Living under the Good Hand of God

J. Gary Ellison • Tuesday, 2 March 2021 • JBI Chapel

ESV Ezra 7:1–10 — 1 Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2 son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3 son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4 son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5 son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest— 6 this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him. 

7 And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 8 And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

We read of Ezra in verse 9 that “the good hand of his God was on him.” I would like that to be true of me. Perhaps it has been said of you. Perhaps you are here at Joy Bible Institute because someone said of you, “The hand of the Lord is on that young man.” Or, “The hand of the Lord is on that young woman.”

In Ezra chapters 6, 7, and 8, we read six times that the hand of the LORD was on Ezra. It will help us to understand what the Lord’s hand of blessing produced in Ezra’s life.

We first learn that Ezra was from a long line of priests, going all the way back to Aaron, but his life did not begin in Israel. Ezra was a child of the exile, born in the Persian empire.

You know the story of Abraham and how God promised to make of him a great nation. But the descendants of Abraham found themselves as slaves in Egypt for 430 years. They were delivered by Moses. This was followed by 40 years in the wilderness, several hundred years under the judges. Then God gave them a king. Three kings, Saul, David, and Solomon, reigned for 120 years. 

Then the kingdom was divided between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom last 210 years before God judged them for their idolatry. The kingdom of Judah lasted 325 years. The prophet Jeremiah warned the people that they must repent of their idolatry, but they would not. They trusted in the temple. They claimed that God would not allow His own temple to be destroyed. “Long God yumi stanup!”

But that was not true. God sent the King Nebuchadnezzar and Babylonians to carry the people off to Babylon. Daniel and the three Hebrew, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were taken. Ezekiel was taken. For 70 years Israel was in exile in Babylon. By then, the Persians had conquered the Babylonians. King Cyrus gave permission for the Jews to return, but many stayed.

When we read this passage in Ezra, nearly 80 more years had passed. People like Ezra were born in Babylon, in the Persian Empire. Many were happy to stay in Persia. Ezra had been very successful, rising to a place of great prominence in the administration of King Artaxerxes. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible states that he was the “Secretary of State for Jewish Affairs” in the Persian empire.[1] We read in verse 6,

ESV Ezra 7:6 — this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.

Back to Jerusalem: Authorization to Lead a Group of Exiles

Chapter 7:11-26 contains a long letter from King Artaxerxes authorizing Ezra to make the journey from Babylonia to Jerusalem. The king sends Ezra with offerings of silver and gold from the king’s treasury. The letter protects Ezra from any taxes and gives him and all those with him free passage to Jerusalem. So Ezra blesses the Lord because His hand was upon him:

ESV Ezra 7:27–28 — Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem,  and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the LORD my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.

Needed Ministers for the House of God (8:1-21)

Ezra chapter 8 gives details about preparing for the journey. Ezra the scribe was very detail oriented. He made a list of all the families going up with him, but he noticed that there were no Levites. 

ESV Ezra 8:15 — I gathered them to the river that runs to Ahava, and there we camped three days. As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the sons of Levi.

There were no ministers among those who were to return to Jerusalem! Life had been good in Persia. They had prospered. They had good paying jobs. They had nice homes. Life was good! Why leave? Why go someone else? Why bother?

  • Why should Ezra leave his position as Secretary of State for Jewish Affairs? 
  • What a contrast between Ezra of the tribe of Levi and the other Levites, the lazy Levites in the land of Persia!

The temptation to live for this world is ever present with us. We get a good education, a good job, and nice house, and that’s what we want. Who cares about Jerusalem? Who cares about the islands? Life is good!

We are always looking for students who have the hand of the Lord on their lives. We look for students who have the call of God on their lives. Students come, telling us that they are called of God. They are recommended by their pastors. But only God knows the heart. Some don’t even finish. Some finish and never go into ministry. Some start in ministry and they find some position in a business or government position. Life is good! Who needs to think about the villages and islands and places where ministers are needed?

Ezra sent some leading men, men of insight to request, “Send us ministers for the house of our God.”

ESV Ezra 8:16–18 — Then I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, leading men, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of insight, and sent them to Iddo, the leading man at the place Casiphia, telling them what to say to Iddo and his brothers and the temple servants at the place Casiphia, namely, to send us ministers for the house of our God. And by the good hand of our God on us…

258 ministers and temple servants were sent “by the good hand of our God on us.”

Jesus told us to pray for workers:

ESV Matthew 9:37–38 — Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Divine protection on the journey (Ezra 8:22-31)

Then there was the journey. It would take four months to make the journey from Babylonia to Jerusalem. It was a long journey. It was a dangerous journey. They would be carrying much silver and golden. They would be targeted by warring tribes along the way.

Ezra was in a position where he could have asked the king for protection. He could have asked for soldiers and horsemen to protect them, but he was embarrassed. 

ESV Ezra 8:21–23 — Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

ESV Ezra 8:31 — Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way.

The Hand of the Lord: The Hand of Blessing and Grace

We recognize that the hand of the Lord is upon Ezra to bless him. We recognize that this was the grace of God. It was not earned or merited. It was the grace of God:

  • The king’s favor
  • The needed ministers
  • The safe journey back to Jerusalem

It was all of grace.

John Newton wrote the famous hymn “Amazing Grace.” 

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come:
’tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.

You are here because God’s grace has brought you here. You are here because the hand of the Lord has been upon you.

And yet, there is an explanation for God’s grace. Notice 7:9. Verse 9 tells us that they safely arrived in Jerusalem in four months.

ESV Ezra 7:9–10 — For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 

Verse 9 tells us that the good hand of the Lord was on Ezra. Verse 10 tells us why the good hand of the Lord was on Ezra:

ESV Ezra 7:10 — For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

Notice the word “For”. That word prepares us to understand why God’s gracious hand was upon Ezra. Ezra had set his heart to do three things:

Ezra set his heart…

1.   To Study the Law of the LORD.

ESV Ezra 7:10 — 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

We read in verse 6 that Ezra “was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses.”

In verse 12, King Artaxerxes addresses Ezra as “the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven.”

Ezra knew the Scriptures. How is it that he knew the Scriptures? He had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD. He read. He studied. He memorized. He meditated. He was like the man of Psalm 1:

ESV Psalm 1:2 — but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

You see, there are things that a Bible school could never do for you and there are things that God will never do for you. No one can study for you, and God will not read and study the Bible for you. He has given you the Word that you may know Him and know His will.

CSB 1 Peter 2:2 — 2 Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow up into your salvation,

NLT 1 Peter 2:2 — 2 Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment,

The desire of his life was to know the Word of God.

He had set his heart to study the Scriptures.

2.    To do it.

Second, Ezra had set his heart to do it. “He did not want merely to learn the Bible; he wanted to live it.[2]” He studied the Word in order to put it into practice.

  • He made it his goal to love the LORD his God with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might (Deuteronomy 6:5).
  • He kept the Ten Commandments.
  • He searched the Scriptures to know what God expected of him.
  • He put the Scriptures into practice.

We have courses here at JBI that are designed to help you grow as a Christian. It is not enough to learn about prayer; we must pray. It is not enough to learn about faith; we must exercise our faith.  We must apply ourselves to the Word and then apply the Word to ourselves.

ESV Psalm 40:8 — 8 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

3.    To Teach It

Third, Ezra set his heart to teach the Lord’s “statutes and rules in Israel.”

It was not enough for him to study it and to do it; Ezra set his heart to teach the Scripture to others. 

But notice where he wanted to teach God’s Word. 

  • Verse 6: “this Ezra went up from Babylonia.”
  • Verse 8: “And Ezra came to Jerusalem…”
  • Verse 9: “he began to go up from Babylonia, and… he came to Jerusalem…”
  • Verse 10: “For Ezra had set his heart… to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

While Ezra was still living in Babylonia, he had set his heart on teaching God’s Word in Israel. He wanted the whole nation to be transformed by the Word of God.

Where do you want to share God’s Word? Some of you will go to new islands, new places. Some of you have come to return to your home island to share the message of God’s salvation.

We find Ezra teaching the Word of God in Nehemiah 8:

ESV Nehemiah 8:1–8 — 1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

Ezra and the Gospel

There is much that Ezra did not know. He did not know much of what you know about the gospel. He did not know the four Gospels or the books of the New Testament. He did not know the life and teaching of Christ. He did not know much about the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Christ. He did not know about the eyewitnesses. He did not know how Christ had fulfilled the Law that Ezra had studied so intently. He did not have the epistles of Paul or Peter or James or John.

Jesus said this about the Old Testament saints:

ESV Matthew 13:17 — For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

What would Ezra have given to come to Joy Bible Institute, to sit where you sit, to learn what you are learning? Think of the privilege that we have to open the Word of God! We must follow the example of Ezra in setting our hearts to study, to do, and to share the Word of God with others.

Set Your Heart

Let me encourage you to set your heart. Notice that Ezra set his heart to study, to do, and to teach. 

There are a number of passages that point to the importance of setting our hearts to seek the Lord. This is an engagement, a commitment that we must make. If you find it difficult to set you heart to study the Word of God, ask the Lord to give you a heart to study. Jeremiah has this promise:

ESV Jeremiah 24:7 — 7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

God can give you a heart like Ezra’s to study, to do, and to share the Word of God with others. Ask him to give you such a heart, then set your heart.

ESV Ezra 7:9–10 — …the good hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Ezra (Person). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 757). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[2] Ryken, P. G. (2008). Pastoral Pensées: Ezra, According to the Gospel: Ezra 7:10Themelios33(3), 66.

Mark 08:01-21, “Do you not yet understand?”

Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes

Christians of the early Byzantine period built monasteries, churches and shrines in Galilee and on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to commemorate the ministry of Jesus and the miracles ascribed to him. Mosaics that is preserved from the Byzantine period at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes July 23, 2009. Photo by Rishwanth Jayapaul/FLASH90


1456053183_thumb.pngWhat does remembering have to do with understanding and faith? Today we want to consider an event in the life of Christ and his encouragement to remember and consider the things that he has done, and how that impacts our faith.

Quick quiz:

  1. When Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish, how many loaves were there? Five or seven?
  2. How many fish were there? Two or a few?
  3. How many people were fed? Five thousand or four thousand?

A number of years ago, one of my students suggested that there was a contradiction in the Gospels. In one place we read that Jesus fed a multitude of five thousand men, not including the women and children. In another place, we read that he fed four thousand. One passage said five thousand while another passage said four thousand. So the student concluded that there was a contradiction.

Was he right? Well, some scholars would think so. Some scholars tell us that within just a few pages of the Gospel of Mark, the author has repeated the same story using different details. Now this would be amazing because there are only 49 verses with separate the two stories. The feeding of the five thousand takes place in Mark 6 and the feeding of the four thousand is told in Mark 8. Only one chapter out of 16 chapters stands between the two stories. For Mark to accidentally tell the same story twice so close to each other would be an amazing lapse of memory.

So what are we to say about these stories?

One of my purposes is to encourage your confidence and trust in the Bible as the error-free Word of God. That is a big claim to make today when skeptics abound. But most people who claim that the Bible contains errors have never read it themselves. They simply parrot what they’ve heard someone else say. They dismiss the Bible without any serious consideration of what they are dismissing: the very Word of God.

The Bible is trustworthy. The questions that liberal scholars ask have repeatedly been answered by conservative scholars. There is abundant evidence pointing to the truthfulness of the Bible.

So when we come to the question of Jesus feeding the multitude in Mark 6 and again in Mark 8, we need to look carefully at the details. We need to understand that Mark, the author, is writing with intention. He has a purpose. And we need to read at a deeper level to understand that purpose.

That means that we are not simply reading isolated stories. The Bible is not a book of short stories. The Bible is what scholars call a “meta-narrative.” It is THE BIG STORY from the creation of the heavens and the earth in the Book of Genesis to the new creation of the new heavens and the new earth in the final pages of the Bible in the Book of Revelation. Everything else fits in that big story. It is the story of God. It is God’s story. It is HiStory.

1.        The Feeding of the Four Thousand (Mark 8:1-10)

Let’s look at the text:

Mark 8:1-10 ESV In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

1.1.     Two Stories Compared

Mark starts this story of the feeding of the four thousand with the words “In those days.” This tells us immediately that this miracle took place in the region of the Decapolis where we find Jesus at the end of chapter 7 (see 7:31).

Feeding of the 5,000 Feeding of the 4,000
Mark 6:44 ESV And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

The term for “men” (ἄνδρες, andres) is gender specific. It means men or husbands. That means that there were 5,000 men plus women and children. Most commentators estimate that there were between 15,000 and 20,000 people who were fed.

Mark 8:9 ESV And there were about four thousand people.

The text simply says that there were about 4,000 people. This crowd was much smaller.

The people in chapter 6 had been in the wilderness for only one day. In chapter 8, the people had been in the wilderness for three days.
Jesus began with five loaves and two fish. Jesus multiplied seven loaves and a few small fish.
Jesus blessed the food one time. Jesus blessed the bread and distributed it, then he blessed the fish.
There were 12 basketfulls of leftovers. There were 7 basketfulls of leftovers.
In the first feeding, the multitude was mostly Jews. In the second feeding, the multitude was mostly Gentiles.[1]

The main objection against the feeding of the 4,000 is the argument that since the disciples had already seen Jesus feed more than 5,000, they should not have asked, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” But that is to misunderstand the disciples.

In the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus had told them to give the multitude something to eat. They wonder how they are to do it.

In the feeding of the 4,000, they simply confess that they are powerless to meet the need and left the solution to Jesus.

William Lane says: “It would have been presumptuous for the disciples to have assumed that Jesus would, as a matter of course, multiple a few loaves as he had done on an earlier occasion.”[2]

Most importantly, Jesus refers to both miracles when probing the understanding of his disciples.

1.2.     Mark’s Purpose: Gentiles Are Included!

We need to consider Mark’s purpose in including this story. Remember that the authors of the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), do not tell us everything that Jesus ever did. John tells us that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that he does not include in his Gospel. He tells us that he chose certain signs so that we would believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that through believing, we would have life in his name.

Each of the authors of the Gospels write to a particular group of readers and they chose from an abundance of events in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ to accomplish their purpose.

Mark is writing for Romans. He is writing for non Jewish people. That means that he is writing for most of us. Mark is showing us that Jesus came not only for the Jews; he also came for Gentiles like you and me.

In the previous chapter (chapter 7), Jesus leaves Jewish territory and goes into Gentiles territory. There the Syrophoenician woman asks him to heal her daughter. Jesus tells her that the Jews have priority because the promises were made to Abraham that through his descendant — that is through Jesus Christ, the many times great grandson of Abraham — all the families of the earth would be blessed. The bread, Jesus said, must first be given to the Jews. But this Gentile woman has faith. She asks for the crumb of bread that fall from the table. Jesus marveled at her faith and healed her daughter.

Then we read that Jesus went to the Decapolis, again, Gentile territory. The Gentiles bring to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. Once again, Jesus heals this man so that he hears and speaks plainly. The Gentiles declare that Jesus “has done all things well, He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Mark 7:37).

Jesus is still in Gentile territory when he feeds the 4,000. He has already fed the multitude of Jews. The children of Abraham were served first, but the rest of the world is waiting. In this eighth chapter of Mark, Jesus feeds the Gentiles and points to the time with the gospel will be taken to Gentiles all around the world. “They will not have to scrounge for crumbs that might fall from the table, but they will receive food in abundance and also will be satisfied.”[3]

Jesus and his disciples are freely moving among the Gentiles. Jesus has already “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:31). It does not matter what you eat, and it does not even matter who you eat with under normal circumstances (but compare 1 Corinthians 5:11; 10:21).

Here Jesus and his disciples are surrounded by Gentiles. For three days they have been with Jesus and they have nothing to eat. Jesus has compassion on them and tells his disciples,

Mark 8:3 ESV And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”

The disciples do not ask, “How can we eat with these people?” Instead, they ask, “Where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” (8:4).[4]

Jesus himself is the answer. Jesus is able to meet the great need. He is moved with compassion and that compassion is not limited by ethnic boundaries. He is not only the Savior of the Jews. He is also the Savior of the World, even as the Samaritans declare in John 4:42.

Later in Mark 14, when Mary anoints Jesus for his burial, Jesus says,

Mark 14:9 ESV And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus tells his disciples,

Mark 16:15 ESV And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

The feeding of the 4,000 is not the same as the feeding of the 5,000, and it is good news for us. Jesus is the bread of life, not only for the Jews, but also for us Gentiles.

Here are three reasons why Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish on two separate occasions:[5]

  1. Jesus wants everyone to understand that he is the bread of life, the “bread from heaven” (Exodus 16:4). John tells us that following the first miracle, Jesus gave his great discourse on the bread of life.

John 6:48-51 ESV I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

  1. Christ wants us to understand that he is not just Bread for the Jews. He is the bread of life for us Gentiles as well. We are tempted to think the life is having things: a new phone or a new truck. But “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
  2. Jesus wants us to understand that “the supply always meets and exceeds the demand.” There is always more than enough.

Mark 8:8 ESV And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.

Christ is more than enough to satisfy the hunger of the world.

2.        The Blindness of Those Who Will Not See (8:11-13)

In the following verses, Jesus and his disciples have crossed the Sea of Galilee back into Jewish territory. There he is accosted by the Pharisees.

Mark 8:11 ESV The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.

There is a certain combative attitude that will receive nothing from God. The Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus. They question him. They test him. But their minds are already made up.

  • They no doubt knew of the leper that he had cleansed (1:42).
  • They knew about the paralyzed man who had been let down through the roof. Jesus forgave his sins and restored his health so that he rose up and carried his bed home (2:11-12).
  • They had seen him heal the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6). It was then that they made up their minds to destroy him (3:6).
  • They attributed his power to Satan and said that he cast out demons by the power of Satan (3:22).

They had heard of many of his miracles, but they found ways to explain them away. They are asking him here for a sign from heaven. A sign from above that would leave no room for any possible doubt about the source of his power.

What kind of sign are you waiting for? There are people who are always looking for one more sign. One more piece of evidence. They say they would follow Jesus if they could only believe.

The great atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on the judgement day and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” Russell replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’”[6]

Not enough for what? To force you to believe? That God will not do. He will not force you into a relationship with him. But there is plenty of evidence for those who are willing to see.

When it comes to the biggest truth of all, people who are normally reasonable and rational become totally unreasonable and irrational. Ask them, “Why is there something rather than nothing at all? Why does the universe exist?”

“Well, it just happened,” they say. “There was a big bang and it happened.”

Really? What caused the big bang?

“Nothing. It just happened.”

So there was nothing, and everything came out of nothing, and nothing caused everything to come out of nothing, it just did it by itself even though it did not exist to do anything by itself. And now we have this orderly universe with the one place in the entire universe that supports life, and everything is perfectly balanced with all its amazing complexity and beauty, and it just happened?! And it all came from nothing and was caused by nothing? If you believe that, you believe in magic. Do not pretend that it’s science or scientific. It is not. It is a worldview that refuses to see the evidence.

Mark 8:12 ESV And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

No gat! Jesus says. He is grieved and angry at the hardness of heart. Matthew tells us that Jesus said,

Matthew 16:4 ESV An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

The only sign they would get was that signified by Jonah — the Resurrection![7]

Mark 8:13 ESV And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

What a terrible thing it is to have Christ turn his back on you and sail away. But that is ultimately what he does to those who continually refuse his revelation. There comes a time when he gives no more signs, no more help in understanding.[8]

The Pharisees turn and walk away; the disciples follow Jesus into the boat. Eduard Schweizer draws an insightful conclusion from this closing description: “faith comes when one steps into the boat with Jesus and does not prefer to remain in safety on the shore.”[9]

3.        The Danger of Being an Unbelieving Believer (8:14-21)

Mark 8:13-15 ESV And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. 14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

Jesus is in the boat with his disciples. They have left the unbelieving Pharisees behind. But how much better off are the disciples? They have seen the miracles, but have the understood? Have they understood the signs? Have they understood the miracles and the message of Jesus? The conversation in the boat indicates that unbelief is in the boat with them.

Jesus gives them a strong warning: “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Leaven or yeast is almost always understood in a negative sense in the Bible. It has to do with corruption, unholiness, and danger. It infiltrates, penetrates, and infects everything that it touches. The Pharisees are seeking to find any explanation for the miracles that Jesus performs — any explanation except the truth. They refuse to believe that he is the Son of God.

What have the disciples understood? They’ve seen the miracles, but they have been slow to understand. They had not understood his parable about the sower:

Mark 4:13 ESV And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

When Jesus came walking on the water…

Mark 6:51-52 ESV And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

They had not understood what Jesus taught about food not being a source of defilement:

Mark 7:18-19 ESV And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

He is warning them not to allow the hardness of heart of the Pharisees to influence them.

But they have missed the point.

Mark 8:14 ESV Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.

Mark 8:16 ESV And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.

Jesus warns the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and they think that he is rebuking them for not bringing enough bread with them!

Jesus was aware that once again, they had missed the point! He hits them with a series of questions:

Mark 8:17-21 ESV And Jesus, aware of this, said to them,

  • “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?
  • Do you not yet perceive or understand?
  • Are your hearts hardened?
  • 18 Having eyes do you not see,
  • and having ears do you not hear?
  • And do you not remember?
  • 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.”
  • 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.”
  • 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

That is a powerful rebuke, but in the midst of that correction, Jesus gives us instruction: Remember. “Do you not remember?” (8:18). And now he mentions both occasions when he fed the multitudes, the 5,000 and the 4,000.

  • 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.”
  • 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.”

Remembering what God has done is the best defense against spiritual weakness and unbelief. That is why we are to break bread and drink the cup together at the Lord’s Table:

1 Corinthians 11:24-25 ESV and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Jesus is telling the disciples to remember what he has done. He multiplied the loaves and fish and fed 5,000 plus women and children. Again, he multiplied the loaves and a few fish and fed 4,000 Gentiles.

We are prone to forget. The psalmist David tells us not to forget:

Psalm 103:1-5 ESV Of David. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

He forgives, he heals, he redeems, he satisfies, he renews!

We are to remember what Christ has done and we are to consider what that means. The Israelites in the desert did not remember or consider:

Psalm 106:7 ESV Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.

The Pharisees in the Gospels did not consider the works of Christ. The disciples who were with Christ had not adequately considered who they were following.

Who is this man?

From the beginning of this Gospel, Mark has told us what he wants us to understand. This is the “Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). Jesus rebukes his disciples because they have not yet understood. Who is this man who

  • Casts out demons with a simple command (1:25)?
  • Cleanses lepers (1:42)?
  • Forgives sins (2:7)?
  • Heals the sick (1:34)?
  • Raises the dead (5:42)?
  • Commands the wind and the sea (4:41)?
  • Walks on the sea (6:48)?

Who is this Jesus of Nazareth who like God can abundantly feed the multitudes miraculously in the wilderness? Truly, he must be the Christ, the Son of God![10]

That is why you need to find a Bible-believing church where Christ is exalted and worshiped, and the Word of God is preached, taught, and lived, and where the Bible and only the Bible — not someone’s vision or some other book — but the Bible and the Bible alone is the one and only final authority for what we believe and what we do. There is no other foundation than the Word of God.

Thank you for tuning in to FM 107 and listening to the Joyful News Broadcast. This has been a ministry of Joy Bible Institute. You can visit our website at Our prayer is that the joy of the Lord would be your strength.


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

[2] Quoted by Hughes, R. Kent. Mark Vol.1 Jesus, Servant & Savior. Crossway Books: 1989, p. 185.

[3] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 466.

[4] Garland, David E.. A Theology of Mark’s Gospel. Zondervan Publishing House: 2015, p. 466.

[5] Hughes, R. Kent. Mark Vol.1 Jesus, Servant & Savior. Crossway Books: 1989, p. 186-188.


[7] Hughes, R. Kent. Mark Vol.1 Jesus, Servant & Savior. Crossway Books: 1989, p. 189.

[8] Hughes, R. Kent. Mark Vol.1 Jesus, Servant & Savior. Crossway Books: 1989, p. 189.

[9] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4472-4474). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[10] Stein, Robert H.. Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). (Kindle Locations 10024-10026). Baker Publishing Group: 2008.


See also “Gospel of Mark”:

Mark 06v06-13 The Global Mission of the Church

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The world is a dangerous place. This past Thursday there was an Islamic State attack on a Starbuck’s café in Jakarta, Indonesia, killing seven people and wounding 26 others.[1] On Friday night, on the other side of the world, 23 people were killed in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (West Africa) when a group of attackers raided the Splendid Hotel. An al Qaeda-linked terrorist group claimed responsibility.[2]

Many worldviews and religions are competing for the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Christians are also to spread the Good News about Jesus Christ. How are we to respond to those who reject him?


Christ has commissioned all believers to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. How are we to respond when people reject the message of the gospel?

Today I want to consider a passage in Mark 6 where Jesus sends out his disciples and tells them how to respond to those who accept and to those who reject the gospel. I want to consider the global mission of the Church, the foundations of that mission, and Jesus’ specific instructions about the message and how people respond to it.

First, let’s read from Mark 6:6-13.

Mark 6:6-13 NLT …Jesus went from village to village, teaching the people. 7  And he called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits. 8 He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick– no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. 9 He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes. 10 “Wherever you go,” he said, “stay in the same house until you leave town. 11 But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.” 12 So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. 13 And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil.

When we think of Jesus’ ministry, we tend to think of his compassion, and how he healed the sick, healing — for example, in Mark 5 we read how Jesus healed the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years, and how he raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead. Healing was an important part of Jesus’ ministry, but the defining element of his ministry was his teaching.

In the Gospel of Mark alone, Jesus is called the Teacher twelve times.

  • We read that he taught in the synagogues (1:21; 6:2).
  • He taught beside the sea (4:1).
  • He taught in the temple (12:35).
  • He taught many things in parables (4:2).
  • He taught with authority (1:27).

The first 14 chapters of Mark refer to Jesus’s ministry of teaching more than 30 times. Everywhere Jesus went, he was teaching.

It is one thing to see a miracle. It is another thing to understand what the miracle teaches us about the miracle worker. It was through his teaching that Jesus opened the window so we could see who he was and what he came to do. Jesus tells us exactly why he came in Mark 10:45.

Mark 10:45 ESV For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

A Global Mission

The reason that Jesus chose disciples and sent them out was that he had and has a global mission. Jesus did not come just for the nation of Israel. The Bible says that he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He is “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). Jesus was training disciples to take the Good News to the ends of the earth.

It became apparent early on in his ministry, that Jesus had a global mission. This goes all the way back to the call of Abraham. God had told Abraham that through his offspring, that is through Jesus Christ, all the peoples of the world would be blessed.

Genesis 22:18 ESV and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Who is Abraham’s offspring? The Apostle Paul explains that Jesus Christ is Abraham’s offspring. All the nations of the earth would be blessed in Jesus Christ.

Galatians 3:16 ESV Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

Throughout the Old Testament, we read that the nations and the peoples of the world would bless the Lord and be blessed in him (Psalm 72:17-19; etc.).

God intended that Vanuatu would be blessed through his Son Jesus Christ.

Now in the Gospel of Mark, the Lord has come. He begins his ministry in Capernaum, but his ministry would not be limited to one town or region or country. Although everyone in Capernaum was looking for him, Jesus told his disciples,

Mark 1:38 ESV … “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

Already in Mark 3,

Mark 3:14-15 ESV And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons.

Now in Mark 6,

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.

This was just the beginning. Jesus did not come simply to bring the Good News of salvation to Israel; he was making fishers of men, disciples who would make disciples of people of all nations. The last chapter of this Gospel of Mark has this Great Commission:

Mark 16:15-16 ESV And [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

This is the global, worldwide mission of the Church: to proclaim to the entire world salvation through Jesus Christ alone. Listen to it again:

Mark 16:15-16 ESV And [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

There you have the scandal of Christianity. Jesus comes into the world, sent by God the Father, sent to save sinners. This is scandalous to some because they want to make their own way to heaven. They want there to be many ways to heaven. They want to believe that any religion or any god will do just fine, but that is not what the Bible teaches.

The teaching of the Bible is consistent throughout. There is only one true God, and there is only one way to the one true God, and that is through the Lord Jesus Christ. This is how Jesus prayed the night before he gave his life as a ransom for many:

John 17:3 ESV And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

There is only one true God and there is only one way to that God.

1 Timothy 2:5 ESV For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

Foundation One: One True God

So foundational to the global mission of the church is first of all the fact that there is only one true God.

This fact is established over and over again in the Old Testament.

Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

But the Israelites abandoned the one true God. They began to believe that there were other gods. They worshipped the gods of the peoples around them.

One of the so-called Christian cults from America working in Vanuatu today teaches that there are other gods in different universes. That is why you need to find a Bible-believing church that uses no other book but the Bible.

This is what the God of the Bible says,

Deuteronomy 4:39 ESV know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.

Deuteronomy 32:39 ESV “‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

Isaiah 43:10 ESV …Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.

Isaiah 43:11 ESV I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior.

Isaiah 44:6 ESV Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.

Isaiah 44:8 ESV … Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Isaiah 45:5 ESV I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God…

Isaiah 45:6 ESV …from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.

Isaiah 45:18 ESV For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other.

Isaiah 45:21 ESV …And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.

Isaiah 45:22 ESV “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.

***Isaiah 46:9 ESV remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,

Foundation Two: One Mediator Between God and Man

The Bible, the Word of God, is very clear. There is only one true God and there is only one way to the one true God. Again, Jesus prayed,

John 17:3 ESV And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

There is one true God and he has provided one way of salvation, and that way of salvation is through his Son Jesus Christ.

The two million gods of Hinduism cannot save you, but the one true God who sent his Son to die on the cross — he alone can make you right with God.

John 14:6 ESV Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

No one. The only way to be reconciled to God is through his Son Jesus Christ. The Apostle Peter said it like this:

Acts 4:12 NLT There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

Why do you need salvation?

At the end of month you get paid. You get your salary. You are paid what you have earned.

At the end of your life, you get your payoff, your salary, your wages. But here’s the bad news:

Romans 6:23 ESV For the wages of sin is death,

That’s not just death in the grave; that’s eternal separation from God, being cast into outer darkness. Hell.

That is why we need salvation. All of us.

Romans 3:23 ESV for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 6:23 ESV For the wages of sin is death, [but here’s the Good News] but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Eternal life in Christ Jesus is a free gift from God. It’s free but someone paid for it. Who paid for your free gift? Jesus Christ paid for your eternal life. No one else could take away our sins.

Romans 5:6-9 ESV  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person– though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

So Jesus commanded

Luke 24:47 ESV … that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

This Good News of what God has done in his Son Jesus Christ is to be preached in all nations:

  • America and Australia
  • Belgium and Bhutan
  • Canada and China
  • Fiji and France
  • Syria and the Solomon Islands
  • Vietnam and Vanuatu

Specific Instructions

Jesus Gives Authority

It all begins right here in Mark 6.

Mark 6:7 NLT  And he called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits.

This section closes with the report:

Mark 6:13 NLT And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil.

The Twelve were “not sent to do a new work but to continue and extend the work begun by Jesus (1:34; 3:11-12; 5:8).”[3]

The disciples are sent to do what Jesus has been doing. Jesus has given them authority to do what he was doing. He does not have to pray for God to give them this authority. He simply shares his authority with the Twelve and they go and preach and heal the sick and cast out evil spirits in his name.

Jesus Gives Instructions Concerning Travel – What to Take

Mark 6:8-9 NLT He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick– no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. 9 He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes.

Jesus sends them out with basically nothing but his authority. They are to trust in God to provide for their needs. They are not traveling first class! They are not prosperity preachers! They go with a walking stick, the sandals on their feet, and the clothes on their back. The ministry is not a means for getting more stuff. “They are to stay mean and lean.”[4]

According to James Edwards, “True service of Jesus is characterized by dependence on Jesus, and dependence on Jesus is signified by going where Jesus sends despite material shortfalls and unanswered questions. . . .They must trust him alone who sends them” (Edwards, Mark, 181). Little provisions require big faith in God to meet your needs (cf. Phil 4: 19)![5]

Jesus Gives Instructions Concerning Staying in Homes — How to Act

Mark 6:10-11 NLT “Wherever you go,” he said, “stay in the same house until you leave town. 11 But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”

Now this is most interesting in the world in which we live today. Jesus has given the church the responsibility of taking the Good News to all peoples everywhere. We are to proclaim Jesus. His final words before returning to heaven were these:

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

The Message

The focus of our preaching and teaching is Jesus Christ himself. He has commissioned us to be his witnesses. We are witnesses of Jesus Christ. We are Jesus’s witnesses.

Throughout the entire New Testament, the message is what God has done in Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

2 Corinthians 4:5 ESV For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

Throughout the epistles, the Apostle Paul is constantly exalting Jesus Christ.

Philippians 2:9-11 NLT Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10 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.

We could go through the New Testament, book after book, to see that the focus is on Jesus Christ. He is Lord and he has commissioned us to announce to all people everywhere that there is salvation in Christ alone. And we will preach the Good News of Jesus Christ until he comes. Jesus declared in…

Matthew 24:14 ESV And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

The Response

Love came down when God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

But let us note carefully that Jesus did not expect everyone to believe the gospel. Through the Gospel of Mark opposition to Jesus is rising. The scribes and Pharisees oppose him. The following verses of this chapter tells how John the Baptist is beheaded. As Jesus gives instructions to his disciples about their ministry, he prepares them for rejection. In fact, that is probably why he took them to Capernaum where he was rejected by his own hometown.

Jesus instructs his disciples to go and stay with whoever received them, but he told them that some places would not welcome them. Some people would not listen to them. They would experience rejection.

What do we do as ambassadors of Jesus Christ when we are not welcomed, when our message is not received?

This is where Christianity differs radically from some other religions. Christianity is not a religion of intimidation. It is not a religion of fear and oppression. Christianity never forces anyone to become a Christian. Christianity is a religion of the heart. We are saved by grace through faith.

Well-known atheist Richard Dawkins made an interesting comment about Christianity.

“There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings,” Dawkins said. “I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death.”[6]

Christ invites you to come to him. He never forces you. The last verses of the Bible include this invitation:

Revelation 22:17 NLT  The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.

So we are to share the gospel freely with all who will listen.

But what about those who do not listen? Jesus said that we are to simply “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

The New Living Translation renders Mark 6:11,

Mark 6:11 NLT But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”

We leave those who resist the gospel in the hands of God. Perhaps he will yet grant them repentance.

The Need for Repentance

Mark 6:12 NLT So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God.

John the Baptist preached repentance:

Matthew 3:2 ESV “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Jesus preached repentance:

Matthew 4:17 ESV From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The apostles preached repentance:

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.

Since John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles preached repentance, it must be important. But what is it?

Repentance has six elements:[7]

  1. Sight of sin. A person sees that he is a sinner and that his lifestyle is sinful. Like the prodigal son in Luke 15:17, he finally comes to his senses and sees that he has sinned against God.
  2. Sorrow for sin. “…I am sorry for my sin” (Psalm 38:18 ESV). There is godly grief, “genuine, anguishing sorrow over the offense itself and not just its consequences.” “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV).
  3. Confession of sin. The humble sinner voluntarily passes judgment on himself. He confesses his sins, not just generally, but specifically. Confession is a deep work in the heart and it cannot be accomplished simply by admitting that we are sinners. We need to humbly confess how we have sinned against God. In the Scriptures, we find at least seven benefits to confession:
    1.   Confession of sin gives glory to God (Josh 7: 19).
    2. Confession of sin is a means to humble the soul (2 Chr 26: 19).
    3. Confession of sin gives release to a troubled heart (Ps 51: 11-12).
    4. Confession of sin purges out sin (Neh 3: 13). Augustine called it “the expeller of vice.”
    5. Confession of sin endears Christ to the soul that needs atoning (Rom 7: 25).
    6. Confession of sin makes way for forgiveness (2 Sam 12: 13; 1 John 1: 9).
    7. Confession of sin makes way for mercy (Prov 28: 13).
  4. Shame for sin. Ezra prayed, “O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you. For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6 NLT). The prodigal son said to his father, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son” (Luke 15:21 NLT).
  5. Hatred of sin. The more we love Jesus, the more we will hate sin for our sins nailed Jesus to the cross.
  6. Turning from sin and returning to the Lord.
    Repentance means turning away from our sin. It means getting the sin out of our lives.

Ezekiel 14:6 NLT  “Therefore, tell the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Repent and turn away from your idols, and stop all your detestable sins.

Repentance is not only turning from sin, it is turning to the Lord.

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.


The message of the Bible is that

Acts 17:30-31 NLT “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”

No one will force you to follow Christ. We are simply Christ’s ambassadors…

2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT …God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”



[3] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3487-3490). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[4] Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 124). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[5] Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (pp. 124-125). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


[7] Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 126). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

See also “Gospel of Mark”:

Modern-Day Prophets and the Bible

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Why has the Christian Church not embraced the writings of the modern-day prophets? Why has the Church not incorporated into the Bible the writings of the 19th century prophets like Joseph Smith or Ellen G. White? Why has the Church not accepted the interpretations of Charles Taze Russell and Joseph Franklin Rutherford, the first leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Why has the Christian Church not embraced the special New World Translation of the Bible prepared by the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Today we want to consider modern-day prophets and the Bible, and the question of truth and where we find it. It is not our desire to be controversial, but controversy has long been part of the history of the Christian Church. Today we see much controversy and conflict in the church over various teachings. Some churches want to keep in step with the times, to get with the program, to be relevant to today’s world. In some places the church blends in so well with the surrounding culture that no one can see any difference between the church and the world. There is no separation. No distinction. The church is the world. One well-known missiologist, Leslie Newbigin, said that when the church becomes just like the world, it is no longer a viable alternative to a corrupted culture. It no longer gives people hope that life can be different.


Truth and Controversy

We see plenty of controversy in the church world today, but controversy is not new. We find controversy in the church in the 19th and 20th centuries as theological liberalism and a modern scientific worldview became the standard of truth in some circles. We find controversy in the 16th century when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany. We find controversy in the church councils in the first centuries after Christ. We find controversy in the New Testament itself.

Jesus Christ himself was a controversial figure. He was so controversial that the religious authorities had him crucified, killed, and buried, thinking that would end the story. But God raised Jesus from the dead, and the controversy continued. The Jewish authorities forbid the disciples of Jesus Christ from preaching about his resurrection and teaching in the name of Jesus, but the disciples could not be silenced. They were imprisoned, beaten, whipped, some were stoned, and some were even beheaded. But that did not stop the church from preaching the good news of what God had done in Jesus Christ, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he was literally, physically raised from dead on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-3).

There was controversy in the church itself when the Apostle Peter preached the gospel to the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem demanded that he explain why he had entered the house of Gentiles and had eaten with them (Acts 10-11).

There was controversy in the churches of Galatia when Judaizers came behind the Apostle Paul and told the new converts that they had to follow the Law of Moses to be saved. Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians to correct that error.

There was controversy in Acts 15 when believers of the party of the Pharisees told Paul that he needed to circumcise the Gentile believers and to order them to keep the Law of Moses (Acts 15:5). The Church dealt with these issues and gave clear responses to their opponents. The Church never shied away from controversy. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that we must always be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have to anyone who asks (1 Peter 3:15).

These were not minor issues. They were major questions.

         Is Jesus Christ the only way to God?

         What must we do to be saved?

         Are we saved by the finished work of Jesus Christ, or must we do certain works to be saved?

It is not my desire today to be controversial, but as Luke wrote in his Gospel, my desire and prayer is…

Luke 1:4 ESV that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

It is my desire to be useful as was Apollos who “greatly helped those who through grace had believed” (Acts 18:28).

We are okay with reading about controversy in the New Testament. We can read the story of how the Holy Spirit led the church and resolved the conflicts and spoke through the writings of the New Testament Scriptures. But it is quite another thing to be in the middle of controversy. We would almost do anything to avoid controversy. Many would rather compromise the truth than to be involved in controversy. They would sacrifice truth on the altar of compromise. Anything to avoid conflict, for the simple reason that they have no conviction about the truth. The truth has not taken hold of them. Their idea is that we must seek peace at all costs. Lay down your weapons. Put up your sword. There is nothing worth fighting for. But that is capitulation, nothing less than a full surrender to the enemy.

There is a time for peace.

Romans 12:18 ESV If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

“If possible.” It is not always possible to live peaceable with everyone. “So far as it depends on you.” It does not always depend on us. But there is a time for compromise on non-essentials. An example of non essentials is found in Romans 14.

Romans 14:1-6 ESV As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

There are questions that are simply a matter of opinion. They have nothing to do with the nature of God or of Christ or of the Holy Spirit or of salvation. The Scriptures tells us that we must not cause division over opinions. Where the Bible has not spoken clearly, we should not be dogmatic or divisive.

So in order to be in harmony with everyone, why not accept the visions and the teachings and the writings of Ellen G. White as inspired Scripture? Why not simply incorporate the writings of Joseph Smith into the Bible? Why not simply accept the Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants into the Bible? Why not accept the teachings of Charles Taze Russell and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ special New World Translation of the Bible? Why not embrace the teachings of John Thomas and the Christadelphians? Why should we not accept the teachings of Baha’i and the Bahá’u’lláh? Why not accept these modern-day prophets? Wouldn’t it be better to simply accept these modern-day prophets and their teachings than to be divided? Shouldn’t we simply pursue unity? Isn’t that the Christian way?

A close reading of the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, shows that we cannot accept the teachings of every one who calls himself a prophet.

Why should we not accept the teachings of these different modern-day prophets?

1.        First, we should not accept their teachings because we cannot accept their teachings. We cannot accept their teachings because their teachings contradict each other. Each of these groups teaches very different things about God, about Christ, about salvation, and about a host of other vital biblical doctrines. Some say that there are many gods. Some say that God was first a man who evolved into a god. Some say that Christ was not God. Some say that he was a god but not Almighty God. Some say that he was the archangel Michael in the Old Testament. Some say that he was just a man. The Bible teaches that he “the only God, who is at the Father’s side” (John 1:18). It is impossible to accept the teachings these modern-day prophets because these prophets contradict each other on matters of extreme importance.

2.        Second, we cannot accept the teachings of these prophets because their teachings contradict the teachings of the Word of God. Some denounce the Apostle Paul because his teaching does not agree with the teachings of their prophetess. They are right. The teachings of the Apostle Paul do not agree with the teachings of their prophetess, but they are denouncing the wrong person. By rejecting the clear teaching of the New Testament, they reject the gospel.

3.        Third, each of these groups with the exception of the Baha’is (which is not a Christian cult, but an Islamic cult) — each group claims to have restored the Church of Jesus Christ and to be the only true church. Well, they cannot all be the only true church. In fact, any church which claims to be the only true church, shows that it is not a true church at all.

Any group that claims to restore the Church of Jesus Christ, is saying that Jesus Christ failed to keep his promise. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 ESV). Jesus has always had a remnant even in the darkest times of the history of the Church.


The Nature of Truth

The very nature of truth is that it stands in contrast with error. It is the opposite of fiction, fabrication, invention, or lies. Day is not night and night is not day. Right is not wrong and wrong is not right. Truth does not embrace all possible choices. Truth is not confused.

The truth is worth dying for. John the Baptist was beheaded for announcing the truth. Stephen was stoned to death for the truth of the gospel. James was also beheaded for the sake of the gospel. The truth of the gospel is worth dying for.

In fact, more than physical life itself, our eternal destiny — our salvation depends on holding fast to the truth.

1 Corinthians 15:1-2 ESV Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you– unless you believed in vain.

Paul says that we are saved by the gospel “if you hold fast to the word I preached to you.” Otherwise you have believed in vain. Paul goes on to define the terms of the gospel:

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

The fundamental truths of the gospel are not negotiable. We cannot change them, take away from them, or add to them.

The Judaizers had followed Apostle Paul in Galatia and had added conditions to the gospel. It sounded reasonable. It made sense. But it was not the gospel. The Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians with unmistakable directness:

Galatians 1:6-12 NLT I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News 7 but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. 8 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. 9 I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. 10 Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. 11 Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. 12 I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.

Controversy is not new. Nearly every book of the New Testament warns the Church about false teachers and how to deal with them. In the Gospels, Jesus warns about false prophets, false teachers, and false Christs. He warns us that many will come in his name, claiming to be his representatives, and that they will deceive many.

Matthew 7:15 NLT “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.

Matthew 24:11 NLT And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.

Matthew 24:24-26 NLT For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 25 See, I have warned you about this ahead of time. 26 “So if someone tells you, ‘Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,’ don’t bother to go and look. Or, ‘Look, he is hiding here,’ don’t believe it!

The Apostle Paul tells the elders at Ephesus,

Acts 20:29-31 NLT I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out!…

He rebukes the Church at Corinth,

2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.

They had no discernment. They believed whatever anyone told them, even when they preached a different Jesus.

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NLT These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.

Paul warns the Galatians about the false teachers that want to bring them under the law of Moses:

Galatians 2:4 NLT … some so-called Christians there– false ones, really– … were secretly brought in. They sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations.

Galatians 4:17 NLT Those false teachers are so eager to win your favor, but their intentions are not good. They are trying to shut you off from me so that you will pay attention only to them.

Galatians 5:9-10 NLT This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! 10 I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you.

Paul warns the Romans about people who cause divisions by teaching different things:

Romans 16:17-18 NLT And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. 18 Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people.

The Apostle Peter warns us,

2 Peter 2:1-2 ESV But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.

The Apostle John warns us,

2 John 1:7-10 NIVO Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.

We must take these warnings seriously. They were written for us.


The Bible Is a Closed Book

So where do we find the truth?

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.”

Where do we find the truth? We find the truth in God’s Word. God has revealed His truth to us in a book, and that book is the Bible.

In the Old Testament, we see that God revealed Himself through the Word. We do not speculate about God’s nature, His will, or His ways; we simply bear witness to what God has said about Himself.

The Bible bears witness to itself as the written Word of God, a claim that springs from the fact that God has spoken. In the Old Testament alone, the phrases “the Lord said,” the Lord spoke,” and “the word of the Lord came” appear at least 3,808 times… “where Scripture speaks, God speaks.”[1]

When God gave the Old Covenant of the Law, He introduced Himself as “I am the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:2a). He gave the historical context: “who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2b). He gave the conditions of the covenant, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17). God listed blessings and curses (Exodus 20:5-7, 11-12). This covenant is put written form, written by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18). Finally, there was curse upon anyone who seeks to change the wording of the covenant documents:[2]

Deuteronomy 4:2 ESV You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you.

At the same time, the Old Covenant anticipates the New Covenant:

Jeremiah 31:31 ESV “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,

Certainly any first-century Jew, when confronted with the term “covenant” (berth) in Jeremiah 31, would have understood…that this new covenant, like the old covenant, would be accompanied by the appropriate written texts to testify to the terms of the new arrangement that God was establishing with his people.[3]

When we come to the New Testament, Jesus appointed and commissioned his apostles to be his authoritative witnesses: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). Peter tells us that the apostles were “chosen by God as witnesses… to preach to the people and to testify that [Christ] is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the death” (Acts 10:41-42).

As Christ’s spokesmen, the apostles bore his full authority and power: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16).[4]

The words of the apostles that the Lord had chosen are the words of the Lord and have the same authority has the words of the Old Testament prophets:

2 Peter 3:2 ESV …you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,

Peter states that the Lord Jesus Christ has spoken through the apostles. The New Testament apostles are conscious that they are writing the Word of God.

Galatians 1:1 ESV Paul, an apostle– not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead–

1 Corinthians 14:37 ESV If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.

1 John 4:6 ESV We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

The Church of Jesus Christ is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20 ESV). Paul goes on to say that God’s eternal plan “has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:5 ESV). He says that same thing again in Romans 16:26 when he says that the secret plan of God “has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith.”

The Apostle Peter recognized that the Apostle Paul’s writings were Scripture. Peter said that

2 Peter 3:16 NLT …those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.

There was an expectation that the New Covenant, like the Old Covenant, would have its written documents—its Scriptures—explaining its historical context, its terms and conditions, as well as its blessings and curses.

There was an expectation that the New Covenant Scriptures, i.e. the New Testament Scriptures, would be closed with the death of the apostles, those apostles that the Lord of the Covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ, had appointed to write the New Testament Scriptures.

There would have been no expectation that 1,800 years later modern-day prophets would add to the sacred Scriptures. Indeed, such prophets would have been recognized as the very prophets that the Lord Jesus had warned his disciples about: false prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing, deceiving many.

Notice what Jude tells us:

Jude 1:3 NLT Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people.

He urges us to defend the faith, to stand up for the truth of the gospel. He says that God entrusted this faith to us “once for all time.” It is not to be updated with modern-day prophecies. It is not to be modified, or added to, or taken away from. False teachings, false prophets, and false churches are all around. You and I must defend the truth, the faith that God has entrusted to us once for all time.


The Scriptures Are Complete

There are many verses that speak about the inspiration of the Scriptures that we have not considered. Perhaps the best known is in Paul’s second letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

I want to focus on that last phrase “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This indicates that the Scriptures are complete. They are sufficient. They are all that we need to be equipped for everything that we need to do.

That means that we must not add to the Scriptures. In fact, just as the Old Covenant contained a warning about adding it, the New Covenant also warns us not to add or take away from God’s Word. There is a curse upon anyone who would modify the wording of the New Covenant:

Revelation 22:18-19 ESV I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

The Bible is a closed book, so to speak. It has a beginning and an ending. It begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth:

Genesis 1:1 ESV In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

And it ends with the new creation:

Revelation 21:1 ESV Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God which he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.[5]

That does not mean that the Bible tells us everything that we might want to know. It means that the Bible is sufficient for what God intended for it to accomplish.


The Scriptures Are Clear

The Scriptures are not mystical. They are not mysterious. The Bible is not full of secret hidden meanings.

In Ephesians 3, Paul tells us that God revealed His plan to “his holy apostles and prophets.” Paul wrote down what God revealed to him. Then Paul says,

Ephesians 3:4 NLT As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ.

Now that is amazing! God revealed His plan to His apostles and prophets. They wrote down what God revealed to them. The revelation is written in words. The words can be read. And as we read the revelation, we can understand exactly what Paul and the apostles and prophets understood.

That does not mean that it is necessarily easy. We do have to think!

2 Timothy 2:7 NLT Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.

So what does all that mean? That means that you and I can understand that Bible. We do not have to have a modern-day prophet to tell us what it means. We can read the Scriptures for ourselves. One of the reasons why people are led astray by false prophets is that they do not read the Bible for themselves.

Part of our problem is that we sometimes try to read the Bible in ways that we would never read any other book. The Bible is composed of 66 books. If we are to understand a book of the Bible, we need to read the entire book. Our Bibles today are divided into chapters and verses, but they were not written that way. Moses never wrote a verse. Matthew never wrote a chapter. They wrote books. About 1000 years after Christ, the books of the Bible were divided into chapters. In about 1557, a French printer named Robert Étienne divided the chapters into verses. That is a great idea if you are trying to find a certain text, but too often people pick a verse and try to understand it without reading the whole book. You would never do that with any other book. You wouldn’t even try to understand a newspaper article by reading only one sentence. You must read the book.

Let me challenge you in this coming new year, to read at least one chapter of the Bible every day in 2015. If you have a hard time reading, meet with other Christians who will read the Bible aloud, one chapter every day. Read straight through whole books of the Bible. Read through the book of Genesis, chapter by chapter. Then skip over to the New Testament and read Matthew, one chapter every day. Then back to Exodus. Then back to the New Testament again. If you read three chapters a day and five chapters on Sunday, you’ll be able to read the entire Bible in 2015! That would be a great accomplishment and would help you to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

[1]Albert Mohler, He Is Not Silent, p. 41.

[2]Andreas Köstenberger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, p. 111.

[3]Andreas Köstenberger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, p. 112.

[4]Andreas Köstenberger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, p. 115.

[5]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994, 2000), 12

See also:

The Bible and Mythology

Vanuatu Sand Drawing,

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What are we to think of the Bible? What are we to think of Christianity? Is it truth or fiction? Is it myth or reality? Did someone dream all this up, or is the Bible the record of things that actually happened in the course of human history? What are we to think of the Bible? Who is telling the truth? Who are you going to believe?

1.  Myths

The world is full of myths, and Vanuatu has its own rich collection of myths. Myths are stories that people make up to explain various aspects of life and to express worldview, how we see and interpret the world. There are myths about the world and the creation of the sea. There are myths to explain where man and woman came from. Some myths are about the islands and how they came to be populated. There are myths that try to explain good and evil. Other myths have to do with how man and woman are to relate to one another and to each other’s families. There are myths about children and the consequences of disobedience. There are myths about the afterlife, what happens to a person and where he goes when he dies.

So myths are stories which attempt to explain life and its meaning. They often share wisdom as to how we should live and relate to others and to the world around us. Myths are meant for teaching so that the wisdom can be transmitted from one generation to another.

All cultures have their myths or their folklore. We could talk about the gods of Greek mythology, or Roman mythology, or Hindu or Chinese mythology. Various cultures interpret life with myths and symbols. All peoples everywhere have their stories that have been told and passed down as they search for meaning and try to explain the meaning of life.

1.1.              The Search for Meaning

Why is there this universal attempt on the part of all peoples everywhere to explain the meaning of life? Why do we search for meaning?

The Christian worldview not only explains the meaning of life and existence. It also tells us why we search for meaning and significance. The Bible tells us that we were created in the image of God with the capacity to know Him. God has placed in our hearts a longing for meaning and significance. Look around at the animal kingdom. Animals do not search the heavens to try to understand life and its meaning. They do not contemplate the universe or try to gain understanding. But the book of Ecclesiastes says that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV). Saint Augustine lived in the fourth century after Christ. In his famous book Confessions, he prayed to God, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” There is a huge vacuum in the heart of everyone, an emptiness that must be filled.

People everywhere search for meaning. So all cultures have their myths, their stories, their attempts to explain ultimate meaning.

1.2.               Christianity and Mythology

So how is Christianity any different from the mythologies of the world? The Bible is full of stories, so how is it different from the stories of any other culture?

Precisely in this: Christianity is not based on myths but on reality. The Bible is not based on someone’s philosophy about the meaning of life. It is not based on someone’s enlightenment or revelation. Christianity did not come out of someone’s dream or visions. In fact, the Bible specifically warns us about people who through their visions would lead us away from Christ:

 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, 19 and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it (Colossians 2:18-19 NLT).

The Bible is not based on someone’s ideas or dreams or visions or revelations about God. It is based on events that actually happened in human history. Christianity is based on the firm conviction that everything in the Bible including

  • the creation of the universe
  • the worldwide Flood
  • the crossing of the Red Sea on dry land by the Israelites
  • the miracles of Elijah and Elisha
  • the virgin birth of Jesus Christ
  • his miracles such as walking on water
  • his resurrection
  • and his ascension

The Bible is recorded history. All of these stories are literally and completely true. They really happened in the course of human history. They took place in time and space.

This is what the Apostle Peter, an eyewitness and disciple of Jesus Christ said,

2 Peter 1:16 ESV For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Peter insists that Christianity is not based on myths, stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, but on actual events that were verified by human eyewitnesses. The Bible is not the story of gods and goddesses and their activities in the heavens. It is the story of what God has done in human history here on earth.

2.  The Bible and Mythology

2.1.               The Bible Is the Story of God

At the risk of being repetitive, the Bible is God’s story. It is the story of God creating the entire vast universe and the earth in six days by his infinite wisdom, intelligence, and power. God created the first man, Adam, from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life and man became a living soul. God took a rib from Adam’s side and fashioned Eve, the mother of all people everywhere.

God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and when they sinned, God drove them out of the garden, but promised that he would send a Savior who would be born of a woman (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4-5). God dealt with Cain when Cain killed his brother Abel. Sixteen hundred years after the creation, when the earth became so full of violence that God could tolerate it no longer, he sent the Flood and destroyed sinful humanity with the exception of Noah and his family who found grace in the eyes of the Lord. When Noah’s descendants refused to populate the earth but decided to make a name for themselves by building a city to the heavens, God confused their languages at Babel so that even today we have 115 languages here in Vanuatu alone.

God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and renewed the promise that his many times great-grandson, who would be Jesus Christ, would be the source of blessing for all peoples everywhere. God sent the descendants of Jacob into Egypt and later delivered them from slavery by the hand of Moses in the Exodus. God opened the Red Sea so that six million Israelites crossed over on dry land. God drowned the Egyptian army in their attempt to recapture the Israelites. God made a covenant with the Israelites when he gave them the Law. God gave them manna in the wilderness and water from the Rock. God led them into the promised land of Canaan and made the walls of Jericho fall at the sound of the trumpets and the shout of the people. God raised up judges to deliver his people from their enemies. God sent prophets and set up kings. God renewed his promises of the coming Messiah and promised a new covenant. God judged his people for their sin and sent them into exile in Babylon. God raised up Cyrus, the Persian emperor, who allowed the exiles to return to Jerusalem.

Galatians 4:4-5 ESV But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

We read in Acts 2:23-24 that when

this Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, [and the Jews] crucified and killed [him] by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

The Bible is not the story of gods or of God doing imaginary things in the heavens. It is the story of God doing great things on earth. Human history is God’s story. History is his-story.

  • The Exodus
  • The Conquest of Canaan
  • The Exile
  • The Return
  • The Incarnation of Christ
  • The Death of Christ
  • The Resurrection of Christ

2.2.               The Historicity of the Bible

Over and over again, the Bible insists on the historical reality of these events. So once again, Peter says,

2 Peter 1:16 ESV For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

The New Living Translation puts it this way in…

2 Peter 1:16-18 NLT For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” 18 We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

The Apostle John, another disciple of Jesus, the one who leaned on Jesus the night before the crucifixion, wrote this:

1 John 1:1-4 NLT We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.

On that fateful night before the crucifixion, Jesus said this to his apostles,

John 15:27 ESV And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

Luke tells us in his Gospel, in the opening verses of Luke,

Luke 1:1-4 NLT Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.

Luke tells us again, in his second volume, the Book of Acts,

Acts 1:3 NLT During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive…

When the religious authorities were disturbed that the apostles were preaching about the resurrection, they threatened them and warned “them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again” (Acts 4:17).

Acts 4:19-20 NLT But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

These men who had lived with Jesus Christ for three years, these men who had walked the roads of Israel with the Master, who had seen him

  • Make the deaf to hear
  • Make the dumb to speak
  • Make the blind to see
  • Make the lame to walk
  • Raise the dead to life again
  • Calm the storm and cast out demons with a word

They all insist on the absolute reality of these events.

The Apostle Paul insisted that the Christian faith is verifiable and falsifiable. He insisted that you could prove it true or false based on one single event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives a list of people who had witnessed the resurrection of Christ: Peter, James, and the other apostles. But his most interesting reference is to other followers:

1 Corinthians 15:6 NLT After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.

Paul is writing less than 25 years after the resurrection of Christ. Some scholars think that this was the appearance in Galilee that had been announced ahead of time on three different occasions by angels and by Jesus himself (Matthew 28:7, 10; Mark 14:28). Now, less than 25 years after the resurrection, Paul tells us that more than 500 people saw the resurrected Christ at one time and he adds this very interesting remark: “most of whom are still alive.” When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, most of the witnesses to the resurrection were still alive. Paul is telling the Corinthians that the facts of the resurrection could still be verified by living witnesses. Paul says in effect, “If you have any doubts about this, check with the living witnesses. Hundreds of them are still alive and they will tell you that Jesus was really raised from the dead.”

Now this is utterly important in Christianity. Our faith stands or falls on the literal reality of this event. Paul goes on to say this to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 15:14-19 NLT And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God– for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave… 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

This is no myth, Paul says. This is not a “kastom” story. This is absolutely and utterly true.

Acts 17:30-31 NLT “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”

2.3.               Real People, Real Places, Real Events

As we read through the Bible, we read of real people and real places. Archaeological evidence has identified many of the people mentioned in the Bible. We could list the names of 50 rulers mentioned in the Old Testament: Egyptian Pharaohs, kings if the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, and the emperors of Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia. In the same way, archaeological research has found extra-biblical evidence (evidence outside the Bible) for the existence of the Caesars of Rome, the Herods of Israel, governors, and many other people mentioned in the New Testament. The Bible itself is archaeological evidence that has been preserved and passed down through the centuries. The Bible is history.

Besides the historical figures that populate the Bible, there are the places: Ur, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tyre, Sidon, Moab, and literally hundreds of important places in the Bible. We know where they are. We can point to them on the map. Archaeologists have excavated these places and found evidence that the biblical record pointed to.

A number of years ago I had the privilege of going to the Middle East. I visited many of the places mentioned in the Bible. I stood by the Sea of Galilee and read the Beatitudes. I swam in the Jordan River. I visited places like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Jacob’s well in Samaria. Outside of Israel we went to Egypt, Baalbek, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Rome. I stood on Mars Hill in Athens where the Apostle Paul preached to the Athenians. We visited five of the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation, located in modern day Turkey. These are real places.

The Bible is not the product of someone’s vivid imagination. It did not come out of someone’s dream or vision. The Bible is about real people in real places. But it is more than that.

2.4.               Meta-Narrative

The Bible is not simply a collection of stories. The Bible is one great story with a beginning and an end. When we approach the Bible, we might wonder if it is possible to make any sense out of it. It was written by more than 30 different authors over a period of some 1,600 years, people living at different times in different contexts and cultures from Rome to the Euphrates River. How could there be anything coherent in such a collection of 66 books?

This is one thing that makes the Bible unique. It was not written by one man like the Quran or the Book of Mormon, but the different authors, from Moses to Matthew, from Jeremiah to John, were all inspired by the same Holy Spirit who was writing according to His plan.

If we compare the Bible with the scriptures of other religions, we see that the Quran, for example is a strange collection of disjointed pieces. It is impossible to find any order, progress or arrangement. The 114 Suras or chapters of the Quran are arranged according to length. The longer Suras are first and the shorter ones last. It is the same with the Zoroastrian and Buddhist Scriptures. There is no beginning, middle or end. They are collections of different materials that are loosely placed together.

The Bible is completely different.

From Genesis to Revelation we feel that this book is in a real sense a unity. It is not a collection of fragments, but has, as we say, an organic character. It has one connected story to tell from beginning to end; as we see something growing before our eyes; there is plan, purpose, progress; the end folds back on the beginning, and, when the whole is finished, we feel that here again… God has finished all his works, and behold, they are very good.[1]

The Bible has four great movements: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation.

1.   Creation

God created everything from nothing. In six days God created the heavens and the earth and everything that is in them. He created man to know God and to enjoy him forever.

2.   Fall

But man fell and with the Fall came the terrible consequences of sin and death. We live today with the consequences of our action in Adam. When Adam sinned, we all sinned. The image of God in us has not been destroyed, but just as Adam and Eve hid from God after their rebellion, we hide and want to go our own way.

3.    Redemption

God is the searching God. He came into the Garden in search of Adam. Jesus tells us that God is still searching for those who will worship him in spirit and truth. It is a terrible thing when mythology creeps into our worship of the one true God. It is terrible when someone introduces dreams and visions rather than holding to what God has revealed about himself in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. God is looking for those who will worship him in spirit and truth. We must fact the truth about ourselves and the truth about God. He is holy, righteous, loving, compassionate, all powerful, all knowing, and present everywhere.

The story of Redemption begins when God himself comes seeking for man in the Garden. He promises a Savior. He calls Abraham and promises that the Savior would be his many times great grandson. He raised up the nation of Israel. He gave the Law which would be fulfilled by the Savior. He sent the prophets who told the people to get ready for the Savior. He sent the Savior who died and rose again to save us from our sins. That is the story of redemption.

4.   New Creation

The Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is coming back to make a new heavens and a new earth. What was lost in Eden, will be restored in the new earth.

This is not mythology. It is not someone’s wild dream. It is the message of nearly 40 different writers that God moved to write over a period of 1,600 years the precious Bible that has been entrusted to the Church of the Living God.


You can trust the Bible because you can trust the God of the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God. But there comes a warning with the biblical text: because it is the Word of God, you must not take from it; you must not add to it. The Bible concludes with this warning:

Revelation 22:18-19 ESV I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.


[1]Daniel P. Fuller quoting James Orr in The Unity of the Bible, p. 22.