1) Mark 1:21-22: The Authority of Jesus Christ to Teach
2) Mark 1:23-26: The Authority of Jesus Christ Over the Evil One 3) Mark 2:1-12: The Authority of Jesus Christ Over Sin 4) Mark 2:13-17: The Authority of Jesus Christ Over Our Past, Present, and Future 5) Mark 2:18-3:6: The Authority of Jesus Christ Over Religion 6) Mark 1:12-13: Duel in the Desert: The Temptation of Jesus 7) Mark 1:16-18: Becoming Fishers of Men 8) Mark 3:22-30: The Unforgiveable Sin 9) Mark 4:35-41: Facing Life's Storms 10) Mark 10:32-39: The Father's Plan
11) Mark 15:42-47: Jospeh of Arimathea: Risking it all for Jesus
Mark 1:21-22: The Authority of Jesus Christ to Teach
Mark 1:21-22: “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”
Truth. Where do you find it? Who can you believe? How do you differentiate truth from legend? From myth? From lies? Where do you go to find truth? Is Jesus’ truth any better than Confucius’ truth or Mohammad’s truth or Ron L. Hubbard’s truth? How can we trust who speaks for truth? Who has the authority to bring us truth? Isn’t truth relative?--"If it is true for you, then it is your truth." But truth is not based upon your belief. Your belief in something does not make it true. Your opinion does not qualify as truth. Your belief does not change something into truth. Your belief should be shaped by truth.
Mark 1:21: “And Jesus began to teach and the people were amazed because He taught with authority.” The Jewish people heard teaching all their lives. They heard sermon after sermon. They had rabbis who were teaching them. They went to Sabbath school. They had all kinds of teachers, but something stood out about Jesus. Something was profoundly different about the teaching of Jesus. So, what was so different? The rabbis taught their opinion. The rabbis gave their feelings and inclinations and understanding of what others before them had said. Rabbi A may say, “Moses declared this and I think this means that you should do this.” And Rabbi B counters, “Well, I believe we should go this way.” They expressed their opinion on the truth that God had given to Moses and to the other prophets. But Jesus does not give His opinion. Have you ever heard Jesus say, “Well, I think it is like this? I believe that God meant this.” He says, “God is like this." "I tell you the truth.”
Jesus’ manner of speaking and His claims are so different from other teachers that we are faced with a dilemma. Either He is as one man puts it, a liar, a lunatic, or He is Lord. Because truly when you start looking at what He says, you cannot say He is just a good prophet, just a good teacher, just a good man, or just a good role model because He claims to be more than these. He said things like, “I and the Father are one." "If you see me, you have seen the Father." "The Father is living in me." And that is one reason He was crucified. Yes, they plotted against Him because they were not willing, like John the Baptist, to give up their positions of authority, but they also were not willing to accept His claims to be more than just a man.
And that is what the people who listened to Jesus discovered. It says, “And they were amazed.” Astounded. Literally, the word for “amazed” means, “they were beaten flat.” It is a word that is used of a blacksmith when he is pounding on red hot metal. It is kind of the same illustration we would use, “Man, you told us and it just floored me. It threw me for a loop. I was disoriented. I could not understand it. It did not make sense.” The prophets spoke for God, but they did not speak as God. Jesus speaks the very words of God to us. Do you believe that? You say you do until it demands you change your perspective and your behavior. You believe it until you have to start living by it. Once you have to make a change, it becomes personal. It is no longer just a topic for thought and discussion. That is when we rebel.
Jesus spoke with authority. What is authority? Authority is someone who has the right to influence or command your thoughts, your opinions or your behavior. Who has authority in your life? Is there anyone in your life that speaks to you and says, “You need to do this?” Is it pop culture? Advertisers? Your peers? A self-help guru? A religious teacher? Who? One in authority has the right and power to command behavior. A captain has authority over a lieutenant; a lieutenant over a sergeant, and so on. It is the behavior that matters and we will see when Jesus ends this long section, He says, “He who hears and practices what I say is the one who follows me.” It is behavior rooted in right attitude and relationship with God.
Jesus has authority to declare truth, to define what life is really all about, what works and what does not work, how God has designed life to work. But what gives Jesus the authority to declare truth? Just because He claimed such authority, does not mean He has it. There are three differences between Jesus and other teachers. First, Jesus spoke about God as if He actually knew Him. All the religious teachers spoke about God. That was their topic--about God. But Jesus was different. He talked about God with first-hand experience. Jesus taught with authority. He was telling people what God is like. What gives Him the right to do that? What gives Him any more right than Pastor Dave saying, “Well, God is like Captain Kirk?” What gives Him the right? Jesus says, “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence.” People can tell you about all different kinds of things but unless they have experienced themselves what it is like, they do not have credibility. They are imagining it, they are making it up. I could tell you what it is like to walk on the moon. "It is just amazing, folks. There is hardly any gravity. You just kind of feel like you are floating on air." But since I was never really there, you understand that I am merely repeating what others have said. But if Neil Armstrong tells you what it is like, you can believe him. He has the experience to back up what he is saying. Jesus says, “I can tell you about God the Father because I have seen Him. I have been in His presence.” Jesus tells us, “The Father is like a man who has a son who says, ‘Dad, give me my stuff. I cannot stand it anymore. I want to do my thing’ and takes his inheritance and goes away and squanders it. The father waits and waits for his son to come back. He grieves because his son is dead to him. And then one day he is looking out the window, watching down that dusty road and he sees his son coming back. The father does not sit there anymore. He does not keep watching the window. He gets up and throws open the door and runs down the gateway and throws his arms around his son and welcomes him home. The old man runs to greet the son and says, ‘Welcome home my child, for once you were dead and now you are alive.’” Jesus says, “That is what my Father is like. That is what your God is like.”
Secondly, Jesus speaks for God in a special way. The definition of a prophet is someone who speaks for God, not just about God, as a teacher does. But Jesus was different. He speaks for the Father because He is the Son, intimately related in a way that is hard for us to understand. He says in John 12, “Whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” Think of the difference like this. Concerning a human prophet, God speaks the message He wants the people to know, then the prophet writes it down or simply conveys it to the people. The Son speaks for the Father in a different way. The Son lives with the Father and knows His heart and how He thinks. When He speaks to the people, He speaks for the Father because He has first-hand knowledge of His desires and ways. "This is what the Father is like and this is what He wants."
Thirdly, Jesus spoke as God. “The words I say to you,” Jesus said, “are not just my own. Rather, my Father living in me. The words I share with you are not just my words. This is what God is saying and the words I am speaking to you are spoken as straight from the Father’s mouth to your ears.” He is speaking as God. The Pharisees and Sadducees absolutely understood that Jesus claimed to be God in their very presence. “From before Abraham was, I am.” He claims to be God the Son. This means that Jesus not only claims to teach the truth but claims to be the truth. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” You can follow Confucius if you want, but he is not going to take you to the Father. You can follow Krishna if you want, but he is not going to lead you to the Father. You can follow the pattern of Ron L. Hubbard, but he is not going to take you to the Father. Only the Son can bring us to the Father.
Or is Jesus lying? Is He just exaggerating? Is He making Himself appear to be more than He is? If He is, He is lying. Is Jesus lying or is He telling the truth when He says, “No man comes to the Father except through me.” An ordinary man cannot say this without being a liar or lunatic. The world would have us believe that Jesus is just a prophet. He is just a teacher. Jesus taught us to be nice to each other, they say. Jesus taught us to do to others as we would have them do to us. But a nice teacher does not lie to us. If He cannot truly bring us to the Father, then He is lying to us. Yes, Jesus is a good prophet. He foretells the future without error and conveys God's message to the people without error. Yes, Jesus is a good model to follow. Do not we call ourselves Christians? But He is so much more. His death bought our salvation. His death did more than my death could do for you or your death for me. He is the Savior, Lord of all, not a liar or lunatic.
Mark 1:21 says Jesus “began to teach.” And verse 22 says, “The people were amazed at His teaching because he taught them as one who has authority.” Mark does not tell us what Jesus was teaching at the time that moved the people to say what they did about Him. Why not? Mark does not go there because he is speaking to Romans who do not want a whole lot of conversation until they know it is really worth listening to. They want to know why they should listen to this Galilean prophet. Who is he? What kind of power does he have? He had no army, he had no property, he had no wealth. He was crucified on a cross. That is how a criminal dies. Why should we bother listening to his teaching? That is why Mark, under Peter’s guidance, spends so much time telling them about the things Jesus did that showed His authority over the important aspects of life that concerns them most. He tells them true stories (all gospel writers were selective when conveying the events of Jesus’ life to fit their overall theme and goals. There were simply too many to record them all—John 21:24-25) about how Jesus has the power over evil spirits, sickness, death, sin, and eternal life. He tells them these things to validate Jesus’ message about the kingdom of God and His substitutionary death on a cross for their sin and rebellion against God. These things that Jesus did were signs that His teaching and message needs to be heeded. He is no ordinary teacher of Jewish law. He is no ordinary prophet delivering God’s message to the people. He is the Son of God come to reconcile man and God. The simple message was: “Jesus died for our sins and on the third day rose from the dead to give eternal life to all who believe.” That is an astounding message for a people who were not mentally and spiritually prepared by Old Testament history. But if He is capable of dominion over evil spirits, sickness, death, sin, and can give eternal life, then what He has to say about forgiveness and reconciliation with God must be given serious attention. They needed to listen closely to what He had to say.
Mark 1:21 identifies the place Jesus was teaching when His hearers were amazed at His teaching, the synagogue, but not exactly what He said. But there is another place in another gospel in which the crowds were also amazed. Let us look at Matthew chapters 5-7. This scene was on a mountainside near Galilee (Matthew 4:23-25). The last two verses of this section say: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” So what was Jesus teaching that caused the mostly Jewish hearers to be amazed. Matthew chapters 5-7 is commonly called The Sermon on the Mount. It is too long for us to examine here but there is something important I want you to see.
Numerous times in this section Jesus tells them “I tell you” before He tells them something important—Matthew 5:18, 21, 26, 28, 32, 34, 39, 43; Matthew 6:2, 5, 16, 25, 29; Matthew 7:23. It is an interesting study to read this section and notice what teachings follow the “I tell you” declarations. In conclusion He tells them in Matthew 7:24: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” And later in verse 26, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” In verses 28 and 29 Mark records their response. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
It is not so much about the bad things you are doing, He tells them. It is more about the good you should be doing that you are not. It is more about the absence of goodness in your life that matters most. The avoidance of sin is chiefly more about just the avoidance of bad things in your life but because of the bad the good cannot find a place in you. In The Sermon on the Mount Jesus constantly puts parameters around some truth He has just taught to help His listeners understand Him better. His message is a positive one. He wants the good in our lives and in order for that to be true for you and me sin, or the bad, must be uprooted and taken out. The teachers of the law were overwhelmingly negative. Jesus was different, very different.
God is concerned that we are not simply avoiding sin but that we are doing the right things with the right heart so that our lives can be fruitful. Not having termites in your house does not make your house stronger. Having good wood in your house makes your house stronger. Not having a fungus in your orchard does not give you better fruit. Having fungus gives you bad fruit. Because you do not have it does not give you better fruit. Getting fertilizer and growing that fruit gives you better fruit. Yes, you want to avoid the bad things in your life but Jesus tells us to build good into your life so that you can be fruitful and have a better relationship with God and man. He does not want you just to survive without the termites. He wants you to flourish and be strong in your life. “Here is the bigger picture. Here is how life really works,” He tells them.
Will you let truth speak with authority in your own life. That is what it really comes down to. Will you let truth speak in your life or are you committed to lies? He is truth. That is the beautiful thing about this. Jesus does not just bring a bunch of external rules for us to follow. He does not give this big, long list of dos and don’ts. It is not an external set of rules but a living, internal power that Jesus brings into our lives. He does not just tell you what to do. He says, “I will give you the power to do it.” Where He leads, He provides. And as He nudges you and encourages and strengthens you, He will give you what you need to accomplish it.
Jesus ends this whole passage in Matthew with these words, “Anyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who builds his house upon the rock and the winds came and the creek rose and the storms blew, but the house stood because it was founded upon the rock. But anyone who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like the fool who builds his house upon the sand.” It was good for a time. It stood there with all the other houses. “But when the winds came and the creek rose and the storm blew, the house collapsed and there was nothing left.” Do you recognize what makes the difference? The difference is not in those who go to church on Sunday and hear God’s truth. The difference is those who hear and then live it out. That means you have to do something. God loves you and does not want you to keep on living in pain and living according to lies because they will destroy your life.
We can give all kind of excuses why we do not have to do the right thing. “It does not really matter if I do this. I mean, God will forgive me anyway.” But God says, “If you do not heed My warning, your house is going to collapse. It is going to be torn away. But he who hears and lives it out, his house will stand.” These are the words of Jesus. Do you believe them?
Mark 1:23-26: The Authority of Jesus Christ Over the Evil One
Mark 1:23-26: "Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!' 'Be quiet!' said Jesus sternly. 'Come out of him!' The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek."
Read Mark chapter one, verses 23-26. As we look at this passage, we are going to find some surprises. It starts off in verse 23, “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the holy one of God.’ ‘Be quiet,’ Jesus said sternly. ‘Come out of him.’ And the evil spirits shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” I want you to notice something very important. The man is in the synagogue. We really do not like that. The synagogue was like an Old Testament church and was supposed to be a holy, sacred place. What is a demon doing in there? Satan is no respecter of persons or places. He has a complete lack of respect for anything having to do with God. His opposition is complete and total.
This man is possessed by an evil spirit and the evil spirit cries out. Notice it was not that the man stood up and shouted but the evil spirit took control of him. The demon says, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” The demon recognized Jesus. Satan and those with him oppose Jesus every step of the way. Did Satan try to kill Jesus when He was just a child? Oh, yeah, when he was two years old. Do you think Satan tried to distract Jesus, Mary, and Joseph? All along the way. "If we can just nip this in the bud, we will have no problem." "He is only seven years old. We will get him here." "He is only 12. Now we can get him." All along the way they fought Jesus and His mission. So they know who He is. “I know who you are, the holy one of God.”
Recognize that demons recognize Jesus even though the people do not. This demon recognized Him right away and said, “Have you come to destroy us? We know what the plan is, we know what you intend to do but I did not think it was going to happen right now. I did not think it was today.” And it is not, but the day is coming. And here is Jesus’ reply to him, basically four words. “Shut up! Get out!” Direct, active commands. Not, “shhh, do not tell anybody. Do not speak. You are messing up what I am trying to do here.” No, Jesus is very direct and authoritative. “Shut up!” He is saying it sternly. It is not a matter of being impolite. It is an authoritative command. “And the evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.”
Almost half the chapters in Mark record an incident where Jesus confronts demons—chapters 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9. And it is not just Mark. Matthew, Luke, and John also talk about it. Ephesians, 1 Corinthians, Timothy, Hebrews all talk about it. Romans talks about it. Revelation talks about it. You would have to throw the whole Bible away if you want to get around it. Evil spirits are real.
Notice. Jesus has absolute authority. Jesus does not have to grab him and shake him. Jesus does not wave a magic branch over his head. Jesus does not say some kind of incantation. Jesus says, “Shut up! Get out!” and it is done. Absolute authority, just like that. That is the reality of the light coming into the world and casting out the darkness.
When I read through these five different passages in Mark this week, I was struck by how little Jesus has to say about demon possession. And that is, to me, absolutely shocking. Jesus is a teacher. What a great teaching opportunity this would have been. He has a built-in interested audience, the synagogue. “Oh, Jesus, tell us what is going on. How did it happen to the guy? What is it like? What is he doing? Where is he going? Where did he come from? What do we do with it?” What a great teaching time, right? And what does Jesus’ teaching consist of? “Shut up! Get out! Now I am going on with my message.” Huh? That does not make sense to me. If anybody knows about demons and Satan, it is Jesus. If anyone can speak authoritatively on the subject, it is Jesus. So why doesn’t He? Jesus’ message is not about Satan. It is about God. He is the focus. Jesus’ message is not about darkness. It is about light. Jesus’ message is not about the evil one but about deliverance. John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For the Son did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save the world.” His message is about salvation, not the evil one.
We can get all wrapped up in the evil side of it because of the excitement. Jesus does not do that. There are two major dangers when we talk about Satan and demons. I was reading a little bit of C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters this week and at the very beginning Lucifer talks to Wormwood and says, “We have two great benefits to achieving our goals. Either people will deny that we exist or people will become so focused on us that they forget about the power of God. Either they will deny that we exist or become so focused on us that they will see us in everything. Either they will deny us or they will focus upon us. Either way, we win.”
Our commission is not to cast out demons. Our commission is to share the Good News. Our commission is to go, proclaim and teach the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. So watch out that you do not get distracted. This is why I do not talk about it much. It is because Jesus does not talk about it much. It is not the center of Jesus’ ministry and neither should it be the center of ours. At times it may be necessary, but it is not to be sensationalized. Afterall, there will be those who "cast out demons" (Matt. 7:22) who do it without the blessing and "authorization" (Matt. 7:23, NLT; "lawlessness" in Newberry's Greek New Testament) of Jesus. To these Jesus will say, "I never knew you. Go away...."
This message is about the authority of Jesus over the evil one, but for you it now turns to the message of Jesus’ authority over you. As a Christian we do not have to worry about being possessed by a demon. A demon cannot possess someone who already belongs to Jesus. Because we belong to Jesus we are off limits to Satan, as far as possession goes. But we can be oppressed, deceived, and hindered. No one was more committed during the early years of the church than Paul but Satan attacked him regularly (2 Cor. 12:7, 1 Thess. 2:18). If Satan has the gall to attacked Jesus, the Son of God, why wouldn’t he want to attack you? Even as a believer, you can allow the demons to have authority over you. How? By listening to what they say. By denying the power of Jesus. Denying the truth of His word. When you deny the truth of His word, deny His promises, you are letting Satan have influence over you. How many want to be influenced by Satan? Well, no! But do you recognize every time we listen to his voice versus the authority of Jesus’ voice, we are choosing who is going to have influence over us?
The battle for us as Christians is not over spiritual possession, because as believers we have Christ living in us. The battle is over whether we will be empowered and strengthened to follow Him. Jesus does not want us to misunderstand His main focus and purpose. It is not about you being smarter, about you being stronger, about you being better; it is about Him having authority over you. Jesus did not come as a miracle worker. He came to be our Savior and life.
Jesus tells us to come to Him and walk with Him daily and if we do His peace will rule our hearts and empower us. In Ephesians 6:10-18 Paul tells us the same thing but uses the picture of a soldier’s armor (NLT): “A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation, as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” And that is how you walk with Christ on a daily basis. That is how you give Jesus authority over your life on a daily basis. This does not mean you will not have struggles or be attacked. Jesus told us otherwise. The lives of the disciples tell us otherwise. The question is whether we will follow Jesus into the unknown, during hard times, as well as the good.
All authority has been given to Jesus Christ. He has the authority. He is in us and He is greater than the one who is in the world and therefore, we do not have to be overcome by evil, but we can overcome evil with the goodness of Christ. We have a God who is over it all. “I have come to bring good news, not condemnation.” Jesus does not focus on the evil one because He does not want to give him any more press time. He wants you to focus on the Father who brings truth, who brings life, who brings health to your life. You do not have to focus on the evil one when the evil one has already been defeated by the King of kings. He is just trying to scramble and pick up the pieces. But you belong to the King of kings so rely upon Him as Lord over your life.
Mark 2:1-12: The Authority of Jesus Christ Over Sin
Mark 2:1-12: “A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’"
So many people had gathered that He could not talk to the people. He could not teach them anymore. The people had come to be healed from all the neighboring cities. So much so that overnight Jesus withdraws to pray and remove Himself from the crowds. The disciples wake up and look outside and there is this crowd of sick people outside of Peter’s house. And Peter and John look at each other, “What are we going to do? We cannot do anything with this. Go find Jesus.” And they find Jesus off by Himself praying and the disciples say, “Jesus, you have to come. There are all kinds of people to heal. The crowd is so big we do not know what to do with them.” And Jesus says, “Great. Let us go someplace else.” Huh? Let us go someplace else? Does He not care? Absolutely He cares, but He cares more about the mission that the Father gave Him. He did not come simply to heal the sick, to fix people’s temporary problems. He came to cure mankind for eternity through His death, His resurrection, and the truth but it is so easy to get wrapped in the immediacy of the urgent that you neglect the importance of the significant. If Jesus had gone about healing everybody He came in contact with, everybody that wanted healing, His ministry would have ended in three years and we would not know His name. Oh, the learned would be aware that there was a healer back in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, but would it make a difference in our lives? Jesus does heal people to show He cares but He always emphasizes that it is His salvation mission and message that are most important. He has come to do the Father’s work—the reconciliation between God and man.
After leaving for a few days to let the crowds disperse, Jesus again returned to Capernaum to teach. But shortly afterward, “the people heard he had returned home.” Whose house is this? This is Peter’s house. Peter is a man’s man and liked to be in control; he likes things organized. Watch what happens. It brings a new perspective to this story. So many gathered at the house that many had to stand outside. And while Jesus was preaching the word to them something extraordinary happens. “Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.”
This is a great Sunday School story. It is usually presented as an example of how great faith results in great things, usually healing. Four faithful men lower a faithful paralytic to Jesus and he is healed. The lesson usually taught is that healing will happen for you if you believe. It is your faith that is the determining factor. But let's look closely at this because that is not even the main point of the story.
Recognize this guy has people that care about him. It is important to have friends. Good friends are hard to come by; friends that will go out of their way for you. These guys believed that Jesus could make a difference in their friend but because of the crowd could not get him before Jesus. Four men carrying another man on a mat could not push their way through the crowd. Now what? Did they give up? What happens next is kind of humorous. They start digging a hole through Peter’s roof. Can you imagine Peter’s reaction at this point? It has to bring a smile to your face. Can you feel these men’s sense of urgency? This was their friend’s only chance to get to Jesus and they would not easily give up. Even though they may be a little scared of Peter, they do not care.
It is a flat top roof. You can get to the roof by climbing up some stairs. You could sleep up there in the summer when it is hot or work up there because it could hold your weight. The roof is made up of timbers going across a lower level. These timbers were usually about 15 feet, or so, because those are the biggest trees they could get. And then they crossed those with branches and sticks and then cover all that with six inches of mud. They press it down and mold it in so it ends up becoming very strong and waterproof. So these men have a hard, mud-packed ceiling about six inches thick to dig through to get to Jesus. This did not just take a couple minutes. They had to work at it. And you can be sure they had a lot of people yelling at them to stop.
Imagine the scene. Jesus is teaching some great truth concerning the kingdom of God and dust and mud are falling down, chunks of mud and sticks that have been up there for ten, twelve years. The whole room is covered with this haze of dust and chunks of debris falling from above. They finally dig out a hole big enough to lower the man before Jesus. The man is lowered to Jesus’ feet. They definitely have Jesus’ attention, as well as the room full of people. The people were probably very irritated by these men and waiting for Jesus to tear into them for being so rude and disrespectful. “How dare they interrupt the master while he is teaching!” The tense silence is broken by Jesus saying, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” What?! I repeat, What?! What kind of response is that? All who heard what Jesus said were shocked and some were offended, even ‘outraged’. “Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’"
It says, “Jesus saw their faith.” Does their faith heal the paralytic man? We hear a lot about faith healing. The idea is that genuine faith draws blessing, most often physical healing and in prosperity circles, riches. It is us that matters the most. Our faith “forces” a blessing response. And this story is often used to corroborate that teaching. But look closely, that is not the point of the story. Jesus does not heal the man in response to his faith. He tells him his sins are forgiven. This man has saving faith in the Messiah, the Savior of his soul. Knowing this Jesus declares what is true. This man is a child of God and hence his sins are forgiven. And that is the point of the story. Jesus has authority to declare that a person’s sins are forgiven.
Many were puzzled by what Jesus said, but the teachers of the law, Pharisees, understood and were outraged. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” “Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’" To prove that He indeed has authority over sin He heals this man. This healing was for teaching purposes. Jesus did not “have to” heal him. Jesus came to preach forgiveness, reconciliation, and holy living. Healing was instrumental to those ends. Healing was not Jesus’ main mission. But surrounded by such suffering He often demonstrated His compassion by healing. But He always had to seek a balance because to people the healings became the message. Notice numerous times Jesus tells someone who was healed to not publicize it, because when word spread about the healings Jesus lost opportunities to teach and minister concerning the kingdom of God. Crowds so pressed on Him and caused chaos that He could not teach. Jesus wants us to know that He cares but He also wants us to know what is most important. How would we know that Jesus cares about our every day needs if He ignored those needs while He was here? Jesus’ compassion moved Him to heal but His wisdom limits it so as not to become confused with His main mission.
Which is easier to say, you are forgiven or get up and walk? I guess they are both easy to verbalize. But which is easier to accomplish? Which is easier to validate to the listener? If I tell you your sins are forgiven, how do you know that what I am saying is true? You would have to have access to God Himself to verify that. Not too likely for the average person. But if I said I could heal you, all I have to do is heal you to verify my veracity. How do you know the guy’s sins are forgiven him? There is no tangible, physical proof of that. But if a paralytic got up and walked away you could see that. You get to experience it. So to show that He has authority over sin He tells the man to get up and go home.
There were two responses on that day. The people who were there to listen and be taught by Jesus praised God. The Pharisees who were not there to be taught by Him but rather to find fault in Him so they could reject Him as their Messiah cursed Him. They were correct that only God can forgive sins but they refused to receive the healing as a direct statement by Jesus that He indeed had authority over sin, and hence not an ordinary man. The Gospels record many incidents where Jesus said or did something that declares who He is but instead of receiving it the unrepentant religious leaders hated Him all the more. Even the power of God to heal did not deter them. Their traditions and interpretations held more power with them than the words and works of Jesus, the Son of God. And in rejecting Jesus they showed their opposition to the Father.
One of the great faiths of Christianity is that Jesus is the Son of God—as Colossians 1:15 says, He is the “physical representation of the invisible God.” But Jesus here in Mark uses the term Son of Man to describe Himself. What is the significance of this designation? This is the first time it occurs in Mark. It occurs a little bit later in this chapter and it occurs nine other times later on. Jesus uses it to describe himself over 80 times in the New Testament. Why does He pick that? He could say the “Son of David.” He could call himself the Messiah. He could call himself Jesus of Nazareth. Why does He call himself the “Son of Man?” Remember Daniel? Remember all the visions? There was a lion, a bear, a leopard and the dragon, all the different visions. In chapter seven he records, "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. “ Daniel talked about the Son of Man having absolute authority with the blessing of the “Ancient of Days.” The Jews knew who the Ancient of Days was. It was God Himself, the Creator of all things. And with the blessing of this Ancient of Days, the Son of Man was to be worshipped and have authority over all.
The other major place in the Old Testament Scriptures in which the Son of Man is prominent is Ezekiel. God calls Ezekiel, “o son of man” ninety times. God would speak to Ezekiel, “O son of man do this,” “O son of man do that,” “O son of man, this is what you need to say,” “O son of man, go here.” He says in chapter two, “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says.' And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them.” What did Jesus come to do? If any of you know Ezekiel, you know the story in chapter 37, the story of the dry bones. God addresses Ezekiel as son of man and then tells him what to do. "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’” And that is what Jesus came to do—give life to all that believe.
Notice this. God promised through Ezekiel to give life to a lifeless Israel. In his vision Ezekiel speaks and the bones gain flesh. He breathes on them and they come to life. In Mark Jesus tells a physically lifeless man that he has been given life and to verify that the man rises up much as the dry bones rose up in Ezekiel’s vision. This man is not just a vision. What happened to him really happened. As Ezekiel prophesied, The Sovereign Lord gives life, and before all in that room Jesus gives life. That man represented what God wanted to do for Israel. But the response of the Pharisees showed they were not willing to receive Him into their lives. Forgiveness requires faith. The paralytic had it; the Pharisees did not. That man walked away with the life of God in him. The Pharisees were still dry bones. And that is the point of what happened that day in Capernaum.
The Authority of Jesus Christ Over Our Past, Present, and Future
Mark 2:13-17: “Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the ‘sinners’ and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’"
Each of the gospels is written to a distinct audience and Mark’s gospel, written by Mark by the direction of Peter, is written to the Roman mindset, to the Roman world. In fact, some even point out that it might have been written by Peter and Mark while Peter was in prison in Rome awaiting his execution. Peter was able to say, “I was there. Here is what Jesus said and did. Here is what happened.”
The Roman asks, “What gives this man, possibly of illegitimate birth (not being aware of the Incarnation and Virgin Birth), born in some obscure village in Israel the right to tell us or anybody else how to live? What gives some Jew the right to tell me, a Roman citizen, how I should live? I am accountable to one authority only, and that is to Caesar. So what gives Him the right to teach us? Why should we listen to Him?” The book of Mark focuses on the authority of Jesus. Jesus demonstrates His authority to teach. Jesus demonstrates His authority over evil spirits. Jesus demonstrates His authority over sickness. Jesus demonstrates His authority over sin.
And now we are going to see how Jesus can have authority in your daily life; if you let Him. Unlike Jesus’ authority over evil spirits, sickness, and sin, in order for Jesus’ authority to be real and active in our daily lives, we have to want it and allow it. During this time on earth He has given us the power to say “yes” or “no” to Him. And we will see that demonstrated in Mark 2:13-17.
Let’s look at Mark 2:13-17. “Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’" This Levi is Matthew, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew. Recognize that this person and others like him were hated by the Jewish people because they had turned from their loyalties to Judaism, from their fellow man, and turned to security of an income by becoming a Roman tax gatherer. They are considered traitors and untrustworthy. If there is a court case, they could not testify in it. Even if the court case was against his own son a tax gatherer could not testify. He could not testify because “you know those tax people. They lie all the time.” He could not go to synagogue. He could not go to the temple. He could not do anything with the religious people. He was an outcast. Knowing all this he had to make a choice whether to follow the Roman way. And Matthew had been following the Roman way a long time. But in doing so he lost his Jewish heritage and so he was considered an outcast. He was not part of the Jewish family anymore.
And then Jesus says, “Follow me.” And guess what Matthew does? He follows Him. It is just one short sentence, about twelve words, but Mark and Peter wanted to stress the radical call of Jesus. Following Him means a willingness to leave your old life behind. It is more than following His teaching, although that is important. He is telling Matthew, “I want you to get up, leave your occupation, leave your security, leave your future, leave the bank account behind, give them away and go with Me. We are going to wander all over Galilee, without any visible source of income. We are going to trust God to provide for us. No more houses. We are going to sleep wherever we find ourselves or if someone offers hospitality to us. We are going to walk away from everything that you have relied on so far.” When you are called to follow Jesus, it is a pretty radical call. You may or may not be called to Borneo, China, Columbia, or anywhere else foreign in the world, but the call to follow Jesus where you are is still radical. His ways are different. His mindset is different. His heart is different. To follow Him means to be different.
Let us go on. “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the ‘sinners’ and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?’ house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples for there were many who followed him.” First thing that Matthew does is invite his friends. He is willing to share the good news, willing to share what he found in Jesus. In fact, there is the possibility that one particular guy was there that we read about later. His name is Zaccheus who later comes to Jesus (Luke 19).
It says, “Many tax gatherers or tax collectors (or some verses say tax farmers—kind of a strange concept for us), and sinners.” I want you to know because it says it three times in these two verses. Tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors and sinners. Sinners and tax collectors. The New International Version does something rather interesting here. They put quotation marks around the word sinners. Tax collectors and “sinners.” What does that mean? There are no quotation marks in Greek. What gives them the authority to do that? Why are they doing that? Because “sinners” is a label that is being placed upon individuals by the Pharisees. They are calling them sinners, not God. They have been labeled sinners. Do we ever negatively label people without knowing them? These people were labeled “sinners” and it was meant in a very derogatory way. Four times it is used in just this passage.
Those people who are outside of the Jewish legal system were looked down at and called “sinners.” The Pharisees defined exactly how an individual was to behave and if you did not behave exactly that way you are called a “sinner.” The word sinner means different things to different people. Without going into a long list of people’s ideas and attitudes the Bible paints a different picture. One definition of sin I have heard often is to “miss the mark.” The idea is that God’s law states what is expected and to violate it in any way is to sin. The focus is on behavior. This is not a wrong view but incomplete. The focus is on the law. But Jesus told them they missed the point. God has always wanted men and women to worship and walk with Him in spirit and truth (John 4:23). Sin therefore is to walk separate from Him—to go your own way. Straying from God’s way. The Pharisees totally missed this. In fact, the Pharisees also misrepresented the law. Their own traditions, teachings, and opinions became the standard by which they judged others. A sinner was someone who was not like them. The Pharisees felt their role was to straighten everyone else out but the real tragedy was that they themselves were crooked.
Notice the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees exist to certify your goodness. “Ok, you have done good. You get the kosher stamp of approval. You have done all the right things this week. You had a good week. You get a star on your report card.” Jesus did not come to certify us. He came to save us. He came to redeem us. He came to give us life. He came to teach us how to let that life permeate all that we do—how to walk with God.
So, what does that mean for us? Jesus has called us to open our hearts to Him that He might stir and rebuild them. His focus is not to merely change our behavior, but to transform us from the inside out. If He is our Lord and Savior He has put a new heart, a heart that is sensitive to Him, within us (Ezekiel. 36:24-26). It is change from the inside out, not imposing new behaviors on us as the Pharisees were constantly trying to do. We are called to be healed that we might have an open heart to Him and might have the strength to do what He says. Matthew gives us an example of how to let Jesus have authority in our lives—“he rose to follow Him.” No matter your past, things can change for you, if you also follow Him from this day forward. Matthew went from being a greedy, materialistic tax collector to a man who went to foreign nations (Unger’s Bible Dictionary) to witness for Jesus. And it all started that day when he “got up and followed Jesus.”
Mark 2:18 -- 3:6: The Authority of Jesus Christ Over Religion
Mark 2:18- 3:6: "Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, 'How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?' Jesus answered, 'How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. 'No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.' One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, 'Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?' He answered, 'Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.' Then he said to them, 'The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.' Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, 'Stand up in front of everyone.' Then Jesus asked them, 'Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?' But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus."
We have been looking at the authority of Jesus. First of all, we looked at the authority of Jesus to teach, that Jesus did not teach like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. He did not teach like the prophets. He did not teach like the scribes. He did not even teach like David, but He taught like Moses, as someone who spoke with authority, as if He got His words directly from God, which He did. That is what makes the message of Jesus so important. I will say it is even more important than Moses’ message because Jesus comes to correct all the messed up thinking that man has done to Moses’ message.
God gave this message clear and simple to the Israelites. But when mankind gets a message, they tend to reframe it according to their understanding and their comfort level. I am going to say the same way that you can take the message of Jesus and reframe it according to your comfort level. We reframe even the words of Jesus into our own comfort level and that is what creates what we are talking about in this message—religion. When you take the message of God and reframe it according to your thoughts, your ideas, your impression, your interpretation of it, it becomes a religion. Religion is a man-made path to God. It may start off as the right path to God, but it gets contaminated by other things that you add to it. We have examples of all kinds of other churches, churches even within our neighborhood that have taken the word of God and added their own teaching to it and even have their own books. God, protect me from adding anything to the word of God, even my own ideas and thoughts unless they are firmly grounded and routed in the truth that God has in His word.
I have a pretty good imagination. Some of you have talked to me and you know that about me, but that is not appropriate for this kind of conversation. It is what God thinks that is important. Not, what does Dave think? We need to ask, what does God say? What does His word say? What is His message to us? We are talking about the authority of Jesus over religion, over man’s path to God. Religion is a system of beliefs or actions used to earn divine favor. If you say certain words, if you go to this place, if you do these things or donate these foods, then God will be pleased with you. If you sacrifice this thing, if you do this or that, go here or there, then God will be pleased with you and maybe you will get His help with your problems, your fix for your situations, or added blessings of things you want. People all around us, and even we end up sometimes playing that game, do we not? Do we sometimes take the truth of God and add our own interpretation to it? Our own understanding of what God wants from us? It is Jesus’ authority in your life that matters. Anything that adds to or takes away from the message of God in your life becomes a religion.
A relationship is a heart-bond, rooted in personal interaction. Many of you I know but I do not have a relationship with you because we have not been able to connect in a heartfelt way, where you really know me and I really know you. We are what somebody would call acquaintances. Jesus does not want to be your acquaintance. “Oh, I know Him. Yeah, he goes to my church.” Jesus also wants to be more than your friend. “Yeah, I know him. I play racquetball with him.” He wants to be your partner in life. He wants a heart connection. “I want to know you. I want to know when you are happy, when you are sad, what things are moving you, what temptations you are wrestling with, what is going on inside of you so that I can be an encouragement to you, so I can lift you up.” We have a God who wants to have a relationship with us.
As we read through Mark we find areas of conflict better Jesus and the religion of the Jews that show the separation between Jesus and Judaism, between a personal relationship with the living God and a form of religion that seeks to earn God’s favor. Read Mark 2:18 – 3:6. In these verses we find three areas of conflict that exposed who and what the religious leaders were really about.
Mark 2:18-22 talk about fasting (fasting is not eating or drinking food and drink, or certain foods and drinks, for a period of time). Mark 2:23-28 talk about the Sabbath. Mark 3:1-6 talk about healing and the doing of good. Mark chapter 2, verse 18. “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, ‘How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting but yours are not?’” In other words, “Why aren’t your disciples as religious as the Pharisee’s disciples and John’s disciples? Why aren’t they doing the religious things?” Verse 19: “Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them and on that day they will fast.’” Did Jesus answer the question? Yes, but you have to look for it. Do you go on a fast on a feast day? No. Feast days are celebrations of God’s provision. Jesus came to bring a time of celebration and good news, not fasting. We will see what that means shortly.
It says, “The bridegroom is with them.” Jesus calls Himself the “bridegroom.” If you know your Old Testament, that is the image that God gives to Israel about His relationship with them, that He is the bridegroom, that He is the groom and Israel is to be His wife, but, unfortunately, history records that they were continually unfaithful. In fact, God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute who was unfaithful to him time and time again and even had children with other men. Now, if I am Hosea, I am saying, “Huh?” This is not just a temporary thing. This is his life. But God does it to show Israel how she has been toward Him and how longsuffering He has been toward her. Despite God’s graciousness and provision, Israel continues to chase after other gods. Even though they had everything they needed they spurned the true Creator God for false gods and their shiny trinkets.
Going on, verses 21 and 22: “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” What is Jesus saying here? Jesus is saying, if you are going to follow God, you are going to have to be flexible. Israel took the liberality of God and regulated it to a strict list of do’s and don’ts. They had lost all the freedom and enjoyment of life that God wanted them to have. They had robbed God of bringing blessing into their lives. To follow God, we must learn to remain flexible and open to His leading.
And then comes the contention about the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a big deal to them. “Jesus was going through the grain fields and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some of the heads of grain. The Pharisees said to them, ‘Look. Why, what they are doing is unlawful and why are they doing that on the Sabbath.’ Jesus answered, “Have you ever read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abahar, the high priest, he entered the house of God, the temple and ate the consecrated bread, the showbread that was on the table, which is lawful only for the priest to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’” Then he goes on to explain, “Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for men, not man for the Sabbath. So, the son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” The Sabbath was made for men. It was made by God as a gift to us. Do you realize the Sabbath was given for us to enjoy life. Not an interruption in our schedule, not a burden, not a problem, not a “oh, I cannot, oh, man. It is almost the Sabbath. We had better get our fun stuff done.” The Sabbath was given by God so that you could enjoy and relish and have joy in life. And what the Jews had done to the Sabbath was an “oh, dear. Clock struck. We are stuck now.” But Jesus says, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. Of the most visible, public sign of your religion, I am the God of that. I am the God of the Sabbath.”
The Sabbath is how everyone knew these people were Jewish. They did not go around checking everyone’s circumcision. But when they do not show up for a Saturday event there is a reason. Everyone understood why. It is a visible sign and always has been and still is today. From Friday night to Saturday night, the people were to stop working, spend time with their families and worship God. It was intended to be a time of physical rest and spiritual renewal. The religious leaders made it into a system of rules and regulations that became burdensome and contrary to God’s original intent. It became so bad that they condemned Jesus for healing the sick and helping people. Their rules quenched the doing of good. Their religiosity blinded them to God’s will for their lives and shut them off from following His daily leading.
And he goes on and says, “Then another time he went to the synagogue and a man with a shriveled hand was there and some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.” Imagine, they were looking for a reason to accuse Him. “So they watched Him closely to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath. And Jesus said to the man with shriveled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.” Jesus knows they are looking for an excuse and He is not going to hide out. “Okay, you think I might do something like heal someone on the Sabbath? Stand up. I am going to do it right in front of you so there is no mistaking it.” He wants them to know how far they were removed from God’s heart on this issue. He wants them to know He is Lord of the Sabbath; He is Lord Jehovah Jireh. He is the one who is in charge. “And Jesus said to Him, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath—to do good or to do evil? To save or to kill?’ But they were silent.” He said “Stand up” and then He asked him, “Okay, is it right for me to heal, to help, to do good or should I leave him in his condition?” It is interesting that the Jews had a list of what was okay and what was not okay to do on the Sabbath. They listed 49 major things you could not do on the Sabbath. Number three on the whole list was reaping or harvesting which was what they thought Jesus was doing in the first one but He was not. But healing was never part of it because that just did not happen. You could only be healed, what they are talking about here, with the power of God and well, there is no point in legislating against that because God is not here. But Jesus says, “I am here.” And He does heal and it is not against the law. But look at Jesus’ reaction. “And Jesus looked around at them in anger and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts and he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand’ and he stretched it out and his hand was completely restored.” Jesus looked at them in anger and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.
Do you recognize what is happening here? Jesus is angry? Why is Jesus angry? Because they do not care about good, about mercy, about a miracle, about kindness, about the work of God in their lives. They care about what they think God should be doing. They have put God in a box. We have defined what can be done and so this should be done and Jesus says, “You are just like your fathers.” Not just your fathers, but your fathers’ fathers “who have come before you from generation to generation.” God in Christ looked at them with anger and was deeply distressed. God, Yahweh, looked at the Israelites with anger and deep distress because of their stubborn and hard hearts. And that is the core of rebellion and of the issue that have plagued every one of us from the beginning. Stubborn hearts!
We are barely through two chapters and already we have reached a turning point. Everything shifts from this point forward. “At this point then, the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” Not shut Him up, not quiet Him down, but how they might kill Jesus. Why do they want to kill Him? Not because He is teaching wrong things but because He is declaring Himself to be God. He is Lord of the Sabbath and all of the things He has done have clearly shown Him to be God and they cannot handle that because it does not fit in their nice little box. Here is the contrast. He has just asked them, “Is it right to do good and save a life or to do evil and kill?” And it says, “And they are silent because they cannot answer.” They know it is right to do good on the Sabbath. Scripture is very clear. For every Sabbath rule saving a life pre-empts it. That is the most important thing before God. You are permitted to break your Sabbath routine to save a life, even the life of an ox or a goat or a chicken. Saving a life pre-empts Sabbath rest. Doing good is not work. But what does it say they do next? The Pharisees begin to plot how they might kill Jesus. And who do they start plotting with? This is the irony of the whole thing. These who are so pure in their own eyes and separate themselves from impurity, partner with the very Romans authorities they despise. They do not have the authority to execute so they team with the enemy to get rid of, in their eyes, an even greater enemy—Jesus.
Where does fasting fit in our lives? “You do not fast when the bridegroom is with you,” Jesus says. What does that mean? Should we fast? We can fast if we want to. That is your choice before God, but you should not do it because you have to or because you are going to try to get God to do things your way. We fast to express our deep-felt dedication and commitment to God. Jesus says, “Fasting is fine but now is not the time.” Why? All of history, from the Garden of Eden, from the sin, all these things from Abraham giving a promise of a seed that would come, all of this has funneled down to this point in history when the Son of God walks on the earth to be the Savior of mankind. And then everything from here is going to go the other way. This is a cross-point of history. Fasting is for a time of grief and repentance and submission before God. Jesus’ presence is a time of celebration before God. That is why He equates it to a wedding feast because He has come to join with those who love Him, to provide the way to Heaven for all of those who accept Him. “Good news, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That is the message He came to bring to us. Not, “Here is a list of 40 more things you have to do.”
It is important for you to know God commanded Israel to practice only one fast day per year. You know what that was? The Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement the High Priest goes in and sprinkles the blood of the lamb for the forgiveness of sins on the Mercy Seat, signifying Christ’s blood shed for us on the cross. That was a day of confession and repentance to show there is nothing more important than forgiveness and relationship with God. But Israel started thinking, “You know, if one day is good, then more must be better.” And so they started adding to it. They said, fasting is a time of repentance and of mourning and so what could be more important to remember and fast over than when the law was broken? When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, he broke the tablets and we have a day of fasting to remember the breaking of the law. And well that one, yeah, the temple being destroyed. That is horrible. We will have another day of fasting to remember when the temple was destroyed. Or when Babylon came and conquered Jerusalem. That is another important day. We will have to fast to remember and mourn over that. And then the high priest who was killed. We will fast and remember that. What about Esther? Remember when Israel was going to be wiped out by King Xerxes and Esther said, “Fast and pray with me that we might be delivered.” Let us celebrate that too. And so they added five more fastings to show their dedication, but also their thanksgiving for what God had done.
Those are all voluntary fastings, but they started becoming religious. This is what we do. I do not care if you feel like it. This is what we are going to do because this is what religious people do and then by the time of Jesus, if one is good, six must be better. Well, they keep wanting to be better and better and better. By the time of Jesus, there were over 100 fast days every year. Every Monday and Thursday were fast days for the Pharisees. They had multiple fast days to show their religiousness and how important God is to them. Now, there is a rightness about giving up things, about fasting for God. But there is a wrongness when it is for show and an external thing you do to earn God’s favor. Jesus says very clearly fasting is good. But do not fast and say, uh, uh, all I can think about is Big Macs. He says, “Wash your face and comb your hair and put on your clean clothes. Do not walk around looking like you are fasting that you might be doing it before God rather than for the opinion of man.”
Religion turns dedication into imitation. It is phony and it can be phony for us in our prayer life, in our worship time, in our church going, in our ministry. Does going to church earn points for you in heaven? If you are on the point system, you have missed the point because you can never earn enough points. It is by grace you are saved through faith. All those things we do, we do to express our heart thanks to God and dedication to Him. Our worship is not about singing good. Our worship is about expressing our hearts before God. He rejoices at hearing your heart lifted up to Him. Whatever you do, serve God wholeheartedly. With your heart, not out of ritual, not out of routine.
So, what about now? It was time for fasting in the Old Testament. It was time for feasting and celebration when Jesus was here. What time is it now? What should we be doing? Fasting or feasting? Neither one. Those were different times. Now it is time to continue to share the good news and to reach out to others with the good news. That is exactly what Jesus told us to do. “Go ye into all the world and proclaim the Gospel. Make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” Teach them. Give them the forgiveness He have given you. Help them to understand. Reach out to them. That is His commission to us and while we are doing it fulfill the Great Commandment to love God with our heart, mind, and soul. And secondly, love one another as ourselves. That is what time it is. That is what we are to be about. Our job is not to fast. We may fast occasionally but that is not our primary job.
To follow God, you must remain flexible. What does that mean? Jesus talks to the Pharisees and says, “Oh, you Pharisees, you carefully tithe everything, even your spices. But you completely ignore the great things of God--justice and love and mercy. “ God is like a river, flowing and washing over us. Men keep putting Him in a box, easily manageable. In Ephesians He says , “For I am the Lord. He who can do abundantly more than anything you can think, dream, or even imagine.” I have a pretty good imagination. But my imagination and your imagination cannot contain God, of what He can do, what He will do, what He would love to do in and through your life. To follow God you must remain flexible. Religion puts God in our own little box and makes us less responsive to His daily leading. God is not limited to the Ten Commandments. He is not in the pillar of fire. He was there as leader showing the people but it does not contain Him. That is one way He showed Himself.
“I have come that you might have life in abundance.” Abundance in our lives is going to be different for each one of us. That is because He is our personally connected Lord and Savior. We are all individually loved and treasured. Is your heart open to higher living? Are you willing to let God do something in your tomorrow that He never has been able to do in your past? You say, “No, I am just not sure if I can get there.” You cannot. But God, Christ in you, can. That is His promise. It is not just up to you. It is about you teaming with the Creator of the universe to do great things.
Moses said, “I can’t talk good.” God said, “Who made your mouth?” Paul said, “Ah, ah, ah.” God said, “Let us go. In your weakness I am made strong.” Religion follows rules instead of following God. You will not find a lot of rules about how you are supposed to be, what you are supposed to do this week. There are a lot of things you are not supposed to do, but God wants to nudge you in normal, common ways to talk to someone, to encourage them, do this, do that. Religion follows rules instead of following the living God. Jesus’ constant invitation to His disciples and to you is, “Follow me.”
So, how do you know you are having a relationship with God rather than rules? What is the relationship about? Because I am used to religion, doing the right thing, how do I know I am in a living relationship with God? Rely on His truth to come into your heart and follow through with His power. His truth in your heart with His power. His truth, not just your ideas. His truth will quicken your heart so it affects the way in which you feel and think, not just what you know. He wants it to be saturating your heart so it comes out of your life. It is His power, not your strength. And that ties back to what God really intended for mankind from the beginning. Even in the Old Testament when they were living by the religious rules, God kept saying, “This is not what I want. I have shown you, o man,” Micah 6:8, “what is good. And what [I] the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [Me].” He wants your hearts to be soft and to love mercy. He wants you to know the truth and be constantly connected with Him. We constantly go in wrong directions if we express ourselves without “bringing every thought to the obedience of Christ first” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Jesus cannot make it any simpler than this--“Follow me!”
Mark 1:12-13: Duel in the Desert: The Temptation of Jesus
Mark 1:12-13: “The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him.”
Matthew 4:1-11: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But Jesus told him, ‘No! The Scriptures say, people do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, “He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” Jesus responded, ‘The Scriptures also say, you must not test the LORD your God.’ Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. ‘I will give it all to you,’ he said, ‘if you will kneel down and worship me.’ ‘Get out of here, Satan,’ Jesus told him. ‘For the Scriptures say, you must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’ Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.”
As we look at how Jesus handled temptation we will learn how we are to handle temptation when it comes into our lives. Matthew chapter four, verse one, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Does that sound a little odd to you? The Spirit leads Jesus where? Into the desert to be tempted? Don’t we pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil?” And yet the Spirit is leading Jesus into the desert where He will be confronted by the devil.
We have to recognize that there is a difference between tempting and testing. Even though it is the same word in Greek, the meaning depends on the context and the intended purpose. When the purpose is to cause someone to fall it is tempting. Why? Because the goal is failure and defeat. But when the purpose is to confirm and strengthen it is testing. A story is told of a guy on a team of engineers who built a bridge. To test the strength of the bridge the manager calls for a train four times bigger than any train that is likely to cross its tracks to park on the bridge. The other workers challenged the wisdom of doing this but he insisted. “I am trying to prove it will not break. I am trying to establish its integrity. I am trying to show that it is trustworthy. I am trying to establish that you can get from here to there safely.” The manager was trying to prove that the bridge was able to fulfill its designed purpose. He did not want to read in the paper or receive a call that the bridge collapsed taking many people to their death—that the bridge failed to fulfill its function. Before the manager was able to endorse the bridge, it had to prove it was worthy of his approval. It was. And trains were crossing its tracks soon afterward.
Although God does not tempt us to sin, He does allow it to come into our lives. The world we live in will confront us almost daily with temptations to do something we should not do. We would have to be completely removed from this world in order to escape temptation. And sometimes Satan himself singles us out for special attention. Often we put ourselves in situations that make it easier for sin to overtake us. We ourselves open the door so opportunities for sin can walk into our lives.
When Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert, after fasting for forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. Jesus knows what it is like to be worn out. Jesus understands the battle that goes on in our lives and how it just wears and wears and grinds and grinds on us. That is why it says in Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness but one who has been tempted in all things just as we are yet without sin.” We have a Redeemer who understands us.
Satan’s goal, as it was with Job, was to drive a wedge between Jesus and His Father—to cause a separation between them. To do this he tries three separate times to bring Jesus down. First, the tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written, man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” As you go through this passage, I want you to recognize Satan is not tempting Jesus to lie, steal, or have an affair, even to lust after something. It is distrusting the plan of God. It is following Himself and His own desires rather than the Father’s desires for Him.
James 1:12-17 makes an important distinction for us: “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, ‘God is tempting me.’ God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters.” God never tempts us to do wrong. He will not bring that woman to you for adultery, or that opportunity to get rich quick by committing fraud or theft. These are illicit things that God does not use to strengthen us. God does not tempt toward illicitness. God places stress on legitimate areas of our lives to make us stronger and firm us up for future ministry for Him. Notice what happened to Job. God allowed Satan to put stress on Job’s life. He did not allow him to tempt Job toward illicitness. Job’s time was a time of testing and it was from God. Notice another thing. God already knew what was in Job. He did not need to put him through all that suffering to prove himself to Him. He was proving something to Satan. And although Satan meant the whole ordeal for evil God allowed it to honor Job and to include it in His Word for all time as an encouragement and lesson to His people.
And it goes on to the second temptation. “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, ‘The Scriptures also say (Deuteronomy 6:16), “Do not test the Lord your God.”’ Satan here is misapplying Scripture (Psalm 91:11-12). He is attempting to apply one Scripture out of context to Jesus’ life. As we see here Scripture limits Scripture. Satan will often take a Scripture and interpret it to mean something it does not—an extreme interpretation. Jesus teaches us that Scripture limits interpretations. Scripture nowhere states that it is a good idea to do stupid and risky things so that God can prove Himself to us or we can do whatever we want because God will always rescue us from ourselves. The best way I can say this is, God will not protect you from being stupid. He will help you not to be stupid. Jesus is telling us that it is wrong to make our own plan and demand that God save us from ourselves to prove Himself to us.
The third temptation: “Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. ‘I will give it all to you,’ he said, ‘if you will kneel down and worship me.’” But Jesus answered, “Get out of here, Satan,” “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’” Satan was not only offering Jesus a shortcut, but he was subtly saying he was kinder and more reasonable that God. The way of God was going to be hard, filled with blood, sweat, and tears, while he would give the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if He would simply bow before him—no sweat, no mess, no tears. “Jesus, I do not want to fight with you. The kingdoms of this world are mine. I will give them to you. All you have to do is simply acknowledge me as your provider.” Notice the similarity to what he did to Eve. To Eve he questioned God’s goodness by withholding that tree from her. To Jesus he questioned God’s goodness because the plan of God for Jesus involved much suffering and pain. Like Eve, he promised an easier way. Eve was deceived; Jesus was not. Both the Father’s and the Son’s goal was more than ruling kingdoms. They wanted redemption and transformation of the human heart. And for that Jesus needed to die and have His blood poured out on the altar of God on our behalf.
There are several things I want to highlight in this passage. There have been volumes written about this but there are some things I have found to be very helpful as I look at this passage. Satan identifies himself by his actions and the things that he says. There are three different words given about whom the evil one is. First of all he is called in verse three, the Tempter. Secondly, he is called the Devil. Thirdly, he is called Satan. What is the difference? These words have different meanings and define his character and as you know his character, it tells you how he acts so you can recognize his voice when it comes to you.
Jesus’ challenger is a tempter. The best translation I can give you of that is manipulator. He will take words and twist them. He will attempt to force you, move your emotions and bring situations to bear that will cause you to walk away from God; that will manipulate you to do his will. We do not want to be manipulated, do not want to be controlled, do not want to be forced. The evil one wants to manipulate you to take you from goodness to evil, from God’s plan to your own plan, to help you see yourself as the god of your life. Satan does not care if you worship him or not. He just wants you not to worship God.
Secondly, Jesus’ challenger is a devil. In Hebrew it means accuser. It is diablos in Greek. I have always heard people explain that he is our accuser before God. “Ah, did you see what he did today? Did you see that? This guy is just hopeless.” He is our condemner. The devil is not a forgiver, a builder of broken lives. From him there are no promises of transformation and intimate personal relationship. He is incapable of offering those things because he is incapable of stretching out his arms for us as Jesus did at Calvary. But realize he is also the accuser of God before us. The first thing he did to Eve and Adam was to accuse God of being selfish and tyrannical by withholding good things from them. “God is not really good. God has made promises that He will not really keep. He is holding you down. You cannot really trust Him.” He told Eve that he had a better plan. He told Jesus that he had a better plan. The powers and abilities he has are great but in his pride he refuses to acknowledge that they were given to him by God. His initial wisdom has been turned into craftiness. He is the great schemer and manipulator. He is a creature who has corrupted the gifts God gave him. The devil is a pretentious fraud. He is the most evil of all, yet he has the gall to be the accuser of God and His children.
And then Satan means adversary. That is the number one name for him. The Adversary, the one who stands against God. We know he stands against us but he does so because he first stood against God. He first did so not because God did anything wrong but because he wanted the glory and place only God can occupy. After that he became God’s accuser and adversary in order to justify himself. Anything he can do to prove that God is not worthy of worship, that he should be honored as equal or above him he will do. Three names for Jesus’ challenger: Tempter, Devil, Satan. If you know who he is, then you can recognize his voice when you hear it. He will twist words, misquote Scripture, and entice toward illicitness. He is a crafty, self-deluded schemer, nothing more.
Did you notice in these verses one key word in all of them? Satan says, “if” several times. “If” you are really the Son of God; “if” you will just bow before me. It is the same way Satan questioned Eve in the garden. Did God really say? He just twists it enough so that the statement seems accurate but by close analysis you discover God did not really say it. Satan’s subtle attacks on Jesus teach us about his methods. He challenges God’s provision. “If you are really the Son of God, then take these stones and make them bread.” What is wrong with that? Later on Jesus takes bread and multiplies it and feeds five thousand. Later on He turns water into wine, so what is the problem with a little bread? The problem is the source of the bread. God told Israel when they left Egypt to never return for any reason. He told the kings of Israel to not return for horses or wives. Solomon ignored God and caused the kingdom to be divided. Jeremiah records that Israel’s return to Egypt was instrumental in their fall to Babylon. The source of the bread matters. Jesus did not argue with Satan. He saw through what he was trying to do and simply said, “Him only will I serve.” And that ended that!
Jesus gives us one answer and this is critical to get, one answer to all of temptation. “It is written.” That is why David says in Psalm 119, “Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you.” That is why we talk about it. That is why we spend most of our time on Sunday morning talking about what God says in His Word. Why? Because if you do not know the truth, you will end up believing the lies. If you do not know what God says, then the seductiveness of error and sin will seem good to you. It is interesting that God told the Jews, “Write it on your foreheads and strap it to your arm and put it on the doorpost of your houses.” God’s Word was to govern their thoughts, their behavior, and their allegiances. It was their protection from going astray. It is our protection from going astray. And as Jesus demonstrated, it was His as well.
It all hinges then on your choice because God has given you the freedom to choose Him, to choose His way. Jesus holds His arms out and invites us to join Him. Revelation 3:20 says He stands at the door and knocks. God’s ways are not Satan’s ways. Satan’s lack of depth in his being means he cannot offer himself to us as God does. Satan is a true tyrant. Tyrants enforce their wills on others by aggressive means. Because with a tyrant his glory matters most. All others are mere instruments in his hands to propagate his will for his glory. His subjects die for him. They are pawns in his battle for fame, fortune, and glory. God is different. The Son of God who had all the power and glory gave it up (Phil. 2:1-11) to invite relationship. Satan grasps for himself. The Son of God released for us. The Father’s plan was the best for Jesus, and it is best for you, too.
Mark 1:16-18: Becoming Fishers of Men
Mark 1:16-18 (NASB):"As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.' Immediately they left their nets and followed Him."
“Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” How many have heard a sermon like this before? Anybody heard a sermon about “follow me” and “fishers of men?” But what is often missed are the important words between “follow me” and “fishers of men.” “Follow me” is important because we are, after all, Christ-ians. And to be involved in the process of bringing someone to forgiveness in Christ is special and also important.
But I want to focus on the words between that are often skipped—“I will make you become.” These are key words of what Jesus has to say. “I will make you become.” Three parts to this. First, “I will make.” “I.” Who is talking? Jesus. “Will.” This is Jesus promising to do something. “Make.” Jesus will form something that previously did not exist. As a potter ‘forms’ the clay, Jesus will ‘form’ something. It will be His handiwork.
This is Jesus speaking. When He says, “I will,” it is more than a declaration of intent. Being the Son of God He has the ability to make it happen. If a peasant promises to change your economic and political standing in the kingdom, you would understand him to mean that he promises to try. But if the king tells you that, then you know it will happen. So when Jesus says, “I will,” we can trust that what He is saying will come true.
And the part about “making” says that it is His effort and His handiwork. It is not, “Ok, try really hard to be a fisher of men.” Jesus says, “Just walk with me and I will make you a fisher of men.” It is His power in you. It is His spiritual gift to you. It is not you gutting it out and trying harder. It is God working in you and you letting out what God has planted there. It is not you being smarter and more talented than someone else. It is you allowing God to work in and through you. It is His handiwork but it is rooted in our following Him. Notice the word ”and.” “Follow me and I will make you….” It is conditional because if you are not following Him, He cannot make you. You have to put yourself on the potter’s wheel before the Potter can do a great work in your life. If you are not following Jesus, you are on your own. Do you recognize that? We do it all the time. We treat our relationship with God and spiritual issues like we do every other area of our lives—study more, try harder.
I like to consider myself a pretty smart guy. Electronically hooking things up, doing these kind of things. I had to hook up a cable box this week. I had to call Comcast because it was not working. It must be defective, I thought. Imagine my frustration when I discovered I forgot to hook up the main cable. I hooked up all the other forty wires but forgot the main cable that comes out of the wall into the machine. I couldn’t believe it. But looking back, this was a perfect illustration of what is wrong with many Christians today. They are not connected with God. God sometimes gives us illustrations like that, doesn’t he?
I should have checked to make sure the machine was getting power but did not. I did not check because I was expecting it NOT to work. This is important. I was expecting it not to work. So, when I hooked all those wires up and it did not work, I was not surprised. It would have worked if I had hooked it up correctly the first time, but when you do not expect it to work, you are not surprised. You just kind of let it go. In the same way many of us do not expect the Holy Spirit to make a difference in our lives. Jesus said, “Follow Me.” That is our part. If you follow Him, He will make. It is rooted in following Him.
Secondly, “I will make you.” That is the beautiful thing here. It is “you.” We have different gifts, different abilities. We have different lives to live and God’s design for each of us is different. He knows you. It is personal. It is unique. There is no assembly line Christianity. There is holiness. There is godliness. There is also individuality—God and you moving through life together. “I will help you. I will transform your life.”
Thirdly, “I will make you become.” This word “become” is not in Luke’s or Matthew’s version. It is “I will make you fishers of men.” But here in Mark, by Peter’s guidance, Mark says, “I will make you become fishers of men.” Peter sees that it is not an instant transformation. Jesus guides Peter, directing him one step at a time, until he grew to the point where he could become a fisher of men. There was progressive growth. Peter saw the transition, the transformation that took place in his life that it was not instantaneous. Progressive growth. You will become fishers of men. Another way of saying it is, “Follow me and you will become more and more like me, a fisher of men.” God has bigger plans and a better life planned for you but you must follow Him.
So often we feel like our goal in life is to just get through it. You have projects at home, you have a job, you have families, you have kids, you have parents, you have all these things going on. You are just trying to get through as if getting through is the goal. But can I tell you a secret? You are all going to get through it. The goal is not simply getting through. The goal is doing something productive while you are getting through it. God has bigger plans and a better life for you than you have on your own. You can think of what you want to do, what you want to be, but God has a better idea. I wanted to build hot rods all my life. God said, “Well, you can build hot rods or you can build lives. Hot rods are going to rot and rust and corrode and break down. People are forever.” The investments you make in people here go on forever.
“I will make you fishers of men.” Peter could have had the best fishing business. One of the misunderstandings about Peter, James, and John is that they were uneducated, itinerate fishermen. No, these guys are running a good business. In fact, they may be one of the major suppliers of dried fish for all of Jerusalem. Where does Jerusalem get its fish from? From the Sea of Galilee. I guess they could fish in the Jordan River but I have seen the Jordan River and you are not going to feed a city out of the Jordan River. Sometimes it is barely a trickle. They would catch the fish, dry them and then transport them to Jerusalem. How do we know that? One clue is that even though John and James lived in Galilee, they are known by the high priest and the high priest’s household in Jerusalem. I surmise from this that they had a business selling their fish in Jerusalem and, therefore, were well-known. These guys may have had one of the best fish businesses in Jerusalem.
But does that account for a hill of beans? For eternity? No. You can have the biggest business, you can be the most successful businessman or businesswoman in this world and it will not matter for anything unless you are using what you have to glorify God and help people (Luke 12:13-21). If you want to truly be rich, invest in people for the glory of God. What you gain will then last forever.
The last thing I want to bring up is that this verse starts out with some very important words. “As he was going.” This is talking about Jesus. As Jesus was going, He passed by Galilee and saw Peter and Andrew and He starts ministering to them. “As he was going.” Just in the normal course of life, He comes across Peter and Andrew and James and John and ministers to them. He essentially tells them, “As we go, I will teach you what it means to be my disciple. As we go through life, you will learn what it means to follow Me.” This is the same thing it says in Matthew 28 when Jesus tells His disciples what to do. We all learn from the King James where it says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, teaching them to obey.” But literally the words there are the same as “as you are going.” It is another participle. “As you are going about your life, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” It is not “go” to Irianjaya. It is not “go” to Guatamala. It is as you are going through life minister to others. This does not mean missionaries are not needed. They are! But even missionaries are to minister and disciple as they live their lives in a foreign land. As He was going, He made disciples. And that is the command He gives to us.
For many of us that is welcome news because you have not felt a call to be a missionary or pastor. You just have to listen to God and follow Him for your life, right where you are, doing what you are doing. God has put you in a strategic place for you to minister where perhaps no one else can. Somewhere I cannot. As you live your life teach others to follow Him.
Mark 3:22-30: The Unforgiveable Sin
Mark 3:22-30: “And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’ So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’”
Is there a sin that God will not forgive? I mean, God will forgive anything, won’t He? It says that Jesus died for all our sins. But is there a sin that is unforgivable? And how can we make sure we have not done it? Have you ever done something and said, “Man, I do not know if God could ever forgive me for that?” The passage we are looking at in Mark says, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin.” That does not sound like Jesus, does it? It sounds like the finger-pointing Pharisees. “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin.” What does that mean? What does Jesus have in mind? Is He serious or is He trying to make a point? Is He exaggerating? Is it hyperbole or is there something that is unforgivable? Is there a sin that the cross will not cover?
Open your Bible to Mark 3:22. To understand what blaspheming the Holy Spirit means, we need to understand the context in which Jesus said it. “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul and he cast out demons by the ruler of demons.’” It says, “The scribes came down from Jerusalem.” They have heard about this renegade preacher who has been teaching things not in line with their traditions and interpretations of the law so they were sent by the Jewish leaders to investigate. They want to know if the people are being seduced by a false teacher. And if convicted of that, they will send a delegate of Pharisees to drive him out.
Who were the Scribes? In the New Testament period the scribes were teachers and authoritative leaders. Mark portrays them as high officials, advisors to the chief priests and teachers of the Law. They were appendages of the Pharisees, learned men whose main goal was to protect Judaism. Rather than seekers of the truth they were knowledgeable of and protective of the status quo. It is clear from the many witnesses that the scribes had authority because they had knowledge of all things pertaining to Judaism. They sought to preserve Judaism against opponents like Jesus. Like the high priests and religious officials, they had a vested interest in the continuation of Judaism.
In previous verses in Mark we saw that the Jewish religious leaders began to conspire with the Herodians how they might put Jesus to death. So they have made up their mind about Him. Now they are looking for evidence to build a case against Jesus. So they send the scribes who are the ‘experts’ in interpreting the Scriptures. They concerned themselves with every dotted i and crossed t. Since they did not have printing presses back then, the Old Testament scribes were the ones who copied the Scriptures word for word. If anyone can catch Jesus in a falsehood or error they can.
After listening to Jesus and witnessing His healings, they say He is possessed by Beelzebul. Beelzebul is a takeoff of Beelzebub. Beelzebub is the chief Philistine god. Do you remember Goliath? He was a Philistine. Beelzebub was the god of fertility and strength and was represented by the image of a bull. It was their strongest god. Beelzebub means the “high one in the temple.” But the Jews called him Beelzebul in mockery. Beelzebul means “lord of the flies.” It was their way of saying he was a bunch of baloney, ‘crapola’ if you will. He is a liar, full of hot air. And that is what they are saying about Jesus—He is full of hot air and teaching lies.
And it says, “… he cast out demons by the ruler of the demons.” Who is the ruler of the demons? Satan. Jesus immediately addresses this accusation. What we do not catch in Mark, because Mark is the condensed version, is that this scene happens right after Jesus heals a demon-possessed man who was mute and blind. He touched him and cast out the demon and the man saw and spoke before their eyes. The scribes cannot deny what happened. Everyone there saw it. But what does it mean? How can they square the power Jesus exhibits with the teaching that they have rejected? There are two choices, and only two. Either the power validates what Jesus is teaching and they are wrong or they are right and the power comes from a deceiving spirit. To justify themselves they conclude the power comes from the other side, from the enemy. They are saying that Jesus is not just a misguided false teacher but an instrument of the devil sent to deceive the people.
Jesus replies with a logical argument. “What you are saying makes no sense. You are saying I am casting out demons by the power of Satan? But everything I do is against that. I am working contrary to what Satan is trying to do. How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” Essentially He is saying: “This is not a civil war. There is a battle going on but it is between enemies. It is God against the evil one. And if Satan rises up against himself he divides his own side. He becomes instrumental in his own demise. Do you not see everything I am saying is against the kingdom of Satan?’” Then He goes on in verse 27, “But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man and then he will plunder his house.” That makes sense. Bind the one who will oppose you and you will have freedom to move about the house. Who is the strong man in this case? The strong man is Satan. Does Satan have power and control in this world? Yes, he does. Jesus calls him the “prince of this world” (John 12:31) and Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:4 calls him the “god of this world.”
He goes on in verse 28, “Truly I say to you, all sin shall be forgiven the sons of men and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of the eternal sin.” The context of Jesus’ declaration is their statement that He has an unclean spirit. Jesus says they are guilty of an unpardonable sin. But what exactly does this mean? The unforgiveable sin is not murder, suicide, abortion, or divorce. I was trained to think that the unforgivable sin is the rejection of Jesus Christ. That is close to the answer but it is not the answer. It hits the nail but not on the head. It kind of bends it a little bit. Do you know anybody who has rejected Jesus at some point but is still saved? How about Peter? Did Peter reject Jesus? “I do not even know the man.” How about Paul? Paul did not just deny him verbally. He spent years of his life trying to snuff out Christians, trying to kill the Christian movement. He spent years doing this, denying that Jesus was the Messiah. To him, Jesus was just a renegade Rabbi who deserved to be snuffed out. Paul was taught by the Pharisees and the Scribes. He rejected Jesus but something happened, something changed him. Therefore, the rejection of Jesus is not the unforgivable sin. In fact, Matthew 12:31-33, the passage that is parallel to Mark 3, says, “Anyone who speaks a word against the son of man can be forgiven.” So there is forgiveness for rejecting Jesus because one can repent later and accept Him for who He is—like Paul. Forgiveness is still available for someone who has rejected Jesus but it is not available for those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit.
If the unpardonable sin is not rejecting Jesus Christ, then what is it? We need to look closer at these verses to make sure we understand the context of Jesus’ statement. Again, Matthew 12:29 says, “But the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” What is blasphemy? Blasphemy is speaking against with malice and hurt. It is defaming, destroying the reputation of someone. And then verse 32a: “But anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven neither in this age or the age to come.” So, what exactly is happening before Jesus makes His declaration? Mark 3:30 says, “Because they were saying he has an unclean spirit.” It is not simply because they uttered those words but because that is the condition of their heart. The hardness and unbelief in their heart caused their mind to seek a reason to dismiss Jesus. Hardened unbelief will grasp the irrational in order to maintain its independence. It is an expression of their heart when they say, “The Holy Spirit is not in this man. He is doing these things by the power of Satan.” Literally, what they are doing is declaring God’s Holy Spirit to be an evil, lying spirit and that they reject His internal witness and offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.
So then, what is the bottom line? What is the unforgivable sin? There is not forgiveness for rejecting forgiveness. Forgiveness based on God’s grace, and only God’s grace, is available but not accepted with prejudice. Forgiveness is hostily rejected. For such a person, what more can God do? Nothing. “For there is no other name under heaven whereby people can be saved.” “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him.” God has planned and provided the way for forgiveness; a plan that has been in place since the beginning. You can trace it all the way through the Old Testament and then through the New Testament into our lives today. You can see how simple and how open it is. But if you choose to reject it, there is no forgiveness available.
Remember, nothing we do can make us worthy of God’s presence. We have to be made to be like His Son, Jesus Christ. His holiness cannot tolerate our moral and spiritual crookedness and the sin that comes from it. Even voicing that we want Jesus Christ to be our Savior does not “get us to heaven.” It is God’s work on our behalf that “gets us to heaven.” It is God’s remaking of us, His transformation of us “that gets us to heaven.” And He has promised to transform those who receive the forgiveness that is available in the work and person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. If your opposition to God and His ways reaches the point where you think He is the evil one then you are hopelessly lost.
Acts 3 and 4 records that their unbelief continued after Jesus’ crucifixion. As Peter was nearing Jerusalem, he saw a crippled man and the man said, “Please help. Please help. Alms to the poor.” And Peter says, “Gold and silver have I none, but what I have I give unto you. Rise and walk.” And the man got up and started walking. Upon seeing this, the Scribes and the Pharisees got upset and said, “Wait a minute. You cannot do that. By whose power, in whose name are you doing these things?” And they hauled them off to, if you remember, Ananias and Caiphas, the high priest. And Peter says, “Why are we here? Oh yeah, because a crippled man is now walking. He is walking by the name of Jesus of Nazareth whom you crucified. He who is to be the cornerstone has become your stumbling stone. You would not receive him and so you have fallen down and now your fate is sealed.” He goes on in 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else. There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” If you step out from under the blanket of God’s provision, then you are on your own and when you die you will remain as you are—an unforgiven sinner, opposed to God and His ways (Revelation 21:8).
The question is, who is the Lord? The Scribe declared that Jesus was not listening to God but He was listening to Satan. Jesus said clearly, “I am listening to the Father. All the things I am saying, all the things I am doing glorify Him. Look at what I am doing, listen to what I am saying.” The unforgivable sin is not only rejecting the internal witness of the Holy Spirit telling you that forgiveness is necessary and available through the work and person of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, but to do so with malice and hatred. Forgiveness does not come through being good, meditating through Islam or Buddhism or something else. It does not come by following laws or strapping a bomb to your chest and blowing up others who disagree with you. It comes only through the grace of God provided in Jesus Christ, which makes it open for all mankind, every tribe, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9). Not something we earn, not something based upon us but based upon our reception of the grace and mercy of God.
Why is it called the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and not blasphemy against Jesus Christ? It is possible to misunderstand who Jesus is, like Paul, but that ignorance can be cured. However, it is called the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is the one who works through Jesus Christ. He is the one who brings us to truth in Scripture. He is the one that ministers to our hearts. Here it says that He draws us, brings us into relationships that help us understand who God is. The Holy Spirit is at work, encouraging, strengthening, and drawing us to the Father through the work of Jesus Christ, His beloved Son. To reject that witness is to snub Him and call Him a liar.
Can God make it any more simple? “Lord, forgive me. I want a relationship with you. I want to be part of your family. I want to be a part of what you have planned. I want to live in a world that is governed by you, where you are in control. I would rather be in a world where you are having the influence and the control. I need your control over me. Remake me to be like your Son.” We all need God’s control over us. That is what makes it heaven rather than church. That is what makes it heaven rather than just a long time on earth. God’s ways are the best ways. Do you agree? Or not?
Mark 4:35-41: Facing Life’s Storms
We are going to look at the storms that come into our lives that pull us away from God, that cause us to focus on the things that are tearing us down and forgetting about the One who wants to lift us up. To help us understand what God wants for us when we face these difficulties that come into our lives, we are going to look at the story of Jesus calming the waters. Below is my translation of Mark 4:35-41 based on the context of the situation and information gained from other scriptural passages.
Mark 4:35-41: “After teaching all day, evening came and Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side of the lake.’ So, still in the boat, they set sail, leaving the crowds behind though other boats followed. A furious storm then came up and the waves were crashing over the top and into the boat. The boat was filling with water, about to sink but Jesus was in the back sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him up. They cried, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ He got up and ordered the wind to stop and said to the waves, ‘Hush. Be still.’ Suddenly the winds stopped and there was a great calm. He said to His disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Don’t you have any faith at all?’ And they were awestruck, asking each other, ‘Who is this guy? Even the wind and the waves obey Him.’”
From the words of this passage we are going to get indications of how storms come into our lives and how God expects and equips us to deal with them. If we go back to the very first verse of this chapter, we see that Jesus meets the crowd at the seashore and there are so many people that He has to get into a boat and get pushed off shore so He can talk to the people who are there. And He spends all day teaching the people and the disciples are with Him. It was a long day for everyone. At evening Jesus tells them to sail to the other side. Not the best time to be sailing, especially if a storm occurs. A storm during the day is bad enough, but at night when landmarks cannot be seen and navigation is difficult it can be deadly. It is easy to get disoriented and lost. As we read this passage we will see that even seasoned fisherman were frightened by what was occurring around them.
I ask you an important question. Who is responsible for those guys being out in the middle of the storm? Whose idea was it to go out in the boat in the middle of the night? Jesus said, “Let us go.” I want you to catch this. Jesus said, “Let us go” and they were obedient and went. They said, “Ok, Master, we will go as you say, when you say, where you say.” Storms come even when we are obedient, when we are doing all the right things. “Lord, you said to do this. Why is it not working out? Why isn’t everything smooth in my life?” “I taught my kids what you told me to teach them. I did the best I could. Lord, what happened?” Storms come even when we are obedient. Storms come even when we are right in the middle of God’s will.
You are confused because you are exactly where Jesus wants you to be, but you are still going through a storm. That does not sound very encouraging, does it? Most of us think we want to be right in the middle of God’s will so everything will run smoothly. If you are in the middle of God’s will, you should have nothing to worry about. Right? Some Christians teach this. But is this a correct view? The disciples were following Jesus’ commands and the storm still came. The disciples were with Jesus and the storm still came.
It was a bad storm that the men fought as long as they could. They knew Jesus had a long day and let Him sleep. But things were getting out of control so they decided to wake Him. “Jesus, do you not even care? We are about to drown here and you are sleeping. Do you not care? We thought you loved us.” They should have known that storms are not signs that God does not love us. You cannot say, “God is getting after me now. God is really ticked at me now because look what is happening.” Look at Job. Job was a righteous man. God was on his side but, wow, did he go through some storms. But you know what? Why do we know about Job? Why do we care about Job? Because what he went through is an inspiration to us. God used him to teach generations about the mystery of suffering and storms. Sometimes they are not of our doing—reaping what we sow. There were reasons behind Job’s suffering that had nothing to do with punishment and personal sin.
Notice what it says. “And then Jesus ordered the wind to stop and the waves to be calm.” Literally He says, “Hush.” We know it as “peace, be still.” But the peace He is talking about is silence. “Shhh.” That is all He has to say. Storms are only a breath away from resolution. It is just the breath of God and all is still, in His time, in His way. We can try to resolve it ourselves, but if we are not allowing God to resolve it with us, it is going to create negative unintended consequences. Remember Rebecca. Remember David. Remember Abraham. Jesus ordered it. He spoke over it. The storm ended.
The passage continues and here is where I have a problem with this whole incident. I really had to work for hours trying to sort this out because Jesus’ statement to them seems critical and I do not know why. As far as I can see, they have been doing the right things. They have gone where Jesus said to go, they were rowing and putting up with the storm. They are baling the boat. I think they are even praying. I want to say at this point, which is not mentioned here, is that I think they were praying. I think they were praying their hearts out. If you have been in a storm where you are feeling out of control, every breath you are praying, “Lord, help. Lord, help, all the way through.” Just like those sailors in the story of Jonah. So, what are they doing wrong? What is the problem here?
Contrary to what many think, you can be praying and still go through storms. I wish praying averted all problems but it does not. I wish I could fast and pray and not have any storms in my life. But I have found that not to be true. So, what are they missing? They just keep on baling and rowing and trusting God. They stayed on the track that God gave them. I have a hard time finding they did anything wrong. What I find to be a more reasonable explanation is that they were just human and when storms come our faith tends to evaporate. Literally, Jesus is saying here, “Where did your faith go? You were full of faith a few hours ago when we set out. You were full of faith a while back. Where did your faith go?”
I know I can relate to that. When storms come my way, when something happens I do not like, I say, “God, why did you not stop that from happening?” And faith starts to evaporate. Anybody else experience that? When things are easy, faith is full. But when storms come--“Lord, I know you have been faithful for the last fifty years, but today is different. I know you took care of me last year, but this is more extreme. Now it is going to be harder.” Same God. Another storm, but faith wanes. I do not think they did anything wrong. I think Jesus set up this whole incident to teach these men that truth. Don’t forget, it will be these men who will go to far away and hostile lands with the gospel of Christ. And most of them will be martyred, some dying in brutal ways. This storm was not punishment for sins committed but training for future tasks yet to be accomplished.
I think they did exactly the right thing by calling upon Jesus. I mean, how much longer does Jesus want them to wait before they call on Him? Until they sink? I do not think so. I think they did all the right things. I think they were just humans overwhelmed by their circumstances. They needed to grow in their faith and it is through this that Jesus is growing them. The same way He grows us through troubles, through the storms we go through. They were just growing. Jesus asked them, “Why are you so afraid?” Here the word for afraid basically means timid. I think these sailors were brave and courageous but they are saying, “We are going down and we need help!” By His actions Jesus assures them, “Do not worry. I have not forsaken you.”
Storms tend to take our eyes off God. Do you recognize that when you keep staring at the bank statement, staring at the credit cards, staring at the problem. you take your eyes off God? Jesus is literally asking them, “Do you have any faith at all?” The King James says, “O ye of little faith.” Well, the “little” there actually means zero. “Where did your faith go? It was here just a minute ago. Where did it go?” Storms will either dissolve or resolve your faith. Faith that dissolves is like water running through your fingers. It is just gone.
Do you recognize that faith is not a feeling? Can you be afraid and be faithful? Yes, because faith is not a feeling. “Oh, I just feel so faithful.” “Ok, here comes a storm. How do you feel now?” Faith is action. Faith is doing the right thing in the face of fear. Faith is doing it God’s way rather than the easy way. Courage is doing the right thing in spite of fear. Courage is not being fearless. Courage is saying, “I will not let fear control me. I will do the right thing. I will do what I am supposed to do despite the fear. I will conquer the fear that is real, that is there, with courage and with faith.”
So Jesus says, “Hush, be still” and everything calms down. And these disciples, it says, are awestruck. It says they were “extremely fearful” upon seeing what Jesus did. The Greek says three words--mega phobo phobic. In Greek, when you say something twice it means it is extreme. Mega means great, large. Mega phobo phobic--fearfully fearful. They were just dumbfounded. Storms display the power and the presence of God. All the power of that storm was overcome by the “Hush, be still” of Jesus. This is a different breed of person who can speak to the wind, speak to the waves and they do what He says. It was utterly incomprehensible that this could happen. He speaks to nature and it is under His control. Who is this guy? He is not just an ordinary man. He is Lord of creation. He can control it all. He holds it all together. He can change it, move it, do with it whatever He desires and He still can but He is also Lord of hearts—His main priority. He comes to minister to our hearts even amid the storms.
Sometimes He calms our storms, but until those things get settled, He will calm our hearts. He will care for us amid the storms. He will use them in our lives to develop our character and strength but He will also calm our hearts through them. Know that He cares. Know that He is capable and know that He is at work in your life. Much as a coach trains an athlete to excel in his or her sport, the Lord trains us. But instead of having you run or lift more, the Lord may use storms to train us for future circumstances that will come our way that we might be triumphant in them—that we might please and glorify Him. Faith that survives the storms becomes even more deep-seeded in our hearts. Do not let faith be short-circuited by fear in your heart.
Mark 10:32-39: The Father’s Plan
Mark 10:32-39: “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’ Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sitat your right and the other at your left in your glory.' 'You don’t know what you are asking,' Jesus said. 'Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?' 'We can,' they answered. Jesus said to them, 'You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.’”
Life is made up of choices. In Mark chapter 10, Jesus is choosing a road. He comes to a fork in the road and has to choose which way to go. Is He going to take the road to Galilee or to Jerusalem? Is He going to go back home to Nazareth? One road will take Him home to family, to His job, to security, to maybe a future family, to all kinds of things that we all strive for, that we live for, to follow the human course. The other road will take Him to Jerusalem which will take Him to betrayal, suffering, insult, and a death sentence. And He knows this ahead of time. Thank God that Jesus did not take the easy way out. He chose to go to Jerusalem. He knew what was waiting for Him but went anyway. Jesus knows at this point He is facing four weeks of life. He has four weeks left to live.
What if you got a phone call this afternoon or tomorrow morning and the doctor tells you, “We found something on your CAT scan. It is inoperable. You have four weeks left to live.” Would it change your life? I mean, would it change your perspective? Would it change your focus? Would it change the things you are worried about and concerned about? What would become important to you then? Would the scrape on your car or the cobwebs in your garage be much of an issue to you anymore? What would become the important things?
As Jesus looks at the last four weeks of His life, His eye is on the cross. It is a pretty incredible story. He has four weeks left. He is going to hand the baton off to these guys who do not seem to understand. Looking from the outside, an observer would shake his head and say, “No way!” But it is important to recognize that God has a plan. This is not a story that unfolded at random. This plan was designed by the Father “before the foundations of the world.” It makes sense to us because we are looking at it from the other side of history. But to the disciples His plan was unfathomable, even ridiculous.
The unfathomable plan of God. I love that word “unfathomable.” Unfathomable. It is so deep you cannot reach the bottom of it. And even when you have reached it and you grab a hold of it, you are not sure if you really have it. For the disciples, the plan does not make sense. Jesus keeps telling them what is going to happen and they say, “What?” They just do not get it. From our side, we take it as history and we see how things line up. We look at the Old Testament and see the prophecies. It fits. The disciples do not have the history. They have the prophecies but their preconceptions cloud their view. That the Messiah is going to die and suffer and be killed does not fit with their view of a triumphant King. That He is going to ‘lose’ is unthinkable. The Messiah is of the line of David. He is the winner in life. He is the one who establishes a kingdom. He is the one who brings peace and prosperity to the land. He is the one who clears out all the enemies. He is like David who defeated Goliath and the Philistines. He is the winner. He is like Gideon and Moses. He brings truth and established it. We follow Him through the wilderness. And He is going to get His beard pulled out? Get scourged? Die? It did not make sense.
The Messiah is supposed to make a difference and He has not done that yet. In fact, He is just getting started. It has just been a few short years. He taught a lot of people but there are still so many more to teach. There is still so much more sickness to heal. There are so many more disciples to make. There is so much more to do. There is no way He will die. It makes no sense. It is unfathomable. What good is a dead Messiah? A living Messiah can be rallied around, but a dead one?
The Father’s unfathomable plan can be traced back to Isaiah. In fact, it starts in Genesis but it is pinpointed with great detail for Jesus in Isaiah. Remember Jesus’ first sermon in His hometown of Nazareth? After preaching throughout the area and performing miracles in Capernaum He came to Nazareth, the village where He grew up, His boyhood home. He is selected from the congregation to read from the scrolls so He chooses Isaiah 61:1-2a. After reading the passage He rolled up the scroll, handed it to the attendant, and sat down. And with everyone’s eyes on Him He declared Himself to be the fulfillment of what was written; that He is the Messiah. They became enraged and attempted to throw Him off a cliff but He slipped away from them (Luke 4:14-30). But the most significant part of this passage is that Jesus knew who He was and what was in store for Him—the rejection, beatings, scourging, and crucifixion. All were prophesied to happen to the Messiah. Isaiah 50:5-7 records the Messiah’s, Jesus’, response. “The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know what to say to all these weary ones. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will. The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me, and I have listened. I do not rebel or turn away. I give my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to those who pull out my beard. I do not hide from shame, for they mock me and spit in my face. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be dismayed. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will triumph.”
Isaiah declared what the servant is going to go through and that whoever the Messiah was going to be, He understood who He was. Jesus understood who He was. And as Isaiah declares, He is willing to do the Father’s will. And Jesus’ life and ministry bore that out. It all comes down to Jesus choosing to say yes to the Father; choosing the hard but necessary way. His eye was on the cross from the beginning. It was what moved Him to say “no” to Satan’s offer of the easy way in Matthew 4 and “no” to Peter’s military solution in John 18.
“And again, he took the twelve and told them what was going to happen to him” (Mark 10:32b). He knew where this all was going to lead and He did not want His disciples to think His death was a failure. Mark 10:33-34: “When we get to Jerusalem the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of the religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, beat him with their whips, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.” We read this passage in Mark and we ask, “How can it be anymore clear?” And what happens next? Verse 35-37: “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. ‘Teacher’, they said, ‘we want you to do us a favor.’ ‘What is it?’ he asked. ‘In your glorious Kingdom, we want to sit in places of honor next to you,’ they said, ‘one at your right and the other at your left.’” Huh? Let us change the subject. Let us look at something else. I do not like the conversation. Let us just change the channel. We know this cannot happen because He is the Messiah, so something else has to be going on. I do not want to know about this. And so they turn a deaf ear to what is going on. His eye was on the cross, but the disciples’ eyes were on Kingdom glory. They were blinded to what was coming next.
The disciples watched Jesus say yes to the Father and Jesus told them, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” They did not fully understand what that meant but they would after the resurrection. They were to do what does not come naturally, to defy the natural instinct of preserving one’s own life, but give self for the blessing and benefit of others. He tells them, “It is not all about you. It is about showing My love to the world.” And that is why He tells James and John in Mark 10:39a, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with ...." We find fulfillment ourselves as we give and sacrifice for others.
The disciples were astonished, the disciples were terrified, the disciples were oblivious and so my question to you is, Do you follow in their footsteps? How often do God-leadings happen around you and you just do not see? We are so wrapped up in our own plans and our own ideas and our own thoughts and what we care about and what is really important to us we do not care what is important to God. We do not care about others. We are not focusing on Him or His ways.
This last week Jim Budzynski shared a story that I want to share with you. He was having a bad day on Monday; one of those days where everything was going wrong. Everyone seemed to have a problem and would come to him and expect him to fix it and he had no solutions. It was not a good day. He prayed in the morning, “Lord, I know I have a bad attitude, fix me. Help me, Lord.” But God did not just turn the light on. Bing! He goes through a long day and finally it was 5:00. He was ready to leave and go home. He leaves the back of his shop and is circling his car getting ready to leave when a guy with a one-gallon gas can and a check says, “I have this check and I have this gas can and I am out of gas. My truck ran out of gas and I have my daughter’s bike and rode it over here. She is sitting right over there but I was just wondering if someone could help me with getting some gas.” And Jim goes, “Ah, not again.” You ever been there? I mean, you are at the end of your rope and then somebody wants some help. He takes him to Cumberland Farms and the guy gets the gas can out. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a dollar bill. Jim says, “Ah, ok, Lord. I can spring for $3 and give him a whole gallon.” Jim goes in and pays the money to get the can filled and comes back and asks the man about himself. The guy says, “Well, you know I have been looking for a job. I got laid off. I have my mom and my daughter. We are just trying to get by.” Then as he is coming back to Jim’s shop he sees the daughter’s bicycle still sitting on the side of the building and the whole time the guy had been distracted and waiting to make sure his daughter’s bicycle was not stolen. Here is a beat-up, little 24-inch pink bicycle but it is all his daughter has and he is so relieved to see it is still there when he got back. Then Jim reached in his pocket and gave him another $20 and said, “Hey man, go get some milk. Get some food for your daughter. Get some more gas and go with God.” And it changed Jim’s day. Yes, the guy got his needs met and we do not know what will happen to him or his daughter in the future or how this incident will impact their lives but it made a difference in Jim’s life. It made a difference in his week. He was called to be a blessing to somebody and God changed his heart and attitude in the process.
Some of you have been making wrong choices one after another after another for a long time. But realize, you do not have to turn around and backtrack for 5 years, 20 years or however long you have been walking away from God. He will take you and put you on the right road from where you are. In front of you today are two roads, the world’s way and God’s way. Who are you going to listen to? You get to choose today. You do not have to backtrack. He says, “Today I am ready, I am ready for you. Will you start to choose my way? Will you listen to my voice?” And watch what Jesus will do. Watch what God will do. The Sovereign Lord will help. You have the God of creation who watched over Jesus and carried Him through horrendous stuff watching over you. You may not feel important. You are just one in a million. One in a hundred thousand in this area, but God knows you by name and is watching over you. He cares about each and every one of His children. But like the prodigal son, you must choose to stay and work alongside your heavenly Father.
Mark 15:42-47: Joseph of Arimathea: Risking it all for Jesus
Matthew 27:57-61: “As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.”
Mark 15:42-47: “It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.”
Luke 23:50-56: “Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”
John 19:38-42: “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
Relatively little is said about Joseph of Arimathea. The above four passages are the only references we have in Scripture concerning him. But if we look at these passages closely we can learn a lot about this man. What personal descriptions are given: 1) he was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, 2) he was a good and upright man, 3) he did not agree that Jesus was a threat to Israel, a blasphemer, or worthy of death by crucifixion, 4) he was looking for the kingdom of God; or in other words, he responded to Old Testament revelation concerning God and His promises concerning, as it says elsewhere, “a heavenly homeland” (Heb.11:14-16), 5) he was a disciple of Jesus, 6) he feared the other prominent Jewish leaders and the power they had in the community, and 7) he was wealthy.
The John passage mentions his relationship with Nicodemus. It was Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night to question Him (John 3:1-21). And it was Nicodemus who spoke up (John 7:50) to demand justice and a fair hearing for Jesus. Nicodemus heard the gospel from Jesus like no one else. The great John 3 passage plainly states the gospel of salvation. There were no parables or stories, just straight talk to a genuine seeker of the truth. Joseph heard from Nicodemus what Jesus said and he believed. But as John records his was not yet a bold faith. He was a respected counselor on the most prominent group of leaders in Israel, the Sanhedrin. As a good and upright man he could see in Jesus a man sent from God, a good and upright man, Himself.
The Jewish leaders were a powerful and wealthy group, and corruption was rampant (remember Jesus casting out the religious-leader-approved money changers and Jesus writing in the sand that convicted the leaders of their own hypocrisy and sin). It is most likely that men like Nicodemus and Joseph were sick and tired of the way things were and wanted change. They wanted true righteousness to reign in their land instead of the religious counterfeit espoused by the religious leaders, the very ones Jesus called vipers and devils. They saw the inner workings of Jewish religious power and did not like what they saw. Joseph was rooting for Jesus to bring change and possibly like Nicodemus spoke for justice for Jesus but his personal following of Jesus he kept to himself. The top religious leaders ridiculed those that expressed faith in Jesus. Listen to the attitude (John 7:45-49): “When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, ‘Why didn’t you bring him in?’ ‘We have never heard anyone speak like this!’ the guards responded. ‘Have you been led astray, too?’ the Pharisees mocked. ‘Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!’” While Joseph’s support of Jesus might have been more general during Jesus’ life, it became specific after His death. According to Roman law a family member could take away the body of an executed person but the request of a non-relative would most likely be denied. If no one claimed the body, it would be dumped in a ditch where it would be openly feasted on by birds, scavengers, and insects, a very ignominious end. And I wonder if this was a major reason the Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus crucified. Contrary to what they told Pilate, they had a right to execute. Remember the attempted stoning of the women caught in adultery. Jewish law had this provision in it. Read Acts 7 concerning the stoning of Stephen. Stephen gave what was perhaps the greatest ‘sermon’ in the New Testament. And the Jews stoned him to death. Acts 7:51-60: “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.’ The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, ‘Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!’ Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ He fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!’ And with that, he died.” They could have done the same thing to Jesus.
Perhaps they did not want to alienate the people who were sympathetic to Jesus but they seemed to have contempt for them already (John 7:49). They were jealous and felt humiliated by Jesus numerous times and they wanted Him disgraced. They wanted everyone to know who was in power and whom to fear. Joseph made sure that did not happen. Jesus was now dead and in Joseph’s reckoning permanently so, but His life and ministry deserved to be respected so he provided a burial site that was fit for a rich man, his own. Instead of birds picking at His body, thousands of dollars worth of spices and ointments covered it. Instead of being dumped in a ditch with no afterthought, His body was cared for (Luke 23:50-24:1). The Jewish leaders’ plan to disgrace Jesus failed because Joseph respected Jesus too much to let that happen.
Read Isaiah 53:9. Isaiah 53 talks about the coming ‘Suffering Servant’, the Messiah. Verse 9 seems to have a contradictory prophesy. This one would die like a criminal but be buried with the grace and dignity of a rich man. Criminals are not treated with respect after their death. How can both be true? “He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.” How? Joseph responded to the Spirit’s prompting and fulfilled this prophecy. But what Joseph did was much more significant than saving Jesus from the mad vindictiveness of the Jewish religious leaders. His actions set the stage for the resurrection story of Jesus Christ.
Look at what this man personally does. He goes to the marketplace and buys what is now known or claimed to be the Shroud of Turin. And he took down the body. You have a man beaten and battered hanging on that cross, nailed to that cross, spikes through His hands. How are you going to get Him down? That is not a nice job. It is a bloody, gory job. Do you get a crow bar and ply out the stakes or do you just kind of jerk and whack on the hand and the wrist bones and break them so you can pull them through? Not a nice job. And then he wrapped it in cloth. Part of the wrapping process is first washing the body. If you saw the movie “The Passion,” you begin to get an idea of the bruises, wounds and torn flesh that is all over His body. And he placed it in a tomb, his own tomb, a new tomb, that no one had laid in before, cut out of rock and he rolled a large stone against the entrance to sealed it. The John passage says that Nicodemus also helped him. How much Nicodemus does we do not know but Joseph of Arimathea is the one who takes the lead in this.
How does he stand up for Jesus? He goes to the one who authorized His crucifixion and says, “I want His body.” Now, that is not going to be a secret for long. The Sanhedrin is going to find out about that. By him going to Pilate and identifying with Jesus, he risks losing everything. He most likely will be ostracized from the Sanhedrin and possibly kicked out of Jerusalem. There might be pressure put on other merchants to no longer trade with him. And that would negatively affect his business. He risks losing everything he has worked for his entire life. But he goes anyway. Without saying it he shows that he agrees with Paul when Paul said, “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” All the other disciples were “ducking and covering.” Joseph was willing to take the risk. He did not hide in a shell. He did not wait for someone else to stand up. He took the risk and initiative. He went personally. He could have sent a memo to Pilate and say, “Give my servants the body.” He had servants who could have done this. He was a wealthy man. He could have sent his employees, given them the day off to go get the body and take care of it. But it says he personally went. He took the initiative to get personally involved and that is what stands out about what he did.
Talk about dirty jobs. There are all kinds of dirty jobs but there is no dirty job like this. If Mike Rowe was to clean up mutilated and brutalized bodies, they could not show it on television. I mean, it is just horrendous. But it is not just any body. It is the body of someone that you love that you put your hope and your dreams in. And so it is not just the gruesomeness, it is also the emotional devastation that goes with that. Cara when she was little was hit by a truck and knocked unconscious. I picked up her body and the emotion I felt is indescribable. The emotion that is there is so thick and heavy, it felt like my heart was going to burst. I am sure Joseph felt similar feelings, only he had to not only bury a loved one but handle the dead body. Cara survived but had she died I do not know if I could have handled her dead body. Joseph had to do it because no one else would. The grief must have been excruciating but through the power of God’s spirit it was not debilitating. He is able to go through it because God said, “I want you to do this.” He carried that body. He washed the wounds. He wrapped it up and sealed it in a tomb. And on the third day the grave is empty. The clothes are empty and have been folded neatly waiting for witnesses to verify the Lord’s absence.
What kind of resurrection story could have been possible had Jesus’ body been thrown in a ditch? The body would have been torn apart by scavengers and if perhaps it turned up missing, anyone could have taken it. The body of Jesus would have been accessible to anyone to take. In a tomb sealed by a large stone and guarded by Roman soldiers, a missing body is hard to explain. The angel told the women who came to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body the only possible explanation—He has been supernaturally raised from the dead. Not much is written about Joseph in Scripture but what he did for Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 53:9 and gave witness to the authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to all who are willing to believe.