Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Snapshot of the Church (Part 1): Mark 3:16-19

You may recall that last week I mentioned that William Tyndale was incensed at the fact that the majority of English speaking clergy in his day could not name the twelve apostles. Thanks to a professor of New Testament at Fruitland Bible Institute, Dr. Johnny Tiller, these names are forever etched in my mind. Dr. Tiller taught us a little mnemonic device to remember them, which may be helpful for you. Remember this address (it may help you to write this down: 52 Mab St. In that address, the 5 stands for those whose names start with J: James, John, James (son of Alphaeus, or James the Less), Judas (or Thaddaeus), and Judas Iscariot. The 2 stands for those whose names start with the letter P: Peter and Philip. M stands for Matthew. A is for Andrew. B is for Bartholomew (who is sometimes called Nathanael). S is for Simon the Zealot, and T is for Thomas. 52 Mab St. I throw that out to you for you own benefit, at no extra charge today.

In the New Testament we find four lists of the Twelve: The passage before us today (Mark 3:16-19); Matthew 10:2-4; Luke 6:13-16; and Acts 1:13 (where all are listed except Judas Iscariot, who at that point had deserted and hanged himself). None of the lists are identical in order. Names occur at different places in each list. However, certainly similarities catch our attention as we compare the lists side by side. Peter is always listed first, Philip is always fifth, James the son of Alphaeus (also called “James the Less”) is always listed ninth, perhaps indicating that these were leaders over groups of four. Judas Iscariot is always listed last, and always his name is associated with his betrayal of the Lord.

We will examine the first group of 4 today and the rest of on subsequent Sundays. This first grouping consists of Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew: two sets of brothers, all of whom were fishermen when the Lord called them into His service. In the New Testament lists of the Twelve, these four are always first, and though Peter always heads the list, the other three occur in different orders. As I look at these twelve men, who on the surface are rather ordinary and unimpressive, I begin to think about ways in which they are like others I know. But this is something we must avoid. Rather, the task is to see in them glimpses of ourselves realizing that if God can use the likes of these to upset the world for Christ, then certainly He can use us in our own day. That is why I have chosen to refer to this list of twelve as “a snapshot of the church,” for in them, we see unique and ordinary people who served an extraordinary God, just like generations of Christians have ever since.As we look at these four today, and the remaining eight in weeks ahead, let us look at these men as representatives of Christ’s church, and find in them strengths toward which to aspire, and pitfalls to avoid.

We begin where the list begins, with …

I. Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter): The Transformed Life

Aside from Jesus, Peter is mentioned more than anyone else in the New Testament. Matthew, in his listing of the twelve, refers to Peter as “the first”, protos in the Greek. It is the same word Paul uses in 1 Timothy 1:15 when he says that he is the “chief (protos) of sinners.” So Matthew intends perhaps to say that Peter is the chief, or leader of the group. But it was not always so. Remember that the Gospel writers are writing after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the early church, but they are writing of events that took place before that day. Peter was transformed as a result of the Holy Spirit’s invasion of his life.

Peter is the brother of Andrew, who introduced him first to Jesus. He is typically seen in the Gospels as an impulsive man of action, a doer rather than a thinker. He is always asking questions (often at inopportune times), slow to listen and quick to speak.

In John 1:42, we read, “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter). Notice that Jesus was speaking of something future, as if to say, “One day, you will be called Peter,” a name that means “rock or stone.” But it was a lengthy transition. In fact, we find some embarrassing reminders of his old nature in the Gospels. On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, Jesus finds Peter asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, and says, not “Peter!” but, “Simon, are you asleep?” After his denial of the Lord, the risen Christ confronted Peter saying, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” But there were glimpses along the way of what Jesus intended to make of Simon. When he confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus says to Him, “I tell you that you are Peter.” The Risen Lord told Mary Magdalene to assemble the disciples and Peter.

Many times, after realizing what it is that our Lord has called us to be, our actions and attitudes are more consistent with the person we used to be, before He called us. Indeed, the Christian life is a struggle between our old and new natures, typified in Peter’s vacillation between his two names. Seventeen times in the Gospel of John, he is called “Simon Peter,” and sometimes it is hard to differentiate between the two – the Simon of old, or the Peter of new. After Pentecost, however, he is always called Peter. The lessons had been learned, many times the hard way, and the transformation had taken place. The one who denied the Christ three times before the Cross, proclaimed Him boldly following the coming of the Spirit, with the result of three thousand coming to Christ on the day of Pentecost.

So Peter is the transformed man. He has a changed name that is a picture of a changed nature. To what do we attribute this change? Peter himself says it best in the closing words of his second epistle: “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Some in the church today are like Peter. At times, we find ourselves living and thinking consistently with our old nature, and at other blessed moments, fully living out the life to which we have been called. But as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are transformed by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We are changed, and find ourselves fit for boldness in the service of Christ.

Now secondly, Mark tells us that there was …

II. James, the son of Zebedee: The One With Family Ties

There are three men named James in the New Testament. In addition to this one is another of the Twelve – James, son of Alphaeus, or James the Less; and James, the half-brother of Jesus, who writes the epistle of James. THIS James, the son of Zebedee, is never referred to in the New Testament apart from mention of his father, his mother, or his brother. Perhaps this is merely for convenience, lest we confuse him with one of the other “Jameses” of the NT. But perhaps there is something more, as we consider him as a representative of those who follow Christ today.

Jesus called this man James for who he was as an individual, but we never come to know him in that way. His identity is canonized for us in the pages of Scripture in terms of his family ties. His father was apparently a prosperous fisherman, in view of the fact that he employed hired servants. It also seems from another gospel account that he and John were perhaps distant relatives of the family of Jesus. He is welcomed into the “inner circle” of disciples with Peter and John, but we only find his name mentioned alone one time in the New Testament.

On one occasion, Salome, the mother of James and John came to Jesus requesting a position of honor for her sons. Another time, James and John offered to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who refused to make accommodation for Jesus. Perhaps this is the occasion that gave rise to the name “Boanerges”, “Sons of Thunder.”

Never do we learn anything about James as an individual. In fact, in the Gospel written by his very own brother, he is never mentioned by name at all. Were there hard feelings? Did John not see anything in his brother’s walk with Christ worth mentioning? That is hardly likely. Acts 12 is the only passage in which James is mentioned alone. In that passage, we find that Herod had James arrested and executed as the first martyr of the Christian Church. So apparently, he did have a deep and abiding personal faith in Christ, but it could very well be that he did not come into his own until his mother and father were removed from the picture and his brother was away planting churches in another land.

Like James, many in churches today are known only by their family ties – they will always be referred to as this one’s son, that one’s daughter, another one’s brother or sister, niece, nephew, or grandchild. When will that one begin to develop an identity for himself or herself in the family of God? Where will that one be when the time comes to stand alone? Zebedee and Salome passed from the scene. John traveled on to another field of service. And James came into his own, lived boldly for Christ, and died for his faith. But what about those in our day who are known to us only by their family ties? Jesus has called each of us to walk with Him individually. It is great to have a spiritual legacy in a Christian family, but we cannot ride the spiritual coattails of others. God is adopting sons and daughters, but He has no grandchildren. Our relationship with Christ must be our own, unmediated by the faith of our families.

We look now to the third name on the list …

III. John, the brother of James: The Faithful One

In contrast with James, John comes into his own standing early on. While there are moments when they are indicted together over some embarrassing episodes, we begin to see in John the beauty of a faithful follower of Christ. It was perhaps because of all that he witnessed as a member of Christ’s inner circle with Peter and James that his faithfulness came forth.

John is called, the disciple whom Jesus loved. Some people have a problem with that title, because the only writer to refer to him this way is himself! But this is not a case of a person who thinks more highly of himself than he ought. In fact, this may be the key to his faithfulness—John knew what it meant to be the object of the love of Christ. And once a person understands that reality in all its fullness, faithfulness to Christ ensues. It is evident in John’s life, for while Judas betrayed the Lord and Peter denied Him, John is found at the foot of the cross, and takes Mary into his care in obedience to Christ.

It is a tragic reality of the Twelve that ten of them died the deaths of martyrs. Only Judas and John did not. Judas, of course took his own life, but only John died of natural causes at an old age. Most of them never saw the second generation of Christianity. John saw the third. Jesus preserved his life as a faithful witness to stir up love for Christ into the second century of Christianity. Why John? Well, it is only because of grace, but perhaps it was his true awareness of the love of Jesus, which flowed forth into faithful love and service to Him.

I am thankful that the Lord has continued to give us some like John – those who have fallen completely in love with Jesus, and become contagious in their passion for Him, encouraging others to follow.

Next in the list we find …

IV. Andrew: The Soul-Winner

In Mark 1:16, we learned that Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter. We know from John 1 that Andrew had at some time come under the teaching of John the Baptist. John had pointed out Jesus to him, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.” From that time on, Andrew followed Christ. It was Andrew who led Peter to Jesus, saying, “We have found the Messiah.” But from Andrew’s association with John the Baptist, it is apparent that he learned two important lessons.

First, he had learned the importance of making others more important than yourself. One time in the Gospels we find mention of Peter as the brother of Andrew. The rest of the time, Andrew is referred to as the brother of Peter. Now what if Andrew were the kind of person to say, “Hey, don’t put me second to him – I was here first, and if it weren’t for me, Peter wouldn’t even know Jesus!” But he wasn’t that kind of person. He had learned humility from John the Baptist, who pointed to Christ saying, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Some of us suffer from a spiritual envy that always seeks to show oneself greater than others. Not Andrew. He was glad for those he brought to Jesus to gain prominence in the Kingdom.

You may not know the name of Edward Kimball, but I bet you know the name of Billy Graham. Well, if Edward Kimball were not the kind of person who made others greater than himself, you may not know Billy Graham today. You see, Edward Kimball went out of his way to share Christ with a young shoe salesman named D. L. Moody. Moody became arguably the greatest evangelist of the nineteenth century. F. B. Meyer was in attendance at one of Moody’s services in England when Moody told about the influence of Kimball on his life. After thinking about Kimball’s influence on Moody, Meyer broadened his own ministry, coming to the United States for several preaching campaigns. One of the young men who devoted themselves to the service of Christ because of Meyer’s influence was J. Wilbur Chapman. When Chapman began preaching revival meetings and crusades, it was suggested to him that he bring along a newly converted professional baseball player named Billy Sunday to help him in his work. In time Billy Sunday became the most popular evangelist of the early twentieth century. When he preached a crusade in Charlotte, God did such a great work that a group of Christian businessmen decided to bring another evangelist in the very next year. That evangelist was Mordecai Ham. And one night while Ham was preaching, God moved on the heart of a young man in the choir loft named Billy Graham. And that night, he came to faith in Christ, and the rest of his life is familiar history to us now. Has anyone been used more greatly of God in recent centuries than Billy Graham? But it started years before with a layperson, a Sunday School teacher named Edward Kimball going out of his way to share Christ with D. L. Moody. So if it weren’t for Kimball, you may not know Graham. And if it weren’t for Andrew, you may not know Peter. And who might God use in the coming generations, if only you and I will be willing to see them as greater than ourselves, and go out of our way to bring them to Jesus?

This was the other lesson Andrew had learned from John the Baptist. Always point people to Jesus! Every time we see John the Baptist in the New Testament, he is testifying about Jesus, pointing others to Him. And Andrew was a quick study. We find him in three narratives of the Gospel of John bringing people to Jesus. First it was Peter in John 1. The next time, in John 6, Jesus is surrounded by a multitude of 5,000 hungry men, plus their wives and children. While the rest of the Twelve were tabulating the cost of feeding this multitude, Andrew comes to Jesus, bringing a boy with him who had five barley loaves and two fish. In bringing that boy to Jesus, rather than focusing on the logistics and budgets, the dilemma was solved. How many of our dilemmas might be solved as well, if only we would just bring people to Jesus and let Him use them for Himself.

In the third narrative concerning Andrew in John’s Gospel, chapter 12, John tells us that a group of Gentiles came to Philip saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” And it is interesting that John says Philip came and told Andrew. It was as if Philip was thinking, “Hmmm. How can I get you to Jesus? Well, if I know Andrew, he will figure out a way to get you to Him.”

The New Testament doesn’t really tell us any more about Andrew. But we have an early tradition that says that he became a great missionary taking the Gospel to unreached areas. In 2000, I preached in the harbor of Cebastopol, Ukraine, where it was said that Andrew had preached in the first century. And tradition has it that he led the wife of a Greek governor to Christ, which led to his martyrdom – death on an X-shaped cross. And even as he died, the legend has it that he continued to proclaim Christ to the crowd who gathered to watch him die. It was in the very fabric of his being. He was a soul-winner, and even death couldn’t keep him from the task.

God has given His church in our day some Andrews as well. Some who are so burdened for the lost that everything they do is to make Christ known. They view every encounter with another person as a divine appointment ordained by God so that person can hear the gospel and be saved. Some of you may be that way. Let us pray that the rest of us might be more like that.

And so in closing, as you look at these four fishermen, do you see glimpses of yourself? Do you see qualities you wish you had, or even that you wish you didn’t? Do you see a passionate zeal that has been bridled and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, like Peter? Do you see yourself like James, lost in the shadows of family ties? Will you, like James, be bold enough to take your own stand for Christ? Have you come to full realization of what it means to be loved by Jesus, like John, and to have that love produce a faithful love for Christ in yourself? Like Andrew, do you aspire to pour your life into others, bringing them to Jesus and cheering them on as they begin to follow Him for themselves? These were just ordinary men, not too much different from you or me. But they walked in fellowship with an extraordinary Savior, just as you and I can. And He made them into vessels of honor for His Kingdom. May He do the same with us.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Plight of Urban America is the Fault of the Church!

The plight of urban America (including urban Greensboro) is the fault of the Church! That may sound shocking to some of you, but I am fully convinced of it. In talking about urban revitalization in recent days with the City of Greensboro, The Greensboro News and Record, and others, we hear much about the plague of drug addiction, homelessness, prostitution, alcoholism, "predatory businesses," and panhandling. These are symptoms, not the root cause. The root cause is spiritual lostness. Spiritual lostness flourishes unchecked in urban centers primarily because God's people have fled to the suburbs and rural territories to escape the ugliness of the city, rather than infiltrating society with a purifying influence for Christ.

Remember Nehemiah. The Persian king Artaxerxes asked him why he was so downcast, and he said, "Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?" (Neh. 2:3). His resolution to remedy the problem was, "Send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it." The king granted his request, and Nehemiah went and began to survey the city. He said to the people of Judah, "You see the bad situation we are in ... Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jersualem so that we will no longer be a reproach." And they began to work to bring new life to the city. They faced many obstacles and much discouragement, both internally and externally. One of those obstacles was that "the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few" (7:4). So Nehemiah proposed a solution: "The people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem ... and the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jersualem" (11:1-2).

Brothers and sisters, the day has come when the Church of Jesus Christ must no longer be commuters. It is no longer sufficient for us to travel into the city for work, worship and commerce, and then flee back to safety of suburbia. The need of this day is for an incarnational witness. We must get back into the city and plant ourselves for the glory of God and the furtherance of His kingdom. It is time for us to take the same strategy we use for overseas missions and implement it in our own cities. When we send missionaries to foreign fields, we expect them to live among those whom they seek to reach, to learn their language, to understand their way of life, and to build authentic relationships through which the gospel can spread. This is far different from the posture of most Christians in America. And so is it too much to ask in our day what Nehemiah did in his day-- for one out of ten to move back into the cities for Christ's sake, and the other nine of ten combine their resources to help provide for the ones who are willing to do so? Let us pray for this.

Remember that when Christ travelled through the cities, "Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest'" (Matthew 9:36-38). And remember also that the very next thing Jesus did was to summon His twelve disciples and He gave them authority and He sent them out (Matthew 10). So let us not ask God to send others, when it may very well be one, twelve, or one of every ten, of us that He intends to use for His purposes in the city.

Watching Movies Without Violating Your Conscience

Frequent readers of this blog, and our other one, The Sacred in the Secular, will readily recognize that the art of film is one of the most influential mediums for modern messages in our day. Every film that is made is made for a purpose, and rarely is that purpose merely entertainment. Usually, there is an underlying worldview that is being advanced through the film. Surely, there is much entertainment value in watching films as well, and we don't want to minimize that. It is an absolute delight to curl up on the couch together with my wife and our little ones to watch a movie. However, most Christians would also recognize that seldom are the offerings of Hollywood suitable for Christian family entertainment. Vulgarity, sexuality, and brutality often detract from the enjoyment of film. For many years, we had to just steer clear altogether of movies unless we knew for sure (from the reliable testimony of others who had seen the film) that the particular movie we wanted to watch was free from those things which would violate our consciences and Christian convictions.

Last year, a landmark court case put the kibosh on family friendly "edited" versions of popular films. In that case, the only two companies (CleanFilms and CleanFlicks) who were producing "cleaned-up" versions of DVDs chose to cease operation rather than appealing the courts rulings against them. When I read about this, I was embarrassed that I never even knew of these companies! If I had, I would have been a customer. But through all of this, I learned of another company which has opened up movie viewing for my family.

ClearPlay makes a DVD player that uses "filters" for DVDs that have adjustable settings for filtering out language, sexuality, and violence. We purchased one of these in October of last year, and have truly enjoyed watching movies again without having to keep our fingers in the kids' ears or our hands over their eyes.

I commend this to you for your own enjoyment. Certainly there are still films which would be inappropriate even if filtered. Some films would be little more than opening and closing credits after all the objectionable content was removed. However, many which would have been "off limits" for us in the past are now easily enjoyable because of the ClearPlay filters.

If you are interested in learning more about it, visit www.clearplay.com.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

IBC in the News

A recent story in the Greensboro News & Record focuses on the city's plan to revitalize our church community. Click here to read it.

I am humbled by Billy Belk's post which links to it. Find Billy's post here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Calling to Christ's Service Mark 3:13-15

Perhaps you know the name of William Tyndale. To be sure, if you had been alive in the middle of the sixteenth century, you would have known it, for this man was labeled as an arch-heretic, an enemy of church and state. He was exiled, impoverished, persecuted, and ultimately, in 1536 strangled to death and his body was burned to powder at the stake. Why? What great heresy had he committed? Simply this: he wanted English-speaking people to have access to the Bible in their own language. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, most Christians could only hear or read the Bible Latin, the official language of the Catholic Church. The Church feared putting the Bible into the vernacular of the people. If only the religious scholars could understand the Scriptures, then they could tell the people that it said whatever they wanted it to. Against tremendous opposition, William Tyndale pioneered the translation of the Bible into the English language. One of his motivating factors was a survey that had been conducted among the English clergy of his day. That survey revealed that most of them did not know who the twelve apostles were. Only a few of them could name more than four or five of them.[1] You might think you could fare no better, and perhaps that is the case, but I would venture to guess that most of you could name at least that many. AND, I remind you, these were the clergy – the pastors, the preachers, the church’s leaders – and they did not know those whom Christ had chosen to establish His church on earth.

We have come to the section of the Gospel of Mark wherein Jesus Christ calls these twelve apostles, though Mark never uses that term for them. He only calls them “The Twelve.” Some of them we have met before on a beach in chapter 1, at a party in chapter 2. But here we are introduced to the rest of them by name. In fact, some of them, we will not ever see the name of again in the Bible. Who could put pen to paper and write the complete biography of Bartholomew or Thaddaeus? But before we look at these individual men, three verses stand in our way which must demand our attention, for in these verses (13-15) we see the circumstances of Christ’s call to the twelve. And this is of more immediate importance to us than to simply know their names, because Christ did not call these twelve and no more. Certainly it is true that these twelve are unique in that they are called to be apostles – a calling extended to no other person except Matthias and Paul. Yet Christ continues to call others. He calls us to salvation, and to everyone who answers that call, He issues a call to service. Some of you have heard these calls and answered. Saved and serving – the description of a healthy Christian life. Others have only answered one of them – the call to salvation. Others have yet to heed that call perhaps. As we look at this passage before us today, let us consider the circumstances of Christ’s call and how it relates to the twelve, and then indirectly how we might apply these truths in our own lives as well.

I. The Initiative of Christ’s Call (v13)

One simple fact is hard to avoid in this verse, and that is that everything about this call of the twelve flows from the sovereign initiative of Christ. “Sovereignty” is one of those words that many use, but which is often misunderstood. By definition, sovereignty means that God’s will is absolute in that it is not subject to the dictates of another.[2] No one forces God’s hand. All that He does, He does on His own initiative. And the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ is seen here as He takes the initiative to call these twelve unto Himself.

You will notice that Jesus did not place a “Help Wanted” ad in the Galilee Gazette. He did not take volunteers or applications. In Mark 5:18-19, we will come across someone who implores Jesus that he might be allowed to accompany Him, and Jesus did not let him, but rather told him to go home.The disciples did not decide on their own to follow Jesus, as if they were doing Him a personal favor. These twelve did not ask to be called, He called them because of His gracious initiative. “He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted.” Jesus told them in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit.”

They didn’t deserve to be called. They weren’t among the religious elite. They were fishermen, tax-collectors, other common folk. No seminarians or “men of the cloth” were found among their number. But there is no mistake here. In calling them, Jesus takes the initiative and the responsibility. We will find them severely lacking as we read about them in the gospels. But where they have defects, it is for Christ to deal with them and remedy them.[3] They lacked spiritual understanding. Sometimes, we might be generous to call their attitudes and actions “thick, dull, stupid and blind.” So Jesus never ceased teaching them up until the day He ascended back into heaven after His resurrection. They lacked humility, often arguing among themselves as to which one was the greatest. So Jesus never failed to model self-sacrifice and humility before them. They often lacked faith. We read scolding rebukes of them from the lips of their Master: “You of little faith!” is a statement Jesus said to them on four separate occasions in the Gospel of Matthew. After the resurrection, Mark says, “He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart.” So Jesus kept on demonstrating Himself to them through miracles, signs and wonders. They occasionally lacked commitment. At the most difficult hour of His betrayal, they all left Him and fled. So Jesus prayed for them. They lacked power, so He gave them authority and empowered them by the Holy Spirit.[4]

Jesus knows what He is doing when He calls fragile human beings to serve Him. And He takes the responsibility to provide all that they lack. But notice that although His call precedes and supersedes their wills, the sovereign call of Christ evokes a volitional response from each one whom He called. “And they came to Him.” We will find as we proceed through the Gospel of Mark that on at least one occasion (10:21), He will call, and the person will walk away from the call grieving.

Perhaps you have ignored Christ’s call to service, thinking that surely He got the wrong guy. No, our Lord does not make mistakes. Perhaps you think that you are unfit for His service. Let their be no doubt – YOU ARE! I AM! Peter was unfit, and John was unfit, and Simon the Zealot was unfit. All twelve of them were unfit. You remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:26 – “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble….” Not many, Paul says. I have often wondered if there were any! It is all of grace! We don’t deserve the honor of serving the King of Kings! But He has called us. And by responding to His call, we recognize His sovereign choice in the call, and believe that He can and will transform us to do exactly what it is that He has called us to do.

In verse 14, our English Bibles fail to convey the precise wording of the text. He appointed, the NASB and NIV say; the KJV has ordained. The Greek word here is epoiesen, from the root meaning “to do” or “to make.” He made the twelve. Critical scholars probe into the lives of these unlikely and ordinary men trying to find out who made this Jesus that the church proclaims today. But the fact of the matter is that this Jesus took these men and He made them as they responded to His sovereign call. This word, epoiesen, is the same word used by those who translated the Hebrew Bible into the Greek Septuagint at Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God epoiesen the heavens and the earth. It is related to the word we find in Ephesians 2:10, poiema (from which we get our word poem) – there Paul says, “For we are His workmanship (His poiema), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” So the issue is not what these twelve, or what you and I can do for Christ in our own strength and of our own accord, but rather, the issue is what He can make of us as He takes the initiative in calling us to His service.

G. Campbell Morgan said, “There is an infinite ease in doing things He gives us to do, when we can say to Him, ‘Lord, we did not choose this. Thou art responsible.’”[5] Now let me tell you why that statement means so much to me. I first read it sometime Thursday afternoon just after talking to Jeri Rowe of News and Record. Some of you probably read his article in News and Record yesterday about the city’s plan to work on the High Point Rd./Lee St. Corridor. Jeri had just interviewed me and asked me about the needs of the area and about how this church could make a difference here. And as we talked, there was an overwhelming sense of ineptitude. “Lord, who am I? I can’t do anything about all these social ills that plague this community! I know Your Word has power, and Your Spirit can transform lives, but Lord, why me? Why would you not bring in an urban ministry strategist to lead this church to transform the community? What do I have to offer here? Why am I the one who is here now when so much needs to be done? Then I read Morgan’s statement: “Lord, I did not choose this. You are responsible.” In our community, in our homes, in our workplaces, around the world, there is a tremendous load of work to be done for Christ. And He has called us to the task. We did not choose Him. We did not choose the task. He chose us and called us. He knows we are unfit, but He has promised to fit us, and to use us. And so He calls, and so we must come to Him in obedient response.

Thus we see the initiative of Christ’s call in the passage. Secondly, notice …

II. The Purpose of Christ’s Call (vv14-15)

The words so that in v14 indicate a purpose for the summons Jesus issued to these twelve. And that purpose is threefold, and I believe the order is of absolute importance.

A. His Call is to a Deeper Association – that they would be with Him

First, and of the utmost importance, we see the level of relationship to which Christ calls. He calls the twelve unto Himself that they might be with Him – that they might go where He goes, watching Him in all that He does; that they might sit at His feet, learning from Him in all that He says. Before they are ever able to do anything for Him, time must be spent with Him in intimate nearness. We have pointed already to that passage in John 15 wherein Jesus said, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit.” In that same chapter, Jesus said (Jn 15:4-5), “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit.” So the secret to fulfilling the service of Christ is to abide in Him, and He in you, in relational intimacy, in devotional nearness, for He goes on to say there in John 15:5, “apart from Me you can do nothing.”

You have read and heard that solemn warning that Jesus spoke in Matthew 7:22-23, "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles ?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME!’” Where is the priority of Jesus? It is on relationship with Him over and above service to Him. The twelve would be utterly incapable of bearing the fruit that Christ called them to bear apart from relationally abiding in Him. And neither can we. We can do nothing apart from the overflow of our own personal walk with Christ. Churches are typically full of well-intentioned folks who spend themselves with tireless energy in service to the church, but who forsake the feeding of their own souls in private devotion and worship of Christ. These folks are running on empty and it is no wonder we find them burning out and fading away.

Some of you may be like Martha, who worked feverishly to serve Christ. The Bible says in Luke 10:40 that she was distracted by all of her activity, and that she complained to Jesus that her sister Mary was not helping her. But what did Jesus say to her? "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." And what was that one necessary thing? The Bible says Mary was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. Have you spent time with Him? Have you mined the depths of His word in private time alone with Him? Have you bathed regularly in the fountain of prayer and worship? If not, then He is far more interested in you setting these things aright than in you working yourself to exhaustion in service. And so while we would want to urge some of you to get busy in service to your Lord, we would warn others of you to clear some room on your plate! You are too busy! So over committed have you become in serving that you have failed to spend that time with Him which is so vital for your spiritual health. So important is the regular maintenance of our own devotion to Christ that before any active commission is given to the twelve, He prioritizes the simple responsibility of being with Him. This is where He shapes you and prepares you for the task of serving Him. This is the first and foremost purpose of His call.

Now notice secondly …

B. His Call is to Gospel Proclamation – that He could send them out to preach

It is certainly true that we must spend that time with Him before we can serve Him, but it is just as true that there comes a point where we must take action. He did not desire that these twelve would become a monastic community cut off from the world. He desired to send them into the world to proclaim His truth.

This word for preach here is the word used in the Greek language to describe the work of messengers of a king, who went forth heralding the proclamations with royal authority. They were not to go forth declaring their own words in their own strength. They were sent with heavenly authority to proclaim the message of the King. And what would they proclaim? That which He had been proclaiming, stated for us succinctly in Mark 1:14-15 as the Gospel of God, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

Like a reservoir before a fountain, they were to be filled up with divine instruction and preparation. But the time must come when the levy breaks and the reservoir becomes a stream that is both fed and feeding. They must take in, but they must give out as well. They must tell others what they have heard and learned and seen in Christ. They must become a channel of His Word and of His grace. What is the opposite of a channel? It is a cess-pool, where fresh water enters, but never leaves, and becomes stagnant, rotten, and foul. God forbid that we sit, soak and sour before the Lord. Spend that necessary time with Him, and then Go and Tell! Being with Him proceeds forth to going for Him. This was true for the twelve, and it for us as well.

Now thirdly notice …

C. His Call is to Powerful Demonstration – and to have authority to cast out the demons

The Twelve are called to be empowered with divine authority to join Christ in His spiritual battle against the demonic principalities and powers that wage a war of evil against God in the world. The popular Judaism of Jesus’ day recognized that the subduing of demonic powers was evidence of the dawn of the Messianic Age. One of their sacred texts, the Testament of Levi, had said, “Beliar (that is, the devil) shall be bound by [the high priest of the Messianic Age] and He shall give power His children to tread upon the evil spirits.”[6] Prior to this verse, only Jesus is said to have this kind of authority, but now He multiplies His efforts by imparting that authority to these twelve.

Immediately we wonder how this notion of expelling the demons applies to us. Certainly we want to be careful here. We may wonder if we have this power to cast out demons. Undoubtedly some of us have tried and been unsuccessful! We need to remember that the twelve were not always successful either as we will see in Mark 9. But if we have not the power to effect miracles in our own day, we need not be ashamed. We have something of equal power. A scholar of a bygone day has said, “We have the living, life-giving Word of God. We have the promise of the Spirit; and by the Word and the Spirit … miracles are being wrought every day. At first the apostles had a smaller gospel (they had not yet got the cross to preach) and a larger power of miracles; afterwards less miracles, but more gospel; but always sufficient equipment. … Christ gives you power for every duty!”[7]

I find this very interesting that Jesus specifically calls them to oppose the forces of evil in the world. So the mission of the twelve is defined by what they stand for, namely relationship to Jesus and proclamation of His word, AND what they stand against. While I applaud the agenda of our friend Dr. Frank Page, whom this church ordained and who has said that he desires his presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention to make the world aware of what Baptists are for, and not just against, I still say, and I think Dr. Page would agree, there are some things we are adamantly and unashamedly against! We are against the satanic destruction of human life that we see all around us in the strongholds of alcoholism, drug addiction, prostitution, gambling, abortion, a whole host of societal evil. And in Christ’s name and under His authority we oppose it, just as the twelve entered the combat with the demonic forces in their day! These signs they had the authority to effect bore witness to the fullness of the gospel which we proclaim – which has been vindicated with ultimate authority by the matchless sign of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. So we need not feel sorry that our demonstrations lack the excitement of theirs. Remember that Jesus said in John 14:12, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” We see these greater works in our own day! God’s word is still going forth in power, and His Spirit is still transforming lives as we serve Him and witness for Him in the world.

Listen to His Spirit calling today. He is calling us unto Himself just as He called these twelve. He has sovereignly chosen you and me to come to Him and to go forth for Him. Some of you today perhaps need to respond to Christ’s call to salvation. You need to receive the promise of the gospel, that by turning from sin and your own efforts to save yourself, and trusting completely in Christ, you can be forgiven and have eternal life. He died on the cross for your sins and mine, and rose from the dead to offer us entrance into His kingdom. If you have never responded to this call, I pray you will today. And others of you have done this, and today He is calling you to be with Him—to make room in the business of life for private devotion and worship, for instruction in His word, for shaping so that He can use you. Some of you have been seated at His feet, soaking in His word and the call today is for you to go forth and proclaim Him in the world, and to barge toward the gates of hell full throttle in His name to rescue the perishing. We have a great work before us here. And each of you is part of it. Listen. Hear Him calling. And respond to Him.

[1] John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men (Nashville: Nelson, 2002), 9.

[2] Bruce A. Little, Class Notes from “The Problem of Evil,” Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, April 12, 2005.

[3] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1927), 66-67.

[4] MacArthur, 25-26.

[5] Morgan, 67.

[6] Testament of Levi 18:12, cited in James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 114.

[7] R. Glover, cited in John Henry Burn, The Preachers Homiletic Commentary On the Gospel According to St. Mark [Reprint] (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 103.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Opposition to Jesus is Limited!!! Mark 3:6-12

You don’t need me to tell you that in the world we live in, there is much opposition to Jesus. In recent years, we have seen attacks against the gospel from outside the church, and surprisingly even from inside. Continual efforts on the part of some who are barely under the umbrella of Christianity have sought to redefine the historical Jesus. The Jesus Seminar has taken all of the sayings of Jesus in the Bible and put them up for a vote, categorizing them according to what He probably said, what He most certainly did not say, what He may not have said, and what He might have said. Pragmatism has infected the church, watering down the radical claims and commands of the gospel for the purpose of growing churches. We could go on to talk about the many other areas within the broad circle of Christianity where the Biblical Jesus has come under fire. And then outside, we have seen The DaVinci Code and The Gospel of Judas. In the foreword to that book, UNC religion scholar Bart Ehrman (who has written a shelf-full of critical works on Jesus and the New Testament) writes, “This gospel was about the relationship between Jesus and Judas, and indicated that Judas didn't actually betray Jesus, but did what Jesus wanted him to do, because Judas was the one who really knew the truth, as Jesus wanted it communicated.”[1] Surely this is a different understanding of Jesus than the Bible gives us.

Last fall, neuroscientist Sam Harris launched a salvo entitled Letter to a Christian Nation (currently ranked 26 on the NY Times Bestseller list [2/2/07]) in which he says, “Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living. But we stand dumbstruck by you as well—by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God.”[2] Harris is but one of a number of popular scholars, including Oxford’s evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, musician Greg Graffin, Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett, and comedy-magic team Penn and Teller, who were recently featured in a sympathetic cover story of Wired magazine about the “new atheism.” Philosophers would call this “unfriendly atheism,” and perhaps most articulately set forth in Dawkins’ recent book, The God Delusion (currently #9 on the NY Times Bestseller list [2/2/07]). This brand of atheism views the holding of any religious beliefs as intellectually irresponsible and perhaps downright criminal. I don’t know how “new” this brand of atheism is, for I learned it as a teenager, and held this view which was taught to me by many mentors and educators in my formative years. Thank God, He delivered me from “new atheism” to “old-time religion” when Jesus changed my life 15 years ago.

Remember what the writer of Ecclesiastes said: “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc 1:9). Opposition to Jesus is nothing new. He lived most of His earthly life under the looming shadow of the cross. Yet, this opposition was not enough to defeat Him then, and it is not enough to defeat Him, His truth, or His church today.

I have begun reading the passage today from verse 6, which serves almost as a hinge here in the text. Contextually, it closes the preceding paragraph, but it also opens what follows. And as we read the text before us we see that opposition to Jesus has its limitations. I want to discuss three of those limitations from the text in the time we have today.

I. Opposition to Jesus Does Not Diminish His Popularity (vv7-8)

The scribes and Pharisees were the spiritual authorities of first century Judaism. The Herodians were the supporters of the puppet regime that governed the land under Roman authority. However, in spite of the rejection of Jesus in the eyes of the religious and political powers that were, masses of people continued to flock to Jesus.

A. His Popularity Drew People From Diverse Regions

Only an eyewitness could supply some of the details we have here. We believe that Peter, who was with Jesus during all of this, was the source of Mark’s information. We know from Acts 10 and Galatians 2 that Peter had issues about his Jewish pride, even after he was transformed by the Lord. The ethnic diversity of the people who came to Jesus would have been something that he could not escape noticing. And so we have here a list of those who sought out Jesus in the wake of His opposition.

Verse 7 tells us that a great multitude from Galilee followed. Jesus was there, likely in the town of Capernaum. Perhaps many of these had even seen the healing in the synagogue that led to His rejection among the Pharisees. Notwithstanding, they were captivated by the awesome authority of Jesus and they followed Him as He left the synagogue and the town. But they were joined by others.

Mark also tells us that another great multitude came to Him. They were coming from Judea, Jerusalem, and Idumea (the land of the Edomites). These were all areas South of the region of Galilee. They were coming from beyond the Jordan – the area known as Perea, east of Galilee. They were coming from Tyre and Sidon, major cities of the ancient Phoenician empire north of Galilee in the Roman province of Syria. In spite of opposition to Jesus, people were coming to Him from all points of the compass.

The popularity of Jesus knows no geographical boundaries. Jesus has given us the Great Commission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. It doesn’t matter how many oceans or borders separate us, the world is full of lost people who need Jesus, and who will, if they hear of Him, come to Him and follow Him.

B. His Popularity Drew People Of Diverse Ethnicity

The people coming from Judea and Jerusalem were most likely Jews, for they comprised nearly the whole of the land in those parts. Those of Galilee, Tyre, Sidon, and Perea were likely a mixed multitude, some Jewish, but most were likely Gentiles. Those of Idumea were a little harder to categorize. They were not Jewish by culture. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, at times bitter enemies of Israel. But in the time of the Macabees, under the reign of John Hyrcanus (134-104 BC) the Edomites were forced to adopt Jewish beliefs and practices. At best, they were, in the eyes of the Jews, “half-Jews.” And besides this, they were the stock of the hated Herods, those puppet kings who reigned in terror over Israel. But Jesus maintained consistent attraction for all these people, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds and in spite of prevailing opposition against Him.

The Gospel knows nothing of ethnic differences. Within each geographical boundary we see on our maps, there is great diversity among peoples. But in Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no male or females. He makes one body of the diverse multitude who come to Him in response to the Gospel call. I rejoice in the Lord that our congregation is a church for all people, and has been for forty years or more. Here at Immanuel, the Lord has assembled a family of faith consisting of those from many parts of the world. And when we take, for instance, our Nigerian brothers and sisters here, we have the Yoruba, the Igbo, the Hausa – peoples who apart from Christ are divided by bitter disputes, but who in Christ tear down those barriers and embrace one another as one in Christ. C. S. Lewis, writing in a letter in 1950, captures this as he says, “[T]he church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities but the Body of Christ in which all members however different (and He rejoices in their differences & by no means wishes to iron them out) must share a common life, complementing and helping and receiving one another precisely in their differences.”[3] There must be no ethnic boundaries under the gospel. We are all one in Christ Jesus.

C. His Popularity Drew People For Diverse Motives

Verse 8 says that these diversely mixed multitudes had heard of all that He was doing. Word had spread about Jesus to all these places, and awakened a curiosity in this enigmatic figure who was teaching and working in the region of Galilee. Some of them undoubtedly were coming to hear the teaching that had changed the lives of some they knew. Some perhaps were hoping that He would call them, like He had called those fishermen, to abandon all and follow Him. And surely many, if not most were coming to receive His benefits – that they would be healed from their illnesses and infirmities or set free from demonic oppression. But while we would want to stand guard before Jesus and serve as a filter that only the pure of heart could reach Him, Jesus did not turn any away. He received them all unto Himself, and in many cases, even gave them what they were after: He healed them (v10). The wording in our English Bibles at v10 will lead us astray, for in most English versions we have a pluperfect verb – He had healed many, as if it were describing only what He had done in the past. But in fact, the Greek tense here is aorist, meaning simply that He did it, with no reference to time. He healed many. Such is the compassion of Jesus – He does not judge the motives of those who came to Him; He merely responded to their point of need.

Every day, you and I have the opportunity to do the same in His name. When we see someone in need, we can reach out to them and offer them help, both for the felt need and for their deepest need. Their deepest need is to know Jesus, and they will never know Him unless we tell them. But many of them will never listen until we have demonstrated genuine compassion toward them by reaching out to them with the love of Christ.

Is it any wonder Christ’s popularity was undiminished by the opposition He faced? He welcomed those who came to Him from diverse regions, of diverse ethnicity, for diverse motives. And today, while the opposition to Christ rages on, He remains a constant draw for those in need who hear of Him and long to know Him and experience Him. We have the opportunity as His followers to add to this popularity as we welcome those who are coming to Him.

II. Opposition to Jesus Will Not Deter His Strategy (vv7, 9)

Jesus Christ came into this world on a mission. He is a divine person, born for a divine purpose. That purpose was to live a sinless life, satisfying the demands of the law that no other person every could, and then take the sins of humanity upon Himself in a sacrificial, substitutionary death, conquering even death through the resurrection. This was prophesied for centuries prior to the incarnation, planned in the heart of God in eternity past. It is God’s predetermined way to reconcile sinful humanity to Himself, and to destroy the works of Satan that have been wrought through humanity since the beginning. Therefore, we might expect that Satan is not content to allow this plan to unfold unhindered, knowing that it will lead to his destruction. So opposition to Jesus arises, not merely out of humanistic or naturalistic offense to the message and ministry of Jesus, but as a result of an all-out spiritual warfare that has been being waged between God and Satan since Satan fell from the angelic host. But all the forces of hell are not able to deter our Lord from completing His mission of redemption and carrying out this divine strategy for the salvation of humanity.

A. Jesus Is Not Diverted By The Plots of Foes

Mark tells us in verse 7 that Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples, but he does not tell us why. Matthew, who was likely also an eyewitness in light of Mark 2:14, gives us the reason in his gospel. In Matthew 12:15, Matthew says that Jesus withdrew because He was aware of the murderous plot which the Pharisees and Herodians were conspiring against Him. Now, we would be wrong to think that this was a cowardly move on Jesus’ part. When the time comes, we will see Him courageously and determinedly stare death in the face and lay down His life on His own volition at the cross. But that time had not yet come. The mission was not complete, so Jesus withdrew that the plot for His death would not divert His master plan to bring about redemption.

The renowned Bible expositor, Alexander MacLaren, says, “Discretion is sometimes the better part of valour. To avoid peril is right, to fly from duty is not.”[4] You are probably familiar with Martin Luther, the great reformer of the church, who in 1521 was commanded by the Diet of Worms to recant his anti-Catholic writings which he had published to call the church back to a gospel of salvation by grace through faith apart from works. In response, Luther boldly declared, Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” Tradition attributes to him a further saying, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”[5] MacLaren goes on, “There are times when Luther’s ‘Here I stand …’ must be our motto; and there are timeswhen the persecuted in one city are bound to flee to another. We shall best learn to distinguish between these times by keeping close to Jesus.”[6]

I think Kenny Rogers captured this well when he said, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” That is almost biblical. Jesus knew that to allow the murderous plot against Him to unfold now would be to undermine the Father’s plan for His life, so He withdrew. Sometimes in the face of opposition, we must like Luther, and like our Lord on many occasions, STAND our ground. But other times, it would be unprofitable, and the best thing we can do is walk away. Not every battle is meant to be fought, and not every hill is worth dying on. One hill was: Calvary. And nothing would deter Jesus from going there. Not the murderous plot of His foes; but notice also in the text that …

B. Jesus Is Not Distracted By The Pressure of Followers (v9)

The word used here in verse 9 for “crowd” occurs both as a noun and a verb. The crowd was going to crowd him. This word is different from the word used in preceding verses for “multitude.” It means more than just a large number of people. It implies an unruly mob, pressing in around Jesus, even crushing Him. In verse 10 we see that they were “pressing around Him,” and the words used here indicate that they were literally falling all over Him. That may sound like a good problem to have, but a premature death by the crushing of His followers would be no better than one at the hands of those who sought to kill Him. Either would thwart God’s strategy of redemption. But the Lord would not have this. He was not so caught up in the enjoyment of His own popularity to realize the danger of the situation. So, He gave the disciples their first ministry assignment in this gospel – that of preparing a boat for Him should He need to escape the multitude.

From this we learn that even “good things” can become a distraction to the best things, and like our Lord, we must be committed to our mission of knowing Christ and making Him known, even if it means leaving other things undone or sailing away from other opportunities. Opposition to the Master’s purpose does not always take on unfriendly faces. What is good often becomes the enemy to what is best, and like Jesus, we too must beware of this, and be on guard against being distracted from the mission.

There is one final limitation I want to deal with concerning opposition to Jesus.

III. Opposition to Jesus Can Not Detract From His Identity (vv11-12)

What the religious leaders of the day were unwilling to even consider as a possibility, the demons acknowledge as a fact. Notice that even the demons recognized who Jesus was: “You are the Son of God.” James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” And we see them shuddering here, falling down before Him in recognition of His superior authority. No earthly opposition, no supernatural opposition can take away from this fact.

We are a little taken back perhaps by Jesus response to this testimony of the demons. For once, someone got it right, and what does Jesus do? He shuts them up! Why does He do this? I believe the reason He rejects the testimony of demons is at least three-fold.

First, the testimony of demons would confuse the people. What would the people think if the One rejected by the religious elite was heralded by the forces of hell who tormented people and prompted them to violence and evil? They would have good cause to take a step back and reevaluate just who this Jesus was. Second, the testimony of demons would compound the opposition. If people rejected what the demons said, that was only part of the problem. What if people believed it? Then certainly those who were seeking to destroy Christ would increase in number and multiply their aggression against Him. Third, the testimony of demons contrasts with that which is acceptable to Christ. John Henry Burn states it this way: “He would not have men believe on Him on the testimony of evil spirits, but on that of God in Scripture, by His own words and works, and by the Spirit [of God] revealing this knowledge from the Father.”[7]

Jesus would not lie about His identity, but neither would He accept even a pure testimony from an impure source. Burn continues: “This action may teach His followers to be discreet. Falsehood indeed is always evil, but at times reticence is a duty, because certain truths are a medicine too powerful for some stages of a spiritual disease. The strong sun which ripens the grain in autumn would burn up the tender germs of spring.”[8] In other words, the people weren’t ready for this realization of who Jesus was. But ready or not, acceptable or not, Jesus is who He is – He is the Son of God: God Himself, incarnate in human flesh. The question for us then, is not just, “Why did Jesus not accept the testimony of demons?” but also, “Will He accept my testimony? Is my life a pure vessel from which the unadulterated testimony of His identity can flow? We must rely upon His grace to transform us, all the while pointing people to Him for who He is.

I wonder today, are you discouraged, frustrated, angered even, because of someone’s opposition to Jesus? The ocean of ink that continues to flow with heresy and blasphemy against Christ in our day can be unnerving. The misguided efforts by some so-called Christians to restyle Jesus into a more palatable Savior are enough to drive us mad. The persistent reluctance of some friend or neighbor, some family member or coworker, to reasonably and honestly consider Christ can be heartbreaking. But opposition to Jesus is nothing new. He faced it Himself. When we face it in our day, we face it for Him. When people belittle us for our faith, they are striking beyond us in effort to deal a blow to Christ Himself. Know this: no opposition to Him will ever diminish His popularity; no opposition will ever deter His strategy of saving souls and changing lives; and no opposition can detract from His identity. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And your confidence in Him in the face of opposition is a pure testimony to this fact.

[1] Cited in Albert Mohler, “From Traitor to Hero? Responding to ‘The Gospel of Judas’”, www. albertmohler.com/commentary_read.php?cdate=2006-04-07, accessed Feb. 2, 2007.

[2] Cited in “The Church of the Non-Believers,” Wired Magazine, November 2006, 187.

[3] C. S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963 [Walter Hooper, ed.] (San Francisco: Harper, 2006), 68-69.

[4] Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: St. Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1932), 105.

[5] http://www.luther.de/en/worms.html, accessed Feb 2, 2007.

[6] MacLaren, ibid.

[7] John Henry Burn, The Preachers Homiletic Commentary On the Gospel According to St. Mark [Reprint] (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 98.

[8] Ibid.