Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mark 1:14-15 -- The Preaching of Jesus

We had this preacher come to chapel one day when I was a Bible College student whom I did not particularly care for. The guy had a reputation for stomping and spitting and screaming and jumping up and down. That has never really been my cup of tea, because I am often too distracted by the style to pick up anything from the substance. So, I decided to skip chapel (which was a cardinal offense at that institution). After chapel, I asked a friend, “How was the preacher?” He said, “The man preached it!” I said, “Preached what? What did he preach about?” He said, “I am not real sure, but I know he sure did preach it!” I have often wondered how often that might be said of me – “Not real sure what he preached, but he certainly was preaching it.”

Well, it is an interesting feature of the Gospel of Mark, that throughout it we find numerous references to Jesus preaching. Not only Jesus, but in Mark 3:14, we find that He appointed the twelve that they might be with Him and He might send them out to preach. But in all these references to preaching, Mark does not tell us what was being said in the preaching. Now, I don’t intend to suggest that the preaching of Jesus was like that chapel speaker, or many others in our day who sure do preach it, but nobody knows exactly what they preached. We know exactly what Jesus preached because Mark tells us in these verses, and Jesus’ message never changed. I don’t mean to suggest that Jesus preached the same sermon all the time.

I heard about a preacher who only preached on baptism all the time. He preached a message once on Genesis 3:9 where the Lord called out to Adam, “Where are you?” He had three points: I. Where Adam was; II. Where Adam should have been; and III. A few thoughts on baptism. Jesus didn’t preach that way. The other Gospels show us that His methods and His sermons displayed great variety, but His message never changed. The primary thrust of His preaching and that of His apostles was consistently characterized by what we read in Mark 1:14-15. The preaching we read about here becomes the frame of reference for all the rest of the preaching that He does and all that His first followers would do and all that you and I do for Him today. And it is the same message to which each and every one of us must respond as well.

Here in this passage, we find the first recorded words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. If you have one of those red-letter Bibles, it’s all black before you get to verse 15. And so He begins preaching. It is typical of Mark to be brief and to give very little unnecessary detail, but he gives us enough to understand the circumstances, the content, and the call of Christ’s preaching.

I. The Circumstances of Christ’s Preaching

It is rare that we find indicators of time and place in Mark’s Gospel, so the fact that we find both here means that they are significant to our understanding of what is going on. We are given a very clear indication of the circumstances of this initial preaching of Jesus with the words in v14: Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching….

A. The Timing of Christ’s Preaching

John had been taken into custody. John the Baptizer was the forerunner of Jesus. His mission was to prepare the way for people to receive the Messiah. When he baptized Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form as a dove and a voice from heaven announced that this was the Son of God, indicating that Jesus was the Coming One about whom John had preached. John had preached boldly about sin and the need for repentance, and while the masses flocked to him in the wilderness, the religious and political elite began to despise him. After all, he called them a brood of vipers and accused them of rank hypocrisy. But the breaking point for John the Baptist was when he stood up to Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Perea. We will find out in Mark 6:19-20 that at one time, Herod had enjoyed listening to John the Baptist, until he stopped preaching and started meddling. John had reprimanded him for unlawfully marrying Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Herod Philip, and for a host of other “wicked things” (Luke 3:20). And for this, Herod Antipas had John arrested.

The Greek wording of John’s fate is that he was “handed over,” a passive statement that implies that even though Herod arrested him, nothing took place outside of the providence of God. The same wording will be used later of Jesus and His followers. It is set before us as “the fate of the faithful,” who will be persecuted by the authorities of this world, but never apart from the providence of God. And it was God’s providence that restrained Jesus from public ministry until the voice of John was silenced. Jesus did not begin preaching when John’s popularity was at its height, but when opposition silenced John. This was the timing of Christ’s preaching.

B. The Setting of Christ’s Preaching

Jesus came into Galilee preaching …. The synoptic gospels (that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke) do not record the year that Jesus spent ministering in Judea and the areas south of Galilee. That year would fit chronologically between Mark 1:13 and 14. It has been called by some “the year of obscurity,” and is captured for us in the first four chapters of the Gospel of John. During that period of time Jesus performed His first public miracles. But Galilee was the place where Jesus began to be known for His teaching and preaching. It was His home region, the home of His disciples, and the location of the greater part of His ministry. It has been called by some, “The Land of the Gospel,” because it was the location of His great receptivity, in contrast with Jerusalem where He was most vehemently opposed by the priests and Pharisees.

Luke 4:14 says that Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. The Spirit who anointed Him at baptism and led Him into the wilderness temptations now leads Him on mission to Galilee. While some speculate that Jesus went to Galilee to avoid a conflict with Herod Antipas, we should remember that Galilee was Herod’s dominion. G. Campbell Morgan said that Jesus was “not escaping from danger, but moving into the danger zone; not withdrawing Himself from peril … but going into the very region over which the man who arrested John was reigning.”[1] And Herod took notice of Jesus and His preaching. Mark 6:16 tells us that Herod was paranoid that Jesus was really John the Baptist resurrected to haunt him. But God was teaching Herod a lesson, that though he may silence silence the voice of one prophet, he cannot rid the world of the Word of God. Jesus was the Word incarnate, and He came preaching right in Herod’s territory. This was the setting of Christ’s preaching.

And so the circumstances about which we read here in v14 teach us something about the preaching of Jesus that we will see exemplified not only in His life and ministry, and in that of His early followers, but also in our day as well. The timing of His preaching informs us, as James Edwards writes, “The gospel is proclaimed and known in adversity and suffering, not in ease and comfort.”[2] And the setting of Christ’s preaching teaches us that the gospel does not shy away from adversity, but rather advances in the face of it. If we are waiting for a day when the world will be more friendly to the gospel before we become more aggressive in proclaiming it, we are waiting in vain. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master, as Jesus said in Matthew 10:24. And as He preached in the circumstantial context of adversity, so every true follower of His will as well.

Now, notice if you will …

II. The Content of Christ’s Preaching (vv14-15a)

Jesus came preaching the gospel of God …. While much attention is devoted to various elements of Jesus’ life and ministry, the Gospels are clear that preaching was His characteristic activity. Isaiah had prophesied of the Messiah that He would be anointed to preach the good news and to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners (61:1). His feet would be beautiful because He brings good news, He announces peace, He brings good news of happiness and announces salvation (52:7). The word Mark uses here, kerusso, means to proclaim as a herald. Preaching, in this way then, is not the opening of debate, but the closing of it. It is the full and final announcement of the official and authoritative declaration. You will notice in Mark 1:22 and 26 that the people were amazed that Jesus taught having an authority with which the people were unfamiliar.

Jesus preached with bold authority the Gospel of God. “Of God” indicates that this is His good news that is made known in Jesus Christ. And as Christ preached, He declared authoritatively that the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand.

A. The Time is Fulfilled

There are two Greek words which are commonly rendered “time” in our English Bibles. First, there is chronos, which indicates a span of time, and second is the word kairos, which indicates a specific point in time. The latter is what Jesus announced as being fulfilled. It is a decisive and appointed moment in time, a moment, Donald English writes, which is “heavy with eternal significance.”[3] This is the kairos time spoken of in Daniel 7:22 with the coming of the Ancient of Days; the fulfillment of the time of waiting for God’s deliverance that would be wrought by the Messiah. This is the precisely perfect moment of human history when God brings about His promise of ultimate redemption. This definitive event had the power to split time. We measure history in terms of BC and AD – before Christ and anno domini, the year of our Lord. Today there is an aggressive move to purge that Christian vocabulary from scholarly circles with BCE and CE – before the common era and common era – but the fulcrum of history remains the coming of Christ into the world.

Every prophecy and promise of the past finds its significance and fulfillment in the coming of Christ. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” And Jesus came preaching that the time is fulfilled.

B. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

The Psalmist says in Psalm 95, “The Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” In Psalm 47, it is written, “The Lord Most High is to be feared, a great King over all the earth.” When Israel demanded a king for themselves like all the other nations had, they did not realize that for all their history as a nation, God Himself had been their King, and they were rejecting His rule and reign. But God promised that there would be a King born of the line of David whose reign would be eternal. Jesus is that King, and that eternal kingdom is what He announced to be at hand.

“At hand” speaks of a nearness, and in Jesus Christ, the Kingdom makes a personal appearance.[4] It is the major subject of Christ’s preaching in the Synoptic Gospels, and in Mark the reference is nearly always present rather than future. Here in Christ, God Himself had come to establish His throne, His reign, His dominion, and His sovereignty – but in the political sense that many had hoped.[5] That will come later. Christ has come to establish this kingdom in the hearts of those who will follow Him. In this sense, the Kingdom has come. In another sense, it is coming.

C. S. Lewis put it this way in Mere Christianity:

Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church, you are really listeing-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. … Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? … He is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. … God will invade. … When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole world melting away like a dream and something else … comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise …. It will be too late then to choose your side. … That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.[6]

And with alarming reality, we move to consider…

III. The Call of Christ’s Preaching (v15b)

Christ summons us all to respond, saying, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” This is not two things. It is one thing, which involves two inseparable components. To repent is to turn away from something. To believe is to turn toward something. And you cannot have one without the other. To repent without believing is to despair. To believe without repenting is to presume.[7] Both are destructive in the end.

A message of repentance is not popular in our day. The preachers in the big-time media markets have purged the word from their vocabulary so it won’t hinder their financial contributions. The liberal theologians have purged the concept from their theology because it violates their man-centered worldview. But it was the message of John the Baptist (1:4), the message of Jesus (1:15), the message of His disciples (6:12), and it must be our message as well.

Paul said in Acts 17:30 that God is now declaring to all men that all people everywhere should repent! Why should we repent? Because we are all guilty before God because of our sins. Romans 3:23 says that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. You don’t need to have this pointed out in your life. Your conscience has been telling you this since the first moment you knew right from wrong. Only, by the time you learned it, you were already aware of much wrong that you had done. And if your conscience does not point it out to you, it is only because our indifference has numbed us to the pricking of the conscience. We have become immune to it because we cherish our sin more than we cherish righteousness. Because we are all sinners, we are all under the just condemnation of God. And if we don’t come to realize this about ourselves, then the cross is of no value to us. Jesus came to save sinners by dying on the cross as our substitute – the innocent for the guilty. But as long as we ignore our sinfulness, we remain outside of the kingdom. We cannot respond in belief in the gospel until we acknowledge our need of the gospel, and this we do in repentance.

Notice this little word in. This is not a summons to agree intellectually with a set of historical facts. It is a call to put your personal trust in Christ as the only hope we have of being reconciled to God. We are to rest in Him securely confident that He alone can save us. The writer of Hebrews declares that “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” And what has He said to us? He has said repent and believe in the gospel. And we repent as we turn in total surrender to God believing the Gospel that Jesus died for our sins and is risen again to life completing our redemption. This is not two separate actions – it is one. Because we believe the gospel of salvation in Christ, we turn from sin to Christ. If we do not believe, we do not turn. If we have not turned, it means we do not believe.

[1] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1927), 29.

[2] James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 44.

[3] Donald English, The Message of Mark, 49. Cited in D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of mark: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994), 42.

[4] Edwards, 47.

[5] James A. Brooks, The New American Commentary: Mark (Nashville: Broadman, 1991), 47.

[6] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 51, 65-66.

[7] Hiebert, 45.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Integrity in the Pulpit

An article in Baptist Press this week entitled "Pastoral Plagiarism" by Ray Van Neste, and Marty Duren's post on Sermon Preparation has inspired me to revisit an article I wrote in 2002 for Lancaster Bible College's President's Perspective magazine. Van Neste's article decries the recent statement by Steve Sjogren who argues that "laboring to prepare a sermon yourself is silly, stating: 'stop all of this nonsense of spending 25 or 30 hours a week preparing to speak on the weekend.'"

Here is a quote from Van Neste's article: "
Sjogren argues that the desire to prepare your own sermons is the result of pride that we need to get over. In fact he ridicules those who think they are preparing good sermons themselves by asking: If they are preaching such good sermons, why are their churches still small? Sjogren’s call is simply to copy the sermons of big church pastors."

Duren's post elicited some encouraging comments from the blogosphere reassuring me that many pastors are putting in the time and labor in the preparation of their own sermons (or they are liars -- and we can never rule that out unfortunately). One comment on the blog asked how many pastors rely heavily on the sermons of others in their preaching, and very few have commented directly in response to his question. It is a fair question, and one I think needs examination in our day. My own sitemeter shows every week that people find their way my blog by Googling phrases like "sermons on tithing," "sermons on Philippians," "preaching sermons Mark," et al. My sitemeter is public access, so the reader can examine it for himself by clicking the box at the bottom of my blog and then clicking "By Referrals" on the left margin. At least they find on my blog (if I may be so arrogant) expository messages that were prepared with much labor for a particular local congregation rather than a one-size fits all sermonette designed to spoon-feed spiritual Similac to the masses.

When I became pastor at Conowingo Baptist Church (1998-2003), I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of preaching three services every week. I was new in the ministry, and I didn't have a storehouse of sermons to fall back on. Every sermon was being hammered out every week freshly. Frustrated by the constant demands of pastoral care and administrative duties, I decided to evaluate how many hours I was spending in sermon preparation. I calculated about 35-40 hours per week in serious study on average. I turned down outside speaking engagements and opportunities to serve in the association and state convention because I simply did not have the spare time. I became discouraged by many pastors who said, "Well, you're new at this; once you've been doing it a while, you can just recycle your old stuff." Others pointed me to books, magazines, and websites where I could find perfectly good sermons (in their opinion) that would save me all those hours, freeing me up to devote my time to caregiving and the latest "surefire" programs that could grow my church. But my spirit was lifted as I read an evaluation of the preaching of James Montgomery Boice entitled How Shall They Hear? by Aldwin Ragoonath. I recall reading there that Boice spent 15-20 hours per week in preparation for his Sunday morning sermon, even AFTER he had been doing it for years. I decided that I would never cave in to other demands, but would prioritize the work of sermon preparation in my weekly responsibilities. To do any less, I believed, was to cheat God and His people. After all, when I said yes to the call of God on my life, I did not know all it would entail, but I was certain of this -- God had called me to PREACH.

This has been my theme through all these years and shall be 'til I die. When the Alumni director at Lancaster Bible College asked me to pen a piece for Fall 2002 magazine which was devoted to the subject of integrity, all of this was fresh on my mind, so I could not escape it for my article. I have taken the time to reproduce it in entirety here, correcting whatever typos I noticed (and probably making a few more in the process).

"Integrity in the Pulpit" by Rev. James Russell Reaves
(Originally published in President's Perspective, Fall 2002)

The proclamation of the Word of God is a tremendous privilege with tremendous responsibilities. This is why James warns us, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment" (James 3:1). It is not by our aspiration that we enter the life of a proclamation ministry but by the sovereign will and grace of God. The one God calls to this task must realize that it is all of grace. After all, if God desires, He can speak His word through a donkey (Numbers 22:28-30)! Though we did nothing to earn this calling, God expects us to carry out our ministries in a way that reflects the holiness of His character. In short, He calls us to be a people of integrity as we declare His truth.

Integrity in the pulpit requires that we "practice what we preach." The one who lacks integrity will avoid certain texts and topics because they hit too close to home. He will preach all the harder on issues that do not affect him. The preacher with integrity recognizes that the Christian life is a journey on which he is a fellow pilgrim with his hearers. Even though, as James says, "we all stumble in many ways" (3:2), the preacher can still preach the whole counsel of God so long as he maintains his awareness that the Holy Spirit is still engaged in His sovereign work of sanctification in his own life. The people should see before them an honest and humble spiritual sibling who can sing with the children, "He's still working on me, to make me what I ought to be." In his own devotional life, family life, and intellectual life, the preacher must remain surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, continuing on the journey. One of my former pastors wrote in my Bible I received when I was ordained: "Take care of the depth of your life and God will take care of the breadth of your ministry."

If we would have integrity in the pulpit, we must also consider one other issue: that of the genuine message. The genuine is message is one that is based on the Word of God and not some notion in the head of the preacher. When we step into the pulpit, we should speak, "as it were, the utterances of God" (1 Peter 4:11). That means we have let the Scripture speak for itself and have allowed God to burn the message into our own hearts. How else would we be able to testify with Jeremiah that His word is in our hearts like a burning fire shut up in our bones (20:9)? I believe one of the greatest moral crises facing ministers today is the theft of sermons. The February 4, 2002, issue of Christianity Today included a startling report: "From Massachusetts to Texas, preachers have been caught delivering sermons verbatim -- and without attribution -- that they purchased from online and print sermon services." Mind you, that in the closing pages of that very issue is an ad for Christianity Today's own sermon website, which boasts, "Provided fo you are free outlines of each sermon, and you have the ability to download the entire sermon for only $7.95! New quality sermons will be added weekly." Just a few weeks later (April 1, 2002), the editor of that website said in a CT interview that the greatest concern about the future of preaching was the number of sermon services in existence. He went on to say, "In the last year, I've been contacted by six different churches that have discovered that their pastor was, in their words, stealing sermons." Remember God's chilling statement through the mouth of Jeremiah: "Behold, I am against the prophets who steal My words from each other" (23:30).

Integrity is something we are called to, not as preachers, but as Christians. But as the pilgrims of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales were aware, "If gold shall rust, what shall poor iron do? For if the priest be foul, in whom we trust, what wonder if a layman yield to lust?" Pulpit integrity demands that the Word of God be delivered through a vessel of honor (2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Timothy 2:20). That means that it comes from a fellow traveler on the journey, who is not perfect but progressing, and who is spending the necessary time in the Word of the Lord with the Lord of the Word. He says concerning the false prophet, "I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds" (Jeremiah 23:21-22).

May God help us to be, in whatever task to which He has called us, a people of integrity.

Homeschooling in North Carolina

"Home-school enrollment in North Carolina has nearly doubled over the past five years. During the 2000-01 school year, there were 33,860 students enrolled in home schools in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education. During the 2005-06 school year, 64,387 students were enrolled in home schools across the state."

"People choose home schooling over traditional schools for a variety of reasons. But generally, the two top reasons are educational excellence and the ability to provide moral and religious instruction to their children, Hodges said. Physical safety at school is another, Hodges said."[Hodges is Ernie Hodges, president of North Carolinians for Home Education].

The above quotes were found in the following article entitled "Home-Schoolers Getting Better Jobs," located online at:

It strikes me as odd that there are so many in the public education system (aka Government Schools) who are opposed to homeschooling. Consider the two-fold favor that homeschool families are doing for Government Schools: 1) We still pay the same amount of taxes to support the government schools (while reaping none of the benefits and having to pay more money out of pocket for books and supplies); 2) We are doing our part to reduce the severe overcrowding of goverment schools and offset the absurd student-teacher ratios in public classrooms today.

You're welcome.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Truths About Temptation: Mark 1:12-13 (Part 2 of 2)

Last week we looked at this same passage and focused on the statement, “He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan.” This was the first truth about temptation that we wanted to deal with: Satan is our enemy, and he is at war with God, but since he cannot strike God directly, he seeks to strike him indirectly by attacking those whom God loves. He tempts us to betray the Lord by appealing to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. And he does this at moments in time which he detects are most opportune to his advantage. Now you say, “It sure did take you a long time to say all of that last week.” True. So long in fact that I did not have time to say two more things that this passage teaches us about temptation. So we return to it today to emphasize those truths in hopes that we will be edified and encouraged in our regular and frequent episodes of temptation.

You can’t help noticing that Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation is very brief. It is only two verses, compared with 11 verses in Matthew, and 13 in Luke. He does not include nearly as many details as those two evangelists do. But he makes very clear the personalities involved – Jesus is the subject, Satan is the adversary. But surprisingly perhaps, we also read that the Holy Spirit had a part to play in the temptation of Jesus, as did the angels. And as we see their role in His temptation, perhaps we will better understand their role in ours, and we will be better equipped to handle those things knowing that God is at work in the situation.

Our first point was that Jesus was tempted by Satan. Now, we move on to the next truth we find in the passage.

II. Jesus was Impelled By the Spirit (v12)

The English translations vary here. My NASB says impelled. The KJV has driveth. Other recent literal translations use the same word drove here. The NIV uses the much weaker term sent. The Greek term here is ekballo, and Mark’s use of it implies much more force than Matthew and Luke’s weaker term anago, which means simply led. The word ekballo combines a preposition meaning out with a verb ballo, from which we get our word ball, because it means “to throw.” Most of the uses of this word in Mark have to do with Jesus casting out demons. But in this case, we should not understand this to mean there was reluctance on Jesus’ part, but rather that divine necessity compelled Him to go. He was thrown out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. James Edwards says, “The same Spirit that descended on Jesus at the baptism has an appointment for Him in the wilderness.”[1]

This is surprising to us, because we know that James 1:13 says that no one should say “I am being tempted by God,” for God does not tempt anyone. Indeed He does not, but that does not mean that He will not lead us into occasions of temptation or allow us to be tempted. Temptation is not sin. But it is the opportunity for you to choose sin or choose righteousness. And God will lead you to those places where you must make that choice. You recall that Jesus taught His followers to pray according to a model which says, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Now why should we pray that God would not lead us into temptation if it is not true that sometimes He does lead us into temptation? So the natural question for us is, “Why did the Spirit impel Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted?” And the follow-up question, “Why does the Spirit lead us into temptation?”

A. Why did the Spirit lead Jesus into temptation?

As we answer this question, it is important for us to recognize that He was tempted for 40 days. That number, 40, ought to be significant for us. Only the number 7 is more common in Jewish writings. Noah endured 40 days of rain in the flood (Gen 7:4; 7:17). Moses was on the mountain with God 40 days (Ex 24:18; 34:28). Israel sent spies into the land for 40 days (Num 13:25). Goliath threatened Israel for 40 days (1 Sam 17:16). Elijah journeyed 40 days to that same mountain (1 Ki 19:8). Jonah announced 40 days until Ninevah’s destruction (Jon 3:4). The period of 40 days was recurrent in Israel’s history. And you recall that Israel wandered in the wilderness en route to the land of promise for 40 years. And in each of these cases, the 40 days or 40 years in the latter case was a period proving, a testing of faithfulness and belief in God’s promises. And it was a period of proving for Jesus as well.

The Greek word translated tempted in most of our Bibles may also be rendered tested. God was proving His Messiah by putting Him in the face of attack so that He could have victory over Satan. Hebrews 4:15 says He was tempted in all things as we are yet without sin. Whereas mankind had stumbled repeatedly and failed in the face of temptation, Jesus demonstrated that He had come to defeat Satan fully and finally. He conquered temptation and proved His nature as the sinless Son of God who would die in the place of sinners as an acceptable sacrifice to God. The Spirit led Him into the wilderness to prove to Satan that this was the Redeemer who was coming, as John says in 1 John 3:8, “to destroy the works of the devil.”

So now the second question:

B. “Why does the Spirit lead us into temptation?”

I suggest to you that the answer is the same. He leads us into temptation as a proving ground, a place of testing, to demonstrate our spiritual maturity. But you say, “Doesn’t God already know?” Yes He knows everything, but we don’t and Satan doesn’t. So temptation is our opportunity to prove to ourselves the work that the Holy Spirit is doing within us, and to prove to Satan that God will faithfully uphold His own.

“Have you considered my servant Job?” That was the question God asked Satan in Job 1:8. Satan said he had been roaming about on the earth, and walking around on it. What was he doing? First Peter 5:8 says he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. He was looking for a victim. But God did not say, “Well, you just keep your distance from Job – I can’t lose him.” Rather, God said, “Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” God invited Satan to test Job. Why would God do that? Was it so that God could find out if Job would turn his back on Him? No, God never finds anything out. He knows everything. It was so Satan would know that Job was a faithful and spiritually mature man who loved the Lord and was absolutely committed to him. And, it was to demonstrate to Job how much God trusted him to do the right thing in the face of temptation.

Did you know that when temptation comes your way, it is a sign that God trusts you? He trusts you to do what is right! That is the lesson in the book of Job – not that Job trusted God, but that God trusted Job enough to let him go through all those tests and trials. Job was God’s trophy, and his victory in those trials was his glory! My pastor, Mark Corts said, “Temptation is the glory of the believer because God can give us victory in it.”[2] Temptation affords us the opportunity to demonstrate to Satan that we are committed to the Lord, and for God to prove to us how faithful He is in our time of need.

God trusts you to hold on to Him. Sometimes, you don’t even trust yourself – but God is wanting to show you how much He can do through you in the face of that temptation if you will trust Him and cling to Him in the midst of it. Turn to 1 Corinthians 10:13 &. Look what Paul says:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man – You don’t have it worse than anyone else. The temptations you face may be of a different matter, but they are of the same nature and intensity as that faced by every other person in the world. And some fall to it, and some withstand it, but they are common to man. Read on …

and God is faithful – He is as faithful to you in times of temptation as He is any other moment of your life. He is always true to His promises. And what does He promise …

He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able – God knows your limits. If you are facing a temptation, it is one that God knows you are able to withstand if you rely on His strength to get you through it. God does not bring you to face temptations that He knows you cannot endure. Satan can do nothing to you without God’s permission, and God only permits him to tempt you with what God already knows you can handle. And notice what else …

with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. God will always provide a way out for you. You are never hemmed in by your temptations. God brought you to it, He will bring you through it – if you depend Him in it.

Look at Joseph in Genesis 39. Turn there please &.

You notice that Potiphar trusted Joseph with everything in his house. Now, the writer even tells us in v6 that Joseph was a handsome man, and in v7 that Potiphar’s wife desired him and wanted to engage him in a sexual escapade. But look at v8 – Joseph refused. He said, “How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?" And notice how she persisted. Verse 10 says she pursued him day after day, but “he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her.”

And then one day they were all alone, and she seized him. She took hold of him to fulfill her desire. No one would know if he yielded to her demands. No one would know if he gave in and gratified the desires of the flesh. But Joseph knew that God would know, and he knew this temptation was a satanic attack to undermine his testimony for the Lord. So he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside.

This guy had a tough time with his clothes, didn’t he? You remember how his brothers took his coat of many colors and lied to their father about what happened to him? Now, Potiphar’s wife took his garment and framed him with it. He was thrown in jail for a crime he did not commit. But his conscience was clear, and God knew the truth. And even in the depths of that Egyptian prison, Joseph knew the victory of keeping his testimony pure before the Lord.

Listen once more to those words Dr. Corts spoke -- “Temptation is the glory of the believer because God can give us victory in it. You don’t have to yield to temptation. You don’t have to sell your testimony for a moment of pleasure.” Your testimony is the result of your tests, and the victory God gives you in them. So when temptation comes your way, know this –

· God could have prevented it, but since He didn’t, He must have led you to it because He trusts you and wants to prove you. Not so that He will know your faithfulness, but so that He can show you off as a trophy of His grace and strength before Satan, and prove His faithfulness to you in the midst of that temptation.

That is a truth we learn by looking at the temptation of Jesus. But there is one more. I dare say there are many more, but there is one more I want to point out. Turn back to Mark 1.

III. Jesus was ministered to by the angels (v13)

Mark uses an imperfect verb here to indicate that Jesus did not receive the attention of the angels after His temptation, but they were caring for Him throughout. Now you say, “What makes you think God will send those angels to care for us like they ministered to Jesus?” Hebrews 1:14 says that their job is to take care of you. It says, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” That is you, if you have been born-again by faith in Christ. You are the inheritor of salvation – God has sent the angels out to render service for your sake.

Jesus was being tempted by Satan, but that did not prevent Him from being ministered to by the angels. And it doesn’t prevent you from receiving their attention either.

Jesus was in the wilderness, but He was still being ministered to by the angels. We read in 1 Kings 19 how Elijah was running for his life from Jezebel, and he ended up out in the wilderness, sitting under a juniper tree, and he started praying that God would just take his life right then and there. I have always wondered, if he wanted to die, why didn’t he just hang around and let Jezebel do it? Here he was, out in the wilderness, under the juniper tree, crying out for God to take his life. But God didn’t take his life – instead, He sent an angel to him with the food he needed to strengthen his life.

Jesus was surrounded by the wild beasts, but He was still being ministered to by the angels. While some have attempted to paint this scene with a brush of serenity, as if Jesus was surrounded by loving and tender animals, the biblical evidence is to the contrary. While there is certainly coming a day when He will reign over a perfect world described in Isaiah 11:6-9 as a time when the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; … and the child will play by the hole of the cobra, etc. But Isaiah says that in that day, “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” This was not the day in which Jesus was being tempted.

The wild beasts here indicate the horror and danger of the wilderness and hostility between man and beast. But even in the midst of such danger and hostility, the angels were ministering to Jesus. Daniel proclaimed from the den of lions that "God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths and they have not harmed me.” (Dan 6:22). So the angels were at the aid of Jesus in the midst of the wild beasts of the wilderness. Mark’s readers would take great courage in this, for they were living in the days of Nero, who would take the Christians and cover them with the carcasses of dead animals and throw them to the wild dogs to ripped apart. They would understand that even in the midst of those horrors, God’s angels would care for them, and even usher them to glory if they met their deaths there.

Sometimes when you are being tempted, and tested, and tried, you feel like you are all alone out in the wilderness. You feel like you are being attacked by wild animals. But you aren’t alone. In the midst of those hostile attacks, you have the presence of God’s ministering angels caring for your needs, just as Jesus did.

Matthew Henry wrote this:

God makes use of the attendance of the good spirits for the protection of his people from the malice and power of evil spirits; and the holy angels do us more good offices every day than we are aware of. Though in dignity and in capacity of nature they are very much superior to us,—though they retain their primitive rectitude, which we have lost;—though they have constant employment in the upper world, the employment of praising God, and are entitled to a constant rest and bliss there,—yet in obedience to their Maker, and in love to those that bear his image, they condescend to minister to the saints, and stand up for them against the powers of darkness; they not only visit them, but encamp round about them, acting for their good.[3]

Of course, you realize God doesn’t need the angels. One divine decree and His will is done with or without any outside agency working on His behalf. Christ has promised His own presence and protection to us, saying “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (Heb 13:5), and “I am with you always, even to the ends of the age” (Matt 28:20). He has promised that the Holy Spirit will indwell forever those who are His by faith. And His presence and protection is more than enough for us. Calvin said that knowing this, it would be improper for us to look round for more help. But God has created the angels and commissioned them for our benefit. Calvin goes on to say that if God in his “infinite goodness and indulgence” has chosen to provide His angels to aid in our weaknesses, “it would ill become us to overlook the favor.”[4] So we should thank God for the ministry of the angels on our behalf in the face of temptation, but we should never be so focused on their activity that we lose sight of the greater activity of God Himself, as it is written in 2 Chronicles 16:9, “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

Now, I don’t know but what this very day and this very hour, there may be one or more of you who find yourselves undergoing tremendous spiritual attack. Your enemy the devil is trying hard to devour you and destroy your testimony for Christ. But I want you to know today on the authority of God’s word that you have been permitted to undergo this time of testing and enter this proving ground by the sovereignty of God because He believes you can handle it in His strength and in His grace. He wants to use this dark night of your soul to prove Himself strong on your behalf and to demonstrate your faithfulness to Him for the enemy to see and recognize. So you can take comfort in knowing that God has neither abandoned you nor forsaken you, but has brought you to this point for His purposes, and you will experience victory if you abide in Him through it. And He has not only granted you His presence, His power, and His protection, but has commissioned an invisible spiritual host of angels who encamp about you to minister to your every need through the trial. And I want to challenge you today to cast yourself upon the Lord, and declare your absolute dependence upon Him and all the resources of Heaven to bring you victory in the battle. You can’t do it yourself. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:12 that if you think you stand in your own flesh and your own human abilities, take heed lest you fall. You can’t do it alone – but you don’t have to. Christ has won the victory for you and delivered the final and fatal blow to Satan through His death and resurrection, and His victory will be appropriated to you in your hour of need if you remain steadfast and faithful to Him as you endure it.

[1] James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 39.

[2] Mark Corts, “When Do We Most Please God? Matthew 3:13-17,” (Winston-Salem, NC: ShareLife, 1999). Audio Tape of sermon preached at Calvary Baptist Church, number 9935-1A.

[3]Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary : On the Whole Bible, electronic ed. of the complete and unabridged edition. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991), Ps 34:11.

[4] Cited without reference in David Jeremiah, What the Bible Says About Angels (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 1996), 73.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Crocodiles and Pirates

I have just posted the following on our Sacred in the Secular blog.

The Sacred in the Secular: For The Beauty of a Crocodile

Let me also recommend that while you are there read Billy Belk's excellent treatment of "The Pirate in Us All."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Truths About Temptation (Part 1): Mark 1:12-13

There was this young boy named Alexander who wanted a baseball bat more than anything else in the whole world. He started saving all of his change to go toward that baseball bat, but every afternoon, the ice cream truck would come down the street, and he couldn’t resist. So, one night as he prayed before bed, he said, “Lord, please help me to save my money for that baseball bat, and please keep that ice cream truck off my street.”

Certainly you know how that little boy felt. All of us have to face temptation on a frequent basis. C. S. Lewis provided a great service to the Kingdom of God when he wrote The Screwtape Letters, a collection of brief vignettes on the subject of temptation, styled as a collection of letters written from a senior demon to his junior protégé. If you have never read it, you should. In the preface to the 1961 edition, Lewis writes, “Some have paid me an undeserved compliment by supposing that my Letters were the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology. They forgot that there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. “My heart” – I need no other’s – “showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.”

Indeed, temptation is universal, and we learn its evil through our repeated failures to conquer it. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man,” Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13. Common to man, he said. The temptations that you face on a regular basis may not be of the same matter, but they are of the same nature and same intensity as those faced by the one sitting to your left, or right, or in front of or behind you, or the one standing in the pulpit before you. And we ought to take courage in the fact that they are of the same nature and intensity as those faced by Jesus Christ Himself. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” He went out into the wilderness to undergo 40 days of severe and intense testing, but He did not falter. He overcame these and every other temptation He ever faced. And as we look at the biblical narrative of His temptation, we will see several important truths that will fortify us in our own struggle against temptation as well. Time will only permit us to look at one element of this today, and we will look at two more truths next time.

I. Jesus was tempted by Satan (v13a)

Satan hates God and is out to make war with Him. But Satan cannot strike God directly. Instead, he attacks Him indirectly by persuading those whom God loves to disobey Him. This was the case when he tempted Adam and Eve in the garden, it was the case when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, and it is the case when he tempts you and me to turn away from God and choose sin over righteousness. First Peter 5:8 rightly identifies the devil as our enemy, and tells us that he prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Jesus had warned Peter that Satan desired to sift him like wheat. Jesus referred to Satan as a thief who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. In contrast Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” If it is true that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, then the converse would be that Satan hates you and desires to devour and destroy you. And he seeks to do this at opportune times through opportune tactics.

A. Temptation strikes at opportune times.

In Luke 4:13, Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness concludes by saying, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.” This tells us that there are certain times in our lives when we are more subject to falling prey to him. We learn from Jesus’ temptation that one of his most opportune times is in the wake of great spiritual high-points.

Notice in v12 of Mark 1 the use of the word immediately. This word is characteristic of Mark. He uses it more than 40 times in his gospel, this being the second (the first was in v10). Immediately is used in v12 to indicate the temporal proximity of this temptation with the events that preceded it. And what preceded it? The baptism of Jesus, at which time, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form as a dove, and the Father declared from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, in You I am well pleased.” There was no time to linger in the glory of baptism.[1] Satanic temptation took place immediately.

Jesus taught His followers that the servants are no greater than the Master, the students no greater than their Teacher, and if this was the case for Jesus, it will be the case for you and I as well. Whenever we come to a moment of great spiritual blessing, we must be on alert, for certainly it is just such moments that Satan considers opportune for temptation.

Years after his Screwtape Letters was completed, C. S. Lewis revisited his fictional demonic character in a brief piece entitled “Screwtape Proposes A Toast.” The scene was “in hell at the annual dinner of the Tempter’s Training College for young devils. At that occasion, Screwtape rises to address the demonic host present, and concludes his toast by reminding them, “The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighborhood of the Holy. Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps of the altar.”[2]

Peter boldly confessed in Mark 8:29 that Jesus was the Christ. But just four verses later, he began to rebuke the Lord, causing Jesus to say, “Get behind Me Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God 's interests, but man's" (Mk 8:33). A great spiritual high-point, followed by a humbling Satanic attack. The Apostle Paul certainly found this to be true as well. In 2 Corinthians 12, he described the surpassing glory of a direct revelation given to him from the Lord. But he said, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!” (2 Cor 12:7). A great spiritual high-point, followed by a humbling Satanic attack.

We long for moments of spiritual ecstasy. And praise God, He grants them on a more frequent basis than we deserve. But our basking in those glories can take our eyes off of the continuing battle between God and Satan, and in those times, Satan finds opportune times to tempt us to deny the very God in whom we exulted just moments before. So we must learn this lesson from the temptation of Jesus concerning the opportune times of Satan’s temptations.

B. Temptation strikes through opportune tactics.

In Ephesians 6:10-11, Paul admonishes the Christian to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might, and to put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. The Greek word translated schemes in that passage is the word methodeia—you can see how we get our word method from this. It is a word that means “to treat methodically,” or “to handle according to plan.”[3] Satan has a plan, he has a method, a modus operandi, and we are not ignorant of his schemes, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:11.

Mark does not go into detail about the specific temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness, but as G. Campbell Morgan said, “we are not wronging the Gospel story if we assume that the temptations of the forty days were along the lines revealed by Matthew and Luke.”[4] Those gospels tell of three specific temptations that Jesus endured during his forty days in the wilderness. Morgan says, “In those stories we have an exhaustive picture of every avenue which evil can approach Mansoul. Temptation today seems very varied, but it may always be classified under one of these headings.”[5] What are these “headings”? First John 2:16 says, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” I suggest to you that these are the three categories of temptation that we all must face. Turn to Luke 4 and see how Satan tempted Jesus in these ways.

· Luke 4:3 -- And the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."

This is the lust of the flesh – appealing to our natural desires and urging us to seek their satisfaction in inappropriate ways. What did Satan use to tempt Eve in the garden? A fruit. And what did she notice first about that fruit when she saw it? Genesis 3:6 says that she saw that it was good for food. What is wrong with food? Does it not satisfy a natural desire? But the food she saw was forbidden. And it is never right to satisfy a natural desire through forbidden means.

It would not have been wrong for Jesus to eat in the wilderness, but it would have been inappropriate for Him to exercise His divine power for the satisfaction of His own natural desires.

Jesus responded to Satan by citing Deuteronomy 8:3: It is written, “Man shall not live on bread alone.” Luke only records that portion of Jesus’ response, but Matthew gives us the whole statement: It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.' " Quite simply, Jesus employs this passage to indicate that our obedience to the word and will of God is more important than the satisfaction of our natural desires. You and I have natural desires. God has placed restrictions on how we might satisfy those desires. The desire itself is not necessarily wrong, but when we seek to satisfy it in ways that God has forbidden, then we have succumbed to the lust of the flesh.

· Luke 4:5-7 – And he [the devil] led Him [Jesus] up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, "I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours."

This is the lust of the eye. Satan parades something desirable before our eyes to see if we will act sinfully to obtain it. Do you remember the second thing Eve observed about the fruit? It was good for food, and it was a delight to the eyes, the Bible says. It wasn’t just that she thought it would satisfy her hunger – it was beautiful. It appealed to her visually. But this was not the only beautiful thing in the garden. It was full of wonderful flora and fauna, all at mankind’s disposal. And additionally, God Himself walked in their midst in the beauty of His holiness. And by allowing the temptation before her eyes to guide her, rather than the dictates of God’s commands, she forfeited her access to all the other beauty God created for her enjoyment.

It was not wrong for Jesus to desire dominion over all the kingdoms of the world. He will have full dominion over them in God’s perfect time. The chorus of Revelation is that the Kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. But if in that moment of temptation, He had yielded to the lust of the eye, He would have forfeited His divine claim to those kingdoms by submitting Himself to Satan’s service instead of the Father’s.

Jesus responded to Satan’s temptation by saying, "It is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" Our allegiance to God takes priority over anything that appeals to our eyes. There is nothing wrong with beauty. Thank God for beauty. When something appeals to our eye, or to our other senses, we deem it as beautiful and desirable. But we must not disobey God in order to take hold of that which our eye beholds as beautiful. We do not serve our eyes or our appetites. We serve God and worship Him alone. Anything that threatens our devotion to Him must be resisted as a temptation to sin.

· Luke 4:9-11 -- And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; 10 for it is written, 'HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU TO GUARD YOU,' 11 and, 'ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.' "

This is the pride of life. Satan is tempting Jesus to put on a public spectacle to draw attention to Himself and to test the promises of God to see if they are true. You recall the third thing that Eve noticed about the fruit in the garden? It was good for food, and it was a delight to the eyes, and it was desirable to make one wise. This appealed to her pride as temptation always does.

In tempting Jesus, Satan made his own appeal to Scripture – to Psalm 91. Did you know that Satan can quote Scripture? He can, and just like he did with Eve in the garden, he can use it to trip you up. But he couldn’t trip Jesus with it. Here, he met the author of Scripture. Jesus knew full well that Psalm 91 was not an invitation to draw attention to oneself, or to make God prove His promises.

Jesus responded to this temptation by saying, “It is said, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'" Jesus did not need to draw attention to Himself. And He did not need to prove the promises of God. He was secure in His mission and in the love and care of His Father. You and I are prone to satanic attack in the area of our pride. We want to be made much of, and Satan knows it. So he will often bring us to the place of personal exaltation to see if we will follow his example in trying to elevate ourselves above God. But God’s way is that the one who exalts himself will be humbled, but God will exalt the one who humbles himself.

So these are Satan’s tactics. This is his modus operandi. He appeals to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. And he has been doing this since the beginning of time in the garden. And his timing is opportune in that he brings this temptation our way, often but not always, in the wake of great spiritual high-points.

If you were the coach of a football team, preparing to take the field against a stronger and more experienced team, you might feel very intimidated. How will you plan your offensive attack? How will you defend against theirs? If only somehow you could study the opposition’s playbook, then you would know exactly how you should operate on the field.

Well, friends, spiritual warfare is not a game. Satan isn’t out to win an athletic championship. He is out to strike the heart of God by destroying the lives of those whom God loves. He is a skilled and experienced adversary. But through the Word of God, we have been given a glimpse at his playbook. And this ought to do much to fortify us in our own battle with temptation. Knowing that there are certain times when temptation is more opportune than others ought to cause us to walk circumspectly in those occasions. We know that one of those times is immediately following spiritual victories. Perhaps as you examine your own life, you notice other times as well. Times of loneliness, stress, fatigue, or other seasons of life may stand out in your mind as times when temptations are more intense or more frequent. Knowing those times ought to help you know when you need to rely the most on the strength and power of God.

And knowing Satan’s tactics – his appeal to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life – ought to fortify us against such attacks and help us know how to defend ourselves against him. This we know: Paul said in Ephesians 6:17 that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, and Jesus demonstrated how to employ that sword in each of the temptations he faced. Each time Satan tempted Him, He responded with the Word of God modeling for us the necessity to be absolutely dependent upon God’s strength and His word in the face of temptation.

Every one of us faces temptation on a regular basis. But if we understand our adversary, his timing and his tactics, we can have victory. We have all suffered defeat on many occasions. All of us have succumbed to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. But the grace of God invites us to return to Him to find grace and forgiveness. Jesus Christ overcame His temptation so that He could go to the cross as the sinless sacrificial lamb who would lay down His life as a substitute, dying in our place for our sins.

[1] James Edwards, Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark, 39.

[2] C. S. Lewis, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” in The Screwtape Letters: Also Includes “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 128; Also found in Lewis, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays (San Diego: Harcourt, 1973), 70.

[3] Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Abridged in One Volume) [abr. by Geoffrey Bromiley], 672.

[4] Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark, 25.

[5] Ibid.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Make Up Time Lost With Your Family!

I have written much in recent days about the impact my mentor Mark Corts made on me. Let the reader be aware, that I do not intend to deify him, for one of the certain hallmarks of his life and ministry was to point people to Jesus Christ and to Him alone. However, God places people in our lives from whom we can learn, and he places others in our lives whom we can impact for Him. Dr. Corts made the most of every moment spent with others to impact them for the glory of God. I stated in my initial post about his death that I could never compile an enumerated list of lessons I learned from him, but that perhaps I could post one lesson learned every week or so. Knowing my own ineptitude, I will forget or fail to do this regularly, and knowing the universal depravity of man, most readers could care less. However, though many had the privilege of being mentored by this great man of God, and many more have had the privilege of being mentored by others who are equally gifted, many pastors and Christians have not had the privilege, and if I can impart some of the wisdom I have acquired from my days spent with Mark Corts, then I will be grateful to God for the opportunity to pass it on. I have no idea how long I will continue to do this regularly, and the "lessons" will be posted in no particular order -- only as they come to mind.

One of the first lessons I learned from Mark Corts was to make up time lost with your family. The work of ministry is like flubber. It will expand and fill up as much time or space as you allow it. That is not a bad thing. It is our calling. However, we also have been called in most cases to be husbands and fathers first, and when the work of ministry preempts those responsibilities, we are in danger of failing God in a terrible way. Most of us feel as if we are on duty, or at least on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That just goes with the territory of being a pastor. However, when the ministry takes away from time that we should be spending with our wives and children, we owe it to them to make it up.

For Dr. Corts, this meant that a late night of meetings or ministry activity should be followed by a morning or afternoon off the next day or as soon as possible. When I worked at Calvary, I was young, and eager, and ignorant (and unmarried, though engaged). I always volunteered for every opportunity to be involved in ministry. In a loving way, Dr. Corts pulled me aside and instilled this lesson in me. While he appreciated my willingness and my zeal, he cautioned me that if I did not make family a higher priority than ministry, there would come a day when both would disappear. He had seen it happen to too many people.

So, it has been my practice that when I have a weeknight meeting, or an emergency that takes me away from home, I make up that time lost with Donia and the kids as soon as possible. We all should try to take a day off every week, and when we can't, we need to make it up the following week or in the not too distant future. Our calling is to family first. We minister to others from the basis of a firm foundation in our home life. If the homelife begins to crumble, the ministry will crumble with it. Besides this, it is a good example to set for others in the church that their marriages and family ties ought to occupy a place of first importance for them.

The Baptism of Jesus: Mark 1:9-11

In the opinion of biblical scholar James A. Brooks, “The Jordan is one of the most overrated rivers in the world.”[1] He says this because of its diminutive size. Only in flood stage is the Jordan more than 100 feet wide or 10 feet deep. As the crow flies, it is merely 105 miles in length. Measuring all of its twists and turns between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, it is only 200 miles. You may say that sounds like a long river, but compared to the world’s longest, it seems like a creek. The Nile is over 4,000 miles, the Amazon just a bit shorter. In fact, the Danube is the twenty-fifth longest river in the world, and it is 1776 miles in length. Donia and I spent about three weeks in the Summer of 2000 doing missions work in 10 cities as we traveled the Dnieper River in Ukraine by boat from one end to the other. That river is three times the length of the Jordan. The Jordan River is only slightly longer than the Yadkin River. Yet, ask anyone in the world to find the Jordan River on a map, and I dare say that most could do it. Why is this so? Why is such a geographically insignificant river of such renown? Geographically insignificant as it may be, it is a river of great historical and theological significance, for it was in these waters that the Lord Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist.

John was in the wilderness, baptizing multitudes who came from Judea and Jerusalem confessing and repenting of their sins in order to prepare themselves to receive the salvation that the Messiah was coming to bring. John preached that this Messiah was mightier than he, and whereas John baptized with water, the Messiah would baptize those who received Him in the Holy Spirit. And this Mightier One came from Nazareth out into the wilderness to be baptized by John.

Throughout His earthly life, Jesus was called Jesus of Nazareth to distinguish Him from many other first-century Jews who bore the same name Yeshua. But Nazareth was harldy a distinguished town. Today, it is home to the Basilica of the Anunciation, the largest Christian structure in the Middle East. But in those days, a frequently heard statement was, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46). That small town 70 miles north of Jerusalem was a mere 600 acres, populated by 500 people in Jesus’ day. It was situated near the Sea of Galilee, in the region that those in Judea and Jerusalem referred to as “Galilee of the Gentiles,” indicating their contempt for the place. Of 45 Galilean towns mentioned by Josephus, and 63 mentioned in the Talmud, Nazareth is never named, nor is it found in the entire Old Testament. So, the word Nazareth here is in no way intended to indicate any status or grandeur.

Now, we are struck with a very interesting question: Why would this Mightier One who was coming to baptize in the Holy Spirit travel more than 70 miles by foot or beast to the Jordan River to receive John’s baptism in water? We aren’t alone in asking this. Even John the Baptist was curious about it. Matthew records in his gospel, 3:13, that “John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’” So why did He do it? It is this question to which I wish to devote time today and offer a three-part answer.

I. Jesus was baptized to inaugurate His earthly ministry

We read in Luke 3:23 that Jesus was about 30 years old when He began His earthly ministry. Prior to this, apart from His birth, we only read of one episode in the life of Jesus. At the age of 12, He came to Jerusalem with His family to celebrate the Passover. On the way home, Joseph and Mary noticed that Jesus was not with them, and they went back and found Him in the temple. Luke says in 2:46-47 that He was “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” So apparently they were asking Him some questions too. And Jesus said to His earthly family, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” There is no reason to doubt that Jesus was ever ignorant of the purpose for which He was born into this world. He knew that His Father was God, and that His business was saving people from sin. But apart from this episode, we know nothing of the thirty years of Christ’s life prior to His earthly ministry.

These 30 years would be relatively unspectacular in comparison with His final three. He grew up in a devout family, learned a trade from Joseph, and experienced the life of a very normal young man. But the ordained time for Him to begin His mission of redemption came at the age of 30, and that is when He went out to the wilderness to be baptized by John. From this point on, His entire life played out in the public eye, preaching, teaching, and healing. And here at His baptism, that ministry was inaugurated by two remarkable signs.

First, Jesus saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with oil as a symbol of the Holy Spirit resting upon that person, empowering him for a specific task to which God had called him. Jesus did not receive a symbolic anointing. The Spirit Himself descended upon Him anointing Him to perfectly fulfill the role of the prophet, the priest and the king that the nation longed for and needed in the Messiah. The title Messiah or Christ means anointed one, and Jesus was uniquely anointed to fulfill His predetermined mission. Second, a voice came out of the heavens saying, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” This indicated that this anointed one was chosen by and acceptable to the Father. No prophet could come and do what this One would do. No other priest could offer the sacrifice this one would offer. No other King could enthrone Himself in the hearts of mankind. This was God Himself, God the Son, coming into the world to fulfill the ultimate and final redemption of humanity.

Mark does not elaborate enough to indicate whether this was seen or heard by any other than Jesus. However, Luke makes it clear that the Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove. John the Baptist says in John 1:33, “I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.” So, here at the Jordan River, in a visible and audible way, God the Father and God the Spirit ordained and anointed God the Son, the Lord Jesus, for His Messianic mission. He did not become the Christ or the Son of God at that moment. Those titles are His eternally. But in that moment there was a distinct turning point – not in His nature, but in His life and ministry. Though He was born to suffer and die for sin, His march to the cross took a determined direction from that day forward. He was baptized to inaugurate His public ministry. Also …

II. Jesus was baptized to identify with sinful humanity

The biblical testimony of the character of Jesus is unanimous. John the Baptist pointed Him out as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). The sacrificial lamb was required to be one without spot or blemish, and this is exactly the way Jesus was described. Peter referred to Him with those exact words in 1 Peter 1:19. Jesus said of Himself, “I always do what is pleasing to Him,” referring to God the Father (Jn 8:29). He said, “I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love (Jn 15:10). He asked those who opposed Him, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (Jn 8:46), and He received no answer. After scrutinizing Him in the face of false accusations, Pilate said, “I find no fault in Him” (Jn 18:38). The writer of Hebrews says He was tempted in all ways as we are “yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). Peter said in 1 Peter 2:22, “He committed no sin; no guile was found on His lips.” John said in 1 John 3:5, “In Him there is no sin.” So, if John’s baptism was one of repentance and confession with a view toward forgiveness, what in the world was the sinless Son of God doing in that water? Quite simply, He was there for you and me.

When John the Baptist protested against baptizing Him, Jesus said, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The sinless Son of God stood in those waters as the second Adam. As the first Adam failed to obey the commandments of God as our representative, the second Adam would satisfy them. Paul said in Romans 5:19, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”

God had commanded that when sin separated man from God, restoration was sought through repentance and confession. And in the waters of His baptism, He stood in our place before the Father, repenting on our behalf of the sinfulness of humanity. It was as if He stood there to say, “I stand in the place of unrighteous people, repenting on their behalf, taking their sins upon Myself, so that they may receive My perfect and unblemished righteousness.” He died for us on Calvary’s cross so that you and I could receive the righteousness that He lived for us during the days of His earthly life and ministry.

I want you to imagine something with me. Imagine all those sinners coming to John to be baptized as they confess and repent of their sins. And imagine that pure and clean water being contaminated by the filth of all that sin. It was into this water that the Lord Jesus was immersed. The pure and spotless Lamb of God, staining Himself with our sinfulness, so that He could carry our sins to the cross. This is what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” When He stood in the baptismal waters, Jesus identified Himself with the sinners He came to save. He did not stand there to repent of His own sin, for He knew no sin. He was there in my place, repenting before God of the sins that I have committed, and the sins that you have committed, and the sins of all humanity. And that brings us to the third reason for His baptism.

III. Jesus was baptized to symbolize his death and resurrection

There in the waters of the Jordan River, Jesus took His stand in the place of sinners, and laid Himself down to be buried beneath those waters, and was lifted up again. This is a picture, a symbolic foreshadowing of what He would do three years later on the cross of Calvary. There in that place, Jesus took my place and your place on the old rugged cross. Our sins deserve the outpouring of the wrath of God, but He stood between us, taking that punishment and penalty upon Himself. He died for us. Just as He laid Himself down to be buried in the baptismal water, so He laid down His life on the cross and died and was buried for us. But death did not have the final word. For just as He came forth from the river, so He came forth from the grave demonstrating His victory over sin and death. He did it for us. The victory He won over sin through His death and resurrection is our victory if we place our faith in Him and receive Him as Lord and Savior. When we do that, we say to the Father, “I deserve the death He died. My sins have separated me from Your divine love. But I believe that those sins were punished and paid for when my substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ died. I believe He died for Me, and He defeated my sins in His triumph over the grave. And because You loved me so much to do this for me, I give my life to You, and I receive Christ as the satisfaction of my own sins, and I accept Your forgiveness which He died to give me, and I ask Him to rule over my life now so that the rest of my days can be lived under Your love and according to Your will.”

I dare say there isn’t a person in this room who doesn’t believe that Jesus came and lived among us and died on the cross. You believe all the historical facts about His life and death. But perhaps, just maybe, there is one or more who has never come to Him in faith and repentance and personally received the benefits of His life and death. Perhaps you have never appropriated the loving and merciful forgiveness of God to their own life, and have never been washed by the Holy Spirit’s cleansing power in regeneration. To you, maybe Jesus is nothing more than an intriguing figure of human history. But He lived and died to be so much more for you. He is the Christ, the Messiah, who came into this world to save you from sin, and this very day He beckons you by the wooing of His grace to come to Him and receive Him.

Mark says that when Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened, and there was a public declaration that He was the Son of God. It is interesting to me that the Greek word Mark uses for that opening of the heavens is only used one other time in this gospel. It is a form of the word schizo, from which we get our word schism, and it means a splitting, or a tearing apart. The only other place Mark uses it is when Jesus died on the cross. Turn to Mark 15:38. The veil of the temple had for centuries indicated that mankind was not welcome in the presence of God. It indicated that our sinfulness could not come into the presence of His holiness. But when Christ died as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, that veil was miraculously and supernaturally torn in two from the top to the bottom. No human hand, no man-made device, could have done this. That temple veil was sixty feet tall, 30 feet wide, and the width of a man’s palm. The ancient Jewish writings indicate, perhaps somewhat exaggeratedly, that it took 300 priests to maneuver it. But when the Son of God died for man’s sin on Calvary’s cross, it was torn open from the top to the bottom by the power of God, indicating that the barriers were removed and mankind could now be received into the presence of God. And when the first schism of the Gospel of Mark took place, God announced that Jesus was the Son of God. When the second schism took place, a sinful, guilty, blood-stained Roman centurion stood before the Savior on the cross and said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

And I know today that if you make that same declaration, acknowledge Him as the divine Son of God, the Christ, your personal Lord and Savior, that heaven will be opened to you as well, for Jesus will save you from your sins, and wrap you in His righteousness, and impart to you eternal life.

[1] James A. Brooks, New American Commentary: Mark (Nashville: Broadman, 1991), 42.