Sunday, January 14, 2018
In the section of Mark we are studying, we have been watching Jesus through a variety of ways instruct the disciples in the true nature of the Kingdom of God. We have seen that Jesus makes it clear that the cross comes before glory, but this is a difficult thing for the disciples to comprehend. And this lesson is very applicable to us, because, if you are like me, you do not like the cross in your life. Christians often make much about the blessings and the glory of Christianity. But usually we avoid the thought of suffering and persecution, of discipline, and of sacrifice. Much of the teaching of the church today avoids talking about these thorny implications of the cross. But Jesus makes clear to his disciples, and by extension to us, that there is no glory without the cross -- no cross; no crown. Romans 8:17 says that if we suffer with Him, then we shall also be glorified with Him.
The chapter began with the transfiguration, which was a prefigurement of the glory to come, both in the life of Christ and for his disciples. But then Mark says that they came down the mountain, back on the road to the cross, back down to the suffering and hardship and trials that often are a real part of the Christian experience. They came to find the rest of the disciples being scorned for their lack of power, their impotence over a demon controlled boy. They came down to find unbelief in the absence of the Savior. And now they are traveling again, headed to Capernaum, but Jesus knows that He is ultimately headed to the cross. His public ministry is virtually over at this point. His primary focus is on teaching and equipping the disciples for the time when He will no longer visibly be with them. So Mark says He goes out of His way to avoid the crowds, and as they are walking along on the hot dusty road to Capernaum, He tells the disciples of His destiny. Jesus said vs.31, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.”
He is speaking of His humiliation. His suffering and death, and then His exaltation, when He will rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. Once again, there is the order of first the cross, then the glory. But the disciples don’t understand what He is saying, and perhaps they are afraid to find out. So they don’t ask Him what it means, and they are fearful.
In this announcement of the cross, a new element is added which has not appeared before and may have contributed to their fearfulness. Jesus said, "The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men." The word translated "delivered" really means "betrayed." It is a word that is the technical word used for a criminal being handed over to judgment and punishment, and perhaps execution. It is a legal term and the use of it here even hints at the fact that the execution of Jesus will be to some degree a legal act. It’s an indication to these disciples that the Lord would be delivered over to his enemies by an act of betrayal. After Peter’s rebuke in the last chapter, where Jesus called him Satan, it is not surprising that this revelation would make them afraid that one of their own could betray Christ and He would be killed as a result.
But the principle Jesus wants to teach them is that He is going to suffer the cross before He would be exalted in the resurrection. His humiliation is an important principle that they need to understand, because humility is something that they needed to learn was an essential tenet of the gospel of the Kingdom. In the following verses we are going to see four ways in which the Lord teaches or illustrates the humility of the kingdom in action.
The first is brought about by the Lord asking the disciples in vs33, “what were you discussing along the way?” Jesus knew that they had been talking among themselves during their journey about which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of God. They are still thinking about glory. And perhaps, though Peter, James and John had not told them about the transfiguration as Jesus had requested, yet the rest of the disciples knew that they had gone up to the mountain with Jesus, and had to have realized that something momentous had happened there which they were not privy to. So it’s not surprising that led them to start to argue with one another about who would be first in the kingdom, and who would be next and so forth. They were picking out the seats of honor already, and there was probably some jealousy going on amongst them. In fact, this concept of glory is so fixed in the disciples mind that in the next chapter John and James even had their mother ask Jesus that her sons be seated on the right and left hand when Jesus took His throne. This kind of unbridled ambition is something that is incompatible with the new life that Jesus was illustrating for them.
So Mark says they were quiet, because they didn’t want to admit that they had been talking about who was the greatest. Yet Matthew’s account says that eventually they did ask Him straight out who was the greatest among them. So in vs35, Jesus calls them to come around Him and He sits down in the posture of a rabbi teaching His disciples and He begins to teach the principle of humility. And the principle He gave them is this; “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
You know, it is a very natural desire in the heart of man to excel, to achieve, to distinguish yourself among your peers. We teach that to our children, don’t we? We put them in sports, that are competitive. We give them grades at school. They are tested to see how they rank in regards to others in almost every endeavor. And it doesn’t stop there. We do the same thing at work. Those that excel generally are the ones that get the bonuses, the raises, the promotions. It is part of our culture to be competitive, to try to outdo one another, to rise to the top.
But the gospel is not natural; it does not operate on natural principles. It operates on spiritual principles, based on the truth of God for how we are to live. So what Jesus did was to tell them the way to true greatness. "It is not by seeking to be first,” He said, "It is by a willingness to put others first. It is not by getting people to serve you; it is by becoming a servant of all."
What Jesus is really saying is that there are two kinds of greatness, two kinds of ambition. There is the ambition to be approved and applauded by men, and the ambition to be approved and applauded by God. One way is natural, and one way is spiritual. One way involves pride, and the other way requires humility.
Now to illustrate this principle, Jesus calls forth a child, maybe 2 to 4 years old. It could have possibly been Peter’s son, as they were probably in Peter’s house. So picking up the little boy in His arms, Jesus said, “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.”
So Jesus reveals, in three remarkable ways, the real marks of greatness as illustrated by this child. Children are illustrative of the Christian. But especially in that culture, children were not considered important. They were property. They were workers for the family good. But they were not given the esteem that our culture gives children today. So the first mark of greatness in the kingdom of God is found in these words: "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me." The important words there are "in my name." The motive for receiving such a person, such a little, unimportant child, is that it is done as unto the Lord -- done in his name. It is not done because the child can reciprocate by doing good things for you; it is something you do regardless of whether you receive any benefit in doing it, because it is done as unto the Lord.
The first mark of greatness is that you learn to be no respecter of persons, to welcome people simply because they are people, to take no consideration of whether they can do something for you or not, and not to be concerned whether knowing them enhances your own prestige, but because, potentially at least, they are sons and daughters of God Himself. Romans 12:10 tells us to be “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” We do this without regard for their standing, or rank. We should put others importance and needs before our own.
This is illustrated in the next section by John. At this point, Mark says, John interrupted Jesus. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us.”
Probably the mention of the phrase, "in my name” caused John to suddenly recall an incident which had taken place not long before, when he and some of the other disciples had seen a man casting out demons in the name of Jesus. John said, "Teacher, when we saw him, we told him to stop, because he wasn't following us." This is a typically human reaction, isn’t it? This is jealousy, and it was probably brought on by the fact that the disciples had recently been unable to cast out the demon in the boy. They were jealous of the fact that someone else was doing something, even successful at doing something, that they thought only they were entitled to do.
I think what also must have irked them was that this man actually was succeeding in what they were having trouble doing. This man was not an imposter. Jesus gives him credit for accomplishing a true miracle. Let’s be clear about something though. We aren’t encouraged here to accept shysters in ministry who claim to be faith healers and are not. The Bible makes it clear that we need to beware of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing. But this man was legitimately casting out demons and they were jealous of him.
This is what Jesus was saying to his disciples. The mark of greatness is that you look not at a person's credentials, nor at the outward characteristics they manifest, nor at their affilations, but that you see a life of faith that honors Christ. And if the name of Jesus is being honored by any such person, do not hinder them, but honor them and accept them. And very importantly, don’t measure yourself against other Christians. Don’t judge people according to the gifts God has or hasn’t given them. Let God be the judge of those who are His. God uses a variety of people for a variety of purposes. One person is not more valuable in God’s eyes than another. But their value is in doing what God has purposed for them to do. And if we are to be great in the eyes of God, then we will not hinder others from doing God’s work, but rather encourage and build them up in the Lord.
The next mark of greatness follows immediately in vs 40, "For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
Remember that Jesus is still holding the child in His arms, and now He is giving a positive and a negative charge concerning how we are to treat the children of God. The positive is obviously meant to represent doing a small thing which has a big reward; as even giving just a glass of water has a great reward in the kingdom of God. The negative thing uses a similar equation in reverse; whoever by even a small sin causes a Christian to stumble, will be guilty of a great punishment.
I think the mindset of most Christians today is far too often focused on their liberties in Christ, rather than their responsibilities. Remember Jesus said it is better to give than to receive. But a lot of times we are only focused on what we receive as Christians, rather than on what we can give. The real blessing and sign of maturity for a Christian comes not from getting, but giving. What may be a small sacrifice for you in time or effort or resources can have great eternal benefit.
On the other hand, what liberties we take with our Christianity often can become a stumbling block to others. 1Cor. 10:23 says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify,” that is not all things build up others. If we truly loved others, then we would gladly sacrifice our liberty for the sake of another brother. Especially in those areas where other Christians are weak.
I will speak bluntly of a couple of examples. Women you need to be careful in the way you dress for the sake of your Christian brother. Yes, men are weak. Many men are perverted in their thinking. Yet that doesn’t relinquish your responsibility. The Lord loves those who are weak. He died for those who are weak. How can we then not sacrifice our liberty for the sake of someone who is weak? And I will also speak of drinking. I’m not going to say that you have to be a tee totaller to be a Christian. But I also shouldn’t have to tell you that alcohol is a tremendous problem in our society. We need to be careful not to present a temptation to a weaker brother, nor an excuse because they see us indulging in something that would be destructive for them. And as such we need to take Jesus’s warning here seriously, “if you cause one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better to be cast into the depths of the sea with a millstone around your neck.” Sounds like Jesus takes such things seriously. So should we.
And to illustrate just how seriously Jesus considers such stumbling blocks, the next characteristic follows in vs43: "And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. For every one will be salted with fire." What Jesus is teaching is that the path to greatness starts by judging yourself correctly, rather than judging others. The Lord is saying that the mark of greatness in the kingdom of God is one who takes seriously the importance of sanctification, which means that he begins to judge himself according to the standard of God’s righteousness, and deals drastically with himself, purifying himself.
The analogy he draws is very graphic. If you have an infected arm that develops gangrene, and it is threatening your very life, and the doctors cannot do any more for you, there is only one thing left to do: cut it off, amputate it. Your life is at stake. Jesus uses that very graphic analogy to tell us how serious it is when we are involved in wrongful and hurtful attitudes and actions, and what we must do about it. We must deal drastically with these things; otherwise they bring upon us the judgment of fire.
The word used here for "hell" is gehenna. Gehenna was the name of a valley outside Jerusalem. It was the place where some of the past kings of Israel had offered their children to the god Moloch, to be burned with fire. Consequently it was a defiled place, and it became the garbage dump of Jerusalem. Fires smoldered there continuously; repulsive worms ate at the garbage. And that garbage dump becomes the symbol of the eternal waste of life. When we read these words of Jesus about hell we must understand that when they are applied to an unbeliever, i.e., one who resists and rejects the good news of Jesus and dies an unbeliever, it means his whole life, spiritual and physical, is like that -- wasted, a total loss. There is nothing salvageable about it. He may have won the approval of men, may have lived very comfortably, but at the end his life is a worthless, a total loss, good only to be thrown on the garbage heap for eternity. When these words apply to believers, as they do here, he is speaking of physical loss. Our physical life is wasted, squandered, lost; it is misused. And such wantonness brings about the fire of judgment that we might suffer the loss of such things.
The way we avoid that loss and wasting of life is, as Jesus said, to salt ourselves with fire, i.e., to judge ourselves. The fire represents judgment in our life. He tells us to deal drastically with ourselves in this way, and, in this very helpful analogy he gives, he starts with the hand. To "cut off the hand," of course refers to eliminating the actual act that is wrong, the evil deed. If you have a dirty mind, a filthy mouth, stop thinking evil thoughts, stop using obscene language. Deal with the sin, cut it off. If you are engaged in sexual wrongdoing, stop it. If your attitude toward another is bitter and resentful, stop thinking that way. Stop saying the things you say about them. Deal with the act, cut it off. Otherwise you waste your life.
And God will bring a refiner’s fire into the life of a Christian who lives in sin. 1Co 3:13 “each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work.” God brings this fire not to consume us, but to refine us, so that we might be useful to the kingdom. As it says in 1Peter 1:7 “so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
So then, if we judged ourselves correctly, then we not only cut off the hand that does evil, but the foot that runs to it. The foot is the symbol of the path that leads to evil, the approach to temptation, the circumstances that lead you there. You may have to change where you go and what you spend your time doing, lest you are confronted with temptation too strong for you to handle. Cut it off. It may be that you will have to limit the time you spend watching television, or stop watching certain programs, or not attend certain movies, or not read certain books, because these expose you to temptations which are too much for you to handle. Cut them off; otherwise you will waste your life.
Or it may be that the eye -- the things we look at, the pictures we see in our imaginations, the fantasies, the memories and dreams of the past which light the flame of temptation -- must he plucked out. Jesus is saying that you must deal drastically with these things. They not only waste you, but they affect others. They must be dealt with.
He concludes with these words in vs.50 "Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." Salt in those days was a thing of great value. It was used as currency in some cases. That’s the origin of the phrase being “worth your salt”. And the primary thing salt was used for was a preservative. They had no refrigeration in those days. So they salted fish or meat in order to preserve it against corruption. So Jesus is saying have salt in yourselves. Don’t allow the corruption of jealousy and selfish ambition to creep into your lives. Be salt in the church. Be salt in your community. Guard against the corruption of sin.
Salt was often used in primitive cultures to clean a wound, to guard against infection. And when the salt is applied it burns like fire. It may burn now, but it cleanses and purifies. So the Lord says, judge yourself, look at yourself and evaluate what you are doing and learn to control yourself. But it must be the salt of truth. Salt which has lost its saltiness has no worth. It must be real, genuine salt. And so, have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. Judge yourselves correctly, and let God judge others.
Jesus says that the receipt for greatness in the kingdom of God is to have salt in yourselves, to begin with yourself, to deal with your own weakness and not another's, to cleanse your own life and not another's. Start dealing drastically with the things which are wrong in your own life. For the marks of greatness in the kingdom of God are these: to learn to treat everyone the way you would treat the Lord, without respect of persons; and be concerned to put others ahead of yourself, to build into their lives and strengthen them, and not harm them or injure them; and to begin to judge with yourself and to deal drastically with the things in your own heart which are wrong. Such a person rises in stature and greatness in the eyes of God, and will be honored before Him.
Sunday, January 7, 2018
As most of you know, our family went to Santa Barbara, CA to spend the holidays with our kids. And it truly was a great time that we had there together. The weather was fantastic, we had all our children under one roof, the house we stayed in was cool, overlooking the ocean. You just couldn’t ask for a nicer time together. And I have to admit, that just the thought of getting on the plane to come back to Delaware during the middle of the winter here was kind of tough. Little did we realize just how tough it was going to be. The weather alone here has been almost unbearable.
The questions we always get after going away like that to California is usually very similar. “Why don’t you guys move out there? You would be close to your kids. It’s such a beautiful place, the weather, the waves are great, why don’t you move out there?” And the truth is, such thoughts are tempting, especially when the temperature is in the single digits like it was last night. But the reality is that we believe this is where God has called us to live and work and minister. And it is far better to live here and be in the Lord’s will, having the blessings of God upon us, than it would be to live in what we think might be paradise and not have the Lord with us.
So in that regard, I was struck by the opening phrase in today’s text; “As they were coming down from the mountain….” As a Christian, there will be more time spent in the valley than on the mountaintop. God has not called us to live on the mountain top but to toil in the valley. We need those mountaintop experiences from time to time, but they are not intended for us to live there, but to equip us to live in the valley.
You may remember what Peter said when they were on the mountain during the transfiguration, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” “Let’s stay here and build tabernacles.” Peter was thinking, this is Paradise. Let’s stay right here. Let’s keep this going. There is no need to go back down the mountain. And I think most of us could identify with that. We would love to stay on the mountaintop. We yearn for the mountaintop experiences. Troubles and trials and heartaches are not something we want to experience. We want to avoid trials. Though God may occasionally take us to the mountaintop, yet He then leads us through the valley of death.
The Lord could not stay on the mountaintop. He had to come down the mountain and suffer and die on the cross in order to effect the salvation of mankind. Christ was in heaven with the Father before He came to earth. He left heaven to suffer and die on the cross. Peter and the disciples needed to see Christ transfigured on the mountain, and to hear the divine decree from the Father, and see the shekinah glory come down from God, but all of that was intended to equip them to be able to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
So as they came down from the mountain, the Lord gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen. Why? Because they had a flawed understanding of the gospel. They had gotten a glimpse of the glory, they knew the theology of the glorious kingdom of the Messiah, but they did not understand the suffering of the cross that had to come first. So many Christians only want to see the glory. They are all in for getting stirred up by a rousing concert, or being whipped into a ecstatic frenzy in a camp meeting, or healed at a miracle service. But not many want to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Thus Jesus said, wait until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. Dying must have seemed so incongruous with what the disciples had just witnessed. It must have taken all Peter’s resolve not to blurt out, “Not so Lord. May it never be. We will not let you die.” They did not realize that though Jesus had come as the Messiah, yet He came to die. Salvation could not happen without the cross. The glory of the Kingdom of God could only prevail on earth if it was preceded first by the suffering of the King.
Mark said they seized upon that statement, wondering what rising from the dead meant. They might have thought it referred to the general resurrection. They wanted to focus on the glory. He wanted them to focus on the cross. Hence they ask about the glory of the Messiah, and how the prophecy stated that Elijah must come first. He, on the other hand, responds by asking a question of HIs own about the prophecy concerning the suffering of the Messiah. Vs.12 “And He said to them, ‘Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt?’”
That illustrates a good point. The gospel must be taken fully and completely to be the truth. We dare not capitalize on certain texts which we find appealing, and leave others dangling which are not quite to our liking. The disciples were undoubtedly referring to Malachi’s prophecy concerning Elijah who would prepare the way for the kingdom to be inaugurated by the Messiah. The language of Malachi evokes a picture of the glorious kingdom of the Messiah.
Malachi 3:1 "Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the LORD of hosts.”
And then in Malachi 4:1-3, 5-6 it says "For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze," says the LORD of hosts, "so that it will leave them neither root nor branch." 2 "But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. 3 "You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing," says the LORD of hosts. ... 5 "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. 6 "He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”
All of that prophecy indicates the Lord establishing His glorious kingdom by judgment and power, and that Israel will participate in that glory. But Jesus understands that there is another aspect of the gospel, that is that the Messiah will suffer and die so that He might bring about salvation for all men.
Jesus was probably referring to the prophecy in Isaiah 53 where it says in chapter 3 vs 3 “He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” There were other such prophecies in the Old Testament, such as in the Psalms which talked of the suffering of the Messiah, but the theology of the Israelites had conveniently overlooked them.
So Jesus said Elijah did come already. He was speaking of John the Baptist. Jesus had already said in Matthew 11:14, “If you’re willing to accept it, or willing to accept the truth, John himself is Elijah who was to come.” And the angel had testified concerning John’s birth that John was coming in the spirit of Elijah as recorded in Luke 1:17 "It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
So Jesus said in vs 13 "But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.” They put John the Baptist to death. They rejected the forerunner and herald of the Kingdom of God. They would also reject the King when He came and do unto Him as they pleased. They would put Him to death.
There is a sense in which Jesus is teaching them through John the Baptist’s example, that if you would follow Him, you also can expect persecution, even death. This was certainly not something that the disciples were thinking about or looking forward to. In fact, later on in this chapter, Jesus asks them what they were thinking about, and Mark says they had been discussing who would be the greatest among them. They were in effect, fighting over the chief seats in the rule of the Kingdom when it came in with glory. They had no concept of the suffering that must come first.
But the fact is, that Jesus had been teaching them that if you wanted to be His disciple, you had to take up your cross and follow Him. In the previous chapter, Jesus said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Not only had Christ come to take up His cross, but all who will be His disciples must take up there cross as well. We must die to self. We must die to this world. And very often, that means that we will suffer the loss of much of what this world counts as dear, for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus and being counted as one of His own.
According to the gospel, glory follows suffering. Paul says in Romans 8:17 and if [we are] children, [then we are] heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
The cross represents suffering, which is equivalent to a life of faith; believing in what is not seen. The cross and resurrection would mean that Jesus would be absent. He would not be physically with the disciples continually, whenever they found themselves dealing with the trials of this world. So it would be necessary to learn to live by faith, which is a type of suffering, putting to death the physical and learning to live in the spiritual. When the cross is borne now, then glory will come later.
And yet the irony is that we fully expect glory now. When the cross comes, we find it unbearable, untenable with our tightly held expectations of what glories we believe are guaranteed to be the day to day experiences of the Christian life. We misunderstand the reality of our calling. We misunderstand the gospel.
So they came down the mountain, and they find there a vivid illustration of what is often the reality of the Christian life as we walk through the valley. They found scoffing, sarcastic scribes. They found disciples that are impotent of any power to heal a demonized boy. They found a person that is held captive by the devil, that is incapacitated in regards to life. They found a demon that wanted to destroy this young boy and ruin his father’s life. And they found a crowd that is watching. What a picture of the world that is waiting at the bottom of the mountain, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. There are the scoffers, ridiculing us for our weaknesses. We find that we are often impotent to effect real change in the world around us. We find loved ones that are caught up in sin and held captive to the devil to do his will. We see a devil that is bent on destroying lives and seemingly be successful at it. And we see a world that is watching, wondering why these so called followers of Christ are so powerless to do anything to help.
So Jesus is going to use this situation to teach His disciples how to operate in such a fallen, hopeless world. He is going to teach them how to live by faith. So He asked his disciples, “What are you discussing with them?” I think it was the equivalent of “What’s going on here?” And a man from the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.”
Some commentators have said that this was a case of simple epilepsy. But I don’t think so because his father says he was possessed with a spirit, he was mute, and Jesus adds later that he couldn’t hear either. And Mark adds that it was a spirit which threw him to the ground.
Vs. 20 They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. 21 And He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. 22 "It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!”
I want to point out that Jesus doesn’t ask these questions such as we see here in this text because He doesn’t know the answer, but because He wants to illustrate to the disciples the dire nature of the infirmity. He wants them to understand the complete hopelessness of the situation.
And that is important for us to realize as well. Before we can be successful in our walk of faith, we need to recognize the hopelessness of our condition. This young man and his father are a picture, albeit almost a caricature, of the sinful condition of the entire human race. I have often thought of this example in regards to the condition of an addict. They are so helpless many times to help themselves. The drugs or alcohol have completely taken over and the devil seems intent on destroying them. I think the hopelessness of the father is similar to the hopelessness of parents who see their child suffering the devastating effects of addiction.
But in reality, addiction is not so different than the effects of the sinful condition of us all. Though to us some sins don’t seem as destructive or damning as others, yet the fact is that Satan has duped us all to sin, and all sin is damning and ends in destruction.
So to the question, “If you can…” Jesus responds, “ ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
The first problem that Jesus identifies is that of unbelief. This is the real nature of sin; it is unbelief. Sin is not believing what God has said, and instead believing in your own interpretation, in your belief in yourself that you know what is best, that you can handle it, that you have it under control. Belief is simply surrendering control to God, who has the power to deliver us from sin on the basis of our belief in Christ.
That’s why Jesus starts out the conversation by saying, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?” It’s not just the lack of faith of the disciples who could not heal, it’s not just the small faith of the father, or the unbelief of the crowd, but He is speaking of the unbelief of a generation, of the human race. The greatest unbelief is holding onto the lie of the devil that we can make our own decisions. That we can determine for ourselves good from evil. That we can know how to live life according to our terms. That’s the sin that Eve was tempted with. She was tempted to determine for herself what was good and evil. To be wise like God. We think we know better than God what is good and evil. And so we decide for ourselves, and the result is that we fall for the devil’s lies and eat of the forbidden fruit and as a result we are damned. And then the devil takes liberty through our sin and destroys us.
Belief then is not just believing that God exists, or even that Jesus exists. The people there that day could see Jesus. They believed He was real. But belief is believing that Christ is the Son of God, and that only through Him was their deliverance from sin, when one submits completely to His Lordship of their life.
And by extension that doctrine of faith speaks to the time when Christ would die and be resurrected and no longer be with them on earth. What the Lord was trying to teach the disciples, is that belief, or faith, is believing in what you cannot see. Heb. 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” After His resurrection, when He would no longer be there with them, there would be a need for an increased faith on their part, to believe that He was with them, when they no longer could see Him. Faith is living not on the basis of what we can experience on a physical level, but living according to the word of God, believing what He has promised, when there is no physical evidence to support it.
So the answer of Jesus to their unbelief was that all things are possible to him that believes. Such a broad, all encompassing statement. We have to be careful not to make it a doctrine that stands alone, isolated from other scripture. But we need to recognize that it is meant as an explanation of the doctrine of faith. In other words, what is possible to him who has faith? All things. The Bible says that whatever is not from faith is sin. So faith is the means of righteousness. Romans 1:17 says, The righteous man shall live by faith.” And then in Romans 4:5 it says, “faith is credited as righteousness.” Romans 9:30 says “righteousness is by faith.” So it is clear then that all things, all good things, the life which is from God, is available by faith.
Now the answer of the father is a great answer and one that speaks for all of us; “I do believe; help my unbelief.” A little faith is all that is required for receiving more faith, when that faith is centered on Jesus Christ. In other words, to him who has, more shall be given. We see that expressed in Romans 1:16-17 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” Our faith in Christ’s righteousness, results in our righteousness, which increases our faith, as we go from faith to faith, that we may do even greater works.
Now Mark goes on to record how the Lord delivered this boy from the power of the unclean spirit. And it’s worth noting that the demon screamed and threw him into such terrible convulsions that the boy seemed to have died. You know, as we saw in our study of Daniel a few weeks ago, there are some demonic angels that are more powerful than other angels. Jesus Himself seems to infer to the disciples when they ask why they could not cast him out, that there are varying degrees of strength in demonic forces, by use of the phrase, “this kind.” As if to infer that there are various kinds. Ephesians 6 gives us the same sense of hierarchies of demonic forces.
But the point of this miracle is not to teach about demons, because Jesus has authority over all demons, stronger or weaker as they may be. But the point is to teach the disciples the necessity of living by faith, especially in light of the fact that He would soon be leaving them. So when they ask Him why they could not cast out this demon, He says, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”
What Jesus is teaching is not a prayer formula for casting out demons. Notice that Jesus Himself doesn’t pray to cast out the demon. So there is no formula. What He is teaching is the necessity for a dependent relationship with Jesus Christ. The King James Version adds, “prayer and fasting.” More modern translations don’t include the phrase “and fasting.” But the important thing is not whether you eat or don’t eat, but that you have an intimate, continual relationship with the Lord that is exemplary of the principle of “faith to faith.” Where you are in a continual, constant communication with the Lord, dependent upon His leading and guiding in all situations. And that relationship for us is only achievable through faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. And faith is expressed through prayer, as we talk to the Lord and commune with Him.
If you will remember, at the transfiguration God gives the disciples the first key to being able to walk through the valley when they would come down from the mountain. God said, “This is My Beloved Son, listen to Him!” The first key to our walk when we come down off the mountain is that we rely totally upon the written word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to listen continually to the Word.
The second key that we see illustrated here is that we must understand the doctrine of the cross must be central in our lives. Not just the atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, but the cross that we must bear as well, as we die to the world and walk by faith in the power of Christ.
The third key is that of faith. Believing and trusting in His power and His promises that will not fail, in spite of what the world seems to tell us.
And finally, the last key is to stay in communion with the Lord through prayer. Prayer is the connection back to God, it completes the circuit of our faith through which we have power in the darkness. This world is a dark place. But we are called to be lights in a dark world, to be lights on a hill. The world is watching. We are to be working for the kingdom. We are to carry on the business of the kingdom until the King returns. And if we are to be successful we must stay in the word, listening to the Lord through His word. We must take up our cross, realizing that glory follows suffering for His sake, and dying to the lusts of the world. We walk by faith and not by sight, and we must maintain prayer without ceasing as we rely constantly on the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Sunday, December 31, 2017
I suppose that in many ways, the transfiguration is the greatest miracle given in the Bible. To see Jesus in His human form, and then unveiled to reveal His true nature and glory, glory as of the Only Begotten Son of God, and to have the appearance of both of the greatest prophets from history appear to give credence to His majesty, and then to cap it all off with nothing less than the shekinah glory of God envelop them all and to hear God speak from the cloud, all of that combined must equal the greatest miracle recorded in scripture.
Now as I have said repeatedly, every miracle recorded in the gospels is presented as a parable to teach us spiritual principles. So the question remains for us then, what should we expect to learn from this miracle? If it’s truly the greatest miracle, then it would stand to reason that we should learn some great doctrines of our faith in studying it. So the question is why is the transfiguration important, and how is it important to me?
Well, let me start by saying that in some respects, Jesus had already been transfigured before this event. This transfiguration was just a reversal of what had already taken place at His birth. John chapter 1 makes that argument very well. In vs 14 of chapter one, John says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That’s transfiguration number one. Jesus, who John says existed from eternity with the Father, who was God, and was with God, became flesh, became a man, born to a virgin. That’s transfiguration number one. And then John continues in vs14, “and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Most commentators believe that reference to His glory is speaking of the transfiguration, which I am saying is the second transfiguration.
Peter speaks of this second transfiguration in 2Peter 1:16-18 saying, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased"-- and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.”
I think it’s important to notice that Peter uses the phrase, “we were eyewitnesses of His majesty…” The apostles were eyewitnesses of the works of Christ. They were eyewitnesses of His miracles. In Deuteronomy the law states that truth must be confirmed on the basis of two or three witnesses. So that explains why Jesus took three disciples with Him on the mountain, so that they could be eyewitnesses to what happened. So we might be assured of the truth of what happened.
I think it’s important to notice that Peter uses the phrase, “we were eyewitnesses of His majesty…” The apostles were eyewitnesses of the works of Christ. They were eyewitnesses of His miracles. In Deuteronomy the law states that truth must be confirmed on the basis of two or three witnesses. So that explains why Jesus took three disciples with Him on the mountain, so that they could be eyewitnesses to what happened. So we might be assured of the truth of what happened.
And it’s important because we need to know the truth. Jesus said that God is spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. There is no spiritual benefit in following cleverly devised tales of men. But these three men were willing to die or go to prison for the sake of the truth of what they witnessed. And we can be assured that what they saw and reported is the truth.
Now in vs1, Jesus Himself affirms the truth of what they will see. “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” Jesus Himself is affirming the transfiguration as an important truth. He’s saying that some of the disciples present as He was speaking with them, would not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power. Jesus Himself is the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth. He came to institute the kingdom of God.
Now what is the context of Jesus’s words? What caused the Lord to make this statement? Well, it was the previous statement at the end of chapter 8, which was the declaration by Peter that Jesus was the Christ. Mark puts the emphasis on the fact that He was the Messiah, and I believe in that sense then Jesus declares this statement. Because the whole issue with the disciples, and the reason that Jesus did not want them broadcasting the fact that He was the Messiah, was because they had an erroneous understanding of what the ministry of the Messiah was to be. They believed, as did the majority of the Jews, that the Messiah would resurrect the throne of David and the glories of Israel and it’s dominance in the world.
And that view was faulty. There are two comings of Christ. The first coming and the second coming. The first coming was to be a servant, a substitute and a Savior. In the first coming He inaugurated His kingdom. At the second coming He will come in glory, to consummate His kingdom. The disciples don’t realize all of that. They see only one coming of the Messiah. And so they have expectations of His kingdom which are not in keeping with God’s purposes.
So I believe that what Jesus was trying to teach by this statement and the miracle following six days later, is the reality of the kingdom of God that He was inaugurating in His first coming. In a sense, He is acting out the miracle we looked at last time of healing the blind man, in which at first the man did not see clearly, and then at a second touch from the Lord he was able to see clearly. That’s what is going on here. Jesus told Peter at his confession that Jesus was the Messiah that God had given him insight into that truth. But then a little bit later Jesus has to rebuke Peter and say “Get behind Me Satan, for you are not fixing your mind on God’s interests but on man’s.” Peter’s theology needed a second divine touch. And so that is what is happening here. God is providing a second touch, that the disciples might more clearly see the nature and purpose of the Messiah.
Now there are two ways in which the first verse is fulfilled. When Jesus says “some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power,” we can interpret that in two ways. Again, we see perhaps a first and then second touch. The first fulfillment is going to be through the transfiguration in six days. The second is going to be within about 7 months time, on the day of Pentecost, when the disciples will receive power after the Holy Spirit is come upon them. That is when the gospel is going to go forward with power throughout the whole world. And that is the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom of God. Jesus said when He began preaching, that the kingdom of God is near you. The kingdom is in your midst. But then at Pentecost, the kingdom of God will come with power, not just to the Jews, but to all the nations of the world. That is when the kingdom of God reaches it’s full potential throughout the world, not only to the Jews, but also to the world.
So Mark says six days later after making this statement, Jesus took Peter, James and John up on a high mountain. Jesus often went up to a mountain to pray and be alone with God. This time, He brings His three closest companions to be with Him. They probably thought they were just going to pray. Luke 9:32 tells us that they fell asleep. I wonder if Jesus had to wake them up to see the transfiguration. That would be a real shame wouldn’t it? To sleep through the greatest miracle of all. I sometimes wonder what great things God intends for us to see, that we are too tired or disinterested in to notice. But nevertheless, great things of God often come through great times of prayer. If you would see Christ more clearly, then spend more time alone with Him in prayer. James says, draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. So this event teaches us about the nature of our faith; that intimacy with God produces greater illumination. David says in Psalm 36:9 “In thy light we see light.”
I will also say that this shows the necessity for a place of prayer, and the need to go to a place of prayer. We can pray anywhere, that is true, at any time. But Jesus shows us that there is benefit in going to a specific place. Jesus called the temple a house of prayer. I would suggest that church is a place of prayer. There is a special benefit in going to church to offer prayers to God.
Then when they were on the mountain, Mark says that Jesus was transfigured. Transfigured comes from the Greek word “metamorphoō,” which means to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure. As I said earlier, this happened at His birth, when the Word became flesh. Now in this second metamorphosis, the flesh becomes glorified. To be glorified is to become a spiritual body, a heavenly body.
Paul speaks of that difference between the physical and spiritual body in some detail in 1Cor. 15:40 saying, “There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another.” We are not sure how Jesus’s body changed, but Mark indicates that the light inside of Christ shone through His flesh and His garments in a blindingly white light. Luke says the appearance of His face became different. Mark also tells us that Moses and Elijah appeared with Him, talking to Him. And I believe in Luke’s account, he says that they both appeared in splendor as well, or appeared in glory.
Now as I said, we cannot fully comprehend the way the body of the Lord was transfigured or transformed. But I would say that the spiritual essence of Christ, that which was invisible, became visible, and that which was visible, became less visible. The body, rather than being a permanent fixture, was revealed as just a cloak over the spiritual being that was the essence of Christ. And I cannot help but remember that John tells us at Christ’s second coming that we will be transfigured as well, when we will be made like Christ. 1John 3:2 “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”
There are many interesting things that can be gleaned from this transformation. However, we don’t want to speculate beyond what the text indicates. But remember Jesus’s own statement regarding the dead in the Lord who have gone on before. In Matthew 22:32 He says, “I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” So here then we see that Moses and Elijah are living. They are not dead in a tomb, but living and communing with the Lord.
What a blessing that is for us that know the Lord! As Jesus said in John 11:26 “everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" We don’t die, we are just translated from the physical domain to the spiritual domain. We go on living, but in a different form, and in a more complete communion with the Lord.
And notice that Peter, James and John recognize Moses and Elijah. They in turn recognize Jesus. No one needs to be introduced. It’s nice to know that somehow, someway, our physical character is knowable and recognizable in that spiritual dimension. We will know our relatives and our loved ones. 1Cor. 13:12 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”
And one other mention, Matthew tells us that they were talking to Him about the events to come. They were talking about His ministry, about the cross, and the resurrection. I don’t know all that they were talking about, but I do know that they were talking about things to come and things that had happened. They were aware of current events. They were aware of the future. And I find that comforting, as well as challenging. I think my dad is watching to some extent what I am doing here on earth. I think he is interested. The Bible tells us that the angels long to look into what we are doing and what God has planned here on earth.
In fact, speaking of all the saints who had died and gone on before, the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” We are surrounded by an invisible cloud of witnesses. Those who have gone on before us are witnessing what we are doing now. The angels are witnessing what we are doing. And I think that they are greatly interested. I think they are cheering when we overcome. I hope that they are not weeping when we fall. But the Bible says that they are witnesses to what we are doing here, so let us run the race with patience and lay aside every sin and the weights which encumber us.
In that regard, I want to point out that the word metamorphosis shows up only four times in the New Testament. Twice it is used in the gospels in speaking of this event; here in Mark and in Matthew 17. But the other two times it is used in not in keeping with Christ’s transfiguration at all, but it’s in reference to our transformation when we are saved. The first is found in Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The second is in 2Cor. 3:18 “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” I think it’s noteworthy that in both cases it isn’t talking about our justification, but our sanctification. It’s talking about the process of transformation, as we are being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, from glory to glory. When we are justified, we receive that first touch, but then we need to be sanctified, transfigured by the Spirit of God within us, our righteousness shining forth like the sun for the world to see.
We should also ask ourselves why particularly Moses and Elijah appeared at the transfiguration. First of all, Moses and Elijah represent the fulfillment of all scripture. Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the Law. Elijah represents the prophets. When the Jews spoke of the entire scriptures, they referred to them as the Law and the Prophets. So in appearing with Christ, they attest to His fulfillment of all the Old Testament scriptures, both in the law and the prophets. Jesus said in Matt. 5:17 "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill."
Secondly, the appearance of Moses and Elijah speak to the fact that someone greater than a prophet was here. The disciples answered Jesus question of who do men say that I am by saying that the Jews thought Jesus was a prophet. Moses was considered the great prophet of God. And Elijah was of course a mighty prophet as well in his miracles. And yet God indicates that Jesus was not just a prophet, but His only beloved Son.
And we see more illustrated by these two men. Moses also died and was buried. Elijah was taken up into heaven without dying. Thus they represent the means by which we will see the future glory of the kingdom revealed. Either by dying and being transported to the presence of God in our spirit, or by being taken up into heaven when He shall appear with His holy angels when He comes the second time for His church.
Mark says that Peter and the disciples were very afraid at what they were witnessing. They don’t understand what was going on. And Peter, wanting to say something, says the wrong thing. He had good intentions, but he was still focusing on man’s interests and not Gods. So Peter said, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Now there is some debate about what is meant by tabernacles. Some think that it has something to do with the feast of booths, or tabernacles, which was a feast celebrated by the Jews around that time. But I happen to think that it has to do with the tabernacle of meeting that was the fore runner of the temple. The tabernacle that Moses constructed according to God’s plan, where God’s glory would settle over it in the form of a cloud and great light, and which denoted the presence of the Lord in the midst of His people. I think there is a sense in which the disciples are so awestruck with Moses and Elijah being present, that they think that they each should have a tabernacle similar to the one in the Exodus. Kind of like building three churches for the three great preachers.
Sounds like a bad idea in hindsight to us, but it undoubtedly seemed like a good idea to Peter. Kind of like these multi campus churches that are springing up around the country today. They seem more like tabernacles erected to honor men rather than to honor Jesus. We need to be careful that out of a sincere desire to worship the Lord we do not end up building edifices to glorify men. Sincerity is no measure of truth. We are not to worship God simply in sincerity, but in truth.
Well, here’s what God had to say about Peter’s idea. vs 7 Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” I believe this was the cloud that stood over the tabernacle during the time of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. This was the cloud called the shekinah glory in which the presence of God was, which would come down upon the tabernacle and Moses would go into it and talk with God.
So God is giving His witness to the Messiah, that Jesus is His beloved Son. Moses and Elijah were prophets who pointed to the One who was to come. Now He is here, and God has appointed Him to rule over His kingdom. The Lord Christ has been appointed by God to rule over His Kingdom.
Heb 1:1-5, 8 “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. 5 For to which of the angels did He ever say, "YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU"? And again, "I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME"? ... 8 But of the Son He says, "YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM.”
And in God’s declaration of the preeminence of Jesus Christ, He reminds us to listen to Him. It teaches us the need for dependence upon the word. Even supernatural events will not guarantee a person’s perseverance of faith. The disciples, in spite of being witnesses to this tremendous miracle, still fell away from the Lord at the first hint of tribulation. Not by resting on the laurels of past experiences, but only through continual hearing of the word of the Lord does our transfiguration produce sanctification . Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
So in the final summary of things, the transfiguration is not simply something that happened two thousand years ago, which has very little application to our lives, but transfiguration is something that God is doing now in the hearts of those who love Him, as we are being conformed to His image through the application of the word of God. And one day, that transfiguration in us will be completed as we behold Him, and seeing Him will become like Him. And we will change this body of corruption for a body incorruptible.
But in the meantime, let us not be conformed to this world, but be transformed, transfigured, by the renewing of your mind, through the word of God, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect, for the building up and establishing of the kingdom of God.