the prophets.

But it was also announced that he would have a forerunner, someone who would go before him and prepare the way. Isaiah and Malachi declare that a forerunner would prepare the way for the Messiah. The way we read it in Malachi, God Himself will come but His messenger will come first to prepare the way.

Malachi 3:1 ESV “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me…

Isaiah tells us that the one who comes to prepare the way, John the Baptist, prepares the way of the LORD who is Yahweh.

Isaiah 40:3 ESV A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Mark thus begins his Gospel, rooting it in its Old Testament foundation:

Mark 1:2-3 ESV As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”

Jesus is not simply some new prophet that has suddenly appeared; he has a forerunner. The ministry of both Jesus and his forerunner had been prophesied hundreds of years before their coming.

There is nothing like this in any other religion. No other so-called prophet had a forerunner. Mohamed did not. The Bahá’u’lláh did not. Joseph Smith did not. These men claimed to be prophets of God, undoing what had been done, reversing it, overturning it, modifying it, changing it with their own teaching. But none of them were announced and none of them had a forerunner.

By great contrast, Jesus did not come to reverse, overturn, modify or annul what had been revealed; he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. And he alone had a forerunner announcing that he, Jesus, was the one.

New Testament scholar Jakob van Bruggen wrote,

“There are three great religions of the book: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three recognize the great value of Moses. But Judaism criticizes Christianity for threatening monotheism by confessing Jesus as God’s Son, and Islam makes the same criticism. While the Jews rally around Moses, Islam moves on to the great prophet Mohammed. The two religions [Judaism and Islam] differ over prophets. But between the two of them and Christianity stands the acknowledgment of a man, Jesus of Nazareth, as “more than a prophet,” as true God. Immanuel. [“God with us.”]

“By what right does Jesus elevate himself above Moses and Mohammed? Dare a human being make himself equal to God? Does Jesus not lack a prophet such as Yahweh has in Moses and Allah in Mohammed?

“The answer to this question is John the Baptist. Jesus is great (Luke 1:32) and John is his prophet (Luke 1:76)!”[1]

In fact, John the Baptist was the greatest prophet to be born of woman. Greater than Moses and greater than Mohammed. And John the Baptist is the prophet of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus quotes the same passage that Mark quotes and then says,

Luke 7:28 ESV I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John…”

And who did John announce? He announced Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 

2. The Ministry of John the Baptist

2.1. The Ministry of John was a ministry of preparation.

John was called to prepare the Jewish people for the coming of their Messiah. One would have thought that as the people of God, they would have been ready. They were the descendants of Abraham. They had received the Law from Moses. They were the people of the covenant.

But the great shock is that we do not have a personal relationship with God through our heritage. We are not made right with God through what our parents did or through our church or through our nation.

John appears in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance. You will remember that the nation of Israel had spent 40 years in the wilderness. They had crossed over the Jordan river on dry ground.

Now John is treating the nation of Israel as a pagan nation and telling them that they need to repent of their sins. Put not your trust in Abraham. Put not your trust in Moses. Put not your trust in the Law. They need to leave the wilderness, as it were, and cross over the Jordan river. They are to cross over not on dry ground, but by being baptized, by drowning their past sinful life. John’s ministry is a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). John is preparing the way for the Christ, the Messiah. The road they walk has to be straight. They must change their way of thinking. They must change their way of living.

Mark 1:3 ESV …’Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”

2.2. The Message of John the Baptist

The ministry of John the Baptist was one of preparation. The message of John the Baptist was a message of proclamation. John proclaimed the coming of Jesus Christ. As we have seen, Jesus said of John,

Luke 7:28 NLT I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John…”

But the focus of John’s ministry was Jesus Christ. This greatest of all men pointed to one who was infinitely greater. His message was the superiority of Jesus Christ. John shows Christ’s superiority in three ways:

 

2.2.1. Christ Is Superior in Rank

This is what John said of Jesus:

Mark 1:7 NLT John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am– so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals.

Here the greatest man who ever lived, the forerunner of Jesus Christ, said that Jesus Christ is so greater that John is not even worthy to be the slave of Christ. Untying the straps of Jesus’ sandals would be too great of an honor of the greatest of all men. That is how incomparably greater Jesus Christ is to the greatest man who ever lived.

2.2.2. Christ Is Superior in Ministry

John makes a strong contrast between his ministry and Christ’s ministry:

Mark 1:8 NLT I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

There is a great difference between water and the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to even compare them. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He has all the attributes of a person.

Now, when we talk about the three persons of the Trinity, we are not talking about three people or three human beings. “God is not a man” (Numbers 23:19). But the Holy Spirit has all the qualities of personhood including thought, will, and emotion. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit has all these characteristics and is distinct from both the Father and from the Son.

John says that his ministry is one of preparation. Jesus’ ministry is the fulfillment. John baptizes with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Jesus himself makes the same comparison after his resurrection and shortly before he ascended into heaven:

Acts 1:4-5 NLT …he commanded them [his disciples], “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. 5 John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is for empowering. It is the baptism in the Holy Spirit that gives us the power of God himself to live for him and to serve him. Three verses later, Jesus told the disciples that this baptism in the Holy Spirit would give them the power they needed to be his witnesses.

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere– in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth.

2.2.3. Christ Is Superior in Relationship to God

So first, John tells us that Christ is infinitely superior in rank. John, the greatest man to be born of woman, is not even worthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals.

Second, John tells us that Christ is superior in ministry. While John baptizes people only in water, Jesus baptizes people into the Spirit of God Himself.

Finally, Christ is superior to John in relationship to God.

Mark 1:9-11 ESV 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 being torn open 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.”

We might wonder why Jesus was baptized by John. Jesus identified with us. He took upon himself our sins. We read in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians,

2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.

Another version says it like this,

2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Jesus identified with us in his baptism. He took our sins upon himself. He showed us the way of confession and repentance.

But then, an amazing thing happened. When Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens split open and the Holy Spirit come down on him like a dove. Jesus, as the Word made flesh, as the God-man, was anointed by the Holy Spirit. We read in Acts

Acts 10:38 ESV how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

There was the baptism as Christ fulfilled all righteousness.

Then there was the anointing as the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, showing that he was the Anointed One, for that is what the word Christ means.

Then there was the voice.

Mark 1:11 ESV And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

John the Baptist was a prophet, but he was not the Son of God. It is in the voice of God, declaring that Jesus was the Son of God, that we find confirmation that Mark had justly titled his book, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

As the Son, Jesus is of the same nature as God. As the Son, He is infinitely superior in relation to God. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Father loves the Son and the Son does always that which is pleasing in the Father’s sight.

The Son came that we might be forgiven, that we might have eternal life now and for eternity. The Son came to show us the way: we must follow Him. We must confess our sins and turn from them. The Son came to do more than show the way; He is the way. It is through faith in Him alone and His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead that you and I can be restored to a right relationship with God.

Mark says that this book is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is the Good News. It is the Best News. You can be forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[1] Jakob van Bruggen, Jesus the Son of God, p. 71-72.

See also “Gospel of Mark”:

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Cyclone Pam and the Cross, Reflections on the Aftermath of Cyclone Pam

cylcone PAM color

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Vanuatu was on all the major news channels as the world watched the approach of category five Tropical Cyclone Pam. Photos and videos were soon on the Internet. The news channels covered the story as it developed. People everywhere were talking about Vanuatu. Many were praying. And many have given to help in the relief efforts here.

Many have noted the resolve of the ni-Vanuatu to work. Immediately after the cyclone, you began cleaning up and rebuilding as you have been able. You have had a mind to work and to rebuild. You have been courageous in the face of adversity. Most if not all have suffered the loss of property, and some have even lost loved ones. Our heart goes out to you. We have wept with those who weep. On the Joy Bible Institute campus, five of our buildings suffered serious damage. We lost roofs, furniture, and library books to the cyclone. Many of our churches have been damaged and some have been destroyed. Cyclone Pam was the strongest cyclone of the Southern Hemisphere on record, and the financial loss to the country is beyond calculation.

But you have responded with courage, strength, and determination. I need not tell you that there remains much to do or that rebuilding will take time and perseverance. I simply want to encourage you and tell you that many have noted and admired your strength of character. Well done!

1.      Question: Where was God?

Natural disasters sometimes provoke us to ask the question, “Where was God?” Cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes, famines and other natural disasters sometimes strengthen faith; sometimes they weaken faith. Many of you thanked God that your lives were spared. The strength of the winds was beyond anything that we could have imagined. We are all amazed at the tremendous damage that was wrought. Some say, “Thank God we were spared!” Others ask, “Where was God in all this?”

The question is often put like this: How could an all-good, all-powerful God permit this to happen? How could a loving all-powerful God allow a cyclone to wreak such destruction? If God is a God of love, he must not be all-powerful. Or if he is all-powerful, he must not be a loving God.

That sounds simple enough. If there is a God, then he is either powerless to stop such events, or he is not loving enough to care. And some conclude that events like Cyclone Pam prove that God does not exist.

While the reasoning seems simple enough, it is really simplistic. It is a simple-minded reasoning that assumes to understand and know exactly how an all-wise and all-loving God must act. It is a type of reasoning that fails to understand what God has said about his way of thinking in Isaiah 55:8-9.

Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

The type of reasoning that rejects the idea of God because He does not conform to our way of thinking is a pride that elevates itself against God and assumes itself to be omniscient (all-knowing) and all-wise.

2.      Well, what about prayer?

Why didn’t prayer stop the storm? Last week while we were still in the United States, an elderly American pastor called me. “Gary,” he said, “when you told us that there was the danger of a cyclone, I began to pray that God would spare Vanuatu. I guess I didn’t pray hard enough.”

Really? Is that the problem? Did we suffer the ravages of Cyclone Pam because people did not pray hard enough? Not at all!

The Bible is utterly realistic. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that we can be spared the storms of life. Sometimes the gospel is presented in such a way that people get the impression that there will be no problems in the Christian life. I am afraid that is a false gospel.

Prayer is an acknowledgement that we are absolutely dependent on God. We are to pray at all times, the Bible tells us. And when we are threatened by the elements, we should certainly call out to God. But we must not imagine that we can control God or the elements of nature by prayer. There is no promise that we will be spared difficulty in life. God never promised us a storm-free life. Quite the contrary!

Time and again, in every book of the Bible, whether by illustration or by teaching, we are told that we will all pass through storms in life.

Jesus told the parable in Matthew 7 about the wise man and the foolish man. The wise man built his house on the rock while the foolish man built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house of the wise man and on the house of the foolish man alike. Both the wise man and the foolish man went through violent storms. But the house of the wise man did not fall because it was built on the rock, while the house of the foolish man “fell and great was the fall of it” because it was built on sand instead of on the rock. Jesus said that everyone who hears his words and does them is like the man who built his house on the rock. But everyone who hears his words and does not do them, is like the foolish man who built his house on the sand.

Both the wise and the foolish will face violent storms in life. How we survive depends on the foundation. If our lives are founded on the Word of God, we will survive the storms of life.

In Acts 11 we read about a man named Agabus who predicted that there would be a famine:

Acts 11:27-30 ESV Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

It is helpful to notice what the Christians did and what they did not do. The Holy Spirit spoke by one of the Christian prophets and told the church at Antioch that there was going to be a famine, a natural disaster. We know what this means. A famine is a time when the crops do not grow well and food is very scarce. When food is scarce, it becomes very expensive.

Notice what the church did not do. The church did not pray against the famine. They did not pray that the harvest would be greater than ever. They did not pray that the famine would not come. They did not pray that the famine would not affect the Christians. They did not pray that the church would somehow be spared the disaster brought on by the famine.

Nor did they simply assume that the famine would not come or that the church would somehow not be touched by the famine.

What did the church do? Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, tells us,

Acts 11:29 NLT So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could.

True Christianity is practical. The believers responded to the need by sending relief to the Christians in Judea.

We must not think that somehow we are exempt from suffering, or that the storms of life will pass by on the other side. God never promised us that. Notice what the LORD says through the prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 43:1-2 ESV But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

The LORD tells us that there will be times when we pass through the waters. It will seem that we are about to be carried away by the rivers. There will be times when we will walk through fire. But the word to the Christian believer is that we must not fear. Why not? Because the LORD has redeemed us. He knows us by name. He has called us and we belong to him. When we pass through the waters, he will be with us. When we pass through the rivers of difficulty, they will not overwhelm us. When we walk through the fires of oppression, we will not be burned up. The flames will not consume us.

Psalm 46:1-11 ESV God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

God makes no promise of a trouble-free life. On the contrary, Psalm 46 tells us that we will have troubles. There will be times when it seems that the earth beneath us is giving way, that the mountains are sliding into the depths of the ocean. The tsunamis will come and the waves will roar! But, the psalmist says, we will not fear! Why? Because God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. We take refuge in God himself. Verse 4 continues,

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. 6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah 8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. 10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” 11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Once again, notice that the Bible is utterly realistic. In Acts 27, the Apostle Paul is a prisoner of Rome. He has appealed to Caesar in order to get a fair trial. He is under Roman guard and is traveling by ship across the Mediterranean Sea from Israel to Rome. With great difficulty they make it to the island of Crete. Now the Apostle Paul is a well-seasoned traveler. He knows the weather conditions of the Mediterranean Sea and advises that they pass the winter on the island of Crete rather than trying to travel any farther. Luke describes the situation:

Acts 27:9-10 NLT We had lost a lot of time. The weather was becoming dangerous for sea travel because it was so late in the fall, and Paul spoke to the ship’s officers about it. 10 “Men,” he said, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on– shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well.”

Notice that Paul is an utterly practical and realistic man. He knows the weather conditions. He knows that there is danger ahead. There are several things that Paul does not do:

         He does not say, “No worries, mate! I’m the Apostle Paul. You will always have smooth sailing with me!” No, Paul has already gone through three shipwrecks before. He has also spent a night and a day adrift at sea (2 Corinthians 11:25). He knows the reality and the dangers of the sea. He is realistic.

What happens next?

Acts 27:11 NLTBut the officer in charge of the prisoners listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul.

They set out to sea and are caught in a terrible typhoon. What does Paul do?

         Paul does not pray against the typhoon.

         He does not rebuke it in the name of Jesus.

Luke tells us that for 14 days and nights, they were driven by the storm. They threw over all their cargo, but “at last all hope was gone” (Acts 27:20).

We read that the winds and the waves obey the Lord Jesus Christ, but they do not obey us. Neither the New Testament Christians nor even the apostles that the Lord had personally appointed — none of them presumed to be able to control the elements. Nor did they believe that they would be protected from all such danger.

But in this case, the Lord sent an angel to the Apostle Paul who told him not to fear for God had determined that Paul would appear before Caesar. Furthermore, God in his goodness granted safety to all of Paul’s traveling companions (Acts 27:21-26).

But it does not always turn out that way. This was Paul’s fourth shipwreck. Stephen was stoned to death. James was beheaded. Paul himself would eventually be beheaded. Twenty-one Coptic Christians were beheaded in Libya last month. 147 people were killed by Islamic radicals at a university in Nairobi, Kenya this past week and many of them were Christians who had met together for an early morning prayer meeting. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples,

John 16:33 NLT … Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

We so want to understand that sometimes we invent reasons that are not true. But it is only when we do not understand that we can exercise trust. Trust means believing when you do not understand. To trust in God is to hold on to him when you do not understand what he is doing or why you are going through trials and sorrows.

3.      Why do these things happen?

We can see from reality and from Scripture that bad things happen in this world in which we live. But why? If God is all-good and all-powerful, then why do bad things happen? Is it because some people deserve bad things more than others?

Not at all. It is so tempting to put on our self-righteousness and look at those less fortunate and think that we are better or more righteous. Terrible things happened to Job. He lost everything. His family, his possessions. Only his wife remained and she told him to curse God and die. And then there were his three miserable friends — “comforters” — who said that there must be a secret sin in his life for these bad things to happen to him. But by the end of the Book of Job, God has vindicated his faithful servant Job and proven his comforters to be wrong in condemning him.

The tendency to point the finger to others is found even among the disciples in the New Testament. One day, Jesus came up on a man who had been born blind.

John 9:2-3 NLT “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” 3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.

3.1.   We live in a Genesis 3 world

Bad things happen because we live in a Genesis 3 world. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible. Only four of those chapters describe a perfect world. The world is a perfect place in the first two chapters of the Bible before man sins, and in the last two chapters of the Bible in the new heavens and the new earth, but in between the beginning and the end, the Bible describes a fallen world. In Genesis 1 and 2, the world was perfect. Man had everything that he needed and he walked with God in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day.

But in Genesis 3, we read that sin entered into the world, and that by one man Adam. Adam disobeyed God’s command not to eat of the one tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam fell and all of creation was brought under the consequences of Adam’s sin.

In the original creation there were neither thorns nor storms. There were no cyclones or tsunamis or or earthquakes or sickness or death. But Paul tells us in Romans 8,

Romans 8:20-21 NLT Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.

Yes, the last chapter of the Bible describes the new heavens and the new earth, the restored creation.

3.2.   Bad things happen in this Genesis 3 world.

That does not mean that the world is out of control. It does not mean that God is powerless to stop bad things from happening.

But God is so wise and so powerful that he often uses bad things to bring about good. The first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, tells us that Jacob had 12 sons. Ten of these sons were jealous of their young brother Joseph. The twelfth son, Benjamin, was too young to be involved in their jealousy, but the ten sons plotted together to get rid of Joseph. They sold him into slavery in Egypt and lied to their father, telling Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt, but God was with him. Falsely accused, he ended up in prison through no fault of his own, but God was with him. But 13 years later, he is brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dream, and Joseph is made the Prime Minister of Egypt. Yes, God had been with Joseph all the time. God had sent him to Egypt in order to oversee the food supplies of Egypt and that region of the world so that the children of Israel would be saved. When the brothers of Joseph found out that the brother that they had sold into slavery was the master of Egypt, they feared for their lives, but Joseph told them,

Genesis 50:20 NLT You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

The Bible assures us

Romans 8:28-29 NIV And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

The Bible does not say that all things are good, or that God works all things together for the good of everyone. It only says that he works all things together for the good of those who love him, those who have been called according to his purpose. And his purpose is that we would be changed into the likeness of his Son. God takes the bad things and uses them to make his children be more like Christ his Son.

3.3.   Bad things happen to warn us about things that are worse than bad.

The people told Jesus about some bad things that had happened to some Jews who were offering sacrifices to God:

Luke 13:1-5 NLT About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. 2 “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? 3 Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. 4 And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? 5 No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”

Bad things happen in this world. Many Christian students holding a prayer meeting at a Kenyan university were killed this past week. Were they worse sinners than those who escaped? Not at all. But if we do not repent and turn away from our sins, Jesus says that we will also perish.

This nation has suffered terrible devastation. Many have lost their homes and some have lost their lives. Were they worse sinners than those who were spared? Not at all. But there are things that are worse than losing our homes, our possessions, and even our lives.

Matthew 16:24-26 NLT Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?

4.      The Cross

Bad things happen. The cross of Christ was the worst and the best thing that ever happened. The greatest outrage of justice that ever took place, took place on the cross. Unlike the rest of us, Jesus was “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners” (Heb 7:26 ESV). The governor Pilate pronounced him innocent: “I find no guilt in him” (John 18:38). One criminal on the cross said to the other criminal,

Luke 23:41 NLT We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man [Jesus] hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Redemption’s Song
© J. Gary Ellison, April 4, 2012

See Him there upon the cross
As He dies in shame
We are the ones who nailed Him there,
We are the ones to blame.

It was for crimes He had not done,
Our sins that caused His pain.
He knew no sin, the Righteous One,
For sinners He was slain.

O Lamb of God on sacred tree
Twas there You died for me
To take away my sin and shame
That righteous I might be.

That Holy One did bear our sin
No other one could do.
He is the Lamb, the spotless One,
Who died for me and you.

Holy, innocent, undefiled,
On Him our sins were laid,
To cleanse us from our awful deeds
The penalty He paid.

O Righteous One, I hear you now,
“It’s finished! It is done!” —
The work on Calvary’s bloody cross —
The victory’s been won!

They laid Him in a borrowed grave
He would not use it long.
God raised Him up that He might save,
This is Redemption’s song.

Yes, the cross of Christ was the worst and the best thing that ever happened. On the cross Christ bore our sins. By the cross we have been reconciled to God. And just as sentence of death was overturned by Christ’s literal physical resurrection from the dead, for the Christian, all wrongs will be righted. Death will give way to life.