Monday, September 29, 2008

Everything in Advance: Mark 13:14-27

Audio available here

In the 1989 time-travel film “Back to the Future Part II,” Marty McFly visits the year 2015 and finds a sports almanac covering the years 1950-2000. He realizes that he can take this book back in time and use it to place bets on all the winning teams and get rich. Marty’s inventor friend Doc Brown refuses to let him do this, and the rest of the movie involves the almanac falling into the hands of Biff Tannen, who does exactly what Marty had planned to do. It’s a popular feature in movies and television – this notion of knowing the future before it happens. Before Marty McFly, there was Lawrence Stevens, the main character in the 1944 film “It Happened Tomorrow.” In that film, Lawrence gets a copy of the newspaper a day in advance and uses his advance information to gain considerable wealth. And then more recently, from 1996 to 2000, we had a similar tale on television’s “Early Edition” about Gary Hobson, who received the newspaper a day in advance and used his knowledge to prevent the tragedies that were to occur on that day.[1] There’s something appealing about the possibility of knowing the future. A television news network capitalizes on this appeal with the motto, “Tomorrow’s Headlines Today.”

Suppose you really could have “tomorrow’s headlines today.” Would knowing today what was going to happen tomorrow affect the way you lived and the choices you made? I’m sure we would all agree that it would. But, alas, you cannot know the future can you? Well, there are apparently some things about the future we can know. In the context of our passage today, the disciples have asked Jesus about the events of the end times, and He tells them in v23, “Take heed. Behold, I have told you everything in advance.” In discussing the events of the future with His disciples, Jesus speaks of the things that will happen in the very near future and those that will happen in the distant future.

This distinction between near and far events seems to be indicated by the use of the phrases “these things” and “those days.” In our everyday conversation, we use the words “this” and “these” to refer to things nearby; we use the words “that” and “those” to refer to things far off. Jesus does the same thing here. In verses 1-13, Jesus speaks of the events that will soon take place within the lifetime of some of the disciples, such as the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. He says in v7 that it is not yet the end, and in v8, “These things are the beginning of birth pangs.” In other words, they are the onset of labor, but not yet the full delivery. In vv14-27, He speaks of the events that will take place in the distant future, at the end. In v17, 19, and 24, He refers to them as “those days.” In vv28-31, the focus is back on the near future, and the wording of vv29-30 is “these things.” Finally in v32, He speaks of the end, referring to it as “that day.” This distinction is obscured somewhat in our English Bibles by the insertion of words which are not found in the Greek text, indicated by italics. If you ignore the italicized words here, you will see that the distinction is preserved quite well.

So, in the passage that is before us today, Jesus is speaking of the events which were in the distant future, the end of all things. They remain future for us now, but we do not know how distant. And with these words, Jesus has told us of the events that we can expect to happen in the future. He says in v23, “Behold I have told you everything in advance.” Now, it is very obvious that He hasn’t told us everything about the future in advance. We don’t know how much more He may have told His disciples than what Mark has recorded for us, but we would certainly say that there are many questions that remain unanswered about the end times. Well, it seems that Jesus did not intend to give a complete and detailed description of every event that will take place at the end times, but He has given us all we need to know in order to take heed. Our “taking heed” seems to be the purpose of His telling us these things in advance. It is to prepare us, to warn us, and to secure our faith when these events begin to unfold. If we know the future in advance, it should affect the way we live and the choices we make in the present. So what has He told us in advance will occur in the future? There are two primary events discussed here in the text.

I. Jesus has told us in advance of the coming tribulation (vv14-22)

In v19, Jesus says that the latter days will be a time of “tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will.” The word translated “tribulation” comes from a root that literally means “to press” or “to squash.” Figuratively, the word came to be used for “affliction” or “oppression.”[2] The word is commonly used in the New Testament to describe the various afflictions and sufferings that affect us all. Jesus promises us in John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulation.” He uses the same word there as here. But here it is used in a different sense. Here Jesus indicates that there is coming a time of affliction unprecedented in magnitude, and which will be unsurpassed by the events that follow it. This is the period of time that is referred to as “The Great Tribulation” in Rev 7:14, and which is discussed elsewhere in passages dealing with the end times.

This tribulation is of such magnitude that those who live in Judea in those days are not told to cowboy up and endure it, they are told in v14 to flee to the mountains to find safety in hiding. It will be so dangerous and will come about so rapidly that they are warned against any delay. Most of the houses of Jesus’ day had flat roofs that were flat which were used as sleeping porches and places of quiet meditation. You would reach the roof by way of a stairway on the outside of the house. In many parts of the world today, you still find houses like this. Jesus said that those who are on their housetops when this tribulation breaks out must not go back into the house to get anything to take with him in his flight to the hills. Those who are working in the fields must not go back to get a coat, but must flee immediately. Those who are pregnant and nursing babies, in what would normally be a time of great joy in their lives, are to be pitied, for their condition will only increase the difficulty of such a hasty escape. And should this time come in winter, it will be even worse for everyone. Winter would bring torrential rains and cause flooding and swelling of streams and rivers that may normally be crossed by foot. So Jesus says, “Pray that it may not happen in winter.” Notice He doesn’t say, “Pray that it won’t happen.” It is going to happen. It is a fixed event on God’s calendar. There’s no need to pray about that. But we are encouraged to pray about the timing of it. Pray that it will not occur in a time when such escape will be even more difficult.

This time of great tribulation will be inaugurated by an observable event. When this event occurs, that is the signal that it is time to flee. What is this event? Jesus says in v14, “When you see the Abomination of Desolation standing where it should not be.” An abomination is something which is loathsome, detestable, exceedingly wicked. And desolation means “deserted” or “laid waste.” It is the effect of the abomination. The abomination which will take place will have the effect of leaving “the place where it should not be” desolate. Now what does all this mean?

Mark inserts the phrase in v14, “Let the reader understand.” In other words, he is warning us to pay close attention to the wording that is used in order to understand what Jesus is referring to. The Abomination of Desolation should be in all capital letters in your English Bible. That means that it is a quotation of an Old Testament passage. This phrase echoes the thought of Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11. So, with Mark’s warning, we are urged to consider what has been said there. Turn in your Bibles back to Daniel 9:24&. This passage involves a prophetic timetable given to Daniel by the angel Gabriel consisting of “seventy weeks,” or more literally “seventy-sevens.” So these are not necessarily weeks of 7 days, but more likely periods of 7 years. These words were written during the Babylonian captivity that took place between the years of 606 BC and 536 BC. Now what does Daniel tell us about these 70 “sevens.”

· 9:25: There will be a period of 7 “sevens” and 62 “sevens” between the time of the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah comes.

· The 7 “sevens” are the 49 years between the decree of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah in 445 BC to return and rebuild and the time in which they actually complete the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

· Once the city has been rebuilt, the period of 62 “sevens” begins. In 9:26, Gabriel says that after the 62 weeks, the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing. Bearing in mind that the Jewish year consisted of only 360 days, and making the necessary adjustments, the combined time of the 69 “sevens” which began in 445 BC would place us precisely around the time of Jesus’ death. And it is after this time that the city will be destroyed. We know that Jerusalem was leveled in 70 AD. Gabriel says that it was destroyed by “the people of the prince who is to come.” The prince in question will not have come yet, but the people who are like those of that prince, are the ones who will destroy it. The destroyers of Jerusalem and the Temple were the Romans, the followers of the most powerful man in the world at that time – the Roman Emperor. So the “prince who is to come” is going to be like the Roman Emperor. He will be the most powerful man in the world.

· Also of interest is Gabriel’s statement that “even to the end there will be war.” Certainly as history has played out we have seen that war has been endless in that region of the world, and according to this word, there is no end in sight until “the end” of all things.

· Now we come to v27. “He”, that is the prince who is to come, “will make a firm covenant with the many for one week,” or “seven.” That is Daniel’s 70th “seven.” But Gabriel says, “In the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering.” Now, if the sanctuary was destroyed after the 69th week, how will there be sacrifices going on? We must understand that the Temple will be rebuilt. I can tell you that there are several aggressive Jewish groups who are already planning for a newly rebuilt temple to occupy the Temple Mount where the present Islamic Dome of the Rock now stands. Preparations are in the works. We don’t know when it will be rebuilt, and neither do they, but they are going to be ready when the time comes, I assure you. I believe that the “covenant” made by this “prince who is to come,” this powerful world ruler, will enable the rebuilding of that Temple. So, therefore, we find ourselves today living in between the 69th and 70th “seven” of Daniel’s prophetic timetable.

· According to v27, when the “prince who is to come” puts an end to sacrifices mid-way through the final seven year period, Gabriel says, “On the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate.” The abomination of desolation will occur then.

· Now let’s turn over to Daniel 11:31. Here again we are told that he will put an end to the sacrifices and set up the abomination of desolation.

· Finally, notice in Daniel 12:11 that from the time that the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1290 days, or 3½ years. So it appears that for half of the time of the final “seven,” there will be sacrifices and offerings in a newly rebuilt temple, and for the last half of that “seven,” the abomination of desolation will be in place.

Now, we have a bit of a timetable for this abomination of desolation, but we still don’t know exactly what it is. We are helped by understanding an even that took place in 167 BC. During this time, the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes conquered Jerusalem and erected an altar to Zeus there, and consecrated the temple to his deity by sacrificing a pig on the altar. This was the most detestable thing that could have ever been done in the Jewish temple. And that event was historically described as “the abomination of desolation.” Now, this was not the abomination spoken of by Daniel – the time of Daniel’s weeks had not yet passed. But if you asked the people of Jesus’ day what the abomination of desolation was, they would have told you it was the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. With that in mind then, it is interesting that Jesus would use that phrase. In so doing, He seems to be indicating that what Antiochus had done was a foreshadowing of what would be done at the onset of the Great Tribulation, when Daniel’s prophesied abomination would occur. So if we put all of these details together, we see that the rebuilt temple of Jerusalem will be desecrated when a powerful world ruler will erect an idol of abomination that will cause desolation. Now, how do I know I am understanding all of this rightly? Because in the pages of inspired Scripture, we find that the Holy Spirit had made this same truth clear to the Apostle Paul and given a clear vision of it to the Apostle John.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:2-10, Paul speaks of a coming “Man of Lawlessness” will seek to “exalt himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.” Paul tells us that he will come to power “in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders.” And this description matches up precisely with what we see in Revelation 13 concerning the rise of one whom John speaks of as a “Beast,” whom we have identified technically as “The Antichrist,” who will hold the whole world under his satanic dictatorship in the final seven years of the world.

So, turning now back to Mark 13, what is the abomination of desolation that will trigger the beginning of this great tribulation? The Antichrist who is to come will allow a temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem and will exalt himself as the object of worship there, and demand that everyone worship him under the threat of capital punishment. Jesus says that when people see that take place, they better run for the hills, because literally, all hell is about to break loose on the earth. And He warns in 13:21 that in those days there will be many who say, “Behold, here is the Christ”; or “Behold, He is there.” But do not believe them, Jesus says. “For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” He’s already told us in vv5-6 that many will come and claim to be the Christ, and we have seen it to be true. But the ultimate false Christ is coming, and a powerful false prophet will be by his side, and through satanic empowerment, they will deceive multitudes through signs and wonders. So convincing will these signs and wonders be, that they would even deceive the elect, those who are saved by faith in Christ, if that were possible. But it isn’t possible. True believers are sealed and kept in the faith by the love of God, and those who are deceived and led astray only demonstrate themselves to have never been genuinely saved. That’s why the phrase if that were possible is so important. True believers will, as Jesus said in v13 “endure to the end,” and “be saved.” Those who do not are not true believers, they are not among the elect.

These days of great tribulation will be so intense, so severe, that Jesus says in v20, “Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved.” Either persecution or calamity would overtake every human being alive during that time if it were to continue unchecked. But, Jesus says, “For the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days.” In spite of the fact that in a real sense all the power of Satan and his forces will be unleashed on the world during this time, God remains in sovereign control of it. Out of His grace, and His special love for His own people, He has put a limit on how long it will last. Thought Satan would desire that his Antichrist would rule the world forever, God has amputated his reign so that all humanity would not be wiped out, and particularly so that His redeemed may not all taste the martyr’s death.

There are no adjectives fit to describe the days of tribulation that will come. It will be the closest thing to hell on earth imaginable. Jesus has not told us everything we may want to know here in this passage. There are events of the future which are foretold in other portions of Scripture that are not discussed here, such as the rapture of the church. There are many, including myself, who believe that Scripture teaches elsewhere that before this tribulation occurs the Lord will take all born-again followers of Christ out of the world, and that the elect who are spoken of here are those who will be saved during the tribulation. That discussion, important as it is, will have to wait for another day. Jesus does not mention it here, and we are woefully short on time. But remember the question I asked as we began: Would knowing the future affect the way you live and the choices you make in the present? It certainly should, and Jesus has told us everything we need to know in advance to see to it that we take heed. If you would heed these words of Christ today, you would certainly commit your trust to Him as Lord and Savior. And heeding these words would compel us to do everything within our Spirit-empowered abilities to declare the saving Gospel of Jesus with others that they may come to know Him as well, so that come what may in this world, we may know for certain that we have eternal life in Him. Then there is nothing to fear about the days of coming tribulation. He has given us a gracious and fair warning in advance.

Now we see also that …

II. Jesus has told us in advance of His Second Coming (vv24-27)

Following the seven year tribulation that will occur in the last days, Jesus says that certain celestial phenomena will occur to signal that the end has come. “The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light and the stars will be falling from heaven.” Notice here again that the words should be in all capitals in your English Bible, reminding you that these are Old Testament quotations. The ideas are present in many OT prophecies of the last days, but these seem to come directly from Isaiah 13:10. In using these Scriptures, Jesus is indicating that He is not saying anything new; these things have been foretold for centuries in the Word of God.

There are those who say that these words should be taken figuratively, but that doesn’t seem to be how Jesus intends you to take them. He doesn’t say, “It will be as if the sun will be darkened, etc.” He says it matter-of-factly, and I believe He intends for us to take this very literally. The sun will no longer shine. If the sun is not shining, there will be no light in the moon, for it reflects the light of the sun. And the stars will be falling from heaven. When Jesus says that “the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken,” it is likely a summary of these three phenomena.

In other words, it will be “Lights Out” for Planet Earth.

These cosmic signs point to the final and ultimate event of human history. Unlike the false signs that the false prophets and false Christs use to deceive, these signs will undeniably point people to the one true and living Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus says in v26, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” This is another reference to Daniel, this time Chapter 7. “The Son of Man” was the most frequently used title that Jesus used of Himself throughout His earthly ministry. The title comes from Daniel 7:13 in which Daniel has a vision of One with divine characteristics who has come forth from the Father, the Ancient of Days, with authority and dominion, and glory, to establish a Kingdom that will consist of people from every tribe and nation and tongue who serve Him. And His Kingdom will be established forever. The Lord Jesus is that One. When He came into the world 2000 years ago, He came to die so that His Kingdom could be established through the Gospel of the forgiveness of sin and eternal life that His death and resurrection secured. He came with His glory veiled behind human flesh, and not everyone who beheld Him understood who He was. But it will not be so when He returns. He will come on clouds with power and with glory, and though there are no lights in the world, all will see Him because of the splendid brightness of His glory.

The second coming of Jesus Christ will not be good news for everyone. For those who have persisted in disbelief, who have mocked His name, who have persecuted His followers, it will mean judgment, destruction, and perishing. But for those who are His, it will mean vindication and victory. He will send forth the angels to gather His elect from across the planet, according to v27. What they have held to by faith throughout the years of tribulation, they will behold with their eyes and they will be gathered to Him, never to be separated for all eternity.

Jesus has told us everything in advance. Not everything we want to know, or everything there is to know. He hasn’t told us of the rapture, or the millennial Kingdom, or the battle of Armageddon. We have been told of those things elsewhere in the Scriptures, but not here. Here, He has told us everything we need to know in order to take heed. He has told us that a great tribulation is coming. And He has told us that He is coming. “This preview of the future ought not to lure us to calculate when Christ will return, nor to fear what will happen, but to know that He will come to claim His own. His coming is His promise, and the gathering of believers to Him is our hope.”[3]

Would knowing the future affect the way you live and the choices you make in the present? Take heed, He says. If you have never given your life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we would urge and welcome you to do that today. The events foretold in Scripture may well occur in soon coming days. We do not know. Why delay making peace with God until it is too late? Why not this day, turn to Christ in repentance of your sins and faith in what He has done for you? He died on the cross for your sins and is risen from the dead so that you can be forgiven and have eternal life. Receive Him today, and let the promise of His coming be a joy and comfort to you, rather than something to fear and dread. And if you know Him, what better use of the time we have remaining could be spent than in worshiping Him, serving Him, and making the promise of His salvation known to others?

[1] From Wikipedia articles on “Early Edition,” “It Happened Tomorrow,” and “Back to the Future Part II.”

[2] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [Abridged in One Volume by Geoffrey Bromiley] (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 334. (“Little Kittel”)

[3] James Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 404.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Watch Your Pronouns! Especially These and Those!

I've been teaching students in a course on expository preaching the value of careful observation in Bible study. This is important for everyone, not just those who are preparing a sermon or Bible study lesson. It was said of Calvin's preaching that "Every word weighed a pound." Well, Calvin was great, but if that's true, then we should say that when it comes to Scripture, every word weighs a ton! Sometimes the meaning of a text (yes, I used the singular "meaning"; it only has one) rises and falls on a single word, and in many cases it is a word with which familiarity has bred contempt. We all have a tendency to look at the big words of a text. The ones that have technical, theological meaning. And we tend to glance rather quickly past the articles, the adjectives, prepositions, and pronouns, etc. But we must NOT do that.

Here's an example. In Mark 13, the Olivet Discourse, Jesus gives his fullest treatment of eschatology in Mark. And most of us are aware that the debate rages between scholars over whether the events He speaks of took place in and around 70 AD, or whether they are yet future. Well, the answer is yes. Both are correct. How do we know? We know by the use of demonstrative pronouns.

In everyday English, we are familiar with the concept of near and far demonstrative pronouns, even if we aren't familiar with those labels. If we are speaking of a book close to us, we say "this book", and if it is far away, we say "that book." If there are more than one book, we say "these books" to indicate nearness, and "those books" to indicate distance. These same categories are found in Greek. Consider the following from Wallace's Basics of New Testament Syntax:

"A demonstrative pronoun is a pointer, singling out an object in a special way. The three demonstrative pronouns used in the NT are outos, ekeinos, and ode. (This last one is rare, occuring only ten times.) Outos regularly refers to the near object ("this"), while ekeinos regularly refers to the far object ("that"). ... The near-far distinctions of outos and ekeinos can refer either to that which is near/far in (a) the context, (b) the writer's mind, or (c) the space or time of the writer or audience." (pp 144-145)

Now in Mark 13, we can detect where Jesus shifts from speaking of the things that are "near" His own day (those that will occur in and around 70 AD), and those which will occur at the eschaton, the end of all things, by the use of these pronouns. In v4, the disciples, having heard Jesus speak of the destruction of the Temple, ask when this will take place. In their minds, they must associate the destruction of the Temple with the end of the world, which they assume will take place shortly. They say, "Tell us, when will these (tauta, plural of outos, the near pronoun) things be, and what will be the sign when all these (tauta) things are going to be fulfilled?" The rest of the chapter is Jesus' answer to those two questions. But whereas they used tauta to indicate both the destruction of the Temple and the eschaton, Jesus does not. In vv5-13, His discussion is seasoned with the use of tauta ("these", near pronoun) in v8: "These things (tauta) are merely the beginning of birth pangs." So the fall of the Temple, the rise of imposters, the wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, and persecutions, are "not yet the end" (v7), but the beginning of birth pangs. They indicate that the process of last things will begin very shortly (they are near), but they are not yet the eschaton.

Jesus' words in vv14-27 are seasoned by the repetition of various forms of ekeinos, the far pronoun. In v17, He says "Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those (ekeinais) days." In v19, He says, "For those (ekeinai) days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will." While those living in Judea during the years around 70 AD may have thought that the things they experienced fit this description, we have the privilege of hindsight and can tell that, although those things were horrendous and perhaps unprecedented (?), there have been worse calamities to befall the world and the nation of Israel since. So 70 AD does not fit the criteria of Jesus' words "and never will." Then in v24, He says, "But in those (ekeinais) days, after that (ekeinen) tribulation, the sun wil be darkened ...." So, these events foretold in vv14-27 are not near, but far. They are not the beginning of the end, as the events in vv5-13 are, but the ultimate end, the eschaton.

Then we come to verses 28-31, and the pronoun usage switches back to tauta. In v29, "when you see these (tauta) things, recognize that He is near, right at the door." He is not yet coming through the door (the eschaton), but is near, and even at the door. The end has begun (v8), but it has not fully arrived. He says in v30, "This (aute) generation will not pass away until all these (tauta) things take place." So some in the generation of Jesus' day would see the near things occur. Of those who asked the question, we know at least John saw the day come. He didn't see "those days" but he saw "these things."

And then we come to v32, in which Jesus says, "But of that (ekeines) day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." Here He once again shifts from near things to the far distant event of the eschaton.

So, in the Olivet Discourse, is Jesus speaking of 70 AD or the far distant future? Yes. Both. And we can distinguish the two by the use of the demonstrative pronouns in the text. The good news is that these pronouns have been handled well by the English translations, so you don't have to be a Greek scholar to detect the shifts that occur in the passage. The bad news is two-fold. First, the translators have obscured the distinction by inserting words that are not representative of the Greek text, indicated by italics. They have, for instance, inserted the words "those" and "that" in v7 of the NASB. That obscures the distinction for the English reader, but remember that those words are not original. The italics are a give away. If you remove the italicized demonstrative pronouns from the text, the distinction remains bulletproof. And second, to return to my primary point, words like "this, that, these, and those" do not catch our eye in a cursory reading. We deem them to be unimportant and insignificant. But as I have sought to demonstrate, nothing could be further from the truth. The meaning of this text is wrapped up in the usage of those words.

Every word weighs a ton, and we must be very careful to observe how the words in the text function. Otherwise, we will miss important indicators of the text's meaning and get it wrong every time.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Living for Christ at the Beginning of the End: Mark 13:1-13

Audio here
(This message was preached in a combined service with Greensboro Chinese Christian Church. Thanks to my very able interpreter Thomas Wu, whom you will hear on the audio.)

Just a few days ago in France, an experiment was begun where physicists are hoping to collide particles in a 17 mile circular tunnel 300 feet under ground. The goal in this experiment is to recreate the supposed Big Bang that secular scientists believe created the earth. Because of the magnitude of this experiment, many fear that it will have devastating effects on the world. One MIT physicist has received death threats from some who fear that the project will destroy the world. On the day that testing began, September 10, a 16 year old girl in India killed herself by drinking poison in fear that the world was coming to an end. This is just one example of recent fears that the world is doomed for destruction. [update: the thing broke down on Sept 19; testing to restart in Spring]. Some believe that the recent military movements of Russia are the onset of a new global threat. The development of nuclear capabilities in Iran and North Korea have many fearing that we are on the verge of a new Cold War. Islamic terrorism is a worldwide reality that continues to worry people about what the future may hold. And then there are those who suggest that the effects of global warming will destroy the earth, and point to the recent increase in catastrophic weather events as evidence.

I have good news and bad news about the end of the world. The bad news is that it is going to end. The good news is that God is in control of when and how it will end. And for those of us who know Him by faith in Jesus Christ, that is a great comfort amid the fears of the day. But fear of the end of the world is not a 21st Century phenomenon. Throughout human history, people have feared that Doomsday was upon us. This much we know for certain. The world will end, and every day we are one day closer to the end.

The Temple was the pride of Jerusalem. The Temple grounds covered an area of nearly 200,000 square yards. The enclosed area measured 35 acres and would house a dozen football fields. The sanctuary of the Temple was over 160 feet tall, and topped with gold and silver. As the sun rose on Jerusalem, the Temple was said to appear like a snow-capped mountain. If you and I were to see this, we would probably say the same thing that this unnamed disciple said in v1: “Behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”

Jesus said, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.” In the surviving portions of the Temple’s foundation, blocks of stone have been found that are over 40 feet long, 11 feet high, and 14 feet deep, and weigh over 1 million pounds. In the minds of these disciples, no person, no army, no machinery could ever destroy such a building. To them, it seemed that the destruction of this building would only be possible if the world came to an end. And so, at the first opportunity, they asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” The rest of the entire chapter is His answer to their questions. In answering them, He points to the events that will take place in the near future, and to the events that will take place in the far distant future. Concerning those events that are far off, He says in v32, “Of that day or hour hour no one knows.” But of the events that are coming soon, He says in v7, “That is not yet the end.” In v8, He says, “These things are merely the beginning of the birth pangs.” As we all know, when labor pains begin, the childbirth may still be far off. But the onset of labor pains indicate that the birth is coming, and we must be prepared.

The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. This event, Jesus says, would not mark the end of the world, but it is the beginning of the end. We do not know how long it will be until the end. Jesus said “No one knows … but the Father alone.” So we only waste time trying to calculate it. Jesus teaches us in this passage that we are much better off to focus on how we should live for Christ in the present, in the beginning of the end. And He does so by giving three specific warnings to His disciples. Today we are still living somewhere in between the “beginning of the end,” and “the actual end.” And we who are His disciples do well to heed the same warnings He gave to His disciples in the first century. These will keep us diligent in living for Christ at the beginning of the end.

The first warning is this:
I. We must not be deceived by imposters (v5-6).

“See to it that no one misleads you. Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.” Notice that Jesus says that many imposters will come. There won’t be one, or a few. There will be many. And also see that He says they will come in My name. That means that they will claim to have been sent by Jesus. And they will say, “I am He!” In the Greek New Testament, this reads literally that they will say “I AM.” Jesus spoke of Himself this way on several occasions, and everyone who heard Him knew that in referring to Himself as “I AM” He was claiming to be God. So these imposters will come, and not only will they claim to be sent from God, they will claim to be God. They will claim to be the Messiah. Perhaps they will point to Jesus and say, “If He had been the Messiah, He would not have suffered as He did. Behold I AM the real Messiah!” Within the next 100 years, no fewer than 12 individuals came on the scene claiming to be the Messiah. There were also those who rose up “in His name” and began teaching doctrines and stories related to Jesus that were not true. The recent popularity of the so-called “Missing Gospels” are examples of the heresy that was being taught by Gnostics who claimed to be the true followers of Jesus.

The imposters continue to mislead many today. According to some research, there were over 1,000 people during the 20th Century who claimed to be the Savior of the World. Some of them we know about. We could mention the famous cult leaders Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Marshall Applewhite. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, or “Moonies” as we call them, claimed to be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and that he appears in the world as the substantial body of God Himself. His movement has around 3 million followers worldwide. More recently, a Miami priest named Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda has claimed to be both Jesus Christ and the Antichrist. He has followers in 35 countries. Suma Ching Hai has become the popular teacher of the Quan Yin Method, and claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus and Buddha.

And there are many who have claimed to have new revelation from God about who Jesus is or what His will for His followers is: the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others refer to themselves as the only true followers of Jesus and present a completely different picture of who Jesus is and how we are to be saved than we find in the New Testament.

Jesus says we can expect this continue until the end. Just because we have imposters does not mean that we have come to the end – but we are in the beginning of the end. But He says to His followers: “See to it that no one misleads you.” They will mislead many, but they must not mislead you! We must be vigilant, on alert. We must know Jesus and know our Bibles so that we will not be deceived by the imposters who come claiming to speak in His name, and claiming to be the Savior.

And then there is a second warning given to those who would live for Christ at the beginning of the end:
II. We must not be dismayed by disasters (vv7-8)

Jesus says that throughout the centuries leading up to the end of time, there will be wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines. Many of these things occurred in the first century when these disciples were still alive. And with each of these events, more and more fear and speculation began to convince people that the end was near. But the followers of Jesus were not to be dismayed by these things – He says, “do not be frightened” -- they had been warned in advance that they would occur. This was not the end, but it was the beginning of the end.

World War I was called “The War to End All Wars.” But it didn’t do it, did it? Just a few years later there was World War II. And since the end of World War II, historians tell us that not a single day has gone by when war was not being waged somewhere on the planet. And then there continue to be rumors of wars. What will happen with Russia, Iran, or North Korea? Will Zimbabwe erupt in a civil war? Who knows? Earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis, severe droughts and widespread flooding – all these things go on all over the world. We know firsthand of the devastation that has occurred in America and in China in recent years. And thanks to television and the internet, we see daily heartbreaking images of destruction in other parts of the world. And famine continues to ravage impoverished nations. Even stable and prosperous nations have been affected by the declining global economy, and people are wondering if we will be able to feed ourselves. And many are asking, “Is this the end?” Jesus says that we may never know when the end will be, but it has begun, and we must not be dismayed when we see these things occurring. We must not be frightened by them. We can live in confident faith that God is in control of all that takes place in the world, and the world will not end until it is His time.

It is interesting that Jesus says in v7, “these things must take place.” That is bothersome to many people. Why must these things happen? Can’t God put a stop to it? Of course He can, for everything in the world is under His providential control—even the things we don’t understand. But because of human sin, we live in a world that is susceptible to calamity. The curse of the ground following Adam’s sin and the global judgment of Noah’s Flood have opened a veritable Pandora’s Box of natural disaster in the world. The suffering and evil in the world are not God’s fault, but humanity’s – it is the result of our sin and its natural consequences. Therefore Paul says in Romans 8 that the creation is groaning in eager expectation of the final redemption when all things will be restored. As long as we live in this fallen world, there will be wars and natural disasters. But we must not be dismayed by them, and we must not declare that this is the end. We must continue living for Christ in the midst of these difficult days here at the beginning of the end.

And then we come to a third warning:
III. We must not be diverted by persecutors (vv9-13).

Jesus says “Be on your guard.” And He warns that persecution is coming. Followers of Christ will be delivered to the courts, flogged in the synagogues, and will stand before kings and governors. Jesus is warning His disciples that persecution is not a possibility for them – it is a certainty. Paul warned Timothy in 2 Tim 3:12, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” One needs to look no further than the Book of Acts to see these things taking place just as Jesus declared. Why are Christians treated this way? Jesus says in v13 that it is because “you will be hated by all.” And by “all” He means “ALL.” Look at verse 12: brothers will betray brothers to death; parents and children will turn against each other. And why will they do this? Jesus says in v9 that it is “for My sake,” and again in v13, it is “because of My name.” We who follow Christ cannot be expected to be treated better than He was! He was betrayed, beaten, falsely tried, and executed. His followers can expect the same.

But they must not believe that God has abandoned them when they are persecuted. Rather, God has promised to be with them in the midst of their persecutions. Notice in verse 11, He says, “Do not worry beforehand about what you are to say” when “they arrest you and hand you over.” He promises them that the Holy Spirit will give them the words to say. He has not left them, but is speaking through them in the midst of their suffering! God has a purpose at work in the suffering of His saints. Jesus says in v9 that the Christians who stand before governors and kings for His sake are there “as a testimony to them.” And then He says in v10, “The gospel must first be preached to all the nations.” And what better way to share the gospel with the unreached peoples of the world than to take it directly to their leaders. It may not be by choice, but when a believer finds himself in the audience of a pagan world ruler or a person of authority, he must remember that Christ has placed him there to be His witness to share the message of the Gospel. This is exactly what we see the Apostle Paul doing in the closing chapters of the Book of Acts. He even demanded that he be transferred to the court of Caesar himself. That Caesar was Nero, who was known for his brutal treatment of Christians. Why did Paul want to stand before him? He wanted to preach the gospel to him too! Paul understood that every time he stood before a ruler, he had the opportunity to share God’s truth, to change a life, and perhaps to change the world. He had taken Jesus’ warning to heart – he was not diverted by his persecutors from the task of being Christ’s witness! We don’t know if Paul ever had the chance to testify before the Caesar Nero, but we do know that Nero had him put to death. It is no stretch to assume then that Paul did speak before Nero, and told him of the saving power of Christ.

Persecution has not disappeared for the followers of Christ. It continues to be a reality. In many parts of the world, betrayal, beating, unjust trial, and death are still looming over the heads of Christ’s followers. In America, the persecution is more subtle and less severe, but those who are steadfastly committed to Christ and boldly sharing His message are still met with antagonism. Jesus warns us not to let this affliction divert us from our task. With every persecution we meet for His sake we must depend upon the Holy Spirit to speak God’s truth through us as we take our stand for Christ.

We have been well warned of the conditions we will face as we live for Christ here at the beginning of the end. There will be imposters, there will be disasters, there will be persecutors. But these things must not deceive us; we must not be dismayed by them; and we must never be diverted from the task of making Christ known to the nations. The authenticity of our faith in Christ will be demonstrated in our steadfastness in the face of these circumstances. Those who fall away because of these things prove themselves to have never been genuine followers of Christ. But Jesus gives a glorious promises in v13 to those who do not let imposters deceive them; who do not let disasters dismay them; who do not let persecutors divert them. He says, “The one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” Saving faith perseveres through the difficulties of these last days. We are not at the end yet, but until the end comes, we must hold steadfastly to Jesus and His Word; we must face the calamity of this fallen world with confident faith; and we must take full advantage of every opportunity to be the instrument that the Holy Spirit will speak through as we testify for Christ. And as we do, others will see and hear the salvation we have in Him, and the Gospel will reach the ends of the earth. May God help us to do this for His glory until the end.

The Tales of Two Pipers

Once upon a time there were two men named Piper. There was no relation between them. One's name was John and the other's name was Don. Both wrote some things about heaven. One of them even claimed to have been there.

The one who claimed to have been there (Don) wrote this: "I didn't see Jesus, but I did see people I had known." The other Piper (John) wrote this: "If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, an no human conflict or any natural desires, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?"

I think I'll take John Piper's heaven over Don Piper's heaven.

Here's the thing with Don Piper's book. Reading through it, I found several cases of contradiction with his recollection of his heavenly visit and several more times where what he claims to have seen in heaven was not what the Bible teaches. So what? Many people write books about the afterlife that do not correspond with the Bible. Why single out Don Piper? Because his book is intended to convey a Christian view of eternity. But what if these things really happened to Don Piper? Should he not be free to write about them? Well, the Quran contains the supposed experiences of Muhammad, but are we not somewhat skeptical of his claims? Why should Don Piper be exempt from scrutiny when he claims to have had grandiose experiences? I think there are several better questions to ask:

1) Did Don Piper have this experience? I'm not going to accuse him of lies and falsehoods, but it wouldn't be the first time someone concocted supernatural experiences for the purpose of book sales. I'M NOT SAYING HE DID -- I'm just saying that we shouldn't believe everything that hits the shelves.

2) If he did have these experiences, are there any physiological or psychosomatic explanations for the experience, apart from concluding "I went to heaven"? I think there probably are. Therefore, we should not jettison the biblical imagery of heaven for Don Piper's just on the basis of his supposed "eyewitness account."

3) We should ask "What saith the Scriptures?" If there is any divergence between the heaven Don Piper claims to have seen and the biblical imagery of heaven, we should not take his word for it. After all, did Jesus not say, "They have Moses and the prophets; if they don't believe them, they won't believe even if someone rises from the dead."

In closing, let me say, don't assume that just because your local Christian bookstore is selling something, it will be good for you spiritually. In fact, much of what is for sale in Christian bookstores would actually be injurious to your soul. Always read anything outside of the Bible with a critical eye. If an eyewitness is testifying of his own experiences and contradicts himself on multiple occasions, he would be dismissed from the court. We should not lower our standards when it comes to feeding our soul. And finally, we should not be driven by sensationalism and appeals to the spectacular. We should be driven both TO and BY the Word of God. As simple as that sounds, the Bible alone is authoritative and sufficient for our faith and life.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Beware of False Religion: Mark 12:38-44

When Donia and I were visiting Colorado Springs, we wanted to go up to Pike’s Peak. Everyone says that the cog-railway is the best way to get to the top, but we are somewhat adventurous, and decided we would drive up Pike’s Peak all the way to the top. As we got to the road that takes you up to the Summit, we noticed several signs that read, “BEWARE: High Winds.” You know, I might understand if it said, “BEWARE of Bears” or snakes or tarantulas or something. But, Beware of the Wind? We came to a guard station at a gate in the road, and I asked the officer on duty, “What’s the deal with the signs? Why is the wind a risk?” He said, “On really windy days, some cars have been known to be blown off the road and down the mountain. Do you want to drive up?” Donia and I looked at each other for a moment, then I turned back to the officer and said, “No, I was just wondering, where you go to catch the cog-railway?

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Beware”? It is a word that urges us to proceed with caution, or perhaps not to proceed at all. When you see the word Beware you know there is danger ahead. I think of other signs I have seen with that word boldly imprinted across the top: “Beware of Falling Rocks”; “Beware of Dog.” I’ve seen some more interesting ones also. I was paying a visit to a home on one occasion, and was greeted by a sign at the end of the driveway with a picture of a gun on it, and it read, “Forget the Dog – Beware of Owner.” In a market overseas, a sign was pointed out to me that read in a foreign language “Beware of Pickpockets.” We were walking through a village in West Africa on one occasion and I was taken aback by a sign that had writing in three languages (none of which were English) and a picture of some sort of explosion a stick figure person with his arms, legs and head all detached. I asked one of the locals, “What does that sign mean?” He said “Beware of Landmines.” It was a sobering reminder of the reality that many people in the world live with: the danger that one wrong step could be deadly. We understand this word Beware, don’t we?

There are many dangers in the world of which we must BEWARE. And in our passage today, Jesus points out one more. He says, “Beware of the scribes.” Now, that seems a bit strange perhaps. What is a scribe going to do? Stab us with his pen? Hit us in the head with his notebook? No, worse than that – if you aren’t careful, these scribes may lead us into the judgment of God. Who are these scribes? We mentioned them in our study of the preceding passage, and we have seen them in several passages in Mark thus far. They were a part of the religious leadership of Israel in Jesus’ day. They were the experts to whom the people looked for insight into the Word of God. It was their task to study, to copy, to interpret and to teach the Scriptures. When the people had a question about God’s Word or God’s will, they turned to the scribes for an authoritative answer. Is Jesus saying we should beware of them? I mean, they’re not bears or alligators. How much harm could they do? Very much, according to Jesus, and therefore, He warned the people who heard His teaching to beware of them. And He was teaching them this in the area of the Temple – the home turf of the scribes.

You recall perhaps from Mark 11:11 that Jesus had entered Jerusalem and entered the temple grounds, and looked around at everything that was going on there, and He was not impressed. In fact, the next day, Jesus returned to the temple and “began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of of those who were selling doves” for offerings. He had used the visual image of the fruitless fig tree to indicate that there was nothing of any spiritual value going on in the religion of Jerusalem’s temple. And now, just one day after, in saying “BEWARE!,” it was as if Jesus was posting a large yellow sign on the Temple walls warning the people to proceed with caution, or perhaps not at all, for the scribes could turn out to be deadly to them. They were experts of their religious system, but by His words and deeds over the last several passages, Jesus has made it clear that their system is corrupt and will not lead the soul of humanity closer to God. It is a false religion that may well bar the people from entry into the Kingdom of God.

I wish we could say that there is no need to beware of false religion today. But today, false religions abound, and the danger is just as prevalent. All you have to do is drive through town or turn on your television. Well-dressed, handsome and charismatic religious leaders are all around us, declaring with persuasive and eloquent speech their empty promises and people are falling under their spells by the multitudes. We must beware! Much has changed in the world in the last 20 Centuries, but this much has not: We must still beware of false religion, and the words of Jesus apply to us today as much as they did to those who heard Him in the Temple so long ago. I warning us to Beware!, Jesus would have us to bear in mind that we must not be deceived by the practices or the promises of false religion.

I. We must beware, lest we be deceived by the practices of false religion (v38-40)

In calling out the false practices of the scribes, Jesus draws out attention to their appearance, their treatment, and their speech. Beware, Jesus says, of these scribes who like to walk around in long robes. The garment indicated here was a special one. It was not the everyday attire of the common people. It was a flowing full-length white robe that went all the way to the feet that was appropriate for special occasions. It set the scribes apart from the ordinary people. Ordinary people didn’t wear white – it was too hard to keep clean. And they didn’t wear garments this long and flowing, lest they trip as they walked. Now, it wasn’t that anything was wrong with wearing a special garment. Let’s suppose you sit down for lunch at the local McDonalds. In walks someone in shorts and a T-shirt, followed by a man in a business suit, followed by someone in a tuxedo. Now, you do not normally associate tuxedos with McDonalds, so you assume that he is either on his way to or from a special occasion. And no sooner than the man enters McDonalds, everyone is looking at him and saying, “Oh my! He is all dressed up, he must be going somewhere special.” His dress draws attention to himself and says something about him. On certain occasions, you may walk into the sanctuary and find me wearing a robe, and you know this is no ordinary Sunday. Something special must be taking place. But I am not going to wear that robe to the grocery store. There are times and places and events when special dress is fitting, and we may say even expected. But the thing here is that these guys enjoy the attention that their special dress gives them and the status that it affords them. Jesus said they like it. In fact, they like it so much they walk around in these long robes. They wear them all the time, even when the occasion does not demand “getting all dressed up.”

And because their dress sets them apart from the common people, everyone who sees them recognizes that they are scribes. By wearing them, the scribes are indicating that there is an expectation of different treatment for them. “When a scribe walked down the street or passed through a marketplace, everyone was expected to rise before him,”[1] and great him with reverent titles like “Master,” “Father,” and “Rabbi.” And they liked it! Jesus says that they like “respectful greetings in the marketplaces.” And when they entered the synagogue, their dress indicated their special status, and they would be escorted in a ceremonial fashion to the “chief seats,” those seats that were arranged in the front, separated from everyone else, facing the congregation, indicating they were endowed with a special authority. And when they come to a banquet, everyone falls all over themselves saying, “Oh, great scribe, we have a special seat reserved for you right up front.” And they just eat it up – they love the special status, and attention and favor that comes their way because of their status.

When the time came for one of the scribes to pray, be it in the synagogue or at some other occasion, they would pray aloud at length and with much flowery language. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with praying lengthy prayers. God invites us and welcomes us to commune with Him in prayer and there are times when we need to pray for an uninterrupted duration of time. However, why did these scribes pray such elaborate and long prayers? Jesus tells us: For appearance’s sake. They did not pray in this way to be heard by God, but to be seen by men. They wanted people to be impressed by their eloquence and their display of piety. It did not matter if the words were genuine and heartfelt to them. They knew what the people wanted to hear, and how to speak impressively, and they used this to deceive the people into trusting them as eminent religious leaders.

Oh, but we don’t have false religious leaders today who hold sway over the masses by their appearance or their sweet-sounding speech. And we don’t have religious leaders today who think that they deserve better treatment than others, do we? Well, I think there are a few out west. Seriously, though, we all know that these abound in great number today! And yes, some of them are out west, but there are plenty around here too! They say what people want to hear, and the people flock to them to have their itching ears tickled. And they thrive on the devotion that their followers lavish upon them. But what would the Lord Jesus say of them? He would say Beware! Beware of those who carry on with much religious talk for the purpose of being applauded by people! Beware of those who demand special privilege and status because of their supposed sense of religious importance! Beware of those who insist on high and mighty titles and parade around in demonstrations of self-aggrandizement. Don’t fall into their traps! They cannot lead you closer to God. You can’t lead someone where you are not going yourself, and the path these false religious leaders are on is not leading them closer to God – Jesus says, “These will receive greater condemnation!” Because of their position as scribes, the people respected them and trusted them to be faithful to God and lead the nation spiritually. But they were only interested in themselves. Because of the abuse of their influence, because of the corruption of God’s word and God’s will, because they had twisted the things of God for their own benefit, they were in danger of a much more severe judgment. And beware – lest you be deceived by their practices and follow them into condemnation as well.

II. We must beware, lest we be deceived by the promises of false religion (v40-44)[2]

You will notice that Jesus says one more thing about the scribes in v40 that we have not mentioned yet. He says they “devour widow’s houses.” Over and over again in the Scriptures, we find God’s people admonished to extend great care to orphans and widows. We see it in the Old Testament repeatedly, and in the prophetic books especially: the religious leaders are chastened by the Lord for their failure to help the orphan and the widow in their time of need. And in the New Testament, James says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). They were the most defenseless, in many cases the most impoverished of society. They were the ones most in need of care from the people of God. But the scribes are said to devour their houses.

How did they do this? The story that follows is an illustration of it. Jesus sat down in the temple opposite the treasury. In this area of the temple were thirteen large chests shaped like rams’ horns where the people would drop their money for various offerings. And here Jesus sat – it had been a long and difficult day. Everything from Mark 11:20 to the present has all taken place on the Tuesday of His final week. He has been interrogated by the Sanhedrin, debated by the Sadducees and Pharisees, and has had several public teachings. He is also keenly aware that it has all ultimately been for naught – He knows that they are going to conspire together to put Him to death in just a few days. So here He sits: tired, frustrated, sad, filled with righteous indignation over the parade of false religion filling the temple courts. And He began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury. Every person that dropped a coin into those chests was perpetuating a false religion, fattening the pockets and furthering the corruption of wicked leaders. And many rich people were putting in large sums! There was a lot of money rolling into the temple on that day—every day, really, but this was Passover week, and Jerusalem was filled with people who had come to the temple just for the occasion.

In the midst of all this hustle and bustle came a woman who Mark describes as a poor widow. She put two small copper coins into the treasury. These tiny coins were practically worthless. They amounted to less than two percent of a day’s wages. Now, the text says, “Calling His disciples to Him, He said ….” Picture Jesus, sitting there exhausted and exasperated, watching all this, and He sees this widow, and says, “Hey guys, come here and check this out. Did you see that? Do you see that woman right there?” Jesus says to his disciples, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

Now, forget the sermons and Sunday School lessons you have heard for a moment and look with me at what the text says. Does the text say that Jesus was pleased with what she had done? It says she put in more, she put in all, but Jesus doesn’t say, “She has done the good thing,” or “the right thing.” Does He say she is going to be blessed, or that the Lord loves her for what she’s done? Does He say that she will enter the Kingdom because of her gift? Does the text say that Jesus wants others to follow her example? It does not. She has caught Jesus’ attention because, unlike the rich who can give large amounts and never miss it, this woman has put into the temple treasury, this corrupt, twisted, institution of false religion, her last two tiny copper coins, all she had to live on. Put yourself there. How would you feel about it? Would you be pleased that this woman has put the last money she had to live on in a false religious system? I hope not! It should sicken us to see this.

Now, why has she done it? Why has she brought her last two coins to the temple anyway? Because she has been taught by these scribes that her poverty is a sign of God’s judgment on her life. She has been told repeatedly that if God had truly loved her, He would not have taken her husband away from her, and would not leave her in that destitute state. And if she wants to make things right with God, she needs to give more money to Him, and then He will bless her. Don’t miss her desperation here. It is all she had to live on. In other words, she thinks, “Well, its all come down to this. I am going to give it all away, and if God doesn’t turn things around then, I will just go home and wait to die.” Some may look at her and say, “But oh what great faith she had!” Yes, she had great faith, but it had been built on false promises that God would bless her if she paid Him. This woman is not to be commended, she is to be pitied. She is a victim of false religion’s empty promises, and having given every last cent away, she is going home to die. Is God honored by that? Would God not rather her spend that money on food or medical care, or some essential matter than to virtually waste it on an empty promise of false religion?

Oh, Jesus says, beware of these scribes. They devour widow’s houses. They have enriched themselves on the contributions of those who can least afford it. They didn’t care about this poor widow. To them she only represented more coins in the coffers. She’d been deceived by the promises of false religion and her little offering was being used to deceive more and devour more. And if you think this sort of false religion disappeared after the first century, you are as deceived as she was. All you have to do is turn on the television and see these self-styled prophets preaching false promises that God will bless you, reward you, make you healthy or wealthy if only you send them money. And if you were to analyze their lists of contributors, do you know what you would find? Most of them are widows living below the poverty line, funneling money hand over fist to these charlatans in false hopes built upon false promises. Meanwhile, the preacher who is receiving all their money travels around in limousines and Lear-jets, and spends a thousand dollars a night on hotel rooms when he or she is away from their several million-dollar homes. Are you going to tell me God is pleased with that? No, He says BEWARE of it! Those modern-day scribes are bound for a severe condemnation, and they will be glad to take you with them.

Listen - God doesn’t need your money. Let me be abundantly transparent here. We ask people to give to the Lord’s work. Missions costs money, literature costs money, we have a staff that works hard and deserves to be paid, and utilities cost money. Duke Power will not accept intangible blessings as payment for the power bill; they deal in cash. Not only this, but as a member of this church, you have the opportunity to take part in the decisions of how that money is going to be spent. So we make no apology for inviting God’s people who have been saved by grace through faith in Christ to give. The Bible exhorts us to invest in the work of the Kingdom of God. But we aren’t promising you that the more you give, the more you’ll get, and we aren’t promising you that God will only bless you if you give Him money. And we aren’t threatening you that if you don’t give, God’s “gonna get ya.” You should invest in Kingdom work as you are able, but not to the neglect of your basic needs. If the offering plate comes your way and you’re worried that you won’t be able to eat later today, keep your money. God doesn’t operate a ponzi scheme, where you give Him a little money and He will give you back a lot of money. The Bible never promises that. But false religion does. You must beware, lest you be deceived by false religion’s promises.

Excessive displays of wealth and prominence; demands for special treatment; long, eloquent speeches that have no biblical content but offer empty promises of what we want to hear; endless pleas for more and more money: its hard to tell if I’m describing the first century scribes or the twenty-first century preachers of the prosperity movement. Well, some words can be fittingly applied to both. Jesus has a few here: Beware! These will receive greater condemnation. They should be renounced, and those who have been duped by them are in desperate need of truth. Do you know anyone like this? If so, I believe you have an obligation to go them with the Scriptures in hand and plead with them to turn away from the corrupted systems that have spiritually victimized them.

There is one promise that we can offer with confidence: it is the promise of God’s word that if you will turn from sin and trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of your life, you will have eternal life. We don’t deserve it, we can’t earn it, and we can’t buy it. God offers it to you freely because He loves you, because He is full of grace and mercy. He has come to us in the person of the Lord Jesus in order to pay the debt we owe for us – because of our sins, each of us deserves the condemning judgment of God. But Jesus died for you and for me, and as He died on the cross, He took the punishment we deserve so that we could be forgiven and made righteous by faith in Him. And the hope of freedom in Him has been secured and validated for us by His glorious resurrection. Come to Him and receive what He offers freely – the gift of eternal life! And beware, lest anyone deceive you by the practices and promises of false religion.

Father, how the world needs to hear this word! We deplore the abuses that take place in Your name by the Christ-denying and Christ-corrupting promoters of false religion. We are well warned by Your word to beware! Keep our lives and our message pure, anchor our faith in the true promises of Your Word, and grant us courage to speak the truth in love to those who have been deceived. And should any be here today who are trusting in anything other than the saving merits of Jesus Christ alone as their source of ultimate hope, save them and set them free by the truth of the Gospel this day. We ask in Christ’s name.

As we sing our hymn of commitment __________________, we invite you to come if God has placed a burden on your heart today. Come and be set free from the effort to earn God’s favor by our works and our money. Receive from Him freely what you cannot buy: abundant and eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Come and pray if God has laid a person on your heart who needs to be set free by the power and promise of the Gospel. Come and unite with this church family, or for any other need that God may be speaking to your heart about.

[1] James Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 378.

[2] I am indebted to John MacArthur, whose sermon from the 2008 Shepherd’s Conference on the parallel account in Luke 21 opened my eyes to the central truth of this heartbreaking narrative.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute: Where Preaching Is Our Passion

Since 1946, Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute in Hendersonville has been a training ground for the Lord’s servants. The time I spent at Fruitland was the most meaningful and rewarding of all my theological training. It was there I learned how to faithfully study and proclaim God’s Word. Dr. Kenneth Ridings, through instruction and example, has been used by God to mold preachers at Fruitland for over forty years. For the last eleven years, he has served as President of Fruitland. Because of his faithful service to the Lord at Fruitland, the recently renovated Chapel on the campus has been named in his honor. A goal has been set to retire the debt incurred in the building of Kenneth Ridings Biblical Preaching Chapel before Dr. Ridings’ service comes to an end in December. I am humbly asking you who read this to prayerfully consider joining me in sending Fruitland a financial gift to help reach this goal.

Every time I step into the pulpit, I know that I have been blessed to have trained under truly gifted men of God such as Dr. Ridings. His influence in my life and ministry, and that of countless others, has been significant. My prayer is that the offerings we are able to send to Fruitland in his honor toward this sizeable goal will be multiplied many times over by others who appreciate biblical preaching and stand together with Fruitland in the calling to be “True to God’s Word and Loyal to His Purpose.”

You may send your contribution directly to Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute, 1455 Gilliam Rd., Hendersonville, NC 28792.

Storm Warning

And now for something completely different. Those who know me know I can become easily engrossed with ice hockey. It's a problem, I know. But understanding that, you can understand my excitement over the unveiling of the Hurricanes new alternate jersey today:

Some years ago, I emailed the Hurricanes suggesting a black jersey with the flag logo on it. I won't take credit for this, however, because apparently many others have been clamoring for it as well. For all I know, I was number 827 in suggesting it. But, I must say that the monochromatic squares at the bottom and the black on black swirlies on the shoulder don't do anything for me. I would prefer they had stuck with the black and red there. But, overall it's not bad.

As the great Nigel Tufnel famously said: "It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black."

I didn't say it, but I could have ...

"The megachurch story is not really about growth. It's about shifting allegiances. People want to feel good about who they already are. If church is too challenging or not entertaining, they'll move on." -- Philip Goff, Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University

HT: Ligon Duncan @ ref21

Monday, September 08, 2008

Not Far from the Kingdom of God: Mark 12:28-37

Audio here

It’s almost that time of year when fairs will roll into towns around our area. People will attend the fair to ride rides, eat different kinds of food, and play games to win prizes. Once upon a time in American fairs, cigars were given out as prizes for the carnival games. If you won the game, you got a cigar. If you didn’t win, you didn’t get a cigar—not even if you came close to winning. Hence our expression, “Close, but no cigar.”[1] But being close does count in some things. Most famously, perhaps, is the game of horseshoes. In horseshoes, if you throw a ringer, you get three points. But ringers are hard to throw, so there’s another way to score points in horseshoes. If you are closer to the stake than your opponent, you get one point. This gives rise to another famous saying, “Close only counts in horseshoes.” Now along the way, some genius determined that close also counts in something else: hand-grenades. If you throw a grenade, you don’t have to hit your target to get the desired result, you just have to throw it close. So now we say, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.” Of course, we all know that close counts in other things as well in life.

But in many areas of life, close is not close enough. If you don’t know how to swim, it makes a great difference if you can actually touch the bottom, or just come close to touching the bottom. If you work in sales and have a quota to reach, your boss may not think that close is good enough. When you are at the checkout counter and discover that your total exceeds your ability to pay, the cashier will count being close as good enough. The police officer who pulled me over in Old Fort, North Carolina a few years ago didn’t seem to care that I came close to stopping at the stoplight. A few years ago, I boarded a plane in New York to return home from a trip to West Africa. About fifteen minutes before landing, the pilot said, “In a few moments we’ll be touching down in Greenville.” I looked at the passenger beside me and said, “Did he say Greenville?” And he said, “Well, isn’t that close to Greensboro.” Alphabetically, I guess, but not geographically. I had either come close to getting on the right plane, or the pilot had come close to landing at the right airport. But for me, close in that case was not good enough. Fortunately, he had misspoken, and I thanked God as I saw the familiar scenery of the Triad upon our descent.

When it comes to your doctor, your pharmacist, your mailman, the driver in the lane beside of you, and any number of other individuals, you hope that they are not operating under the assumption that close counts. There are some things in life where close counts, and other aspects of life in which close is not good enough. Close counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades, but it doesn’t count when it comes to heaven. To come close to entering heaven is to end up in hell. There is no comfortable buffer zone between the two.

In our passage today, one of the scribes comes to Jesus with a question about which commandment is the foremost of all. Now, who are the scribes? They were people who trained in the copying, preserving, interpreting, and teaching of the Word of God. They were consulted by people to solve Scriptural dilemmas and to issue authoritative interpretations of God’s Law pertaining to various aspects of life.

The scribes had determined that there were 613 specific commandments or mitzvot in the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible. Now, lest you think that they went through the Old Testament with a fine tooth comb to number them all, here’s how they came up with that figure. In Hebrew, numbers are represented by letters. The word Torah, or law, contains four Hebrew consonants: Tav, which represents 400; Vav, which represents 6; Resh, which represents 200; and Heh, which represents 5. Add these together and you get 611. But they also calculated that two of the mitzvot predated the Torah. These are: “I am the Lord, your God,” and “You shall have no other gods before Me.” That adds up to 613. And since that figure was established, there have been numerous attempts to determine what the 613 commandments actually are. The most widely accepted list of the 613 commandments among Jewish people today was compiled by the Rabbi Maimonides of 12th Century AD, nearly 1200 years after the time of Christ. The point here is not to determine how many commandments there actually are in the Torah, for we would all agree there are many. The point of the scribe’s question is, however many there are, which one is the most significant, which is foremost?

In response to this question, Jesus answered profoundly. And the scribe received Jesus’ answer well. He said, “Right, Teacher.” He affirmed the truth of Jesus’ answer. And the attitude of the scribe was such that Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” In other words, this scribe was close. But entry into the Kingdom of God is not like horseshoes or hand-grenades. Close is not enough. And with these words, Jesus sought to prompt the scribe to take yet one more step and enter in.

Like this scribe, there are many whom we know today of whom it could be said, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God. You’re really close.” We are not so na├»ve to ignore the possibility that it could be said of some who are in our midst today. There are certain right attitudes that we may have about God, about man, and about Jesus that bring us close to the portal. But close is not far enough. We must cross the threshold. So, in our study of this passage, we want to examine how it is that some come so close without fully entering, and what step remains before entry is granted.

I. You are not far from the Kingdom of God when you have a right attitude toward God. (vv28-30).

Jesus said that the foremost commandment, the one that supersedes all others in significance for humanity, is this: “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Here Jesus is quoting the well known passage of Scripture found in Deut 6:4-5, referred to by the Jews as The Shema. “Shema” is the Hebrew word that is translated “Hear” at the beginning of the passage. When Moses spoke these words to the people, he followed them with this instruction: "These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” And so, many Jewish people recite it every morning and every evening. It is spoken at the beginning of nearly ever synagogue service. It is written upon tiny fragments of paper and enclosed within the phylacteries, the boxes that are strapped upon the forehead and forearm of the Orthodox Jews when they pray. Copies of the Shema are encased in the mezuzah, the ornamental container that pious Jews affix to their doorways.

The words of the Shema inform us of the nature of God. He is One. We do not worship a pantheon of deities as the pagans do. He is One, He alone is God, and He is Lord – the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all that is. And the most fitting response to this divine Being is love. The text does not say that our primary response to God should be obedience or service, for those things can be feigned or even compelled. The appropriate response to God is love, a response that cannot be artificial or the result of compulsion. The one and only God of the Universe desires to be the recipient of our love.

Love is a misunderstood concept. Most often, we associate it with a feeling or emotion. But, as I am sure you notice, the word love is a verb. It is not something we feel or have. It is something we do. In the Greek language there are many words used for the idea of “love.” The word phileo speaks of the love that friends share, a strong, brotherly bond. The word eros describes the romantic affections that lovers share. But the word used here is different. It is a form of the Greek word agapao, the perfect and unconditional, self-giving, self-sacrificing love that is characteristic of God Himself. This is the kind of love that God has for humanity, and the kind of love that Jesus says should be rendered unto God.

To love God in this way is to place Him above all other affections. It is to choose Him over all else that would compete for our attention and allegiance. It is to be in a personal, joyful relationship with Him. All acts of true obedience and service to God flow forth from this relationship of love. Apart from love for God, any attempt to labor for God would be meaningless. So before we can ever do anything for God, we must enter into a relationship of love with God.

And how shall we love God? Jesus says, “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” In other words, we are to love God with our entire being, with every faculty with which God has endowed us.[2] All of our emotions, all of our spiritual devotion, all of our intelligence, all of our will and effort are to combine and cooperate in expression of love for God. God has love us wholeheartedly, and our only fitting response to Him is to return that love to Him in a wholehearted way.

This, Jesus said, is the foremost commandment of all. And the scribe found himself in agreement with Jesus about this. “Right, Teacher,” he says, You have truly stated this.” And in saying this, the scribe demonstrates that he has a right attitude toward God. He understands His nature, and he understands that the most fitting, most primary, and most worthy response we can make to God is to love Him. And it is for this reason that Jesus says, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Many there are in our own day who understand these truths about God. They know He is there, and they know that He loves us, and we should in turn love Him. They have an accurate view of who God is and how we should relate to them. And this right attitude toward God has brought them close to the Kingdom of God. But it has not yet brought them inside.

II. You are not far from the Kingdom of God when you have a right attitude toward man. (v31)

Jesus was only asked for the single foremost commandment. But He went on to respond with the second: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a quotation of Leviticus 19:18. Now, leave it to human beings to turn this commandment up on its head. We read this and say, “See, it is important that we first love ourselves, so we can love our neighbors in the same way.” No, no friends. This is not a command to love ourselves. There is, in fact, no command in Scripture to love ourselves. The fact is, the love of self is natural to all of us. We cherish ourselves, we hold ourselves dear and precious in our own sight. We act habitually and even sacrificially out of self-interest and self-preservation. We are prone to place ourselves above others in our attitudes, affections, and actions. If anything, this commandment is a call to put that love for self aside and extend it to others instead. It is to say, “You know the way you are concerned for yourself, the way you protect yourself, provide for yourself, care for your own needs – extend that to your neighbor.”

In Luke 10:29, a teacher of the Law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with a parable about a man who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. A priest was passing by, and not wishing to be encumbered in the matter, passed over to the other side of the road and went on about his way. A Levite came by and did the same thing. But along came a Samaritan – one of those half-breeds that the Jewish people despised and considered unclean and impure – and he had compassion on the half-dead victim. He treated and bandaged his wounds, and transported him to a nearby inn and continued caring for him. Out of his own pocket, he provided for the ongoing care of this man. And Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?” And the teacher of the Law said, “The one who showed mercy toward him." So Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same." So, you see, the question is not “Who is my neighbor,” as if to say, “Who am I required to love in this way?” The question is rather, “Who may I be a neighbor to?” I am to be a loving neighbor to anyone whom God providentially places in my path for compassion and help.[3]

Now, why is the love of neighbor so important that Jesus mentions it here, when He’s only been asked for one commandment? It is because your neighbor is the image-bearer of God. He or she has been made in the image of God, and the way we regard one another is a reflection of our love for God. We demonstrate our love for God as we show love to others, and the only way we can love one another is we have comprehended, received, and allowed the love of God to flow through us toward them. “We love,” John says in 1 Jn 4:19, “because He first loved us.”

The love of God and the love of one’s neighbor, Jesus said, are the two greatest commandments. He said, “There is no other commandment greater than these.” In Matthew’s account, He adds, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” In other words, every other commandment of God is fulfilled in the outworking of these two. Take the Ten Commandments as a test case. If one loves God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, then one will not have other gods before Him, make or worship idols. We will not take His name in vain or violate His Sabbath principle if we love Him in this way. And if we love our neighbors as ourselves, we will honor our mothers and fathers, we will not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness or covet what belongs to our neighbor. So we don’t have to go through life with a checklist of 613 (or however many there really are) commandments and prohibitions – we just have these two: love God completely, love your neighbor selflessly. You do that, and all the rest takes care of itself.

And to this, the scribe says, “Right Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself is much more than all burn offerings and sacrifices.” There is no ritual or deed we can do that surpasses the primary responsibilities we have of loving God and loving our neighbors. Jesus perceived the scribe’s response to be an intelligent one according to v34, and so He said, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Many people you know are intelligent enough to understand that religion that does not benefit humanity is no true religion at all. They understand that human beings have an obligation to one another. They have the right attitude toward man, and on that basis, we might say of them that they are not far from the Kingdom. They’re really close. But close isn’t close enough.

III. You are not far from the Kingdom when you have a right attitude about Jesus (v32-34)

When Jesus heard this scribe’s response to what He had said about the commandments, He “saw that he had answered intelligently.” We might translate that phrase as, “He saw that he had answered as one who had a mind.” You see, though Mark’s Gospel does not demonstrate any animosity in this scribe’s approach to Jesus, Matthew sheds a little different light on the encounter. From Matthew’s Gospel, it appears that this scribe has come to Jesus on behalf of the Pharisees. Most of the scribes of Jesus’ day were Pharisees. You recall that the Pharisees were at constant odds with Jesus over His teachings and actions which called into question their authority and their traditions. While they were certainly pleased that He had just silenced their arch-rivals, the Sadducees, they still despised Him and wanted to get rid of Him. And if this scribe has been sent as a delegate from the Pharisees, then it is unlikely that he has come for information purposes only. This question about the foremost commandment, like the others Jesus has faced in the preceding sections of Mark’s Gospel, was likely a loaded one, and one which they hoped would trap Jesus with His own words. But it didn’t work. When this scribe heard Jesus’ response, he couldn’t top him. In fact, he even agreed with him. Oops. That wasn’t supposed to happen. That’s not why the Pharisees sent this guy to Jesus. But, this man didn’t let the Pharisees tell him how he should think about Jesus. He had a mind. And he knew truth when he heard it, and Jesus had just spoken it.

He is not far from the Kingdom because he has formed his own opinion about Jesus instead of bowing to the pressure of his peers in their hatred of him. Notice that the scribe speaks in agreement with Jesus. “Right.” It can be translated, “Excellent” or “Beautiful.” He sees the value of the words of Jesus. And he is correct to refer to Jesus as a Teacher, for such He is. And he is right to affirm the truth of what Jesus has said. It’s little wonder that Mark says, “After that, no one would venture to ask Him anymore questions.” Not only had they all failed in their efforts to trap Jesus with their questions, but now one of them has actually started to change his mind about Jesus. They don’t want that happening, so … no more questions! This guy is close. He has the right attitude toward God, the right attitude toward man, and he is even beginning to develop the right attitude toward Jesus. He’s not far at all. But he’s still not inside the Kingdom. And like him, many speak highly of Jesus and affirm the wisdom of His teaching. They see Him as a good moral person, a wise sage, a powerful prophet even. They respect Him. They’re not far from the Kingdom because of their attitude about him. But they aren’t close enough yet.

IV. You enter the Kingdom when you recognize Jesus as Lord. (vv35-37).

After Jesus tells this scribe that he’s not far off, He began to say to the large crowd gathered ‘round Him, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?” The scribes knew their Bibles better than most. It was their field of expertise. They knew that the promise of the Messiah was that He would come from the lineage of David. He would be like David in many ways, and would lead them to great days of shalom, the blessed and blissful state of God’s peace. They knew the Scriptures, and they knew that Messiah was to be a son of David. But they missed something in their study of the Scriptures. Jesus points to Psalm 110, the most frequently quoted verse of the OT in the NT. In so doing, He affirms the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, indicating that what David wrote there was inspired by the Holy Spirit. And what did David write, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet.” Everyone who read these words understood that they referred to the coming Messiah who would vanquish every foe and establish a Kingdom of justice, righteousness and peace. They are right to learn from the Scriptures that the Messiah is a son, or descendant of David. But they have missed a very important fact about the Messiah.

Jesus said, “David himself calls Him Lord.” Now, in the Hebrew of Psalm 110, the first case of the word Lord is the divine name YHWH. And the second is the Hebrew word Adonai, which was frequently applied to God, but could also be used to refer to another person as a term of respect. However, in ancient Israelite society, no father would refer to his son or even his more distant descendants as “Lord.” A son may refer to his father or to an elder in his family as Adonai, but the older would not address the younger with this term. And that is Jesus’ point: David spoke of his messianic descendant as “my Lord,” indicating that David understood Messiah would be greater than himself, and more than just his physical offspring. Jesus was indeed a descendant of David, as the genealogies in Matthew and Luke both demonstrate, but He was more than David’s son. He was David’s Lord. And though the scribes understood the lineage of Messiah, and though this scribe in particular had high personal regard for Jesus, they had not come to the point of recognizing Him as Lord. And for that reason, this scribe remains just “not far from the Kingdom of God.” But if he will take yet one more step, and surrender his life to Jesus as his Lord, then he would enter into that Kingdom.

Close counts in some things, but not when it comes to the Kingdom of God. You are either in or you are out. Jesus said in John 10:9, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.” And we enter that door as we recognize Him by faith as Lord and receive His promise of salvation from sin. So, what about you? Have you entered that door? Is Christ Lord of your life? You may have high regard for the things of God and act on your responsibility to your fellow man, and even have a deep admiration for Jesus. If so, then you’re not far off. But have you taken that final step to surrender your life to Him as Lord? If this scribe is to enter the Kingdom, He must take that step, as must each of us. The door is opened, and the offer is extended. Receive Him as Lord, and be not content to be close, because when it comes to this, close doesn’t count, and the consequences are eternal. Many of you have entered in, and looking over your shoulder through the portal of the Kingdom, you see others whom you know who are not far off. Are you praying for them? Are you loving them? Are you inviting them, urging them, to enter in with you? God may be laying someone on your heart today whom you need to confront with a simple question: “Is Christ Lord of your life?” He died for your sins, and for the sins of that one who is not far off, and He conquered death through His resurrection. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” There are so many who are close, but not close enough. One step yet remains. Call upon the risen Jesus as your Lord today and be saved. Beckon others to call upon Him and be saved as well.

[1], Accessed 9/4/2008.

[2] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 493.

[3] Hendriksen, 494.