Month: May 2016

Mark 10v01-12, “God’s Plan for Marriage”

divorce-crieket

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngWhat does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to be a Christian? And what does a Christian marriage look like?

We’ve been walking with Jesus through the Gospel According to Mark.

  • We’ve seen him heal every sickness and disease among the people.
  • We’ve seen him restore hearing to the deaf and open the eyes of the blind.
  • We’ve witnessed his authority over demonic spirits as he set people free.
  • We’ve seen him feed the multitudes and command the winds and the waves.
  • We entered the room with him and Peter and James and John to witness his power over death as he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead.
  • We’ve heard him teach with authority as no man ever had.
  • We have also accompanied the disciples as Jesus taught them what it means to be a disciple — what it means to be a Christian — denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following him.

Now as we come to Mark 10, we are confronted with the question of how being a disciple impacts our interpersonal relationships, specifically, relationships between husband and wife, and God’s will for marriage.

The Christian life is not simply about believing in God or believing that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. Even the demons believe that (James 2:19). The Christian life is all of that, but it is also a life of obedience to the commands of Christ. That means that the Christian is a person who has been so changed by the power of Christ, that he delights to do the will of God. He not only says that Jesus is Lord; he demonstrates that Jesus is his Lord by the way that he lives. This is of utmost importance because over and over again, the Word of God tells us that we are to obey his commands and pursue holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

In Mark 10, Jesus declares the will of God concerning marriage. What he says is astounding in its impact. What he teaches in this passage cuts right across cultural norms and expectations. What Jesus taught about marriage and divorce is as astonishing to us today as it was to the Jews. So I invite your careful consideration of this most important passage.

1.      The Question: Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? (10:1-2)

Mark 10:1-2 ESV And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

1.1.     The Question (10:2)

That is a question that we might never ask. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”[1]

In Jewish culture, as in much of the world today, it was assumed that a man had the right to divorce his wife. The only question was upon what basis a man could divorce his wife. What were the legitimate grounds for putting away one’s wife?

This was a debate in Jewish society. Some argued that adultery alone was sufficient grounds for divorce. If a wife committed adultery, the man had every right to send her away. Others argued that adultery was not necessary: a man could divorce his wife for any and every reason. This is how the question is put in Matthew:

Matthew 19:3 NIVO Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

There is a famous passage in the Mishnah which explains many of the Jewish beliefs. It speaks of two schools of interpretation, the School of Shammai, and the School of Hillel:

The School of Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, for it is written, “Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.” And the School of Hillel say: [He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written, “Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.” R. Akiba says: Even if he found another fairer than she, for it is written, “And it shall be if she find no favour in his eyes” (m. Git. 9: 10)[2]

The Jews and Jewish law agreed that divorce was allowed. It was only a question of what allowed a man to divorce his wife. There were different opinions based on one phrase in the Hebrew Bible, the phrase “because he has found some indecency in her” (Deuteronomy 24:1). One school defined indecency as unchastity, some sexual impurity. Another school of interpretation said that it referred to anything that the husband might consider indecent. And then there was another rabbi who picked up on the phrase “if then she finds no favor in his eyes” to allow a man to divorce his wife because he found someone prettier! Three reasons for divorce: sexual impurity, a spoiled dinner, or a prettier woman in the neighborhood!

1.2.     The Context (10:1)

Both Mark and Matthew tell us that the Pharisees asked Jesus this question about divorce “in order to test him.” They did not ask Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife because they seriously wanted to know the will of God concerning the matter. No, they already had their minds made up and were not interested in seriously considering the issue. They knew what they wanted to believe and simply wanted to trap Jesus with the question.

It is interesting that Mark tells us that this question took place in “the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan” (Mark 10:1). This is the region ruled by Herod Antipas. Herod had seduced his brother’s wife and convinced her to divorce her husband Philip. John the Baptist had denounced this marriage between Herod and Herodias, declaring that it was not lawful for Herod to have his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). John had lost his head over this question. You could get your head chopped off for answering this question the wrong way!

What would Jesus say? Perhaps the Pharisees thought that the question concerning divorce would take care of the Jesus problem once and for all.

In any case, it is certain that the Pharisees suspected Jesus of holding a position on marriage that was different from their own. The Pharisees held to a man’s right to divorce his wife, whether for adultery or other reasons, and they believed that their position had basis in the Law of Moses. Their purpose was to trap Jesus, to put him into a position where he would compromise the authority of the Torah, the Law of Moses. They intended to “maintain a permissive divorce polity — and the more permissive the better.”[3]

Schürer summarizes the Jewish position on divorce thus: “divorce was relatively easy in those days and the Pharisees and rabbis intended to keep it so.”[4]

For the Pharisees, marriage was “a disposable contractual arrangement.” It was a temporary arrangement so long as it was convenient for the man.

The attitude of the Pharisees…

reminds us of a person who has just been granted a bank loan and then asks under what conditions he might be absolved from repaying it.[5]

Wives had little rights in Jewish society. Marriage was not for the mutual benefit of both the husband and the wife. Marriage was for the man, providing him the woman that he needed to have children and maintain the family line.

Jesus overturns the male-dominated view of marriage, showing the importance of the marital union, harmony, and love as part of the new creation in the kingdom of God.

1.3.     Answer a Question with a Question (10:3-5)

The Pharisees have laid a trap for Jesus, so they think, and Jesus does what he frequently does when confronted by his enemies. He turns the tables on them. They asked him a question, so he answered by asking them a question. They asked Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife.

Mark 10:3 ESV He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”

They came to put Jesus on the spot. Now they are on the spot. Jesus asks them a simply Bible question. They are the Pharisees. Surely they should know the answer. But no. They do not answer the right question. Jesus asked them what Moses commanded them. They answer not what Moses had commanded, but what Moses allowed:

Mark 10:4 ESV They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

Wrong answer! Jesus will give the right answer in the following verses, but first he responds to their incorrect answer.

Notice the hardness of their heart that is expressed in their very answer: “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

They are making reference to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Deuteronomy 24 was all about damage control. It was about limiting the sin and making a man think twice before dismissing his wife.

  • A husband had to give a reason for divorcing his wife, and that was the debate among the Jews, whether any reason was sufficient or “unchastity” was the only valid reason for divorce.
  • The husband had to give his wife a certificate of divorce showing that she was free from her husband.
  • However, the woman was “defiled” if she remarried.
  • The first husband could never under any circumstances take back his first wife after having married another.

Deuteronomy 24:4 clearly states,

Deuteronomy 24:4 ESV then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.

The original intention of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was not to encourage divorce, but to limit the damage done by hard unforgiving hearts. But the Jews had flipped the intention of the passage and were using it as a pretext for divorce: “If a man finds some indecency in her…”

Jesus confronts the Pharisees with their sin:

Mark 10:5 ESV And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

“The divine intention for marriage cannot be determined from a text about divorce.”[6]


“The divine intention for marriage cannot be determined from a text about divorce.” 
Divorce is the result of cardiosclerosis, the hardening of the heart. God is a God of forgiveness and he calls us to forgive one another. Not only does he call us to forgive; he requires it. At the conclusion of what we call the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, we read,

Matthew 6:14-15 ESV For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

We are not to be hardhearted and unforgiving:

Ephesians 4:32 ESV Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:33). We are to love our enemies (Luke 6:27). Surely husbands and wives can obey the command to love each other (Ephesians 5:25, 28).

Colossians 3:13 ESV bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

2.      God’s Plan for Marriage (10:6-9)

Jesus had asked the Pharisees what Moses had commanded them. The Pharisees gave the wrong answer. They told not what Moses had commanded, but what Moses has permitted them because of the hardness of their hearts.

Now Jesus gives the Pharisees the correct answer to his question by taking them back to the beginning of creation and revealing God’s plan for marriage.

Mark 10:6-9 ESV But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Jesus takes the Pharisees back to the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, chapter 2. Genesis was one of the five books that were written by Moses. We find in Genesis 2 what Moses commanded concerning marriage, and what he commanded reveals God’s intention for marriage.

2.1.     The Foundation

Mark 10:6 ESV But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

2.1.1.  Marriage Has Its Foundation in Creation

We can learn so much from this one sentence: “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” When did God make us male and female? In the beginning of creation. That tells us that man is not the result of millions of years of evolution. God created man in his own image on the sixth day of creation: “from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.”

We were created in the image of God. We are created for fellowship, just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have been in eternal fellowship, loving one another through all eternity. God created us with a sense of morality, a sense of right and wrong, a desire for justice. He created us with the ability to communicate through the spoken and written word, and he has communicated his will for us through the prophets in the holy Scriptures. And in Genesis 2, we find God’s will for marriage.

2.1.2.  Marriage Is a Male-Female Relationship

God made us male and female. Male and female is God’s idea.

Genesis 2:18 NET The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”

In defining the nature of marriage, Jesus takes us back to the original design: God made us male and female. There is a correspondence between male and female. In taking woman from the side of man, God made man “a helper fit for him” (ESV). Male and female fit each other.

In Matthew’s account in Matthew 19, Jesus says to the Pharisees,

Matthew 19:4 ESV … “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,

“Have you not read?” Do you not know the Scriptures? Is it not clear to you? Is it not obvious that God has made us male and female? Is it not obvious that marriage is between a male and a female?

Marriage is the very first institution. The first man and the first woman were married. Before there was any church, before there were any employers, before there was any government, there was marriage. Marriage was not defined by the church, or by employers, or be the government. None of those institutions existence when the first marriage took place. God gave us marriage and God himself defined marriage.

Were Adam and Eve really married? Yes, they certainly were, for we read in

Genesis 2:25 ESV And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Seven times in the first four chapters of Genesis, Eve is called Adam’s wife (Genesis 2:24-25; 3:8, 17, 20-21; 4:1). And twice, Adam is called Eve’s “husband” (Genesis 3:6, 16).

Marriage is one of God’s gifts to mankind.

2.1.3.  Marriage Changes Our Orientation

Jesus said that since God made us male and female, there is something we must do:

Mark 10:6-7 ESV But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,

First, Marriage Is the Time to Leave

There is a new orientation. There is a new direction. The man is no longer oriented toward his father and mother. He grows up. He leaves home. Yes, he leaves his mommy and daddy!

The Fifth Commandment was that we are to honor our father and our mother. This is second only to honoring God, but Jesus here declares that the husband’s “allegiance to his wife in the union of marriage surpasses his allegiance to father and mother, making marriage second only to obedience to God in sacredness.”[7]

The commandment from the beginning was that a man is to leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife. You are not married to your parents. Many marriages fail at this point. Instead of obeying the Word of God and leaving his parents, the man brings his wife into his parents’ home. Rather than trying to please his wife (1 Corinthians 7:33), he seeks to please his parents. The wife never gets the respect and consideration that she is supposed to have as the man’s wife because the man is torn between his parents and his wife. God commands the man to leave his parents and to establish a new home. It’s time to grow up. It’s time to be man. It’s time to leave home.

Second, Marriage Is the Time to Cleave — Hold Fast

In holding fast to his wife, the husband orients himself to his wife. Marriage is not about me. It is not about my fulfillment. Marriage orients me toward my spouse. Marriage teaches us how to love. The Apostle Paul quotes this very verse in Ephesians:

Ephesians 5:31 ESVTherefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Three times in this passage of Ephesians, Paul tells us that as husbands, we are to love our wives.

  1. We are to love our wives as Christ love the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
  2. We are to love our wives as our own bodies, nourishing and cherishing them (Ephesians 5:28).
  3. We are to love our wives as ourselves (Ephesians 5:33).

How does love behave? A man who loves his wife, how does he behave?

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Romans 13:10 tells us that “Love does no wrong.” Love is not violent. Love does not mistreat. There is no room for wife abuse in the Christian home. The wife is not the husband’s child for him to discipline. The wife is not the husband’s property for him to mistreat or do as he pleases.

1 Peter 3:7 ESV Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Beware, husband! If you mistreat your wife, God will take her side!

Third, Marriage Is a New Creation

Mark 10:8 ESV and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.

The two become one. They are no longer two, but one. This is God’s idea, not man’s. God made us male and female, and it was God’s plan that in the context of holy matrimony the two become one. It is a new creation and is an image of Christ and the Church, the Bride of Christ.

What About Polygamy?

Notice again that God says that the two shall become one flesh. Some will argue for polygamy, that a man can have more than one wife. They will argue for polygamy on the basis of the Old Testament patriarchs like Jacob. They will even say that we need to restore the practice of the patriarchs because some of them had several wives. Since the patriarchs set the precedence of polygamy and had several wives, they say that men today should be able to have several wives.

If we looked to the lives of the patriarchs to establish a precedent for how we live today, we would also

  • take concubines like Abraham (Genesis 25:6) and Jacob (Genesis 35:22),
  • frequent prostitutes like Judah (Genesis 38:15-16),
  • deceive our parents like Jacob (Genesis 27:24), and
  • kill our enemies like Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:5).

The Bible records what happened. But sinful men — even the patriarchs — did many things that were not the will of God.

As we read through the accounts of polygamous marriages in the Bible, it is clear that they were characterized by jealousy and conflict, every single one of them. Let the reader understand!

Jesus does not take us back to the patriarchs; he takes us back to the beginning. We do not look to the patriarchs to find God’s plan for marriage; we do not look to the example of fallen men to get our direction; we do as Jesus said, we go back to the beginning.

2.1.4.  God Is the Lord of Marriage

Here in Mark 10:9, we find the greatest difference between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jewish culture gave man the right to divorce his wife. Man was the lord of the marital relationship. He controlled it and could divorce his wife if he were not pleased.

But Jesus shows us that it is neither the man nor the woman who controls marriage. Rather, it is “God, who is the lord of marriage.”[8]

Mark 10:9 ESV What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Marriage is not some contractual agreement between a man and a woman. It is not even an arrangement that is determined by the society or the culture at large. It is God himself who has instituted marriage and who joins a man and woman together in marriage. The man has no right to separate it. The woman has no right to separate it. And no external force has the right to separate what God has joined together.

3.      Jesus Summarizes His Teaching

The Jews assumed that divorce and remarriage was permitted in certain cases. Some thought that it was permitted in the case of adultery. Others thought that divorce and remarriage was allowed if the husband was no longer pleased with his wife.

Who did Jesus agree with? Neither. Jesus tells us that marriage is for life. One man. One woman. For life.

Mark 10:10-12 ESV And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Jesus tells us that divorce and remarriage is adultery, regardless of whether it is initiated by the man or the woman.

3.1.     Counsel to Those in Difficulty

  1. If you are separated, the Apostle Paul summarizes the Lord’s teaching with two options: (1) stay single, or (2) be reconciled to your spouse (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
  2. If you have been through the pain of a divorce and are now remarried, you need to know that there is forgiveness with God. Jesus tells us in Mark 3:28 that all manner of sins will be forgiven.

1 John 1:9 ESV If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Make the best of your present marriage (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

3.2.     Counsel to Singles

  1. Only marry someone who loves God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Make sure that you have God’s approval and blessing.
  2. Don’t expect too much from your spouse. Remember that marriage is the union of two sinners, not two angels.
  3. Let holiness be the goal of your marriage.

3.3.     Final word to parents and families

Do not make it difficult for committed Christian young people to get married. Do not put terrible financial burdens on them. Do not put obstacles in their way. Do not sell your daughters like property. You give your Christian daughter to a Christian man who is worthy, who will lay his life down for her.

See also “Gospel of Mark”:

 


[1] In Mark we simply read, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” but this is surely an abbreviation for “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every cause?” just as we speak of the Second Coming (of Jesus) or civil rights (for minorities) or equal rights (for women). Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5542-5543). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5529-5532).

[3] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5549-5551).

[4] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5549-5551).

[5] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5553-5554).

[6] Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark . Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

[7] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5593-5594).

[8] Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark . Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

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Mark 09v30-50, Defining Greatness on the Way to the Cross

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngHow do you define greatness? Being at the top of your game? Being number one? The world is looking for greatness and defines it from the top down. Jesus says that we’ve got it upside down. He defines greatness from the bottom up. Do you want to be great?

1.      Looking for Greatness in All the Wrong Places

The desire for greatness can be found in most every one of us, in one way or another. We may define greatness and success in different ways, but we have a deep need for greatness, for significance. We seek meaning and purpose in life. It is often suggested that we may pursue greatness in trying to find something bigger and greater than ourselves.

Historically, the rulers of Europe were often given the attribute “the Great.” There was Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.), Charlemagne (“Charles the Great”, d. 814), Frederic the Great of Prussia (1712–1786), Catherine the Great of Russia (1729–1796), and Napoleon the Great (1769-1821), as well as many others.

In Bible times there was Cyrus the Great (c. 600–530 B.C.), kind of Persia; the Syrian ruler, Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C.), and Herod the Great (73/74-4 B.C.).

Jesus spoke of these “great ones” when he said,

Mark 10:42 ESV … “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.

1.1.   Greatness according to the World

You do not have to be a ruler to pursue greatness. Perhaps you define greatness as being at the top of your game. Perhaps you want to be a great athlete, or a great teacher, or a great administrator, or a great leader. Perhaps you define greatness in terms of financial success, living in a nice home, eating the finest of food, and having people wait on you hand and foot.

Perhaps you define greatness in terms of intelligence, or scientific achievement, or as an artist. Or you may define greatness in terms of “the rich and the famous.”

According to the Wikipedia,

Greatness is a concept of a state of superiority affecting a person or object. Greatness can also be referred to individuals who possess a natural ability to be better than all others. The concept carries the implication that the particular person or object, when compared to others of a similar type, has clear advantage over others. As a descriptive term it is most often applied to a person or their work…[1]

Here greatness is defined in terms of comparison, being better than others, having abilities that are better than others, have a clear advantage over others.

This is certainly how the disciples understood greatness. In Mark 9:34, the disciples “had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest.” They are each arguing for their own superiority over the others. They are vying for position.

Then we read…

Mark 9:33-34 ESV And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

They were “on the way.” “On the way” to where? Jesus and his disciples were “on the way” to Jerusalem.

The disciples could not get beyond their ideas of greatness. In spite of all that Jesus had told them, and in spite of their fears and apprehensions, they knew that they were “on the way” to Jerusalem, and they remained hopeful. They are en route for Jerusalem, and “…the journey to Jerusalem has been fanning the flames of messianic and eschatological hopes in their minds. Surely the kingdom would break forth in Jerusalem, with Jesus — and they with him — at” the head of the kingdom![2]  But Jesus was on the way to the cross.

1.2.   Fighting for Greatness

So the disciples are arguing about which one of them will be the greatest in the kingdom.

This passage is thick with irony. Jesus has just announced a second time to the group of his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem not to be crowned as king, but to suffer, and to be rejected, and to die — and the disciples just do not get it.

Let’s retrace briefly what has happened in the last few sections of Mark. In Mark 8, Jesus asked his disciples who they believed him to be. Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ (8:29). Then Jesus told them plainly for the first time that as the Christ, he would suffer many things, be rejected and killed, and after three days rise again (8:30). Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, but then he rebuked Jesus because suffering and death were incompatible with his understanding of what Christ the Messiah would do.

In turn, Jesus sharply rebuked Peter for expressing not the thoughts of God, but those of men. And then, Jesus turns everything upside down

Mark 8:34-35 ESV And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

Here is the paradox of the gospel: If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you lose your life for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s, you will save it. Save it and you lose it. Lose it to save it.

One week later, Jesus took Peter and James and John up to the top of a high mountain where he was transfigured before them with the glory that was his before the creation of the universe. Surely following Jesus would be worth the risk. Coming down from the mountain, Jesus tells those three disciples to tell no one “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9).

Now in Mark 9, Jesus spends time teaching all 12 disciples a second time about what he was going to do.

Mark 9:30-31 ESV They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”

This is not public teaching; this is a private teaching session. As Jesus is en route for Jerusalem, he does not want anyone to know his traveling plans. Jesus does not want any interruptions from outsiders as he explains to them what will happen to him. This is a private teaching session with his 12 disciples, teaching them lessons which they must — by all means — learn.

The first time, Jesus had spoken of suffering many things, of being rejected, and of being killed. This time he adds an element: “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.”[3]

  • Jesus will be delivered — betrayed — by Judas, one of his own disciples (14:10-11, 18, 21, 41-42).
  • He will be delivered by the high priest’s council into the hands of Pilate, the governor. They will force Pilate’s hand so that he decides to execute Jesus (10:33; 15:1, 10).
  • “Pilate will deliver Jesus into the hands of the soldiers who will crucify him (15:15).”
  • Yes, the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of sinners (14:14). All of “humanity falls into this category.”

“But there is another hand behind all this handing over. It is the hand of God, whose purposes are being fulfilled unbeknownst to any of the actors in the drama.”[4]

After the resurrection of Christ, it is clear from the preaching of the apostles and from the New Testament epistles that God had delivered his one and only Son as a sacrifice for our sin. The Apostle Paul says it like this in Romans:

Romans 8:32 NAU He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Jesus told them plainly that he was going to be delivered and killed and after three days, rise from the dead.

  • Jesus is talking about his suffering; they are arguing about their own significance.
  • Jesus is talking about being rejected; they are arguing about reigning.
  • Jesus is teaching them about his death; they are arguing about domination.

The disciples simply embody man’s normal and sinful ambitions. The world defines greatness as

  • Getting to the top
  • Being number one
  • Securing wealth, power, and position

Mark 9:32 ESV But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

How could they understand what Jesus was saying? What Jesus was saying was totally incompatible with their notions of greatness. They were not looking for a crucified Christ. That was an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms. The cross was incompatible with their notion of the crown and the kingdom. How could they possibly understand? Jesus was not fitting into their categories. He was not conforming to their way of thinking. But our way of thinking should not be like the world’s way of thinking because the world has it all wrong. That’s why the Apostle Paul tell us,

Romans 12:2 NLT Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Jesus has now told his disciples twice that he was on the way to the cross… “he was teaching his disciples…”

Mark 9:32 ESV But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

They did not understand, but apparently they understood something, for they were afraid to ask him. Perhaps they remembered before when Peter had rebuked Christ and had been in turned rebuked for setting his mind on the things of man instead of on the things of God (Mark 8:33).

We recreate a gospel to suit us, a gospel of health and wealth and prosperity. Like the disciples, we do not want to hear about denying ourselves, or suffering, or rejection, or death to self, or losing our life so that we may yet save it.

We recreate our gospel to suit ourselves, but it is not a full gospel; it is a diminished gospel. It is a gospel that tells us to repeat a prayer and all will be okay. Get yourself baptized and you have a sure ticket to heaven. Make sure you go to church on the right day of the week and all will be okay. But that is our contemporary gospel and not the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel of the apostles, and not the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.

2.      Greatness according to Jesus

Greatness according to the world is diametrically opposed to greatness according to Jesus. The world lives according to the principle dominance, “looking out for number one,” being first in line.

Mark 9:33-34 ESV And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

2.1.   Jesus Redefines Greatness as Serving, Not Dominance

So Jesus sits down and takes the position of a teacher:

Mark 9:35 ESV And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Once again Jesus is turning their categories upside down. Jesus has already declared that whoever would save his life must lose it for Christ’s sake and for the gospel’s. Save it and you lose it. Lose it to save it.

2.2.1. First is last, last is first

Now Jesus gives a second paradox: To be first, you must be last.

Mark 9:35 ESV … ”If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

You want to be number one? Then you must be last. Do you want to be great? Then you must be last of all and the servant of all.

Jesus is not telling us that we should not pursue greatness; he is redefining greatness. We think that greatness is being at the top; Jesus says that greatness is serving someone at the bottom. We think that greatness is going first; Jesus says that greatness is letting everyone go ahead of us. We think that greatness is ruling over others; Jesus says that greatness is serving others.

We are so concerned about pride of place. The Rabbinic writings (the writings of the Jewish rabbis) “frequently comment on the seating order in Paradise, for example, and argue that the just would sit nearer to the throne of God than even the angels.”[5]

We talk about “bigman” and even in the church we introduce guest preachers as “a great man of God.” We are to give honor to whom honor is due, but we disobey Christ and dishonor God when we exalt man in the presence of God. This is what Jesus said about the Pharisees:

Matthew 23:6-12 NLT And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ 8 “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. 9 And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. 10 And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you must be a servant. 12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

The disciples are fighting for first place in the kingdom, but they have not understood that to go up, you must go down. If you want to go high, you must go low. If you want to be great, you must be a servant.

How horrible it is in the church today when people fight for position and power and dominance! How ugly it is when pastors campaign like politicians to get the votes of church members! That is not the way of servanthood. That is not the way of the cross of Christ who said,

Mark 8:34 ESV … “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

On the other side of the cross, perhaps the disciples had an excuse for not understanding, but we are on this side of the cross and the resurrection. We are on this side of Calvary. We have the New Testament Scriptures which had not yet been written, not even the first word. The disciples may perhaps be excused for failing to understand, but we have no excuse.

Mark 9:35-37 ESV And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

2.2.2.   Jesus Illustrates Greatness by Taking a Child in His Arms

Jesus took a child and put the child in the midst of them. Here in the middle of the disciples was a child. Children were of no account in Roman and Jewish societies. Today, more and more, to our great shame, children are becoming throwaway commodities. But Jesus not only took the child, but he took the child in his arms. He cherished and loved the child.

Now Jesus was not using the child as an example of humility. No, the child was “an example of the ‘little’ and insignificant ones whom followers of Jesus are to receive.[6]

Mark 9:37 ESV “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Disciples are thus not to be like children, but to be like Jesus who embraces them. It is Jesus, not the child, who here demonstrates what it means to be “the servant of all.”[7]

2.3.   Jesus Redefines Greatness as Openness, Not Exclusion

The second worldly way of seeking of greatness is through exclusion. This is greatness by monopoly. This is being great because you have eliminated the competition. You have become the only source for the commodity that you offer.

Mark 9:38 ESV John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

Let’s note that…

  1. This person was casting out demons.
  2. He was casting out demons in the name of Jesus, that is, with the authority of Christ.
  3. He was successfully doing something that the disciples had just failed to do earlier in this chapter when a father brought his son to the disciples to have them cast out the demon, but they were not able (9:18).
  4. John tried to stop this man because he was not one of their group: “because he was not following us.”

This is seeking greatness by excluding all others, but this is not the way of Christ.

Mark 9:39-41 ESV But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

Remember that John was part of the inner circle. Peter and James and John were the only disciples that Jesus took with him when he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead. Those three were the only disciples to witness the transfiguration of Christ on the mountaintop. John has begun to think that he is part of an exclusive group. He was one of the twelve. He likes being part of that special group. And he wants his group to be exclusive. He wants them to be the only ones.

And then John sees someone else doing what the disciples are called to do. He sees someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus had previously sent out the 12 disciples and had given them authority over unclean spirits (Mark 6:7, 13). Perhaps this man had seen the disciples casting out demons in Jesus’ name. He believes and does the same thing: he begins casting out demons in Jesus’ name. John sees him casting out demons in Jesus’ name and tries to stop him because he did not belong to their group.

Mark 9:39-40 NLT “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.”

Some churches claim to be the only true church. They want to exclude all others. That is one of the marks of a false cult. Some churches claim to have apostolic authority. Apostolic authority does not come from apostolic succession or having the right person lay his hands on you; apostolic authority come from believing and preaching what Christ and his apostles preached.

2.3.1. The One Who Is Not Against Christ Is for Christ (9:38-40)

This is all about Jesus. It is not about me or you or my church or your church. It’s about Jesus. The question is not, “What church do you belong to?” The question is, “What Christ do you preach? What gospel do you preach? Are you preaching the Word of God or the vision of a man?” You may not be a member of my church or of my denomination, but if you are following my Lord, if you are preaching the Word of God, if you are proclaiming Christ and him crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, then I rejoice that Christ is being preached! The first missionaries that came to this country and laid down their lives, they did not preach their church; they preached Christ. They did not preach a certain day; they preached Christ. The question is not whether you are Presbyterian or Baptist or Methodist or Nazarene or Anglican or Assemblies of God or apostolic. The question is, “Do you know Christ? Do you preach Christ?”

2.3.2. The One Who Serves Christ Will Be Rewarded by Christ (Mark 9:41)

Mark 9:41 ESV For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

“Whoever” means you. Jesus is telling the disciples that anyone who identifies with Christ and shows his allegiance to Christ by serving those who serve Christ, that person will not lose his reward. Jesus sees. Jesus knows. He will “reward the smallest and humblest acts of service done to others” in his name.[8]

2.3.3. Warning: Do Not Cause Believers to Stumble

Jesus promises a reward to the humblest believer who serves Christ by serving others. But he warns us not to cause these believers to stumble. We must not hinder the humblest of believers in their service for Christ.

2.3.3.1.           Learn the Lesson of the Great Millstone (Mark 9:42).[9]

Mark 9:42 ESV “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Do we see the danger? Forbidding people to do what they can for Christ may cause them to stumble. It would be better to be drowned in the depth of the ocean than to offend the humblest believer in Christ.

2.3.3.2.           Learn the Lesson of Self-Mutilation (Mark 9:43-48)

But then Jesus expands the warning. He tells us that saving faith is a fighting faith. We must pursue holiness “with passion and discipline.”[10] Jesus speaks of our hands, our feet, and our eyes: what we do, where we go, and what we see:

Mark 9:43-48 ESV And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 44 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 46 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Jesus uses the language of hyperbole, or the language of exaggeration because the importance of what he is saying cannot be exaggerated. Cutting off our hands and feet, and tearing out our eyes will not solve the problem because Jesus has already told us that sin is deeply rooted in the heart (7:21). But Jesus is telling us that we must be violent with the sin in our lives. It must be cut out. Three times he tells us that it is better to be crippled, lame, and one-eyed than to be thrown into hell. He tells us that hell is a horrible place where the fire never goes out and the worm never dies.

What are you doing to get the sin out of your life? You must kill sin or it will kill you.

Romans 8:12-13 NLT Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.

2.3.3.3.           Learn the Lesson of Good Salt (Mark 9:49-50)

Mark 9:49 ESV For everyone will be salted with fire.

Jesus picks up the word “fire” and tells us that everyone will be salted with fire. The unbeliever will be salted with “the perpetual fires of final judgment in hell.” The believer will be salted with “the preserving and refining fires of trials and suffering that mark the road to true greatness.”[11]

Then Jesus adds,

Mark 9:50 ESV Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?

Salt preserves, but “unless we maintain the purity of our own lives (plucking out the eye, etc.) and are purified by the flames of testing, and remain faithful to Christ, our lives will have no preserving influence on this corrupt world.”[12]

Finally, Jesus tells his disciples,

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

The disciples had been arguing over who was the greatest. They were vying for position and superiority. Jesus showed them that greatness is not found at the top; it is found at the bottom, serving one another.

It is no wonder that the early Christians were described as those who had turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

Conclusion: An Upside Down World or a Right Side Up World?

The world thinks that Christian values are upside down, but in reality, the world is upside down. Jesus came to set it right side up. The world fights and clamors to get to the top, but Jesus showed that the way to be exalted is to humble ourselves.

Philippians 2:4-11 ESV Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What kind of a world would this be if

  • Instead of trying to get to the top, we began serving those on the bottom?
  • Instead of lifting up ourselves, we would humble ourselves
  • Instead of putting people down, we tried to lift them up
  • Instead of seeking to be served by others, we served others
  • Instead of trying to be number one, we were last
  • Instead of trying to stop others who are serving Christ, we rejoiced that the Gospel was being preached.

What kind of a world would this be? You can begin to make a difference today. You can demonstrate true greatness.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greatness

[2] Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009. 9:34.

[3] Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 421.

[4] Garland, David E. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 421.

[5] Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

[6] Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009. 9:36-37.

[7] Edwards Jr., James R. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009. 9:36-37.

[8] Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014.

[9] Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014. 9:42

[10] Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014. 9:43

[11] Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014. 9:49

[12] Sinclair Ferguson in Akin, Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group: 2014. 9:49

What Is Pentecost?

Acts 2 Pentecost.png

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngA very happy Pentecost Sunday to you! Today is Pentecost Sunday and Christians around the globe will be celebrating this event. Why is the Day of Pentecost so important in the life of the church?

Pentecost is the message that God has a promise for you! Long ago, God made a promise that was so wonderful that the Israelites were to celebrate it on a certain Sunday every year until the promise was fulfilled. This promise was rooted in the yearly Feast of Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, one of the great celebrations in the Old Testament. It was harvest time! It was a time of rejoicing at what God had provided for his people. It was a time to celebrate the blessing of the God who provides. It was also an anticipation looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s marvelous promise that is for you and for everyone who asks for this promise, this gift of God our heavenly Father.

The Feast of Pentecost was established in the Law of Moses. 1,445 before Christ, the Law stipulated that Pentecost was to be celebrated every year until it was fulfilled.

The word Pentecost comes from the Greek word pentêkostos (πεντηκοστός) which means “fiftieth.” So the Feast of Pentecost took place on the 50th day after the offering of the firstfruits during Passover week. That was seven full weeks after the offering of the firstfruits. In fact, the Feast of Pentecost is called the Feast of Weeks in the Old Testament. It took place the day after the completion of seven weeks following the offering of the firstfruits. Seven weeks of seven days is 49 days. The next day is the 50th day. So this feast has two names: the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Pentecost.

We see that the ideas of the fiftieth day (for Pentecost) and the period of seven weeks (for the Feast of Weeks), these two ideas come together when God instituted Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks in Leviticus 23. God had said,

Lev. 23:15-16 ESV You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD.

These two celebrations, the offering of the firstfruits and the Feast of Pentecost, took place the day after the Sabbath. In other words, these two celebrations took place on a Sunday. The offering of the firstfruits and the Feast of Pentecost both took place on a Sunday every year from the giving of the Law of Moses until the fulfillment of the Law in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Right in the very Law of Moses, God had indicated that he was going to do something marvelous for his people. The offering of the firstfruits the first Sunday after Passover pointed to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible says that Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection. Just as the firstfruits were the promise of the coming harvest, so the resurrection of Christ is the promise of our future resurrection.

But 50 days later came the harvest. Pentecost. The Feast of Weeks. Count seven full weeks from the offering of the firstfruits to the day after the seventh Sabbath. On that Sunday, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the promise of the Father was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.

On that very Sunday, the promise was fulfilled and the Apostle Peter preached,

Acts 2:39 ESV For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

That means that the Day of Pentecost, the day that we are celebrating today, is a reminder that God has made a promise that is for you.

So just what is this promise?

1.        Pentecost Is a Fulfillment of the Father’s Promise

Jesus refers to the giving of the Holy Spirit as the promise of the Father. You will remember that Jesus was crucified at the time of the Passover. He was raised from the dead on the third day and appeared to his disciples for 40 days, teaching them many things about the kingdom of God. Then, shortly before ascending to the right hand of God, he reminded the disciples about the promise of the Father.

At the end of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told his disciples,

Luke 24:49 ESV And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Again, we find the promise in the very first chapter of the Book of Acts:

Acts 1:4-5 ESV And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Now this is most interesting. Jesus reminded the disciples, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Jesus makes a distinction between being baptized with water and being baptized with the Holy Spirit. Being baptized with water is not the same thing as being baptized with the Holy Spirit.

This is the same thing that John the Baptist had said:

Mark 1:8 ESV I have baptized you with water, but [Jesus] he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Now, 40 days after his resurrection, as Jesus is preparing to ascend to the Father’s right hand, he tells the disciples,

Luke 24:49 ESV And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

This promise of the Father, this gift that would be given the Day of Pentecost, has something to do with the Holy Spirit, and it has something to do with power for service. This is what Jesus told the disciples just before ascending into heaven:

Acts 1:8 ESV 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.”

Why is this the promise of the Father? Why does Jesus refer to the giving of the Holy Spirit and the empowering for service, why does he call this the promise of the Father?

This is the promise of the Father because in the Old Testament, God the Father had promised that the time when come when he would give the Holy Spirit to his people.

Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father. On Ascension Day, which we celebrated just 10 days ago, before their very eyes, Jesus was taken up bodily into heaven. The disciples then returned to Jerusalem. They entered into the upper room where they were staying. About 120 disciples gathered in that upper room and devoted themselves to prayer. For 10 days they prayed, waiting for the promise of the Father.

Then we read in Acts 2,

Acts 2:1-4 ESV When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

It was the Day of Pentecost. Jews from all over the world had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the event, but nothing like this had ever happened before! Jews from all over the world, who spoke many different languages, were now hearing Jews from Galilee, the disciples of Jesus, speaking in these different languages.

Acts 2:6-12 NLT When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. 7 They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee,… And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

The Jews had been celebrating the Day of Pentecost for nearly 1,500 years, but this was a Day of Pentecost like no other. This was the fulfillment of the promise of the Father. “What can this mean?” the people asked. “What is this all about?”

It was then that the Apostle Peter preached the first Christian sermon. There, on that Sunday, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter explained that God had fulfilled his promise by pouring out his Holy Spirit on them.

Acts 2:16-18 NLT …what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy.

This was the promise of the Father! He would pour out his Spirit on all people. He does not mean that everyone would receive the Spirit, but that the gift of the Holy Spirit would be for everyone who called upon the name of the Lord. God would pour his Spirit on them and they would prophesy.

In the Old Testament, the anointing of the Holy Spirit was generally limited to three classes of people. The Spirit’s anointing was for prophets, for priests, and for kings. But God had promised that the day would come when he would pour out his Spirit on all people. The gift would not be limited by gender, by age, or by social class:

  1. The gift of the Spirit would not be limited by gender; God would give his Spirit to men and women: “Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.”
  2. The gift of the Spirit would be not be limited by age; it would be for the young and the old: “Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
  3. The gift of the Spirit would not be limited by class or level of society: “I will pour out my Spirit on my male servants and female servants.”

The gift of the Spirit would be available for all who called upon the name of the Lord to be saved. This was the new life of living by the Spirit instead of living by the Law.

Before Christ came, people tried to please God by following the Law. It was a list of rules that they tried to obey. It was all on the outside. The people tried to change their lives from the outside in. The outside-in approach started with the list of rules, some 613 laws, that people tried to observe, trying to change their hearts from the outside.

But God had promised that a new day was coming, a time when he would change people not from the outside in, but from the inside out. God would change people not by telling them to obey a written code of laws, but by empowering them by the Holy Spirit who would change them — and us — from the inside out.

Yes, there would be an outward change, but the change begins on the inside, not on the outside. This is the promise of the Father:

This is that promise in Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 31:31-33 NLT “The day is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the LORD. 33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

God had promised through the prophet Ezekiel,

Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

So Pentecost reminds us that the Christian life is not following a list of rules and laws. The true Christian is one who is born of the Spirit of God.

2.        Pentecost Is the Power to Serve

Pentecost is also the power to serve. Jesus had promised the disciples,

Acts 1:8 ESV 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.”

The disciples needed the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective in ministry. You and I need the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective for Christ. “You will receive power,” Jesus said, “and you will be my witnesses…” We receive the power of the Holy Spirit to be Jesus’ witnesses. We are witnesses to Jesus Christ. We preach Christ.

This power of the Holy Spirit is seen in the boldness that the disciples had in witnessing for Christ. Over and over again, we read about the Holy Spirit coming upon the believers and how they spoke about Christ with great boldness.

On that great Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers, Peter preached with great boldness. He confronted the Jews with their sin:

Acts 2:23 ESV this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

But God had reversed the decrees of men and had raised Jesus from the dead:

Acts 2:32 ESV This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.

There in the very city where Jesus had been crucified and buried, Peter declared with boldness that God had raised him up. Furthermore, Peter said, “of that we all are witnesses.” Christianity is not some philosophy or some interpretation of life. Christianity is history. The gospel did not begin somewhere else. It began in Jerusalem where Jesus died and was raised from the dead and appeared to hundreds showing himself to be alive by many proofs (Acts 1:1-3).

Jesus died. He was buried. He was raised from the dead. And after 40 days, he ascended to the right hand of God. Then Peter declared,

Acts 2:32-33 ESV Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

The gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was a result of the finished work of Jesus Christ. Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God. He received the promise of the Father as a result of his finished work of salvation. And he poured out the Holy Spirit on the 120 disciples in the upper room.

But was the gift just for those early disciples?

3.        Pentecost Is a Message that the Gift of the Holy Spirit Is for All Peoples Everywhere

On that Day of Pentecost, Peter was preaching to thousands of people who were gathered in Jerusalem. They had seen the effect of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They had heard as Peter preached to them the gospel.

Acts 2:36-37 ESV Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

They have been convicted of their sin against God. “What shall we do?” they asked. Yes, there is something to do. Salvation is not automatic. It is not the result of being born in a Christian nation or of being born of Christian parents or of going to church.

Acts 2:38 ESV And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Peter said that the first thing that we must do is to repent. These people were “cut to the heart.” They felt the guilt of their sin. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would convict people of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.

We need that work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Until we see and feel the depth of our sin against God, we can never be saved. If we think that we are pretty good compared to others, then we are like the Pharisees who were self-righteousness. If we justify ourselves, we will never by justified by God. But if we see and feel that all our righteousness is as filthy rags before God, if we feel our uncleanness, if we feel our guilt before a holy God, then the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts producing conviction of sin and godly sorrow.

2 Corinthians 7:10 NIVO Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Repentance involves confession of sin, admitting before God that we are guilty. It is a change of mind. We no longer want to do the things that we used to do. We are now ashamed of the things that we did (Romans 6:21)! So repentance means turning away from our sin. It is an about-face. It is walking the other way.

“Repent,” Peter said, “and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Baptism means that we have a change of loyalty. We are now baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ means that we are baptized in the authority of Christ. We are baptized as Christ told us to be baptized. And he told us in Matthew 28:19 that we are to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Christ is our Lord and Master. By baptism, we identify with him in his death, his burial, and his resurrection. We are raised with him to walk in the newness of life (Romans 6:1-3).

Now Peter says, “Repent and be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We have already seen that water baptism is not the same as the baptism in the Holy Spirit. And yet, it is normal for Christians to be baptized into the Holy Spirit for this promise was not just for the 120 disciples. This promise is for us:

Acts 2:39 ESV For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

The promise of the Spirit was not limited to the 120 disciples. It was not just for the age of the apostles. The gift did not die out at the end of the first century. Peter clearly says that the promise of the Spirit is for all of us, for all whom the Lord our God will call.

4.        Pentecost Is a Celebration of the Birthday of the Church

Acts 2:40-42 ESV And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Peter and the disciples had been baptized with the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had said. They had received power to be his witnesses. With great power and boldness, Peter bore witness to Jesus and the gospel of Christ. The Holy Spirit moved upon the crowd with conviction of sin and three thousand souls were added to the church.

On that Sunday, that Day of Pentecost,

  • The Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers,
  • The first Christian sermon was preached,
  • Three thousand people were added to the Church

On that Sunday, the Church was born. And one this Sunday, we celebrate the birthday of the Church and the fact that Jesus Christ is building his Church.

5.        Pentecost Is a Reminder that Christ Will Continue to Build His Church

In his book Witness Essentials, Dan Meyer lists some encouraging statistics about the growth of the church around the world:[1]

  • In 1900 Korea had no Protestant church. Today, there are over 7,000 churches in just the city of Seoul, South Korea.
  • At the end of the 19th century, the southern portion of Africa was only 3 percent Christian. Today, 63 percent of the population is Christian, while membership in the churches in Africa is increasing by 34,000 people per day.
  • In India, 14 million of the 140 million members of the “untouchable” caste have become Christians.
  • More people in the Islamic world have come to Christ in the last 25 years than in the entire history of Christian missions.
  • In Islamic Indonesia, the percentage of Christians is now so high (around 15 percent) that the Muslim government will no longer print statistics.
  • In China, it is estimated that there are now more self-avowed disciples of Jesus than members of the Communist party. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that China will soon have more Christians than any country.
  • Across the planet, followers of Jesus are increasing by more than eighty thousand per day.
  • 510 new churches form every day.

Conclusion

On this Day of Pentecost, we remember

  1. The Father has fulfilled his promise by the Holy Spirit to those who ask.
  2. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective witnesses of Jesus Christ.
  3. The message of Pentecost is for all believers everywhere.
  4. We celebrate today the birthday of the Church.
  5. Christ will continue to build his Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

 

[1] Daniel Meyer, Witness Essentials (InterVarsity Press, 2012), pp. 32-33

See also “Gospel of Mark”:

 

 

Mother’s Day: The Influence of a Faithful Mother

Young woman reading bible

Introduction

1456053183_thumb.pngWe wish a very Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers. God has given you great responsibilities, and a position of great influence and honor. Today I want to talk to you about the influence of a faithful mother. And yet, we recognize that Mother’s Day is a difficult day for many.

  • It is difficult for those women who have wanted to become mothers but have not been able to have children.
  • Mother’s Day is difficult for those who had lost their mother.
  • And it is especially difficult for mothers who have lost children.

Our heart goes out to you. May the God of all comfort be with you.

We live in an age when motherhood is not always honored, and yet from heaven’s point of view, mothers are to be honored. In fact, parenting is singled out for special mention and special honor in the Ten Commandments:

Exodus 20:12 ESV “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

Jesus especially rebuked the religious leaders of Israel for their failure to honor parents. Society wants to push motherhood aside, but motherhood was God’s idea, and he determined that mothers are to be honored. In fact, that fifth commandment is the first commandment with a promise:

Exodus 20:12 ESV “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long…

Someone asked some questions about mothers to some seven year old children, and here is what they said:

Why did God make mothers?

  1. That was the best way to get more people.

Why did God give you your mother instead of some other mother?

  1. Because we are related!
  2. Because God knew that my mother would love me more than the mothers of other children would love me.

What ingredients did God use to make mothers?

  1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.
  2. They had to get their start from men’s bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.

What kind of little girl was your mom?

  1. My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.
  2. I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.
  3. They say she used to be nice.

What is just perfect about your mother?

  1. Her teeth are perfect, but she bought them from the dentist!
  2. Only her children!

What a lucky mother! If only all mothers had perfect children!

Today we do not want to talk about perfect children for there are none. Nor do we want to talk about perfect mothers, for there are no perfect mothers either. But we do want to consider…

The Influence of a Faithful Mother

As you can imagine, the Bible gives a lot of attention to mothers. The word “mother” is mentioned 330 times beginning with Eve whose name means “life” “because she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20).

Many of the mothers of the Bible, we know by name:

  • There were unlikely mothers, women like Sarah, and Rebekah, and Rachel, and Hannah. These women were sterile until God intervened and gave them children.
  • There were brave mothers like the mother of Moses who was not afraid of Pharaoh’s edict, but hid baby Moses to preserve his life (Hebrews 11:23).
  • There was Deborah, who led the Israelites in battle against the Canaanites.
  • There was Mary, the mother of Jesus, unique in that she was the only virgin to ever become a mother. Matthew tells us that Joseph had no intimate relations with her “until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matthew 1:25). She and Joseph were chosen by God to raise Jesus, the Son of God.

We find a lot of mothers mentioned in the records of the kings of Israel and of Judah. As we read the record of the kings of Israel and of Judah, we find a strong emphasis on the mothers of the kings. Some 25 times we read the name of a king and the name of his mother, and then an evaluation of his reign, either “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord,” or “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” The implication is that mothers have a very great influence on their children, on future kings and nations, whether for good or for evil.

For example,

2 Chronicles 22:2-4 ESV Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Athaliah, the granddaughter of Omri. 3 He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother was his counselor in doing wickedly. 4 He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, as the house of Ahab had done. For after the death of his father they were his counselors, to his undoing.

There were also godly mothers, who influenced their children and the entire nation of Israel for the good:

1 Kings 22:42-43 ESV Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. 43 He walked in all the way of Asa his father. He did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the LORD…

The Mother of Timothy

When we turn to the pages of the New Testament, we find a wonderful example of a faithful mother who influenced her son for God, and through her son, Timothy, touched many people for Christ.

We first meet up with Timothy during the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey. In Acts 16, Paul arrives in the town of Lystra where he had planted a church during his first missionary journey, about three years before.

Acts 16:1-3 ESV …A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

This is the first time that we meet Timothy, and we are told that he is a disciple. He has a good reputation among the believers in two towns where Paul had planted churches.

We learn that Timothy is from a mixed marriage. His mother was a Jew, but his father was a Greek. While we know little to nothing about his parents’ marriage, or whether they were even still together, it seems clear that this pagan father had some reservations about Timothy’s full induction into Judaism. Timothy’s father had not allowed him to be circumcised according to Jewish custom.

Paul wanted Timothy to join his missionary team, to become a partner with him and Barnabas. Yet, Paul does not want Timothy’s situation as an uncircumcised Greek to be a hindrance to them trying to reach the Jews for Christ, since everyone knew that Timothy’s father was a Greek, so Paul circumcised Timothy.

So it appears that Timothy’s father was not a believer, yet in this very first sentence introducing Timothy, we read that he was “the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer.” Immediately, Luke tells us about the influence of Timothy’s faithful mother. It appears that the dominant influence on Timothy’s life was not that of his father, but the influence of his mother.

Since Timothy already well spoken of by the believers, we wonder when he became a Christian. It is quite possible that Timothy and his mother came to a knowledge of the truth in Jesus Christ during Paul’s first visit to Lystra a couple of years earlier. During that first missionary journey, Paul was stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead. A group of those first disciples gathered around him, and he got up and went back into the city before continuing his journey with Barnabas the next day. Very possibly during that first trip, Timothy and his mother were part of that group of disciples that gathered around Paul and cared for him after he had been stoned by the people of the town.

Now when Paul visits the disciples of Lystra three years later, young Timothy already has a good reputation among the disciples and that good reputation is tied to the influence of his faithful mother. Yet, we will see, that this mother’s influence is traced back to Timothy’s earliest childhood.

We learn more about Timothy’s family in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Paul writes the letter some fifteen years later from the Mamertine Prison in Rome. This is the end of Paul’s ministry. The moment of his execution is getting closer. Paul writes his “beloved child” in the faith, this young man of 30 to 35 years of age who has walked long roads with the Apostle Paul. Paul urgently wants to see Timothy one last time. He writes…

2 Timothy 1:4-5 ESV As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

Here we learn more about Timothy’s family. Paul knew Timothy’s family. Perhaps he had stayed in their home. Paul knows Timothy’ mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois, two mothers who had a great influence on Timothy’s life. Paul says,

2 Timothy 1:5 NLT I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you.

Your faith is genuine and strong, Timothy, and I know where you got it. Your faith first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice.

Eunice and Lois

Imagine with me, the background of Timothy’s mother Eunice. She was married to a pagan. This young man had made promises, and Lois and Eunice had believed him. He was going to convert to Judaism. He was coming regularly to the synagogue. He gave all the indications that his intention was sincere. He was sincere, as far as he knew himself. Perhaps he came from a high ranking family, was well educated, and had a good paying job. The future looked bright for young Eunice. Eunice, the young Jewess, and this handsome young Greek, loved each other. Lois gave them her blessing and approval to marry.

But after the marriage, Eunice’s husband no longer could find the time to go to synagogue as he had before. He had many responsibilities and no longer had as much free time. And he had come to the decision that he did not want to be circumcised.

Soon Eunice and her Greek husband had a child, a boy, and they named him Timothy. Eunice wanted to have Timothy circumcised the eighth days as the Law prescribed, but her husband was no longer sympathetic to the idea. It seems that he had forbidden it (Acts 16:3).

How many times had Eunice regretted marrying her husband? How many times had she regretted it for herself? How many times had she regretted her marriage for her son, Timothy? How many times had Lois regretted giving her permission for the couple to marry?

Other women would have given up. They would have thrown in the towel. They would have simply followed their unbelieving husbands down the wrong road. But Eunice and her mother Lois were not other women. One mistake was enough.

But what could they do so that young Timothy not grow up like a pagan? What could they do to instill in him godly values? What could they do to influence him to serve the Lord? They had a mighty tool available to them: they had the Scriptures, the Word of God.

How can we influence our children for God?

1.        To influence our children for God, we must make use of the Word of God, the Scriptures.

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul is encouraging Timothy to stand firm in a difficult situation. Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus to correct a church where the pastors themselves had gone astray. Paul encourages Timothy to stand strong:

2 Timothy 3:14-15 NIV But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Paul takes Timothy back to his roots, back to his infancy. He reminds Timothy that he has known the Holy Scriptures since he was a baby!

15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures…

He also reminds Timothy “because you know those from whom you learned it.” Paul reminds Timothy that his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois had determined that this child Timothy would know the Holy Scriptures “which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

1.1.     The Scriptures give us good models to imitate.

A boy needs a model to follow. Timothy’s father was apparently not a good model. How could Timothy’s mother Eunice fill in the void? The Scriptures could make Timothy wise, so Eunice determined that she would teach her young son the Word of God.

We can imagine Eunice selecting a passage. There were so many examples to choose from:

  • The faith of Abraham who left everything to obey God.
  • The story of Jacob wrestling with God
  • The story of Joseph maintaining his faith in God when sold into slavery, when tempted to commit adultery, when thrown into prison when falsely accused, and yet he remained faithful and God finally exalted him to become the prime minister of Egypt.
  • The story of Moses, leading the children of Israel out of Egypt
  • Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan, marching around Jericho for seven days until the walls fell down flat.
  • Gideon defeating the army of the Midianites with just 300 Israelites.
  • David killing the giant
  • Daniel in the lions’ den
  • So many others!

Eunice selects a biblical passage. She reads it over and over to make sure she understands it. She selects a verse to memorize. This faithful mother is a woman of influence.

1.2.     The Scriptures help us walk in purity.

Psalm 119:9-11 ESV How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. 10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! 11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Eunice and Lois fill young Timothy with the Word of God. His whole worldview is shaped and molded by God’s Word. He meditates on God’s Word and thinks God’s thoughts after Him.

1.3.     The Scriptures make us wise.

The Apostle Paul had said that the Holy Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation.

Psalm 119:98-101 ESV Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. 101 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.

Eunice made sure that her son Timothy knew the Word of God that would make him wise. As Paul said,

2 Timothy 3:15 NLT You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.

This mother faced a difficult situation, a situation that she could have and should have avoided according to the Word of God, but she was determined in her heart to do her best in the midst of trying circumstances.

1.4.     The Temptation of Reverse Delegation

Books about business management talk about the problem of reverse delegation. That’s when your boss gives you a job, but you end up asking him to do it for you.

We are like that with God. We want to entrust our children to God and we want him to do whatever is necessary to save them. But that is why God has given us children. God said of Abraham,

Genesis 18:19 ESV For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

God has entrusted us with the responsibility of leading them to the Lord. We must pray for our children, but prayer is not enough. We must use the means that God has given us.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NLT And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

When my sister and I were growing up, people would tell my parents that we were exceptional, that our behavior and our commitment to the Lord were exceptional. But that is not quite. We were not exceptional; our parents were exceptional.

Every morning before we would leave the house, our mother would have us read three chapters in the Bible, followed by prayer for the Lord’s blessing, protection, and guidance throughout the day. My mother believed that the Scriptures could make us wise “to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.” I know that my mother prayed for us, but what is much more important is what she did with us: she read the Bible with us and prayed with us.

2.        To influence our children for God, we must be faithful.

One translation of Acts 16:1 says that Timothy was the son of a faithful Jewish woman.

2 Timothy 1:5 ESV I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

Lois and Eunice were probably saved during Paul’s first visit to Lystra. Sincere faith first filled the heart of Timothy’s grandmother Lois and then his mother. By the time Paul returned three years later, Timothy was himself a disciple. Paul will call him his true son in the faith, not because Timothy was saved under Paul’s ministry, but because Paul had trained Timothy for ministry. Timothy was saved because he saw the faithfulness of his mother and his grandmother.

When we talk about faithfulness, we can also talk about sincere faith. If our faith is sincere, we will be faithful. Our faithfulness is an expression of our sincere faith. We show our faith by our faithfulness. That is what James said in his letter: it is one thing to say that we have faith; it is another thing to show our faith by our works.

It was the faithfulness of my parents to the house of God, the sincerity of their faith that showed me the reality of the Gospel that they were teaching me from the Word of God. My father was a very busy businessman, but every time there was a service at church, we were there. When we had special meetings that would sometimes last every night for three weeks, we were there each evening. Since my sister and I were students, we had to finish our homework as soon as we got home so that we would be ready to go to church. We were convinced of the reality of the Gospel by the faithfulness of our parents. If we are not faithful as parents, how can we expect our children to be faithful?

Sincerity of Faith

Let’s underline the sincerity of faith. Our sincerity or its lack is manifested in all that we do. Are living up to the Word of God? Literally, this sincere faith is faith without hypocrisy. We are not acting. Paul says that this sincere faith was first in Timothy’s grandmother, then in his mother before Timothy made it his own. The children are watching. They are waiting. They want to see if the faith is authentic, genuine, sincere.

We will transfer to our children what is in us, whether it be hypocrisy or sincerity and faithfulness.

Proverbs 22:6 ESV Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Conclusion: You have a great influence.

Ladies, you must never underestimate your influence as a mother or as a grandmother. In spite of great difficulties, Lois and Eunice instructed young Timothy in the Word of God. They watered him like a plant with the Word. They shaped him. They were faithful to their task, and with time, they saw the fruit of their work.

I would like to say to all mothers and grandmothers today, that God has given you a great responsibility. In your children are all the possibilities that God has put within them. Who would have ever thought that from this unfortunate marriage between Eunice and the unbelieving Greek, God would call a pastor and preacher of the Gospel?

What are your hopes for your children? Open your eyes to the possibilities. Open your eyes to your responsibilities. Be sincere and faithful.

  1. Make a commitment today to read at least one chapter from the Bible each day with your children.
  2. Choose some verses to memorize together.
  3. Pray with your children every morning and evening.

Mark 09v14-29, “Weak Faith and a Strong Savior”

27757-Jesus-healing-stainedglass.1200w.tn.jpgIntroduction

1456053183_thumb.pngWhat would you do if you have a big bill that was due, but not enough money in the bank to cover the expense? You might be out of luck.

What if you needed a miracle from God, but did not have enough faith to cover it? That’s the story that we will consider today, the story of the man and his boy and the unclean spirit in Mark 9. As we pick up the story in Mark 9:14, we find the scribes arguing with some of Jesus’ disciples.

Jesus was not on the best of terms with the scribes. Things had gotten off to a rocky start when Jesus, this thirty-something young prophet who had not gone through the training that they had had, turned out to be a vastly superior teacher than they were. The common people had been astonished at Jesus’ teaching

Mark 1:22 ESV … for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes [Mark tells us].

No doubt, this comparison that the people made between Jesus and the scribes had not gone unnoticed by the scribes themselves. They would not have appreciated being unfavorably compared to a carpenter’s son. Jealous as they were of people’s approval and praise, they tried to discredit Jesus before the people at every opportunity.

  • When Jesus forgave sins, the scribes thought that he was guilty of blasphemy (Mark 2:6-7).
  • Trying to undermine his influence, the scribes asked people why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:16).
  • When Jesus cast out demons, the scribes accused him of being possessed by Satan, and acting as an agent of Satan and using the power of Satan to cast out demons (Mark 3:22).

In another attempt to smear Jesus, the scribes asked him publicly,

Mark 7:5 ESV …”Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled [unwashed] hands?”

Now in Mark 9, Jesus comes down from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter and James and John to find the scribes arguing with his disciples. Just one week before, Jesus had told his disciples what the scribes were going to do to him:

Mark 8:31 ESV 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.

Now Jesus comes down from the mountain where he had been transfigured before three of his disciples, and talked with Moses and Elijah. You might say that it was a mountaintop experience, a spiritual high, especially for the disciples, but now they are returning to the valley below.

How often we would like to stay on the mountaintop! To experience only the highs of life, the wonderful times whether of spiritual delight or relaxation in God’s beautiful creation. That was certainly Peter’s idea when he suggested that they stay on the mountain: “Let’s build three tabernacles,” he said, “one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!”

That’s when a cloud covered them, Moses and Elijah disappeared, they they heard the voice of His Father declare to Peter and James and John,

Mark 9:7 ESV … “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

As Solomon wrote,

Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

There is a time for the mountaintop, and there is a time to come back down to the valley,

  • a time to be in the presence of God, and a time to do the work of God,
  • a time to be alone with God, and a time to do good to people wherever we find them.

Mountaintops are beautiful places. They change our perspective. And the valley can be messy, because lives can be messy, but Jesus came to clean up our messy lives.

We can divide this story in to four scenes:

SCENE ONE

As Jesus and his three closest disciples come down the mountain, they find that a great crowd has gathered around his other disciples and the scribes are arguing with them. The scribes had no doubt come looking for Jesus to find evidence to discredit him.

But there was also a man, a father, who had come looking for Jesus for a very different reason. This father had a son who was demon possessed. He came seeking deliverance for his boy. Not finding Jesus, he turned to the nine disciples who had not gone up the mountain with Jesus. He asked the disciples to cast the demon out of his son, but they could not.

Now the scribes get involved. They had come to discredit Jesus, but not finding him, they will discredit his disciples. The disciples had failed to cast out the demon, so it is very probable that the scribes were asking the disciples what right they had to try to cast out demons. Note that the scribes made no attempt to cast out the demon. They will argue and condemn, but they do not even attempt to help those in need.

When Jesus came down from the mountain, he found the scribes arguing with his disciples.

Mark 9:14-16 ESV And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?”

SCENE TWO

Mark 9:17-18 ESV And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”

Now this is a terrible condition and we need to be very clear about the condition of this boy. We need to have a clear biblical understanding of sickness and afflictions. We live in a Genesis 3 world. The world that God created was a perfect world, but in Genesis 3, sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam. Sin bring its consequences. The world was cursed with thorns and thistles, and the eventual payoff of sin is death.

Sickness is part of the world in which we live. The common cold, malaria, AIDS, birth defects, and epilepsy are all the result of Adam’s sin. As descendants of Adam, we all share in the consequences of his great fall. We are all subject to sickness, and unless Jesus Christ returns before too long, we will all surely die.

Sickness may or may not be the result of personal sin. There are other passages in the Bible that indicate that sometimes sickness is the result of sin (1 Corinthians 11:30), but that is generally NOT the case:

  • We read about a man who was born blind in John 9. The disciples thought that somehow he or his parents had sinned so that he was born blind. Jesus plainly says,

John 9:3 ESV Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

  • The prophet Elisha died of a sickness (2 Kings 13:14) but his dead bones raised a man from the dead (2 Kings 13:21).
  • Timothy had frequent stomach ailments (1 Timothy 5:23).
  • The Apostle Paul’s associate Trophimus was sick (2 Timothy 4:20).
  • Another associate names Epaphroditus nearly died of a sickness, but God had mercy on him and Paul (Philippians 2:5-27).

So we should not make the mistake of blaming the sick person for his sickness.

A second principle should be noted here. As we read through the New Testament, we see Jesus healing many sick people of various diseases. We also see him casting out demons. Sometimes the demons have caused a severe handicap such as blindness or deafness. But at other times, and we should say most of the time, the handicap is simply physical and is not at all caused by demons.

So let us NOT make the mistake of thinking that a severe handicap is the result of demon possession. That was not the case of

  • Peter’s mother-in-law who had a fever (1:31)
  • The leper who was cleansed (1:41)
  • The lame man who took up his bed and walked (2:12)
  • The man with the withered hand (3:5)
  • The woman with the issue of blood (5:29)
  • The man who was deaf and had a speech impediment (7:32-35)

To that we can add the case of epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes a person to have seizures. It is a terrible affliction and in most cases is purely physiological. I had a friend in Bible college who suffered from epilepsy. He was studying for the ministry. I simply mention this to say that we must not conclude that epilepsy is a spiritual condition.

  1. Sickness and dying is part of our human condition. Christians and non-Christians alike get sick and die. Let us not think that sickness is necessarily the result of personal sin. It is part of human existence.
  2. Severe disorders and handicaps should not be attributed to evil spirits. While demons can cause certain terrible conditions such as deafness, it would be a terrible mistake and a terrible injustice to assume that such conditions are the result of demonic activity.

Now, I have said all that because this boy had an unclean spirit that caused him to be mute and deaf and epileptic. Let us be quick to hear and slow to speak before such conditions. Let us not jump to conclusions about the cause and thereby inflict more pain on the person who suffers.

Let’s look at the text again:

Mark 9:17-18 ESV And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”

The boy has suffered greatly. The father is crushed over his condition, and in desperation came looking for Jesus. When he could not find Jesus, he turned to the disciples for help: “I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”

SCENE THREE

Mark 9:19 ESV And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”

The failure of the disciples to cast out the demon is associated with a lack of faith. And yet, Jesus does not single out his disciples; he speaks of the “faithless generation.” But how does one have faith for such a need?

Everyone was overwhelmed by the problem. The boy was powerless to resist the attacks of the unclean spirit. The father could do nothing to stop the convulsions. The disciples were unable to cast out the demon. What to do?

“Bring him to me,” Jesus said.

Mark 9:20 ESV And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.

Things do not always get better the moment you come to Jesus.

The initial result of the effective presence of Jesus is not peace, however, but conflict; not resurrection, but suffering. Eduard Schweizer’s insight is correct: “This indicates how the presence of God can produce storm and stress before anything constructive is accomplished.”[1]

What the father has described, Jesus now sees. They bring the boy to Jesus, but the moment the evil spirit saw Jesus,

Mark 9:20 NLT … it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.

Out of compassion for the boy and his father, Jesus asked,

Mark 9:21 ESV … “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood.

The father further explains,

Mark 9:22 ESV And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him…

Make no mistake about it. Satan “comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” He comes to destroy and pervert the image of God in each of us. But Jesus “came that [you] may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

The question allows the father to tell his story that the boy has been afflicted since childhood, with near fatal effect. But it also allows the father to declare his heart. The question of Jesus invites the father to come to him as a total person, with hard facts and with human hopes.[2]

The boy’s father had come in hope of finding Jesus. Instead, he found the disciples. It mattered not to him whether it was Jesus or his disciples who cast out the demon; he was desperate for help. But when the disciples were unable to cast out the demon, the father’s faith and hope were shaken.

Mark 9:22 ESV And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him [the man said]. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

“If you can do anything,” the man says! The problem is not what Jesus can do. Jesus can expel demons with a word, but producing faith is a much harder matter![3] Lack of faith in Jesus Christ is a greater obstacle than demons. We are not simply talking about having faith, or more faith, or great faith as if faith were some power that we could acquire and direct. True faith is simply trusting in God. True faith has an object and that object is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mark 9:23 ESV And Jesus said to him, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”

God is not limited to do his work in us except by our lack of belief that he can do it. In his hometown, Nazareth,

Mark 6:5-6 ESV … he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief…

Jesus calls the man to put his faith in him. He had said to the hemorrhaging woman,

Mark 5:34 ESV … “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Jesus had said to Jairus, who had just learned that his daughter was dead,

Mark 5:36 ESV …Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Now Jesus calls upon this father with faltering faith to put what faith he has in an all-sufficient Savior. You may have weak faith, but you have a strong Savior. The only bridge between human weakness and our omnipotent God is faith. The authority and power of Jesus becomes effective in human life by faith.[4]

Mark 9:23 ESV And Jesus said to him, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”

This must seem impossible to the father. He does not seem to have the faith he thinks he needs:

Mark 9:24 ESV Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

True faith does not make a display of itself. It does not talk about itself. True faith does not boast. True faith realizes how small and insufficient it is. True faith looks beyond itself to the all-sufficiency of Jesus: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Jesus could have told the man, “I am the glory of God in human form. Purify your heart, confess all your sins, get rid of all your doubts and your double-mindedness. Once you have surrendered to me totally and can come before me with a pure heart, then you can ask for the healing you need.” But Jesus doesn’t say that— not at all.[5]

Jesus takes the man where he is and leads him to where he wants him to be. If we will come to him, he will lead us to greater faith in Christ as we walk with him on the road of discipleship.

The Deliverance

Jesus often tried to shelter certain individuals from the sightseeing crowds. Jesus had compassion on people. He never used them to draw crowds to himself. He never used them for his own benefit. So when he saw a crowd running toward him, he wanted to quickly deliver this boy of the unclean spirit.

Mark 9:25 ESV And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

Once again, it was by his word and in his own name that he cast out demons. Jesus did not appeal to heaven to expel the evil spirit. “I command you,” he said, “come out of him and never enter him again!”

The boy has been rolling on the ground, convulsing, and foaming at the mouth. Jesus has now commanded the demon, which he identifies as a “mute and deaf spirit,” to come out.

Mark 9:26-27 ESV And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

Christ our Savior is greater than any demon, any unclean spirit, any situation. This is not about your faith; it’s about his power to save. Forget about your faith. Focus on our great Savior who is mighty to deliver.

SCENE FOUR

In scene four, we find Jesus and his disciples in a house where they ask him what went wrong:

Mark 9:28 ESV And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”

It was an embarrassing failure. They had tried and failed to cast out the unclean spirit. The boy’s father had seen them fail. The crowd had seen them fail. And the hostile scribes had seen them fail.

“Why could we not cast it out?”

There seems to be an emphasis on “we” in the text. Their failure had actually come as quite a shock to them. Jesus had given them authority to expel demonic spirits:

Mark 6:7 ESV And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

They had gone out and had been successful. But now, they came up against a stronger demon.

Mark 9:29 ESV And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Did the disciples think that they knew how to do it? Were they depending upon themselves and their ability and their experience rather than depending upon Christ alone? Should they have been praying rather than arguing with the scribes?

Why do we fail so often in overcoming the demons and the sins that plague us? Are we trusting in ourselves rather than in God?

1 Corinthians 10:12 CSBO Therefore, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall!

Are we trusting in our methods and strength. The Apostle Paul says,

Philippians 3:3 NLT …We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort,

Jesus is talking about a continual relationship of prayer to God. We text God and think we have prayed. We send a quick message to God, asking for help, but do not give him the time of day.

How can we overcome the evil in our own hearts and lives?

  1. Come to Jesus. This deliverance was a hard case, but Jesus told them, “Bring the boy to me.” Bring your sin, bring your problem, bring your situation to Jesus.
  2. Believe that Jesus can deliver you. Your faith does not have to be perfect. Act on the faith that you have. The boy’s father told Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
  3. Pray.

Jeremiah 33:3 ESV Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

Isaiah 55:6 ESV “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;

  1. Read good portions of your Bible every day.

Romans 10:17 NLT So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

In daily reading God’s Word, the Bible, your faith will grow and you will know what God wants to do in your life.

John 8:31-32 ESV So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Nothing is too hard for God! Our God is mighty to save!


[1] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5178-5180). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5185-5187). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[3] Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

[4] Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

[5] Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 119). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


See also “Gospel of Mark”: