Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Son's Ordination & Confirmation

Mark 1:10-11 reads:
And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Since Jesus came “up out of the water” one may be sure that He went down into the water. In other words, He was immersed. The Greek word translated “baptized” literally means to dip an object in water or some liquid. It does not mean to have the water/liquid placed on the object.
Immersion was the only form of baptism officially practiced by Christians until the 14th century. At the council of Ravenna in 1311 the Catholic Church recognized effusion: sprinkling or pouring. In volume one of his Matthew commentary John MacArthur quotes Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic theologian from that era: “In immersion the setting forth of the burial of Christ is more plainly expressed, in which this manner of baptizing is more commendable.” (John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7 (Chicago: Moody, 1985), 79.)

Christian baptism, which is the same as John’s baptism, is never done to signify cleansing. It does not cleanse sin, nor does it picture sins cleansed. Baptism is a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

Christ’s baptism identified Him with sinners; illustrated the Cross, and provided an example for believer’s to follow. This event also marked the beginning of His earthly ministry. Mark records that after Jesus came “up out of the water…the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him” (Mark 1:10).

Why did the Spirit descend on Jesus in the form of a dove? Not because Jesus lacked the Spirit. In His incarnation God the Son never lost His divinity. He was always God in human form. Following His baptism the Spirit descended on Christ as a unique and public anointing. In a sense this was Jesus’ ordination. In His humanity God the Son was being anointed for service and strengthened for ministry by God the Father through God the Spirit. Just as the prophet Isaiah had predicted: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1; cf. Luke 4:18).

Why was Jesus Christ the Son of God baptized? To be identified with the sinners He came to redeem and the Cross upon which He came to die, to be ordained for His earthly ministry, and to be publicly confirmed by the Father: “And there came a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’”

The Father's public approval of Christ was voiced on Jordan’s banks. This divine endorsement was not only for the purity of the thirty years preceding the baptism. This was an announcement that Jesus Christ was the acceptable sacrifice, the pure and spotless lamb without blemish.

No previous sacrifice had been completely satisfactory to God because no previous sacrifice was completely without blemish; no matter how carefully selected. Besides that, the Old Testament sacrifices were strictly symbolic and by no means sacramental. Hebrews 10:4 says, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”

The OT sacrifices were a type pointing to the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. Jesus was that Lamb. John had preached of His coming and then pointed Him out to others. At His baptism God the Father confirmed the efficacy of Christ as the substitute. Listen to the words of the apostle Peter from 1 Peter 1:18-21,

“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.”

The Greek word agapetos is translated beloved” and this word is not only a declaration of affection, but it also carries the meaning of “the only one.” The Father’s announcement brings to mind another of Isaiah’s prophetic statements, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles” (42:1).

Only in the Son could the Father be fully well pleased. In Him were no imperfections. He was the perfect, sinless, and spotless substitute in whom God was delighted. The only reason that believers are a delight unto the Father is because they are found in the Son.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
  • Ephesians 1:6-7 – “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace”

Christ “always [did] those things that please[d] him [the Father].” (John 8:29) The Father is still pleased with the Son. He is the light of heaven, and the glory of eternity.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was baptized by John in the River Jordan. He was baptized not to identify Himself as a penitent sinner. Instead He was baptized to identify that He was the sinless One who had come die on the cross for sinners, and not just die on the cross but be raised from the grave. Christ’s baptism marked the commencement of His earthly ministry. Here the Son was empowered and ordained by the Spirit. Here also the Son was publicly confirmed by the Father. God the Father announced that He was well pleased in His Son, and only the Son could be well pleasing to the Father. All others fall terribly short of the mark (Romans 3:23-25; 5:15).

Friday, June 29, 2007

auf Wiedersehen

The National Football League has decided to close down their 16 year experiment in globalization. NFL Europe will be no more. Goodbye NFL Europe! Thanks for your help in developing Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme, and my personal favorite - Adam Vinatieri.

Unfortunately, the NFL will not leave the wider world alone. The commissioner stated: “From now on we will focus on regular-season games and use new technologies to make NFL more popular worldwide.”

What’s the point? I entitled this post “auf Wiedersehen” because the only country in which American football was even remotely popular was Germany. The league first began with 10 teams from across the States and Europe; including cities from Spain, Scotland, and England. When NFL Europe removed its shingle there were only six teams; five of them were in Germany and the sixth was in Amsterdam. Who knows, the attendance for the German teams may have been boosted by the American military in that country. That’s just a guess. I have no data to verify that statement.

My point is this: just like soccer will never take off in America, football will never be an international smash. Let’s accept that and move forward. What is the point of playing regular season games in foreign cities? Why do that? How will that create an appreciation and a fan base for American football? If a football league in Europe never took off after 16 seasons, why does anyone believe that playing NFL regular season games abroad will create a thirst for the game? NFL Europe was losing $30 million a season! You cannot blame all of that on poor play. The game just does not appeal to Europeans.

Give it a rest. Play all the pre-season games in Europe, Asia, South America or wherever for all I care. But when the regular season begins, every game should be played stateside. Let the rest of the world watch the games on satellite. If they want to watch a game live they can book passage on a flight over here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Son's Identification

Mark has set to the business of telling the good news about Jesus Christ the Son of God. The appearance and ministry of John the Baptist is the prologue to the story. He is the one whom the Old Testament prophets foretold would come to prepare the people for their Lord; a voice crying in the wilderness, preaching repentance, and pointing people to the Lamb of God. This preparation had its intended result, and while John was preaching and baptizing in the wilderness he was approached by the One for whom he was making preparations. Mark 1:9-13 records the baptism and temptation of Jesus.
“And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’

And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.”
For Jesus Christ an eternal preexistence in glory was followed by thirty years of obscurity in the Middle East. Up until this point in time Bethlehem then Egypt then Nazareth had been home, but from this point forward “the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Beginning with His baptism the Lord’s earthly ministry was earnestly launched. Here Christ began to purposefully and willingly move along the path that would ultimately end on the cross.

There is one question which begs an answer. Why was Jesus baptized?

In all four gospel accounts the baptism of Jesus is recorded. Clearly this was a significant event in the life of our Lord. This significance was not lost on John. “In those days” when Jesus of Nazareth came to be baptized by John in the Jordan, John knew that this was no ordinary Jew. Remember that John’s message was repentance for the remission of sins (v. 4), and John’s baptism of these penitent sinners was the public representation of their repentance; an outward symbol of an inward reality.

Jesus had no sin for which to repent. He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15b); which is why, according to Matthew; John initially blanched at the thought of baptizing Jesus – “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” (Matthew 3:14)
Why then was Jesus Christ baptized?

Jesus was baptized to identify with the people He came to deliver. Christ’s baptism represented His willing identification with the sinful people He came to redeem. Concerning Christ’s baptism Kent Hughes writes:

“In His baptism He associated Himself with us sinners and placed Himself among the guilty – not for His salvation but for ours – not for His guilt but for ours – not because He feared the wrath to come, but to save us from it. His baptism meant the Cross!” (Jesus, Servant & Savior (Wheaton: Crossway, 1989), 24.)

John MacArthur writes:

“Jesus came into the world to identify with men; and to identify with men is to identify with sin. He could not purchase righteousness for mankind if He did not identify with mankind’s sin. As the prophet Isaiah wrote in 53:12, “he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many”. Jesus’ baptism also represented the willing identification of the sinless Son of God with the sinful people He came to save.” (Matthew 1-7 (Chicago: Moody, 1985), 78.)

Indeed, Jesus Christ was derisively known by the religious right as the “friend of…sinners.” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34) On the cross the One who “knew no sin” was “made to be sin for us…that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). There was no sin in Him but all sin was placed on Him: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

As in all things Jesus Christ is the believer’s ultimate example. On the night before His crucifixion Jesus demonstrated the posture of a servant for His disciples as He washed their feet. When that powerful object lesson was finished He said to them, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15) Years later Peter would write “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

This example extends beyond suffering and service; it includes every aspect of Christian living, beginning with the ordinance of baptism. Baptism is part of God’s plan for believers under the New Covenant. Jesus perfectly followed the Father’s will in every aspect; including baptism. Jesus was baptized, and He was baptized by the one whom God had authorized to baptize. With His baptism Jesus has provided an example of obedience to His followers.

A believer should be baptized because baptism is a public confession of faith in Christ. Baptism is not sacramental, it does not save, but it is symbolic of the salvation one possesses. To be baptized is to be obedient to God the Father, and it is to follow in obedience to God the Son.
In Christ’s baptism He identified with sinners. When believers are baptized they identify with Christ: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) Jesus’ baptism also illustrated how His earthly ministry would culminate: with His death, burial, and resurrection. His death on the cross, burial, and resurrection from the grave is what His baptism prefigured.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Baptists and Tongues

This AP report flashed across my Google Reader this morning:
DALLAS (AP) - A pastor who has been at odds with the leadership of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary over the practice of speaking in tongues has resigned from the school's board of trustees. The Rev. Dwight McKissic said in a resignation letter that he has been "distracted and consumed" by the controversy and needs to refocus on his family and church, The Dallas Morning News reported on its Web site Thursday night.

The letter was addressed to Van McClain, chairman of the Fort Worth seminary's trustee board, the newspaper said.

In October, trustees voted 36-1 against any promotion of "private prayer language" at the school. McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, was the lone dissenter. Speaking in tongues is a common among Pentecostals, whose more exuberant brand of Christianity is spreading in the U.S. and in foreign countries where Southern Baptist missionaries work.

No longer are the charismatic gifts, particularly speaking in tongues, restricted to Pentecostals. The continuationist viewpoint (the view that the supernatural sign gifts have not ceased but have continued) is becoming prevalent in many Christian circles; even among folks who have not historically held continuationist convictions. I find it interesting that many people who are of a continuationist persuasion do not refer to the gift as "tongues", instead it is called a "private prayer language". Funnily enough, the Bible never refers to tongues as a prayer language, private or otherwise. Scripture is clear that the gift of tongues was a supernatural empowerment to proclaim the gospel in a tongue - a language - previously unknown by the speaker. In Jerusalem on Pentecost "the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, 'Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?'" (Acts 2:6-8)

Southern Baptists are quickly becoming divided over this issue. I am not a Southern Baptist, but I do think it worthwhile to follow the goings on in the Convention. I encourage the reader to visit Hershael York's recent post on this very issue. I have linked to it here. Dr. York is a pastor, and he is a professor of preaching at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY; the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe that Dr. York does a masterful job of biblically refuting the continuationist position. You decide for yourself.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Funny Comments

While doing my usual Internet reading in recent days I’ve stumbled over some funny comments that I thought were worth sharing. We’ll begin with two of my favorite quotes from our silver-tongued President.
“I’m honored to be here with the eternal general of the United States, mi amigo Alberto Gonzales.” - Washington, D.C., May 4, 2007
“And there is distrust in Washington. I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I’m sorry it’s the case, and I’ll work hard to try to elevate it.” - NPR interview, January 29, 2007
Here are a few from the late night talk show guys:
“Paris Hilton is behind bars, but still no word on Osama.” –David Letterman

“Do you realize if Fred Thompson runs against Hillary Clinton, it’ll be ‘Law & Order’ versus ‘Cold Case’?” –Jay Leno

“Speaking about his Mormon religion, [Romney] said he can’t imagine anything worse than polygamy. He said he can’t imagine anything worse than having more than one wife. Then Bill Clinton gave the rebuttal” –Jay Leno

“The 2008 presidential election is heating up. We have narrowed down the field to 18 candidates. 19, if you count Hillary’s emotional baggage.” –Stephen Colbert
The above quotes were taken from the Political Humor website.

One last comment that I thought was funny, and this is a baseball quote. Reds catcher David Ross has been abysmal at the plate this season; hitting below the .200 mark. His offensive duldrums have not affected his defense, and he continues to be a team player. In last night’s impressive win against the LA Angels of Anaheim Ross laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt. After the game Ross said:
“That’s the hardest ball I’ve hit all week”.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Creation Museum Redux

I still haven't visited the Creation Museum which opened on Memorial day in Petersburg, KY, just across the Ohio River from my hometown of Aurora, IN. Therefore this post is not a personal review of my family's visit to the Museum. Do not fear, that post is imminent; no man knows the day but this father. I do want to make you aware of two excellent Creation Museum reviews. The first is by my old friend Philip, who is now also a blogging peer. You may read his museum visit report here at his new team blog - Doses of Reality: the Antidote to Your Misconceptions. I have recently added this site to my blogroll, and a regular dosage is highly recommended.

The second review I recommend was written by Southern Seminary professor Russell Moore. His Baptist Press article "Closed Minds at the Museum" is excellent.

The Witness pt. 2

The Message

The message that John powerfully proclaimed may be summarized with a single word: repentance. The Greek word translated “repentance” is metanoeĆ“ and it means much more than regret or sorrow. It means “to turn around, to change direction, to change the mind and will. The word does not signify just any change, but always a change from the wrong to the right, away from sin and to righteousness. Repentance involves sorrow for sin, but sorrow that leads to a change of thinking, desire, and conduct of life. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” Therefore, John’s call to repentance is synonymous with a call to be converted. (John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7 (Chicago: Moody, 1985), 53-54.)

The best way to illustrate is by quoting John Bunyan’s classic work Pilgrim’s Progress:
As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, “What shall I do?”

Thus began Pilgrim’s progress; turning his back on the City of Destruction and making his pilgrimage to the City of God. That is metanoeo.

There is a great difference between regret and repentance. Judas Iscariot regretted his betrayal of Jesus. Matthew 27:3 says, “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself.” (emphasis mine). The Greek word translated “repented” in this passage is different from Mark 1:4. The word is metamellomai and it means “regret”. Judas was full of sorrow and regret when he witnessed the evil to which he had contributed, but he did not turn from his sins and seek forgiveness. He did not repent. Had he done that, Judas Iscariot would have been saved.

There is also a vast difference between reformation and repentance. In Matthew 12:43-45 Christ told the story about a man who attempted reformation instead of repentance:
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

This is the description of someone who attempts moral reform without ever being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Reform apart from regeneration is never effective and eventually reverts back to pre-reform behavior. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, 1415)

What is the difference between regret and reformation and repentance? The difference is that true repentance leads one to Christ. True repentance will result in regeneration; not regret and not just reform.

Marks uses a unique phrase in his prologue to the good news: “baptism of repentance”. This exact expression is used only by Mark and Luke
(Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4). Do not misunderstand this phrase. John was not teaching baptismal regeneration. John preached that salvation was possible through repentance of sin and faith in Christ alone. John’s message was not new, but his baptism was.

John’s baptism was novel and radical. The only thing that came close was the fact that Jews baptized Gentile proselytes to Judaism, and that baptism was merely a ritual washing from all past defilements. (R. Kent Hughes, Jesus, Servant & Savior (Wheaton: Crossway, 1989), 22.)
John’s baptism did not wash away sin; no baptism does, but his preaching did produce conviction of sin, leading to repentance and faith. Baptism was the public signification of their repentance; an outward symbol of an inward reality.

Was John’s baptism different from Christian baptism? If it was then none of the apostles, nor many of the first church ever received Christian baptism. Since baptism is one of two church ordinances it seems odd that the leaders and members of that first church would not have been properly baptized.

Those who claim that John’s baptism was different from Christian baptism point to Acts 19:1-5.
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

This passage proves that the men, with whom Paul came into contact, even though they were called “disciples”, were in fact lost. "Disciple” means learner or follower, and may or may not refer to a believer. The Pharisees had disciples (Luke 5:33) and they certainly were not Christians.
These men did not possess the Holy Spirit; indisputable evidence that they were not born again: “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9, cf. 8:16; Ephesians 1:13; 1 John 5:9-13). They had an incomplete understanding, probably due to partial instruction, concerning the gospel and baptism. Once Paul had explained that John taught repentance and faith in Christ, they were saved and then baptized.

This seems to be a classic instance of baptism without salvation. It demonstrates that baptism will not save and that baptism is in keeping with the Scriptures, only when it is believer’s baptism. It does not teach that John’s baptism was different than Christian baptism, but it does teach that baptism is for believers only and that believers should be baptized. (Darrell W. Sparks, Transitions; Acts 18:8-19:7, sermon from the Dearborn Baptist Church pulpit.)

The Motivation

John was motivated. He was motivated because he understood that he was a dying man ministering to a dying people with the only message of hope that existed. John was motivated because he had been called by God to this ministry. There can be no doubt that John the Baptist was a passionate witness for Christ. Kent Hughes writes in his commentary, “John’s witness was…made effective by his passion. When he stood before the people in the wasteland, lean, gaunt, solitary, he preached with fire…like the prophets of old…like Jesus and Paul…like Whitefield and Moody.” (R. Kent Hughes, Jesus, Servant & Savior (Wheaton: Crossway, 1989), 24.)

The prologue to the greatest story ever told is about the greatest man who was every born. John’s greatness was not attributable to his fashion sense, his diet plan, his personality, or popularity. John was great because he was a great witness. He humbly, accurately, faithfully, clearly, consistently, and boldly proclaimed the word God: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Witness - pt. 1

Imagine a room full of people and everyone is stone silent. In fact, nothing has been spoken, no sound made in 400 years. Suddenly the silence is pierced and a great cry is heard: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”! A great tumult would naturally ensue. For the first time in centuries a word had been spoken. This is the opening scene of the Gospel of Mark.

Mark states the purpose of his book in the first twelve words of chapter one: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” (Mark 1:1a). This book is about the good news of Jesus Christ who was God in the flesh. By way of prologue to this good news story Mark introduces a man who was described in two Old Testament prophecies:

“…as it is written in the prophets,

“Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (1b-3)

Mark was quoting the prophets Malachi and Isaiah respectively:

  • Malachi 3:1a, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me..."
  • Isaiah 40:3, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

After quoting the Old Testament prophecies, Mark then names this “voice in the wilderness” whose God given job was to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming.

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins

And there went out to him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of skin about his loins; and he did locusts and wild honey; and preached saying, “There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”

There have been many fantastic gospel preachers in this world. Men like Charles Spurgeon who was known as the “Prince of Preachers”. Spurgeon was an eloquent preacher who for 38 years faithfully, clearly, and passionately proclaimed the cross of Christ from the New Park Street/Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit in London. Jonathan Edwards was the greatest American theologian, and his Spirit-filled preaching was a catalyst of the Great Awakening.

Of course, any list of great witnesses to the faith must include the apostles. Peter preached on Pentecost and thousands were saved (Acts 2:15-40). Peter and John were also bold before the Sanhedrin. They powerfully witnessed to those men when they proclaimed Christ and said, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). When they were commanded to cease preaching Christ and the cross, these men declared: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (vv. 19-20).

No doubt, the greatest of all preachers, the greatest witness for Jesus Christ was John the Baptist. That was not John’s self-estimation. John rightly declared that he was unworthy to even remove the Savior’s sandals. One may be sure that John the Baptist was the greatest witness for the Lord Jesus Christ because that was Jesus’ assessment. Matthew 11:11a, “Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist.”

That statement is all the more remarkable considering that John never performed one miracle, never exorcised a demon, and was beheaded by a wobbly kneed Herod (John 6:14-28). What was it about John that drew such high praise from the High King of Heaven?

John was a clear, consistent, and urgent witness for Christ. That is why he was considered great, and being a witness is the mission to which all Christians are called. “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me…” (Acts 1:8a).

John is the herald of the good news that the incarnate God had come to die in the place of guilty sinners. Take a moment to consider this one who the Lord called great.

The Man

John’s conception was not immaculate but it was miraculous. He was born to parents who “were both righteous before God” (Luke 1:6), but were also childless and beyond the child bearing years (v. 7). God blessed this couple with a son in their old age. The angel of the Lord said to John’s father Zacharias: “He shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God” (vv. 15-16).

John came from a good family. His parents were righteous believers, but they did not provide their son with any sense of fashion. Mark says that John wore “camel’s hair…and a girdle of skin.” Evidently, John liked to tool around the wilderness wearing his camel’s-hair robe, cinched down with a leather belt to ensure that the robe didn’t fly open. Whether or not John’s appetite was a reflection on Elizabeth’s culinary efforts no one knows, but Mark informs the reader that John’s diet consisted of wild honey-dipped locusts.

Clearly, John cut a striking figure, but he did not dress or eat in this manner because he was eccentric. John has assumed the mantle of the ancient prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8, He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins”; cf. Luke 1:17). His Spartan meals and frontier clothing were not props used to draw a crowd. Instead, they were vivid contrasts between the well-fed, well-heeled, well-dressed religious elites. They pretended to care for the things of God, but they were more concerned with the things of this world. John focused on nothing but his God, and even his clothes and meals bore witness to his single-mindedness.

One does not have to be a hermit or ascetic to serve Christ. John’s behavior does not mean that all serious minded Christians should dress in camel’s-hair robes while stocking their shelves with locusts and wild honey. John’s behavior does, or at least should, challenge the believer to “Set [his] affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2) and to “lay up…treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal”(Matthew 6:20).

As has already been noted, this man who was considered by Jesus as the greatest was a man of humility. John understood Romans 12:3, even though Paul had not yet been inspired by God to write it: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly.”

Mark informs the reader how John felt himself undeserving to perform the most menial of tasks for the Lord. His ministry was spent constantly pointing people to Christ and not himself. Before Christ’s arrival John could always be heard saying, “I’m not…I’m not…I’m not” when asked if he was Elijah, “that prophet”, or the Christ (John 1:19-21). Once Christ arrived on the scene; however, all one could hear from John was “He is! He is the Christ! Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (v. 29). When people left off following John and began to follow Christ, John humbly said: “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven…He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:27, 30).

A believer must not dress or eat like John the Baptist, but this is one of the Baptist's characteristics which must be emulated. Believers are to point to the King, instead of seeking to be lord over others.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

All-Star Year?

At this point in the All-Star voting Ken Griffey, Jr. is in third place among NL outfielders. I have been and will continue to be a Griffey apologist as long as he wears the Reds uniform. He is one of the greatest CF’s of all time, and who knows what might have been had the man not endured one injury after the other during his tenure with the Reds.

The fact of the matter is that he is no longer the player he was in Seattle, or even the player he was in 2000; his first year with Cincinnati. Narron made the right call by moving Jr. to RF, but his transition to the corner of the outfield has been difficult to watch. There have been come spectacular plays. More often than not, however; the spectacular has been overshadowed by the horrendous. The just finished Colorado series was one example.

Late in Friday’s game David Weathers had been called into a tight situation. He coaxed the batter to hit a fly ball to RF. The ball should have been caught and the inning should have ended. Instead, the ball dropped in front of Griffey and the Rockies scored. The Reds did win that game, but it was further evidence of Junior’s poor performance in right. Thankfully, he is swinging the bat well. That still does not make it any easier to watch him take bad lines on flyballs and allow routine flys to drop in front of him.

Is Griffey an All-Star this year? My heart says yes. My head says no. If he were an AL DH, then maybe his season would qualify for All-Star consideration. He is not a DH; however, he is an everyday RF. I would not label him as a defensive liability. I also wouldn’t call him an All-Star outfielder.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Jesus: the Servant & Savior

“Sir, we would see Jesus.”

That is what a group of Greeks said to the apostle Philip while in Jerusalem, just a few days before the Lord was sacrificed. (John 12:20-21) Philip, along with his fellow apostle Andrew, took the inquiring Greeks to see Jesus. That is what I seek to do, beginning today, as we initiate a study in the Gospel of Mark. Hopefully, Jesus is clearly seen whenever I preach from or write about the scriptures, because Jesus is the theme of the entire Bible. There is something to be said, however, for the clear, unvarnished portrait that we have of Jesus in the Gospels.

Actually, portrait is an incorrect word to use, because the gospels are more like sketches than they are portraits. None of the four gospels were designed as exhaustive biographies. They are character sketches; intended to be different, intended to present four distinct views of Christ and His work. They are all true. They are all inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), but they each provide the reader with a unique sketch of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Of the four gospel accounts (There are only four notwithstanding the discoveries of the “new” gospels according to Thomas and Judas.) Matthew, Mark, and Luke are more similar to one another than John. They are known as the synoptic gospels. “Synoptic” is a compound Greek word; the two parts mean “see (optic) together (syn)”. They are classified as such because they contain a common approach to Christ’s life while John is more distinctive. For instance, the Synoptics concentrate on Christ’s Galilean ministry while John focuses on His Judean and Jerusalem ministries.

It has been estimated that 93% of Mark’s gospel is found within the other Synoptics (Robert Gromacki, New Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974, 54). This should not lead one to believe that the gospels, at least the synoptics, contain useless repetition. “If you’ve read one, you’ve read them all” is an inaccurate statement when applied to the synoptic gospels.

Matthew’s gospel is written with the Jewish reader in mind and its goal is to present Christ as the King. Mark’s sketches Christ as the suffering servant, and his targeted audience was the Roman reader. Luke emphasizes Christ’s humanity, and is crafted to engage the philosophical Greek mind. John’s sketch accentuates the deity of Jesus; there are found the greatest claims for His deity. Thus, each gospel executes a distinct purpose. Each gospel draws an inimitable sketch of Jesus: the King, the Servant, the Man, and the Lord God.

Beginning today, our Sunday mornings will be spent expositing the good news that Mark has supernaturally recorded. As stated earlier, Mark’s sketch was fashioned with the Roman in mind. We know this because Mark virtually ignored the Law, described Palestinian geography (1:5) and Pharisaical practices (2:18), and translated Aramaic expressions (3:17; 5:41; 7:34; 14:36; 15:34). According to Gromacki “Latinisms” are often used (modius for “bushel” in 4:21; census for “tribute” in 12:14; centurio for “centurion” in 15:39, 44-45) when good Greek equivalents were available (Ibid. 97).

Mark is the shortest of the four gospels, and it is the most straightforward. The book launches off with John the Baptist’s ministry. In 1:11 Jesus is baptized, and five verses later He has called His first disciples! The pacing of Mark’s gospel is quick; action rather than teaching is highlighted. The Greek word translated as “immediately” or “straightway” is used 42 times. Compare that with the seven occurrences in Matthew and one in Luke. (R. Kent Hughes, Mark Vol. 1: Jesus, Servant & Savior (Wheaton: Crossway, 1989), 15.)

Kent Hughes writes in his commentary:

Christ is all action in Mark! Mark used the historical present tense 150 times. Jesus comes, Jesus says, and Jesus heals – all in the present tense. There are more miracles recorded in Mark than in the other Gospels, despite its being far shorter. Everything is in vivid “Eyewitness Newsbriefs,” brilliantly vivid and fast-moving.

Mark is dramatically fast-paced because he provides griping details that Matthew and Luke omit. Mark’s dramatic details don’t dawdle they deliver! Compare…

  • Jesus Hungry & Hunted Mark 3:20-21 – Only Mark records this occassion.
  • Jesus Calms the Sea Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25
  • Jesus Heals the Demoniac Mark 5:2-6; Matthew 8:28-29; Luke 8:27-29
  • Jesus Heals the Blind Bethsaidan Mark 8:22-26
  • Jesus in the Garden Mark 14:51 – John Mark’s cameo appearance.

As one author has noted, “Mark’s…structure is clear, and his style is engaging – all of which makes his Gospel a good one to use for evangelism. It is a great book for introducing the gospel and Jesus to non-Christians.” (Mark Dever, Promises Kept: the Message of the New Testament (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 64.)

Christians have much to gain from reading and studying Mark as well. Consider the man who was inspired by God to pen this gospel account. His full name was John Mark; John was his given Jewish name and Mark his Latin surname (Acts 12:12). He came from a family that was prominent in the early church. Peter’s first visit following his miraculous jailbreak was to Mary’s house. There are many Mary’s in scripture, but this particular Mary was the mother of John Mark. At this house many of the first church were gathered in prayer, and the joyfully absent-minded Rhoda worked as a housekeeper (Acts 12:13-14). Barnabas was Mark’s uncle (Colossians 4:10), and the apostle Peter was Mark’s spiritual father (1 Peter 5:13).

John Mark’s public ministry began when he accompanied his uncle and the apostle Paul on their first missionary journey. He started well, but ended poorly; proving himself to be an unfaithful servant who started but did not finish his task. There was eventually a rift between Paul and Barnabas over Mark. Barnabas wanted to take Mark on the second missionary trip. Paul said no, and since neither Barnabas nor Paul would change they went separate ways.

Mark was reconciled to Paul before the end. In Colossians 4:10 Paul described Mark as a “fellow worker” and “a comfort unto me”. In Philemon 24 Paul again refers to Mark as a “fellow laborer”. And in his second letter to Timothy, Paul makes it clear that Mark is “profitable…for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

I find it interesting that while Mark had originally failed as a servant, he was chosen by God and inspired by God to pen the gospel account which draws Jesus as the suffering servant. The key verse in Mark is 10:45, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” This key verse also serves as a broad outline. Mark’s sketch of Jesus has two main parts. First we see the work of a servant (1 – 8:30). Next we see the work of the Savior (8:31 – 16).

Jesus the Servant

Genealogies are found in Matthew and Luke but not Mark. That’s perfectly understandable. No one cares about the servant’s genealogy. Servants also have no authority, but Jesus, as you might expect, was not an ordinary servant. People were repeatedly astonished by this Man’s authority.

This Servant Taught with Authority
  • Mark 1:22“And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.”
  • Mark 1:27“And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, what thing is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.”
This Servant had Authority over Demons & Disease
  • Mark 3:15“And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils.”
  • Mark 6:7“And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits.”
This Servant had the Authority to Forgive Sins
  • Mark 2:5-11“…Son, thy sins be forgiven thee… that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.”

Who has, or has ever had, this kind of authority? Only God has this kind of authority.

Jesus the Savior

Jesus did not come to be served but to serve, and His ultimate service to us was to willingly go to the cross as the only acceptable sacrifice for our sins. The first eight words of Mark’s gospel are, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ”. “Gospel” means “good news”, and the good news of which Mark speaks is this “The son of man came…to give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus was God come in the flesh, rejected by His people, yet freely offering Himself as a willing sacrifice for all those who would repent of their sins and believe in Him.

Jesus was the suffering Savior. He taught His disciples “It is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought” (Mark 9:12b). The scripture to which Christ referred is Isaiah 53:3, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

Remember, the transition point of this gospel is 8:31, and that is the point at which Christ began to instruct His followers that His ministry would end on the cross: “And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

This instruction was repeated in 9:31, “For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.” And again in 10:32b-34, “And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.”

It is notable that the religious elites did not recognize Jesus for who He was despite the fact that He taught with the authority that could only come from God, demonstrated the authority over death, disease, and demons that could also only be derived from God. Despite the evidence these stiff-necked religious hypocrites refused to believe.

What is more surprising: the religious right’s rejection of Christ or the confusion of Christ’s own followers? The Pharisees knew who Jesus was claiming to be, and they rejected His claim. But the disciples were just plain confused. When Peter first heard Christ teach about the cross Mark tells us that “Peter took him, and began to rebuke him” (8:32). Peter was rebuked for his rebuke: “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” (v. 33)

The cross is why Christ cam, and to oppose the cross was and is to oppose God.

When next Jesus teaches about the cross, the disciples are still confused. Mark says in 9:32a “But they understood not that saying…” but after hearing Jesus call Peter “Satan” they are all afraid to speak up, “…and were afraid to ask him” (v. 32b).

The disciples are still slow to apprehend Christ’s teaching in chapter 10, just after His third block of “cross instruction”, the brothers James and John promptly and privately made an outrageous request which revealed their ignorance: “Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire…Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.” (10:35, 37) Matthew even tells us that they had their mommy do the talking! (Matthew 20:20-21)

It was this private discussion which led to the public dispute (v. 41) which prompted Jesus to declare what would become the key verse of this book. “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (vv. 42b-45).

“Jesus came to serve by being crushed. He came to give his life as a ransom by becoming a guilt offering and by bearing their iniquities” (Ibid., 74). May we see ourselves for who we are – sinners in desperate need of a Savior – and Jesus for who He is – the Savior for whom we are in desperate need.

Let us also bear in mind that the Savior came to serve, not be served. May this astounding truth sink deep into our ears, and let this mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Leaning Left

I’m not leaning left (I also try not to lean too far right), American universities may be veering left. That is what Washington Times reporter Amy Fagan writes today in her article “Colleges Veer Left for ‘07 Speakers”.

Fagan sites a study conducted by the conservative group Young America’s Foundation which states that left-leaning speakers outnumbered conservatives during the recently passed commencement “season” by a ration of 8:1.

The Young Democrats of America found the YAF’s study “laughable”. No surprise there. The young Dems were laughing because men such as Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News and Microsoft founder Bill Gates were labeled as left-leaning.

All of this is interesting, I suppose, but is it a big surprise that most American universities are left leaning? No doubt most of today’s university administrators who are responsible for finding commencement speakers were burning draft cards and ROTC buildings a few years ago.

Different Views

It's obvious that I am a fan of Indianapolis Star political cartoonist Gary Varvel. I regularly include his cartoons in my blog posts; usually at The Coffee House. Before I moved to central Indiana I lived in the Hoosier third of the Indiana/Ohio/Kentucky tri-state area. The Cincinnati Enquirer was my hometown paper. Jim Borgman is the political cartoonist for that paper.

The following cartoons from Varvel and Borgman depict the different views that are evident in the media.

Look, I'm all for folks with differing opinions and views having an open discussion and dialogue. That is healthy and beneficial to everyone. I'm also not a Falwell apologist. I'm no fan of the Moral Majority, and I believe that a pastor's main priority must always be the church he pastors, not a parachurch organization. (I'm referring to a pastor's main "work" priority. His personal fellowship with the Father and his family take precedence over everything.) I am thankful for his ministry; however, and I agreed more than disagreed with the man.

So if I'm all for open dialogue and discussion, why do I have a problem with Borgman's cartoon? Not because he takes an obvious irreverent view of Falwell. That's his opinion, and that's fine. State your case, give your reasons, and let's talk. I'll listen to you, and you listen to me.

Borgman does more than state his case. Trying to funny he instead dishonors God, not to mention shows a huge lack of respect for the dead. This kind of attitude does not lend itself to an honest disagreement or healthy debate.

I like my new hometown political cartoonist better.