My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, April 19, 2010

“A Blind Man’s Last Chance” - (04/18/10)

            Many of the books of the Bible have a key verse that summarizes the content of the book and helps us visualize the book as a whole.  For example.
  • Key verse of Matthew = 1:1, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.”
  • Key verses of John = 20:30-31, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
  • Key verse of Acts = 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
  • Key verse of Mark = 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  This verse from Mark is beautifully illustrated by the story that immediately follows it, the story of the healing of Blind Bartimaeus.
This story is recorded three times in the NT: in Matthew 20:29-34; in Luke 18:35-43; and here in Mark 10:46-52.  In each account there are details added that give us the full picture.  I will supplement Mark’s text from the other two.

Verse 46: And they came to Jericho.  And as He was going out from [old] Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. 
  • Mark focuses his whole story on two men—Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho, and Jesus.  [Matthew relates that there were actually two beggars that Jesus healed.  Luke only mentions one.  However, neither writer includes their names.  Mark, on the other hand, chooses to focus his attention on just one of them, and gives his name.]  What do we know about this man, Bartimaeus?  Not much.  We know his name, his father’s name, the town he lived in, and his general situation.  And just what was Bartimaeus’ situation?  He was in big trouble!  He was blind.  He lived in total blackness.  He couldn’t see anything.  That meant He was limited to supporting himself and perhaps a family on what he could make by begging along the roadside.  His situation was desperate!
  • Darkness is often used in the Bible as a metaphor for evil, and physical blindness as a picture of spiritual blindness.  A good example is Acts 26:16-18 where Paul gives his testimony before King Agrippa.  Here he quotes from the words spoken to him by Jesus on the road to Damascus: But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”  
  • Jesus was just passing through Jericho.  He had no plans to stay there.  Look at the beginning of the verse—He came… and He went.  On His way to Jerusalem He first passed through the area of the ancient walled city of Jericho.  That had long been destroyed leaving only ruins, and no one actually lived there.  This story took place between the old city and the much newer Roman city.  That’s why Matthew and Mark’s accounts say that it happened as He was “leaving Jericho” and Luke’s account says that it happened as he was “coming into” Jericho.  The NT town of Jericho was located 15.5 miles from Jerusalem.  It sat in the Jordan Valley just to the northwest of the upper end of the Dead Sea at an elevation of 1,000 ft. below sea level (the Dead Sea is at 1,300 ft. below sea level).  Jericho was well known for its rich palm and balsam groves that yielded lucrative revenues for the Romans [thus, Zaccheus the tax collector in the story that follows in Luke’s Gospel].  Jerusalem, on the other hand, sits at 2,625 ft. above sea level.  That means a climb of 3,625 ft. in 15.5 miles, or an average grade of 4.4%.  (The climb up Haleakala from the airport is an average of 5% grade, just to give you an idea.)
  • It says there was a “great multitude” with Him.  Remember, this was just one week before the start of Passover and there were hundreds of people on the road, all making their way up that steep mountain to Jerusalem.  Besides the large group of people following along with Jesus there were many others who just happened to be there at the same time.  They all witnessed what happened next.
Verse 47: And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 
  • Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside begging.  How did he hear that Jesus was passing by?  We don’t know.  How did he know who Jesus was?  Again, we don’t know.  But somewhere or other he had heard about this one that many people said was the Messiah, and was able to do great miracles.  When he learned that it was Jesus who was passing by he began to shout as loud as he could: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  He used a title that specifically referred to the Messiah.  He was not just being polite or politically correct.  He was making a theological statement about who Jesus really was.  [See Matthew 12:23.]  Bartimaeus recognized that this was his great chance.
Verse 48: And many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he began crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 
  • The crowd around him tried to shut him up.  They “sternly” told him to shut up and to quit yelling.  The text uses the imperfect tense, which carries the meaning that they kept rebuking him repeatedly.  In that moment Bartimaeus had to make a choice: to listen to the crowd that was telling him to sit and shut up, or listen to that small voice in his head that told him this was his last chance.  So, he shouted all the more and all the louder: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  [See the publican’s prayer in Luke 18:13.]  This shows us the courage of Bartimaeus.
Verse 49: And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.”  And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, arise!  He is calling for you.” 
  • “Jesus stopped.”  Those are beautiful words.  He was busy, but never too busy to hear the cry of faith of someone in trouble.  The other beautiful words here are, “He is calling for you.”  Jesus was calling Bartimaeus in that moment but He is still calling men and women today.  In fact, He may be calling to you today.
  • In this verse we see a second group of people—the ones who encouraged him to quickly make his way to Jesus.  The verb they used means “to be of good cheer, to be courageous.”  When a person is considering following Jesus there are always two crowds: the first group that says, “Don’t be a chump.  This is just a passing fancy.  Sit down and have another beer.”  Then there is the group that will encourage you to go after Jesus, saying, “Quickly, He’s calling for you.”  The question always is, “Which group are you going to listen to?”
Verse 50: And casting aside his cloak, he jumped up, and came to Jesus. 
  • You can see right here who he chose to listen to.  The verbs used here suggest that Bartimaeus acted with great haste.  He sprang up!  Immediately upon hearing that Jesus was calling for him he threw off every impediment and leaped to his feet.  He was blind but obviously not weak.  This was the opportunity of a lifetime and he was not about to let it slip away from him.
Verse 51: And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  And the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” 
  • “And answering him…”  This refers to Jesus answering Bartimaeus’ cry for help.  The Lord heard and now He answered.
  • The Lord’s question: “What do you want [lit. wish, thello] Me to do for you?”  The answer seems obvious to us but Jesus wanted Bartimaeus to verbalize his need.  The same is true of us today.  God wants us to tell Him what we need.  He invites us to come to Him and ask.
  • In this verse we see Bartimaeus’ petition.  His answer to Jesus’ question begins with “Rabboni.”  [The same word that Mary Magdalene used at the Resurrection.  Cf. John 20:16].  This is an Aramaic word for teacher/master that shows great respect.  It is a strengthened form of the word “Rabbi.”  Literally it means, “my teacher, or my Master.”  Bartimaeus said, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”  Bartimaeus used the Greek verb anablépo, which is a compound word from blépo, “to see” with the preposition ana, which here means “again.”  Literally he says, “…in order that I may see again.”  This leads us to conclude that Bartimaeus was not born blind but lost his sight through an illness or an injury.
Verse 52: And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and began following Him on the road. 
  • In this verse we witness Bartimaeus’ salvation.  Jesus made it clear that Bartimaeus’ healing was in response to his faith, demonstrated by his persistence and eagerness and his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah.  Jesus said, “Go; your faith has healed [literally, saved, sodzo] you.”  I think that both senses of the word are true here.  He was healed and he was saved, both through the power of Jesus.
  • The miracle occurred immediately: “And immediately he saw again.”  The text repeats the same verb used in verse 51, which means “to see again.”
  • Matthew’s account adds a tender detail in 20:34, Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him. 
  • Luke’s account gives another precious piece of information in 18:43, “Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.” 
  • All three accounts say that Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the road.  That is, he followed them into the new Roman Jericho.
  • Can you imagine his joy and the joy of his friends and loved ones when he went home that night with a whole different future, telling the story of his meeting with Jesus?  I’m sure there was a party at his house that night!
            The healing of Bartimaeus was the last healing miracle of Jesus’ ministry.  What if Bartimaeus had decided, “Well, He’s busy so I won’t bother Him today.  I’ll catch Him next time He comes to town”?  the fact is, Jesus never passed through Jericho again.  This indeed was Bartimaeus’ last chance!
            Before He headed on toward Jerusalem Jesus made only one other stop-off.  It was to talk to another man, a tax collector by the name of Zaccheus.  Luke records that meeting in Luke 19.  He sums up the miracle that occurred in Zaccheus’ life in verses 9-10: And Jesus said, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’”  This sums up beautifully what happening in both Zaccheus’ and Bartimaeus’ lives.  Salvation came to their homes.  They had both been lost but were now found.  Their encounters with Jesus had changed them completely, eternally.

To sum up…
·       Bartimaeus recognized his dire situation. (v. 46)
·       Bartimaeus saw his chance. (v. 47)
·       Bartimaeus ignored the crowd and exercised courage. (v. 48)
·       Bartimaeus responded to Christ’s call. (v. 49)
·       Bartimaeus made his plea to the Lord. (v. 51)
·       Bartimaeus received his healing and salvation from Jesus. (v. 52)
·       Bartimaeus went home rejoicing because of the grace and mercy of God.

This is the simple blueprint for every person who wants to come to Jesus.  Today Jesus is passing by here.  But He may never pass this way again.  Don’t miss your chance today to experience the healing and salvation that He came to give you.  Trust Him today with your life.  The Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”  Those words were true for Blind Bartimaeus and they will be true for you as well.

            What did God show you from these verses?  What about Bartimaeus’ life reminds you of your life before you came to know Jesus?

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Servanthood Explained & Demonstrated" - (04/11/10)

I can hardly imagine what it must be like to be a prisoner sitting in a jail cell waiting to be executed. Your mind would surely be racing full speed and your emotions would be stretched as tight as a piano wire. Every sound would be torture, causing you to think, “Are they coming for me? Am I next?” It would be terrible, knowing that death could come at any moment.

Yet this was the experience of Christian martyrs like Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, William Tyndale, Jan Hus, Thomas Cranmer, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They all had the experience of knowing that their days were numbered and that within hours or minutes they would give their lives in a great cause.

Jesus too knew what that felt like. In fact, from the moment He came to earth He knew that it was just a matter of time until He would end up nailed to a cross, because that is why He came. Toward the end of His 3½ years of public ministry He spoke often of what awaited Him. In a sense He was on death row awaiting the day when they would come for Him. Oh yes, He was free and walking about, but He still knew what was coming and yet He went about His daily business of preaching and teaching and healing and representing His Father.

In our text for today though, we see Jesus within just a few days of His execution. Yet rather than flee from the danger, He resolutely set His face like a flint to go to Jerusalem where He knew it was all going to take place. We have just finished the remembrance of Passion Week with its Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. The events of those last days of Jesus’ life are still fresh in our minds. But now we are going to look at them again through the lens of Saint Mark and his Gospel. Turn with me to Mark 10. We’ll begin at verse 32.

Verse 32: They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again He took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to Him.
  • “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way…” This was true on more than one level. Jesus was always leading the way for the disciples. It was always Jesus who determined what they would do and where they would go next. Now He was taking them to Jerusalem. However, that in itself was not unusual because it was the time of the Passover Feast. The roads were jammed with people traveling to Jerusalem for the Feast. The disciples probably thought that this was just going to be another nice religious experience like they had known many times before. However, Jesus had something very different in mind.
  • The NIV is a little confusing here. “…with Jesus leading the way…” is better rendered as you have it in the NASV, “…and Jesus was walking on ahead of them.” This in itself was unusual and was a surprising change from His usual practice of walking along with His disciples.
  • “…and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.” His aloofness bothered them and they could sense that something was wrong. We see two emotions displayed here among Jesus’ retinue. The disciples were astonished. Why? Because they knew that Jesus knew that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus and they were astonished that He would go to Jerusalem anyway and run the risk of getting caught. The other followers were afraid for Him, and perhaps a little bit afraid for themselves as well. They were afraid of what might happen, and as it turned out, with good cause.
Verses 33-34: “We are going up to Jerusalem,” He said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise.”
  • Jesus’ words here make it clear that He knew exactly what would happen. None of it came as a surprise to Him. In these two verses He gave to His disciples the Cliff Notes version of the whole death, burial, and resurrection story. Look at the elements:
    • He will be betrayed—He already knew what was in Judas’ mind.
    • He will be betrayed to the priests and teachers—He already knew who would pay Judas to betray Jesus.
    • He will be condemned to die—Jesus already knew how the vote would turn out.
    • He will be turned over to the Gentiles—Jesus knew that the Jews would turn Him over to the Romans for sentencing and execution.
    • He will be mocked, spat upon, beaten, and killed—Jesus gave a blow by blow description of what He would suffer at the hands of the Roman soldiers.
    • He will rise from the dead on the third day—Not the second or fourth day, but the third, in fulfillment of prophecy.
  • Jesus made it clear that He knew exactly what was up. In fact, He was not a victim of the circumstances; He was instead orchestrating the circumstances. He was in charge.
Verse 35: Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”
  • Here we have a rather sudden change of subject. There may have been a space of time between the last conversation and this one as the group walked along the road together.
  • James and John had obviously been thinking about this for a while. They had probably discussed how they might broach the subject with the Master. Maybe they had flipped a coin to see who would ask Him the question. They might have even talked about the fact that it would be better to get Him alone before they dropped their request on Him.
  • These guys were not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Anybody with half a brain can see through this approach. “We want You to do for us whatever we ask.” If your kid said that to you what would be your response? Would you fall for that one? I don’t think so. How naïve did they think Jesus was?
Verse 36: “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked.
  • The natural response to their question—a noncommittal answer.
Verse 37: They replied, “Let one of us sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your glory.”
  • Here it comes. “Lord, when You set up You Kingdom and have Your golden throne moved in, can we have our thrones there with Yours, one of us on each side of You?” At a king’s right hand was the place of special honor and at his left hand was second in importance. James and John wanted to be Jesus’ #1 and #2 men.
  • Matthew records this same conversation in Matt. 20:20-24. However, he adds an interesting bit of information: “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” He asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your kingdom.” How interesting! That verse creates more questions for us. Was this whole thing their mother’s idea? Was she the one pressuring them to ask this favor from Jesus? Or did they put her up to it, thinking that Jesus couldn’t say no to a sweet little old lady? Either way, in both Matthew and Mark’s Gospels the blame fell squarely on the two brothers. They should have known better than to even ask such a thing.
  • What does this question reveal about James and John?
    • They themselves are naïve.
    • They have an overinflated view of their own importance in relation to the other disciples.
    • They are selfish and me-oriented, looking out for #1.
    • They have no concept of what it means to be a servant of God.
  • Jesus could have hammered these guys but instead He used this as a teachable moment to help mold them into something usable. I’m glad that God doesn’t hammer us every time we say or do something stupid. Jesus showed great patience with these guys and He continues to show great patience with us as well, though that does not give us an excuse to continue being stupid. James and John eventually began to show some character and maturity, but it took a while.
Verse 38: “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
  • Weren’t they paying attention to what He just said up in verses 33-34 about being tortured and executed? What were they thinking? Jesus said, “You don’t know what you are asking.” By that He meant that they didn’t understand the ramifications of their request. Their concept of the Messiah led them to think only in terms of His kingship, power, and glory. They missed out on the “Suffering Servant” part altogether. But to get to go with Him where He was going they would have to suffer what He was going to suffer. That’s what He meant by “drinking the cup with Me” and “being baptized with Me.” He’s talking about the cup of suffering and death.
Verses 39-40: “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
  • Their response shows an obvious naïveté. This is the same attitude Peter showed later on in Mark 14:29-31 after Jesus told them once again what was going to happen to Him. In doing so He quoted from Zechariah 13:7 which says, “I will strike down the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” Peter took offense at that statement and piped up: “Lord, even if all fall away, I will not.” 30 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown Me three times.” 31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with You, I will never disown You.”
  • There is an old adage that goes, “Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.” In this case, James and John, along with all the other disciples, would end up drinking from the cup of suffering and most of them would end up being baptized with the baptism of a martyr’s death. The Bible only mentions the deaths of two apostles, James (the brother of John, of the sons of Zebedee), who was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD (cf. Acts 12:2), and Judas Iscariot, who committed suicide by hanging himself. The details of the deaths of several of the apostles are pretty well documented while others are very sketchy, either by Church tradition or early Christian historians. However, we believe that all of the Apostles died as martyrs, with the exception of John who apparently lived to old age. At least two of them, the brothers Peter and Andrew, were crucified.
  • In verse 40 Jesus once again demonstrated that He was not like the secular rulers. “To sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” Earthly rulers give out political plum jobs to their buddies and cronies as rewards for toeing the political line and playing nice. Jesus made it clear that it doesn’t work that way in the Kingdom of God. According to the Bible God is “the Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” but He does not base His rewards or decisions on political favor or friendship.
Verse 41: When the ten heard [about] this, they became indignant with James and John.
  • The NIV does not give us a good translation here. In the original text the word “about” is not there. Apparently the other disciples had been listening in on this conversation between Jesus and the BarZebedee boys and their momma. What is interesting is that the other disciples blamed James and John, not their mother. This leads me to believe that the idea may have originated with the two men, and their mother just got dragged in as an accomplice.
Verse 42: Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
  • “Jesus called them together…” This whole thing probably ended up with yelling and name-calling and lots of anger on both sides. But Jesus, the Prince of Peace, restored the calm. “He called them together.” And then He used the failure of James and John to teach a life-lesson about what it means to be a servant.
  • Jesus points to the way the Romans rule their citizens, and especially their conquered subjects. The Romans ruled with an iron fist. They believed in the adage, “Might makes right.” These guys had all witnessed the brute power of the Romans and understood their concept of authority to rule. It was the authority of the conqueror to rule over the conquered by means of fear, intimidation, and the sword.
Verses 43-44: Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
  • “Not so with you.” What Jesus means here is, “It shouldn’t be so with you.” We know that sometimes the disciples didn’t live up to the highest ideals, and sometimes neither do we. Jesus was showing them the more excellent way.
  • Notice that He recognizes that some people are driven by the desire to be “great” or to be “first.” That is natural. It is the desire that drives competition in all spheres of life. Every athlete wants to win the gold medal. Every CEO wants his company to succeed and pull out in front of the competition. Within bounds this desire is healthy and normal. However, when it comes to interpersonal relationships within the family of God Jesus introduced a new set of rules to live by.
  • To paraphrase He said, “If you want to become great make yourself small. If you want to be first, make yourself last. If you want to stand tall, kneel. If you want to be served, become a humble servant.” These are the topsy-turvy rules of the Kingdom. The rules of God always set the rules of men upside-down.
Verse 45: For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
  • He illustrates His lesson by using Himself as an example. “For even the Son of Man…” Jesus was God in human flesh—the God-Man. He has existed eternally with the Father, and the Bible says that “the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily.” Angels bow before Him. Demons flee from His holy presence. He created the world and all that it contains. He is the Owner and Master of everything. Yet, when He came to earth He took on the form of a humble servant. He limited Himself. He set aside His rights and His radiant glory. Here He tells His disciples, “I did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give My life as a ransom for many.” This is the key verse of the Book of Mark.
  • Notice again the first few words of the verse: “For even the Son of Man…” If anyone ever deserved to be served and waited on it was Jesus. He had every right to exercise His authority and to demand His privileges. However, He set those rights aside to model what servanthood looks like. He became a servant so that He might serve us by dying in our place at Calvary.
Human beings are not humble by nature, and that includes Christians. Servanthood does not come naturally. We are a selfish, clawing, back-stabbing, me-first race. We like being served. We aren’t so crazy about serving others. We like being first. We hate being last. We like to be honored but we don’t like to be humbled. It’s just how we are. By our physical birth we inherit these sinful, selfish traits. However, when Christ comes into our life He begins a process of change and renewal that counteracts what we inherited from our earthly parents. First of all He regenerates us, making us into a new creation, a child of God. Then by the work of God’s Spirit and through the instrumentality of His Word the Lord begins shaping us and molding us with the purpose of conforming us to the image of Christ. The Bible calls this lifelong process, “sanctification.”

Part of that sanctification process involves a complete change in our values. Always being first ceases to be of first importance. Sitting on the top of the heap is not as vital as it used to be. Instead, we learn to dive to the bottom of the pile because that is where the real work takes place. Getting the credit for success is no longer as important as passing on the praise to others. Serving others, the way Jesus served, becomes the new norm, the lifestyle to be appreciated, valued, and admired.

So why does our flesh balk at the idea of being a servant to others? What can we do to learn this spiritual virtue? What would the world be like if Christians practiced more humble servanthood?

Monday, April 5, 2010

"What's In YOUR Easter Basket?" - (04/04/10)

Almost every year on Easter my wife, Ramel, prepares Easter Baskets for all of our grandchildren. She has great fun going out and buying candy treats and little gifts for the kids. She finds little toys that she carefully wraps up in brightly colored paper. Or sometimes she puts things in those colorful plastic eggs. Then she gathers it all up and puts the stuff in little baskets, one for each child. Later, usually after our Easter lunch, the kids get to open their Easter Baskets. The fun is to watch their faces as they unwrap each candy or gift because each one is special little treat.

Today on this Easter Sunday God has given to each of us an Easter Basket filled with wonderful things. And He has made enough Easter Baskets for every person to receive one. All that is required is that we reach out by faith to receive the gift basket that He offers us.

So what’s in your Easter Basket today? Easter is the celebration and remembrance of our Lord’s Resurrection. It is the centerpiece of the Christian faith. It is the event that forever sets Christianity apart from every other religion on the planet. We don’t worship a dead leader—some dead guru buried in a cave. No, Jesus is alive! He rose on the third day just as He foretold that He would. The Bible says that He is now in Heaven seated at the Father’s right hand making intercession for us. Moreover, He will come again to gather His Church to be with Him forever. This is the blessed hope of every Christian.

Many passages in the NT speak about the significance of Christ’s resurrection but none as clearly or as powerfully as Paul’s analysis in I Cor. 15. Turn in your Bibles to that passage. Here the apostle Paul goes into the ramifications of Christ’s resurrection—what it means to each one of us. Let’s unpack this Easter Basket item by item. There are seven that I want to highlight this morning.

1. The Good News is proclaimed (vs. 1-5) – 1 “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 “…and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.”

2. Christ’s Resurrection attested by many witnesses (vs. 5-8) - 5 “…and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born [i.e. out of due time].”

3. Our Christ is alive (vs. 13-14 w/ v. 20) - 13 “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

4. Our faith is verified (v. 14 w/ v. 20) – 14 “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”

5. Our witness is vindicated (v. 15 w/ v. 20) - 15 “More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised… 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”

6. Our sins are forgiven (v. 17 w/ v. 20) - 17 “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”

7. Our future is secured (v. 18 w/ v. 20) - 18 “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost… 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep!”

I said a few moments ago that the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the centerpiece of Christianity. It is the fulcrum point on which everything balances. Take away the Resurrection and the rest will fold up like a cheap lawn chair. In other words, if you can prove that the Resurrection did not happen and that Jesus merely died and stayed dead like every other martyred religious leader in history, then you can, and should, discount everything that Christianity teaches, because it is all based on a lie, a historical inaccuracy. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then you can forget anything He ever said because He didn’t know what He was talking about. He was just spouting a bunch of religious hogwash.

However, if Jesus indeed accomplished what He said He would do, if He rose from the dead on the third day just as He said He would, then you cannot afford to ignore Him or anything He said. He declared that the proof that He was indeed God in the flesh, come to be our Savior was that He would rise from the dead. Listen to His words recorded in Mark 10:33-34. He said this to His disciples just a few weeks before His crucifixion: “We are going up to Jerusalem,” He said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise!” How much clearer could He have made it for them, or for us?

I’ve explained to you what is in your Easter Basket, item by item. These are the wonderful gifts from God that are all bundled together with the most wonderful gift of all, the living, resurrected Savior, Jesus. Today, each of us is faced with a decision to make: What will you do with Jesus? There are three possible responses:
     1. You can ignore Him and go on about your business. However, the Bible says that you will die in your sins and be separated from God for all eternity.
     2. You can shake your fist at Him in anger and tell Him that you hate Him and all He stands for. However, again, the Bible says that you will die in your sins and be separated from God in hell for all eternity.
     3. You can open your heart to Him and receive the gift of life He came to give you. If you do, the Bible says that you will be with Him forever.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"The Real Story Behind Reconciliation" - (03/28/10)

Over the past weeks and months all of us have watched as our United States Senators and Representatives have wrangled and argued over the proposed comprehensive health-care bill. We have listened as they have expounded the perceived merits or inadequacies of the legislation, depending on which side of the aisle they usually sit on.

In the discussions about how to get the bill passed through the House and Senate the politicians and pundits have thrown a particular word around a lot—the word, “reconciliation.” This morning I don’t care whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, an Independent or a Libertarian. I don’t care whether you are happy or sad about the newly-passed health-care bill. I just want us to focus our attention on this word that has been so bandied about recently. What does “reconciliation” mean? What does it imply? Where does it come from? And how does it affect us?

The dictionary is almost always a good place to start. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says that the English noun, reconciliation comes from the verb reconcile, which comes into English straight from the Latin word, reconciliare. That is a compound word from re, the prefix meaning “again, anew, over again,” and the Latin verb, conciliare (in English, conciliate), which means (“to bring together, win over, soothe the anger of, make friendly, placate.”) Thus, our English word “reconcile/reconciliation” means “to make friendly again, or win back over to a friendly attitude.”

But under what conditions is reconciliation necessary?
1. When a break in fellowship has occurred.
2. When a friendship has been compromised.
3. When an understanding has been lost.
4. When the lines of communication have been cut.
5. When people see one another as “the enemy.”

The powerful boys and girls in Washington D.C. did not invent this big word, “reconciliation.” They just borrowed it from the Bible. Moreover, when they use the word they are referring to the effort to make the House bill and the Senate bill and the President’s amendments all come together in a friendly way. They want to bring all their differences to the table, have everyone agree on everything, kiss, make nice and make up, and everybody go away happy. That is their idea of reconciliation.

However, there is more to reconciliation than this. It just isn’t that simple! Reconciliation always has a cost factor. It always costs somebody something. Now I’m not here today to talk about politics. Truthfully, I’m sick of politics. I’m sick of watching unscrupulous politicians that we voted into office make bad decisions that will financially enslave generations yet unborn. If my faith were based on the so-called “goodness” of human beings, governments, politicians, scientists, or religious leaders I would probably go out and drive my car off the end of a bridge somewhere. Thankfully, my hope is in the Lord, who never lies, never cheats, never fails, never deceives us, and never leaves us. He is the Rock of my salvation and a Shield about me. Praise God!

In the N.T. the word for “reconcile” is katallássō (καταλλάσσω) and it means, “to change from enmity to friendship.” But with regard to the relationship between God and man, the use of this word (and related words) shows that “reconciliation” is what God accomplished by exercising His grace towards sinful man on the ground of the death of Christ as the atoning sacrifice under God’s judgment that is due to man’s sin. Through this reconciliation sinful men are invited to “be reconciled” to Him; that is, to change our attitude, and accept the provision God has made, whereby our sins can be forgiven and we can be justified in God’s sight in Christ.

The Bible says that the breakdown of fellowship between God and man is due to “hostility.” However, it is very important to understand that the hostility is, and has always been, on man’s side, not God’s. It is man’s hostility toward God that is the big problem, not God’s toward man. Not once in the Scriptures is God said to be “reconciled” to man. The enmity is all on our part. Therefore, we are the ones who needed to be “reconciled” to God, not God to us. And it is Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross that makes the “reconciliation” possible to those who will receive it. His blood is the basis for our reconciliation to God. Without that blood sacrifice reconciliation would be impossible and all men would be forever lost and without hope. J.B. Lightfoot, in his book entitled Notes on the Epistles of Paul on page 288 says, “Whenever the writers of the NT speak upon the subject of the wrath of God, the hostility is represented not as on the part of God, but of man. And this is the reason why the apostle [Paul] never uses diallássō (διαλλάσσω) in this connection, but always katallássō, because the former word denotes mutual concession after mutual hostility, an idea absent from katallássō.”

“Mutual concession after mutual hostility.” Did you understand that? Let me explain. There are two words in Greek meaning reconciliation, but there is an important different between them. Diallássō would be the correct word to describe what our Senators and Representatives have been trying to do. Between the various sides there has been mutual hostility. There has been give-and-take of anger, threats, ultimatums, etc. Now they are coming together to attempt, through mutual concessions to be reconciled to one another. Mutual reconciliation—get it?—because there has been mutual hostility. That is diallássō. Mutual concession after mutual hostility. Katallássō, on the other hand, is the word used in the NT to describe the reconciliation of man to God, but it is different. It is not a mutual thing. It is one-sided. Remember, God is not the one who moved away. God is not the one who broke fellowship. God is not the guilty party. God is the victim. Therefore, God does not need to be reconciled to us. No, we need to be reconciled to Him. But for that to happen, somebody had to die. According to the Bible a sacrifice was necessary, and Jesus was the Lamb who was slain so that sinful man could be reconciled to Holy God.

Today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem on that Sunday of what would turn out to be the last week of His life. Just a few days later He would be hanging on a Roman cross, shedding His blood for you and for me.

Many have referred to that Sunday morning as “The Triumphal Entry.” In fact, many of your Bibles have that as the chapter heading for Luke 19 and the other Palm Sunday texts. However, that adjective is somewhat of a misnomer because there was little about Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem that was truly “triumphal.”

First of all, only a few people showed up. Oh yes, there were quite a few people on the road but many of them were arriving with Jesus, for the celebration of Passover. A few others from Jerusalem showed up to greet Him, but notably absent were the leaders of the city, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor, the City Commissioners, the president of the Better Business Bureau, the Chief of Police, the motorcade, the fire trucks, the hundreds of school children lining the road, the religious leaders decked out in their finest robes, the flags waving, and the bands playing. You see, that’s what would have been going on if a truly “important” person had been arriving. All Jesus got was a few poor disciples, a bunch of kids, and a handful of sore-headed Pharisees who showed up to kibitz and criticize. In fact, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was important exactly for what was missing. It was that that broke Jesus’ heart and brought Him to tears, because what was lacking revealed the fact that the people of Jerusalem had no clue that their Savior, their Promised Messiah was coming to town. Luke 19:41 says, “And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.’” You see, God did not turn away from man; man turned away from Him. For that reason, all of us need to be reconciled to Him, not the other way around.

Maybe you think that this is a small thing, an insignificant difference, but it is not. God has already done everything He is going to do. He has made reconciliation possible, but we have to avail ourselves of it. He will not force it on anyone, unlike our politicians in Washington who have managed to force their reconciliation plans on all of us. God is not like that.

Though the word “reconciliation” is found in several other places in the N.T. there is one particular chapter that deals with this issue in greater depth. It is II Corinthians chapter 5, verses 17-21. Let’s look at that text for just a moment.

Verse 17: Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
  • This is my life verse. It tells me that God doesn’t look at what I was in the past but at what I am now. I am His child. I belong to Him and He has made me into a new person, a totally new creation.
Verse 18: Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,
  • Who gets the credit for transforming a person? Only God. “All these things are from God.” Hebrews 12:2 calls Him the “Author and Perfecter of our faith.” And Paul says here that God is the one who reconciled us to Himself through Christ. He provided the Way by which we could come to Him to be forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. That Way is through Jesus, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the whole world.
  • Not only did God make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him, He then turned around and entrusted us with the ministry of sharing this Good News with others. Paul calls it, “the ministry of reconciliation.” In the next verse he explains what he means by that.
Verse 19: namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
  • So who was the active Agent in this peace process called reconciliation? God! “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” What man could not do, and would not do, God did. He made a way for us to be reconciled to Him, and to have our trespasses not counted against us.
  • But again, Paul tells us that with this privilege goes the responsibility of passing on to others the “word of reconciliation.”
Verse 20: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
  • We are God’s ambassadors, His special envoy sent out into the world. Our job is to give out the message without watering it down and without softening it up. In ancient days an ambassador’s job was to memorize the king’s message word for word so that he would leave nothing out or add anything to the message. They would even try to use the same tone of voice that the king had used when he entrusted them with the message.
  • You and I are God’s voice. Paul says that it is as though God were speaking directly through us and begging people, on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God. That means, when we speak they should hear God.
Verse 21: He [God, the Father] made Him [Christ, the Son] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [in Christ].
  • This is a precious verse. God, the Father laid all of our sins on His Son, Jesus. Jesus carried those sins to the cross and died in your place, and in my place, that we might come to God through His shed blood. His death paved the way for us.
The Palm Sunday story is recorded in all four Gospels: Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12. Evidently God thought it was so important that He had it recorded by all four of the Gospel writers.

Today we have been reminded of that day long ago when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt, fulfilling all the prophecies of the OT concerning the coming of Messiah. He was welcomed and praised by a few. But He was either scorned or ignored by the majority. Not much has changed from that day to this. Most people today still either scorn Him or ignore Him. Only a few welcome Him. So how about you? What are you going to do?

But the Bible says in John 1:10-12 (NLT), “He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. 11 He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him. 12 But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.” That deal still goes today. He is still in the life-saving, life-giving, life-changing business.

If you would like to be reconciled to God, just place your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Savior. He is the Redeemer. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And He is waiting right now for you to call out to Him to save you from your sins and to make you a child of God. Won’t you believe on Him right now? Don’t put it off. The Bible says in II Corinthians 6:2, “Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, today is the day of salvation.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Camels, Needles, & The Donald" - (03/21/10)

Donald John Trump (born June 14, 1946) is an American business tycoon, socialite, author, and television personality. He is the Chairman and CEO of the Trump Organization, a US-based real-estate development company. He is also the founder of Trump Entertainment Resorts, which operates many casinos and hotels across the world. Trump’s extravagant lifestyle and outspoken manner have made him a celebrity for years, a status amplified by the success of his NBC reality show, “The Apprentice,” for which he serves as host and executive producer. He is especially known for his catchphrase, "You're Fired", made popular by this television series. Trump is also known for his distinctive hairstyle, which he has maintained throughout his career.

Donald was the fourth of five children of Fred Trump, a wealthy real estate developer based in New York City. Donald was strongly influenced by his father in his eventual goals to make his fortune in real estate development, and upon his graduation from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 Donald Trump joined his father's company, The Trump Organization.

Starting out with the renovation of the Commodore Hotel into the Grand Hyatt, his greed and self-importance led him to expand too far and too fast into too many venues. This expansion, both personal and business, led to mounting debt, which eventually forced him to declare bankruptcy and virtually start over. Much of the news about him in the early 1990s involved his much-publicized financial problems, creditor-led bailout, extramarital affair with Marla Maples, and the resulting divorce from his first wife, Ivana Trump, a native of the Czech Republic. Today, Trump is popularly known as “The Donald”, a nickname given to him by the media after his ex-wife, Ivana, referred to him as such in an interview.

In the late 1990s Trump saw a turnaround in his financial situation and fame. He remains a major figure in the field of real estate in the United States and is a popular celebrity. It is estimated that his current fortune is somewhere around 2.0 billion dollars and recently listed him as the 488th most wealthy billionaire in the world.

And yet, with all his money and all his celebrity, he seems like a man without a life. He can’t seem to maintain a relationship with a woman. He’s been married 3 times. He has few close personal friends because no one trusts him. And people constantly make fun of him behind his back. He is a mere caricature of a human being. He is proof positive, in my opinion, that in this life money just isn’t that important. Money and possessions cannot fill the void in the human heart. Only God can fill that space.

Last Sunday we looked at Mark 10:13-22. In verses 17-22 of that text Jesus had a conversation with a rich, young man who came to Him with a question. The young man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” You’ll remember that Jesus worked the conversation around to point this wealthy young man to the fact that only a personal relationship with Him, the Savior, can get a person to Heaven. No amount of good works, no amount of charitable contributions, no amount of religious sincerity can get a person even one step closer to Heaven. The simple answer to the man’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” would be the concise answer the apostle Paul gave to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” You see it’s all about Jesus.

However, the young man was not ready to set everything else aside to follow Christ. He was still clinging to his money and his possessions. Those things were “god” in his life and there was no room for Jesus. Verse 22 ends this way: “At this [comment] from Jesus the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” In other words, his money kept him from coming to Christ. He chose earthly possessions over eternal wealth. So what happened after that? Let’s look at verse 23…

Verse 23: Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”
  • As He so often did, Jesus used this rich young ruler as an object lesson. The disciples of Jesus had heard every word of the conversation between Jesus and the young man, and they had seen the guy walk away. Now Jesus uses him as an example of “how hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Notice that He didn’t say “impossible.” He said “difficult, hard.” That young man could have trusted in Christ as his Savior. He could have laid his baggage aside and believed in Jesus, but he allowed his wealth to keep him away. He made a choice, and it was the wrong one.
  • The “Kingdom of God” here refers to the present, spiritual kingdom, composed of the regenerated people of God. Jesus used the same term when He spoke with Nicodemus in John 3:3-5, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again." 4 "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" 5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”
  • I never want to end up being an object lesson for God to use to teach people how not to be. I want to live my life for Christ in such a way that I can serve as a positive example of faith, godliness, integrity, and love. By his choice this rich young man has forever been cast as a tragic example of someone who let riches choke out his opportunity to gain eternal life.
Verses 24-25: The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
  • The disciples were “amazed.” Why? Probably because they, like the Pharisees and other Jews regarded wealth as a token of God’s special favor. Now Jesus is dropping this bomb on them that wealth is actually an impediment to a person coming to know God.
  • Note that Jesus saw their growing perplexity and addressed it. And He did it gently. He called them, “Children,” a term of endearment.
  • Some have tried to say that Jesus was here referring to a small gate in a city wall through which a camel could enter only on his knees. However, although this makes a great story it is without warrant or support because the word Jesus uses for “needle” is the usual word for a sewing or darning needle. On top of that, Jesus was not talking about what man would consider possible, though difficult, but rather about what is truly impossibility without God’s intervention. Physically speaking a camel cannot crawl through the eye of a sewing needle.
Verse 26: The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
  • They were “amazed” in verse 24. Now they are even “more amazed.” Jesus’ word picture made it sound like a total impossibility for a rich person to ever get saved. But that is exactly His point. Salvation is not merely difficult, it is impossible! Without God’s intervention no one, rich or poor, could ever be saved. That is exactly what Jesus was saying.
Verse 27: Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
  • “With man this is impossible.” What is impossible? For a man to get saved by any efforts on his part. Salvation by works is an absolute impossibility! But God is in the saving business. He can take the worst vile sinner and turn him into a saint. God can take sins that be red like crimson and wash them white as snow. Jesus can transform the worse of men and make him into a man of God, a man of faith, a man of holiness. With man that would be an impossible task, but with God, all things are possible.
Verse 28: Peter said to Him, “We have left everything to follow You!”
  • All this talk about what a person has to do to inherit eternal life has gotten Peter to thinking. In verse 21 Jesus told the rich young ruler: “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
  • So Peter pipes up, “We have left everything to follow You!” I think there was a bit of a question in his voice when he said that, meaning, “Is that enough? Have we done enough to inherit eternal life?”
  • The parallel passage found in Matthew 19:27 includes Peter’s statement with a question attached: “We have left everything to follow You! What then will there be for us?” Even though they had indeed left everything to follow Christ, in that moment I hear a little bit of selfishness in Peter’s voice. “What are we going to get out of this? What’s the payoff for us?”
  • Yet in that moment Jesus did not reprimand Peter for asking. He did not chide him for having a selfish moment, though He could have. He just moved on to explain that serving God is always a good deal, always a good investment, both in the “here-and-now” and in “the age to come,” meaning eternity.
Verses 29-31: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the Gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
  • These verses are a little bit confusing so let’s unpack them piece by piece. First of all, Jesus’ phrase, “I tell you the truth (Verily in the KJV)” is a solemn assurance from the Lord himself so we know that we can take this to the bank.
  • He says that any of His followers who give up the things of this world to follow Him will not be disappointed nor cheated out of their reward. They will gain blessings in this life, and also in the life to come. In other words, you can’t outgive God.
  • Notice however, in verse 30, at the end of His list of things the servant of the Lord can expect to receive in this life He inserts these words: “…and with them, persecutions.” It’s a package deal. Yes, the one who steps out to serve the Lord can expect to be rewarded in many ways, but he can also expect persecutions, trials, tribulations, and raw hatred from some people. This is not the path to popularity with men.
  • But anything you give up to serve Christ will be more than repaid. Sometimes that payment comes in another form, however. For example, British missionary C.T. Studd gave away his inherited fortune and dedicated his life to serve as a missionary, first in China, then in India, and lastly in Africa. Yet God more than made up for the things he gave up in spiritual blessings, friendships, and joys that money could never buy. Another example… Adoniram Judson left the comforts of his New England hearth and home to carry the Gospel to the people of Rangoon, Burma. While there he and his dear wife, Ann, suffered untold danger, illness, imprisonment, torture, pain, and misery, including the deaths of their two little children (and later, the death of Ann herself). Yet at the end of their lives they testified that what they gained in their service for Christ was worth much more than what they had given up. Such has been the testimony of countless servants of God. Even in this present life it pays to serve God.
  • However, what awaits the servant of God in Heaven, “in the age to come,” is marvelous beyond our ability to comprehend or even dream. The Bible says in I Cor. 2:9, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
One of my all-time famous quotes is by Jim Elliott, a missionary who along with 4 of his colleagues gave his life as a martyr in Ecuador for the sake of the Gospel. In his diary just a few days before his death Jim Elliott wrote these words: “He is no fool who gives us what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

God has called us, as His people, to reflect the values of Heaven in our lifestyle. Money and possessions have their place, but we must never allow them to usurp the place of God in our life. Money and wealth are tools entrusted to us to build the Kingdom of God and to spread the Gospel.

What stands out to you from this passage? What are you going to do differently this week as a result?

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Come Like a Child" - (03/14/10)

In July 1955 Walt Disney opened his famous theme park, Disneyland, in Anaheim, CA.  Since then several other Disney parks have been opened around the world but all of them are called “The Magic Kingdom.”   Disney’s dream was to create a make-believe world where children and adults could come together to enjoy the fantasy world that he had created.  He believed that the world would be a better place if we could just see it through the eyes of a child.  He created a “kingdom” with castles, characters, and attractions where for a few dollars a person can lose himself for a few hours in a magic wonderland of make-believe. (Show the slides of Disneyland.)

It has been said that children come into this world as a “tabula rasa”, which means, “a blank slate.”  That is not completely true because, according to the Scriptures, children have a sin nature, but in many ways they are a story waiting to be told. 
Children look at the world differently from adults.  They see things from a different perspective.  Jesus said that in order to enter the Kingdom of God, we must come as little children; but what does that mean?  Hopefully, our text for today will shed some light on that question.

Verse 13: People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 
  • This scene is in such sharp contrast to what we see today.  Nowadays, young mothers don’t want any man touching their children.  We have become so paranoid about child sex offenders we figure that any man who likes children very much must be some sort of pervert.  It was not so in Jesus’ day.  The times were different.  The culture was different.  But also, Jesus was different.  The parents sensed it.  The children sensed it.  They mobbed Him wherever He went.  The mothers had reverence for Jesus and wanted Him to touch their children.  He hugged the children.  He held them on His lap.  He put His hands on their heads and prayed over them, blessing them.
  • So let’s recap… Jesus was OK with what was going on.  Moreover, the children were thrilled, and the parents thought it was wonderful too.  So who was against it?  The disciples of Jesus.  They got angry and peeved, and told the parents to take their children away and leave Jesus alone.  They probably thought the Lord’s time was too valuable to be wasted on kids.  But where did they get such nerve?  And why did they act so bossy?
  • Personally, I think that they didn’t like for Jesus to show so much attention to other people.  They were jealous of His affections and attention.  They thought that they had a special relationship with Him and didn’t want to share Him with anyone, even with a bunch of kids.  They still had a lot to learn.  They still didn’t understand that they had been chosen by Jesus specifically to share Him and the Good News about Him with the whole world.  They were going to have to get over their self-important, selfish attitude if they were ever to function as His witnesses.

Verse 14: When Jesus saw this, He was indignant.  He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” 
  • A moment before the disciples were indignant.  However, now Jesus is indignant against them.  The tables have been turned.  There are only a few times in Scripture when we see Jesus really angry.  He got very angry at the moneychangers in the Temple, and chased them out with a whip.  Another time Jesus showed anger was in the synagogue of Capernaum.  When the Pharisees refused to answer Jesus’ questions, Mark 3:5 says, “He looked around at them in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.”  I believe He was also angry when He rebuked Peter saying, “Get thee behind Me, Satan.”  But here in Mark 10 His anger was directed at all 12 of His boys.
  • His response to them was, “Let the little children come to Me, and stop hindering them!”  That is the force of the verb: “STOP IT!”  The reason He gives them is interesting: “…for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  That must have burned the disciples’ bacon because they thought that the Kingdom of God belonged to them.  After all, Jesus Himself had told them that they would reign with Him, and that one day their names would be engraved on the foundation stones of the Heavenly City (Rev. 21:14).  He had said that they would be seated next to Him on thrones in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 19:28).  Now He was saying that the Kingdom belongs to a bunch of snotty-nosed little kids!  That was totally unacceptable to them!

Verse 15: “I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 
  • So how does a little child receive the Kingdom of God?  The same way a child learns to obey its parents—simply and uncomplainingly.  Here Jesus uses the little child with his trusting, simple, loving obedience as the model for adults in coming into the Kingdom of God.  However, this does not mean that children are automatically in the Kingdom.

Verse 16: And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them. 
  • The age of these children is suggested by the fact that Jesus gathered them into His arms.  This was a direct and visible rebuke to the selfish and over-zealous disciples.  It was also a reminder of what He did back in 9:36 when He taught them the lesson about servanthood and who will be considered greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • The construction of the sentence in Greek means that He in turn blessed each child.  Imagine the joy of the parents, and the stories they must have told they children for years to come about the day that Jesus held them, loved them, and prayed over them.

Verse 17: As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him.  “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 
  • This is a fascinating story and Mark gives us some details that both Matthew and Luke leave out (Matt. 19, Luke 18).  This rich young ruler was a man of power, substance, and influence.  People like that do not run, ever, to get anywhere.  They might run at the gym, or while playing sports, but never to catch up with a shaggy back-woods rabbi from Galilee.  Secondly, a man like him would never throw himself at the feet of another man.  How unseemly!  How degrading!  Yet this young man ran to catch up with Jesus and then knelt at Jesus’ feet to ask Him a life-and-death question: namely, “How do I get saved?  How can I go to Heaven?  How can I inherit eternal life?” 
  • Apparently the man had not found the answer in power, fame, influence, inherited wealth, education, athletic prowess, sexual fulfillment, or the praise of men.  He had searched for the answer with no luck.  But somewhere along the line he had heard about Jesus.  Peter said it this way in John 6: “You alone have the words of eternal life.”  So the young man ran to Jesus to find the answer to the question that was gnawing at his heart and keeping him up at night.
  • From his question, however, it is obvious that he conceived of eternal life as something to be earned by doing good works.  He said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”   How many people today are operating under the same misconception?

Verses 18-19: “Why do you call Me good?” Jesus answered.  “No one is good--except God alone.  19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 
  • This must have seemed to the rich young ruler like a very strange answer.  Jesus responded to his question with another enigmatic question related not to the man’s core question but to the greeting he had used to address Jesus: “Good Teacher.”  But you see Jesus’ question was aimed at leading the young man to consider His true identity.  Jesus was trying to bring the man around to understand that it was all about Him, and what the young man thought of Him.  Our inheritance of eternal life is not based on what we do or how many good deeds we perform, but rather on who we believe Jesus is.  That’s the thing that will take you to Heaven or lock you out—Who do you believe He is, and what have you done about that belief?
  • The young man was hoping that Jesus would give him a prescription—“Take two aspirin, do 10 Hail Mary’s, work 3 nights in the kitchen at the Rescue Mission, go on two short-term missions trips, give $1,000 to the Haitian Relief Fund, sponsor 5 World Vision children, and go to church every Sunday.  If you do those things you will inherit eternal life.”  Not easy to do, but still doable!  A list that I can check stuff off of until I get to the bottom of the list.
  • Instead, Jesus said, “Why do you call Me, ‘Good’?  No one is truly ‘Good’ except God alone.”  This seems confusing to us but it helps if you understand the word the young man used for “good.”  In Greek there are two main words meaning “good.”  One is kalos (καλός), which means good or beautiful in an external, physical sense.  The other word is agathos (αγαθός), which means good in character, in constitution, and in essence in an internal, moral sense.  This second word is the one the young man chose when he addressed Jesus as “GOOD Teacher.”  So Jesus played off the fact that only God is truly good in the purest sense.  Jesus was forcing the young man toward a conclusion about who He really was.  We know, in fact, that Jesus was God in the flesh, and therefore truly good (agathos) in every sense.
  • But then Jesus seems to tell the man that the way to obtain eternal life is to keep the commandments.  Is that really what He is saying?  No, of course not.  He is simply reminding the young man of something he already knows from experience—that man is incapable of keeping the Law perfectly.  Man is occasionally kalos, but he is never truly agathos.  For all his trying, man cannot get to that level of goodness.  We are fundamentally flawed on the inside and all the good works in the world can’t fix what is broken in us.

Verse 20: “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 
  • I can hear the frustration in the young man’s voice.  He had been trying so hard, for so long, to be so good.  But he had failed to live up to the standard of perfection that the Law demands and he was desperate to find another solution that would get him to Heaven.  His righteousness was merely an external obedience like that of the scribes and Pharisees and that’s not enough to get anyone to Heaven.  However, the good news is that he had come to the right place for help.  The bad news was that he was not yet ready to throw himself completely on the grace of God and to believe in Jesus as his perfect sin-bearer.

Verse 21: Jesus looked at him and loved him.  “One thing you lack,” He said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven.  Then come, follow Me.” 
  • This is a precious verse to me.  This wealthy young man had a problem.  Jesus could see it right off.  He could see into the guy’s heart, and He knew his whole life-story.  He knew that the young man’s priorities were all messed up.  And yet, Jesus loved him anyway.  “He looked at him and loved him.”  This is an observation that only Mark includes.  He uses what is called an ingressive aorist participle and verb construction, which literally would be, “Looking upon him He began loving him.”  Jesus fell in love with this charming young man.  I’m so glad that Jesus loves us in spite of us being a mess.
  • But Jesus also knew the real issue in this man’s life, the thing that was holding him back from believing in Jesus—his love of money, his devotion to his wealth rather than to God.  So Jesus very gently put His finger on that hot button.  The Lord said, “Here’s what you do.  Go out and sell everything you have and then give all the proceeds to poor people.  Then come back and follow Me.”  But notice, Jesus says, “then you will have treasure in Heaven.”  He does not say “you will inherit eternal life” by giving your stuff away.  He was not promoting a doctrine of salvation by good works.  Jesus could see into that young fellow’s soul and He knew that the guy’s possessions were the roadblock to him coming to Jesus.  The Lord was trying to get him to see that anything that keeps you away from the Savior must be jettisoned ASAP.

Verse 22: At this [comment from Jesus] the man’s face fell.  He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 
  • I love stories with happy endings.  I love movies with happy endings.  I hate stories where the hero dies.  The movie “Braveheart” comes immediately to my mind.  However, in this story here in Mark 10 we don’t have a happy ending.  Upon hearing the Lord’s request, the young man grew sad, turned, and slowly walked away.  I imagine that his countenance dropped and the furrowed brow returned.  When he came running up to Jesus and fell at the Master’s feet his voice was filled with hope that he would hear from Jesus exactly how he could find peace with God and the assurance of a home in Heaven.
  • What is sad is that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is the Way to Heaven.  But in order to come to Him we have to leave our baggage at the door.  This young man was not yet ready to do that.  He wanted to come while still holding onto the possessions of his old life.

            All of us struggle with certain things in our lives that try and hold us back from following after Christ with our whole heart.  Our flesh and the devil use these things to keep us weak and of little use to the Kingdom of God.  It may be a besetting sin that you have been unwilling to give up.  It may be a load of unforgiveness that you have held onto for years.  It may be a habit or a vice that has robbed you of joy and been like an albatross tied around your neck.  It may be fear.  It may be the love of money and possessions as in the life of the young man in our text.
            The answer for all these things is found in Hebrew 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  The Lord calls on us today to lay aside every encumbrance and every entangling sin so that we can serve Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and bring others to know Him.

            What stands out to you from this text?  What should we take home with us today to help us live a more committed and dedicated Christian life?

About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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