Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Power of Faith (in Christ Alone)

Mountain top experiences are simply wonderful. Whether you have gained a victory, earned an achievement, or accomplished a task, it is pure pleasure to enjoy mountain top experiences. If that is so with everyday worldly pursuits, the experience of Peter, James, and John was exponentially more magnificent. To have witnessed on Mt. Hermon their Lord glorified, speaking with Moses and Elijah, then to have been surrounded by the Shekinah glory of God in the cloud, and hear God speak. The only experience that could ever top this preview of the Second Coming is the actual return of the Lord! No doubt the climb up Mt. Hermon was wearisome, but I’m certain the descent was not only joyous but packed with excited conversation about what they had witnessed and the meaning of it all.

The glorious vision that a fourth of the apostles beheld is the focus of the first thirteen verses in Mark 9. The next sixteen verses - Mark 9:14-29 - in that chapter talk about what transpired at the foot of the mountain. For every mountain top experience there is also a valley of Baca – of weeping – to follow. Coming down from the holy mount Jesus and the three witnesses were confronted with an unholy terror. The glories of Christ shone brilliantly on the mountain, but the gloom of sin’s curse mucked up the view in the valley. From a foretaste of heaven to the reality of this present darkness is what Peter, James, and John now experienced. This is often the case. Revival and renewal are closely followed by the destructive and ugly realities of sin in this world. Nowhere is that more evident that in this boy’s condition.

The Boy’s Condition – Mark 9:14-22

Coming down from the mountain Jesus and the three apostles come upon a massive crowd, and at the center of this multitude are the remaining nine apostles. They are not alone. The scribes are there, and they are arguing with, perhaps even taunting, the nine disciples. Someone in that throng of people noticed the approach of Jesus and as the crowd’s focus shifted to the Lord the argument was silenced. With all eyes fixed on Jesus He asked the scribes, “What are you arguing about with them?” But a distressed voice from the crowd speaks up before they or even one of the disciples could answer.

The troubled voice belonged to a father who had brought his son, his only child (Luke 9:38), to the apostles in hopes that they would cast out the demon that had possessed him. Do not allow yourself to think that this narrative is “just a story.” Here was real father whose only child was possessed by an actual demon. This is an historical narrative, not fiction or fantasy, and the Lord used this real life situation to illustrate and communicate spiritual truths. Remember, the miracles that Jesus performed were never intended as stand-alone events. They were parables of spiritual truth. Jesus was the master of taking life situations and from them teaching spiritual truths that would be indelibly buried into the people’s minds.

What a sorry, gut-wrenching situation this was. In a word, this boy’s condition was pathetic. The foul spirit had made the boy deaf and mute, and when it seized him the boy would be thrown to the ground, become rigid, foam at the mouth, and grind his teeth. That was not the worst of it; however, as you would expect from one of Satan’s minions, this demon was not content to only torment the boy; as the father said, “It has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him.”

This is a pathetic picture and a perfect example of Satan’s lust to destroy. The enemy hates God, and hates man – not just believers but all mankind – because man is made in the image of God. This is why the devil seeks to pervert all aspects of humanity. In this text we vividly witness physical disfigurement, but this most often takes place in the mental and moral aspect of humanity. Satan loves to reduce people to the lowest common denominator, and this most often is accomplished through subtle even respectable seductions. It is easy to ignore examples like this boy or the demoniac because they are so brutal and so obviously supernatural; whereas the more refined methods of perversion are not given equal attention. The image of this boy falling to the ground and rolling around in the dirt while foaming at the mouth and grinding his teeth, or flinging himself into a fire or pool of water is disturbing. It shocks us and rightfully so. It is a perversion of the dignity of one who is fashioned in the image of Almighty God. It is no different, however, from the more respectable, in some cases legal, perversions with which men and women routinely delight. As one pastor has said, “We daily rub shoulders with people who privately indulge in gross, even macabre, spiritual and sensual practices.” Satan delights in distorting God’s design for men and women in all areas of life.

The reality is that all of us are just as messed up as this kid was, and we don’t have to do anything to be in that condition. Just as this had been the boy’s condition since he was a young child, we are all sinners from birth; born under the thumb of Satan. We have only one hope.

The Father’s Petition – Mark 9:22

Yet again in Mark we find a desperate person who is driven to Jesus by a great need and the inability of anyone else to satisfy that need. While Jesus was on Mt. Hermon this father had approached the disciples in hopes that they could help. They should have been able, but they failed (more on that later.) The disciples’ lack of success must have caused the man to despair, and it certainly presented the critics of Jesus with an opportunity to crow.

The image of this father is nearly as pathetic as that of his son, but for altogether different reasons. Imagine the task of trying to keep this boy from harming himself as the unclean spirit is ever trying to harm him. The boy is helpless to save himself. His father is helpless to save him, and as a father I cannot imagine anything more painful than watching one of my children suffer terribly yet be not only helpless but useless in improving his condition.
Do not think that this father had not, in the past, tried a whole host of remedies. Like the diseased woman from chapter 6 who had spent all that she had on treatments to cure her disorder but with no success, this father would have done all that he could to fix his boy; his only child.

Nothing had worked. He was desperate, and his desperation drove him to Jesus. This is as it should be! Only those who recognize their utter need will be drawn to Jesus. Just as healthy people don’t seek a cure, proud people; those who believe they are in need of nothing, do not seek out Jesus. The problem with that line of thought is that, spiritually speaking, we are all, apart from Christ, in the same condition as that boy. The only hope for this child, the only hope for any of us, is found in this desperate father’s appeal to Jesus: “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

The Savior’s Solution – Mark 9:23-27

In commenting on this passage Spurgeon says:
From some persons we could not ask compassion or fellow-feeling, because they do not appear to have any; they wear a harsh look, and a chill air surrounds them; but the Savior was not so; the man felt that Jesus was full of compassion his suit was that this compassion would show itself to him and his son.
The divine compassion of Jesus drew out this impassioned and desperate plea from this father. There has never been compassion like that of Jesus. He could see the compassion in Jesus’ face, and we can hear the compassion in Jesus’ words. Here is yet another reminder to believers that we must represent Christ with clarity and charity. If what we proclaim is clear but uncharitable, then we’ve dropped the ball and harmed the gospel. If what we proclaim is charitable but not clear or just flat wrong, then we’ve dropped the ball and harmed the gospel.

Jesus had just caused this man to review the helpless situation of his son, and that the boy’s condition had been thus since he was a young child. Why? Jesus knows all things. What was the purpose of having this father rehearse the painful realities that caused his desperation?

This man needed to believe in Christ's power in reference to his own case. It is very easy to say, “I believe” when you have no sense of your sin, and no consciousness of your danger. It is the easiest thing in the world to say, “Yes, Christ can save me,” when you do not really believe that you need saving. Faith, where there is no present sense of need, is but the image of faith, and not the grace, which saves the soul.

This man clearly understood his great need, but his faith had been shaken a little by the apostle’s failure. So he said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

It is crucial that we understand Jesus’ answer, because that will enable us to understand the Savior. “If thou canst believe, all things [are] possible to him that believeth.” The father’s petition was, “If you can do anything, help us.” The Savior’s solution is this: “I can but do you believe? Do you trust that I can?” The question is never “Can Jesus do it?’ The question is always “Do you believe, and do you place your trust in Christ to do it?” The issue was not Jesus’ lack of power but this man’s lack of faith!

I must say that this is often an abused passage. People will say that “If you just believe hard enough you’ll get what you want.” Or they’ll say, “If you really believe down deep in your heart or hearts.” That’s so subjective and not at all helpful. We cannot manipulate God with faith or anything else for that matter, and this passage is not teaching us to believe more. We are being taught to just pain believe! We are being taught that instead of the amount of faith it is the object of faith which is the issue.

Faith is man in his weakness trusting God’s promise in His Word. The father is called to believe because Christ told him that faith was the condition to his son’s being healed. “I can,” Jesus said, “Do you believe? All things are possible for one who believes.”

That prompted from this broken man one of the great and glorious responses of scripture. “The father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” This is an honest confession of a trembling and weak faith. Weak faith is still faith. The trembling hand does still touch. Here is beginning faith in action; weak and imperfect in and of itself but because its object is Jesus Christ it is sufficient to save. As Kent Hughes writes, “A faith which declares itself publicly, and at the same time recognizes its weaknesses and pleads for help, is a real faith.”

Jesus called for the boy to be brought before Him, and once again the multitude witnessed Christ’s power over darkness. No one and no thing is able to resist Jesus Christ. This foul spirit may have given the disciples a fit, but at the authoritative word of the Son he was compelled to flee. As with all the servants of darkness, he did not obey willfully or joyfully, and as he departed the boy he “rent him sore.” It means he made the boy violently convulse, to the point that the crowd thought he had died. The boy had not died. Satan had been defeated. An we are given yet another glimpse of the Resurrection when we read that Jesus took him by the hand, lifted him up, and he arose. The word translated “he arose” is the same one used to describe Christ resurrection in Mark 8:31 and Mark 9:31 just to name a couple.

What an amazing sight this would have been. Are you able to see the elated father joyfully and enthusiastically cradling his son, who for the first time in a long time is sane and responsive?! Do you hear the shouts and “hurrahs” of the crowd (and probably the scowls and the “bahs” of the scribes)? I love how Luke concluded this real life story. He wrote in Luke 9:43, “And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God.” “Mighty power” could also be translated “majesty.” All people were amazed by the majestic and mighty power of God as seen in the Son. Only Christ can deliver us from our sins; only God can save!

This is not where Mark’s story ends. He has a brief epilogue, because there is yet more to learn. For those who have already come to faith in Christ this is an especially important lesson.

The Disciples’ Question – Mark 9:28-29

When the disciples were alone with Jesus they had a question for Him, “Why could we not cast it out?” Notice that they didn’t ask “How can we do that”, but “Why couldn’t we do it?” Under the authority given to them by Jesus they had already done many miracles. In Mark 6:7, 13 we read that Jesus “called [unto him] the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits… And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed [them].”

They had done this before, and that may have been part of the problem. Their past victories may have caused them to trust in themselves instead of the One from whom the power flowed. They could not cast out demons, but Jesus could. They were only able to do this mighty work through the power granted them by Jesus. So the Lord instructs them and reminds them that “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” They forgot to pray! Or it may be that they purposefully neglected to pray. No reason to bother God, after all, it’s just another exorcism. They’d done this before.

The disciples didn’t fail because they didn’t believe! They believed, or they wouldn’t have tried. Their problem was in believing they could cast out the unclean spirit. Only Jesus can save, and His servants may only be effective in His service as we completely and only lean on Him. The disciples failed because they were depending on themselves and not on the power of the Lord. When we fail it is for the same reason. If we are to do anything worthwhile for our Savior it will only happen as we walk in total dependence upon Him, and the faith that brings power is the faith that is exercised by prayer and fasting.

Instead of relying on our own strength, skill, talents, or past successes we must humbly and regularly call upon the power of God; that is what faith in action is. Remember, faith is man in his weakness trusting God’s promise in His Word. Only through such weakness is the strength of God displayed. God uses the weak things of this world to destroy that which is mighty, and in this way the glory is always His.

One other thing must be said about this comment from our Lord. At the start of His ministry Jesus had defended His disciples’ lack of fasting by saying, “The bridegroom is with them…as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” (Mark 2:19) But one week after beginning to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again, He was showing them that the time was coming when persistent prayer and fasting would be needed.

That is where we are now. The Bridegroom is coming, but He is not yet come. We’ve seen the preview of His glorious appearing, but until that time when faith becomes sight we must develop our faith through the power of His Spirit, the truth of His Word, persistent prayer and fasting.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the One who was transfigured on Mt. Hermon? Do you believe in the One whom Moses and Elijah affirmed is the fulfillment of all that the Law and the Prophets proclaim? Do you believe the shekinah glory from which the Father’s voice spoke, “This is my beloved son, hear him.”

If so, then you believe in Jesus the Christ, the one who can fulfill His word to and will do so, if you believe. Believe Christ. Take up your cross, and follow Him.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Glimpse of Eternity

Peter and the other apostles were discouraged. You would be too if Jesus Christ called you “Satan.” Six days ago Jesus had asked them a point blank question: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, speaking for the whole group, answered, “You are the Christ!” They were right. These men had made a wonderful confession. Unlike nearly everyone else they recognized what the evidence plainly revealed. Jesus of Nazareth was more than a carpenter. He was, and is, the Son of the Living God, the Christ, and the long-awaited Messiah. The Twelve had left everything to follow Jesus, and it must have been exhilarating to hear Him confirm their confession.

Likewise, it must have been disorienting to then hear Jesus teach that He must suffer, must be rejected, and must be killed. When Peter balked at this news, he was soundly rebuked by Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Surely such a rebuke stung even after six days.

As if that wasn’t disheartening enough, Jesus wasn’t finished. He said, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” That did not seem especially pleasant (it still doesn’t today), but those are the conditions of discipleship for all who will follow Christ.

This was not unfolding according to their plan (although it was unfolding exactly according to the Father’s plan). This is not what the Apostles had expected. It was not at all in step with their Messianic expectation. They were discouraged, disoriented, and disheartened.

They needed to be encouraged, and Jesus was about to provide that encouragement. There are two sides to discipleship. We have already been introduced to one: sacrificial, self-denying, loyal obedience (Mark 8:34-38). In Mark 9:1-13 the Lord spectacularly reveals the second side of discipleship. The hard realities of serving Christ are here balanced with the gloriously positive realities of following the Lord.

The last section of chapter eight hints at this when we read, “Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” And even though there is a chapter break following verse 38, do not think that verse one of chapter 9 is a different discussion. While detailing the cost of discipleship, Jesus continues, in the same breath, to speak of His future kingdom and glory. Jesus never gives us more than we can handle, and the apostles were weighted down just now. So He says to them: “Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”

Yes, the follower of Christ, like his Lord, must suffer many things, be rejected, and maybe even killed, but, like his Lord, the follower of Christ must rise again! The life of discipleship ultimately looks forward to sharing in the glory of the Messiah!

Before moving on we need to understand that Jesus was not promising that some of the Twelve would not die when He declared “That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” Verses 2 – 10 make a clear connection between what Jesus said and what Peter, James, and John experienced. These leaders of leaders were the “some” who saw the power and glory of God’s kingdom as they saw Jesus transfigured. It was a tantalizingly brief glimpse of glory, but it was the encouragement they needed. It was a preview of the Second Coming; a foretaste of the glory which Christ will have and will share with His people in His kingdom Oh, what a day that will be!

The Demonstration – Mark 9:2-3

The Lord led the three disciples on a hike of Mt. Hermon, a majestic mountain not far from Caesarea Philippi. We know from Luke’s account that He led them up there “to pray.” We also know from Luke that these men “were heavy with sleep.” It seems like every time Jesus gets these guys alone for some prayer time they can’t stay awake!

(Incidentally, sleeping in church is nothing new. It’s a sad fact that people have slept during church services from the very beginning, even services led by Jesus. This also happened to the Apostle Paul. You may remember young Eutychus who, Luke tells us in Acts 20:9, fell into a deep sleep “as Paul was long preaching.” He fell into a deep sleep and fell from the window where he was sitting. Three stories later the young man was in need of a miracle, and Paul did indeed restore him to life. All of this means that I can’t get too bent out of shape when people fall asleep during my sermons. I would advise against sitting in windows, however, because while I can’t blame you for doing to me what Eutychus did to Paul, I can’t do for you what Paul did for him!)

A Confirmation

Imagine the eye-opener that Peter, James, and John had when they were roused from their slumber to see the transfigured Christ! His body and clothes were shining a brilliant white, brighter than any cleaner could possible bleach them. The word “transfigured” is “metamorphoo” in the Greek; it mean to change into another form, and it is from this word that the English “metamorphosis” is derived. These men witnessed a miraculous confirmation of their earlier confession. The Transfiguration authenticated that Jesus was the Christ.

The Christmas carol Hark, the Herald Angels Sing has a line in the second stanza which states: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” and for a fleeting moment on Mt. Hermon the veil was pulled back and Peter, James, and John “beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14).

What is this “glory”? In Mark 8:38 Jesus said that He would return “in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And here at the Transfiguration Jesus is in His glory. What is that? “Glory” is another way to express the attributes, nature, and character of God. In Exodus 33:18 Moses said to God, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.” God’s immediate answer was, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.”

To witness God’s attributes is to have a glimpse of His glory, all that the fullness of His name implies. In His humanity Jesus traveled incognito; He purposefully veiled His glory (Philippians 2:6-8), but here on Mt. Hermon was Jesus in His pre-Bethlehem glory. Do not think that Jesus was reflecting the glory of God. The transfiguration means that His inner glory was unveiled. Christ was not reflecting but radiating glory! Momentarily, the true essence of God the Son radiantly shone through His body, and the disciples were given a glimpse of glory.

A Promise

This demonstration not only confirmed that Jesus was the Christ, but it also promised His return. Both of Peter’s letters are filled with talk of the Second Coming (1 Peter 1:7-13; 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Peter 5:4; 2 Peter 1:16-18; 2 Peter 3:3-4). There is little doubt that seeing the glorified Christ filled Peter with an expectant hope of the Lord’s return. John MacArthur writes that you could easily summarize Peter’s two letters as: “Fellow believers don’t worry about your pain, your hardship, your testing, your persecution, or your sacrifice. Jesus is coming!

A Preview

Jesus’ transfiguration confirmed His deity, promised His return, and previewed the glory that awaits believers. There is coming a time when believers will be clothed in the shimmering beauty of Christ’s glory. The New Testament has much to say about the believers’ glorified bodies at Christ’s return. Here is just a sample:
  • Philippians 3:20-21
  • Romans 8:29
  • 1 John 3:2
By this transformation the believer will be made perfectly holy and righteous, with a pure capacity to worship and glorify God in a totally satisfying, joyful, and undiminished fashion forever (Revelation 5:11-14). Therefore, this glimpse of eternity which Peter, James, and John enjoyed, and which we are studying, reveals not only what Christ will be like when He returns; it is also a preview of what all believers are going to be like in glory. We shall be like Him!

The Discussion – Mark 9:4-6

As the unveiled glory of Jesus shimmered before them Moses and Elijah appeared. These men were representative of the Law and the Prophets, and Peter, James, and John were privileged to eavesdrop on their discussion with the One who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of everything that the Law and Prophets testified. Everything that was spoken, accomplished, and hoped for by the Law and Prophets is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Mark tells us that Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus, but he doesn’t mention the topic. Luke does. “There talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:30-31)

Moses and Elijah were not filling Jesus in on the happenings of heaven while He had been away! They were talking about His imminent crucifixion. They were talking about the Cross and Christ’s death. The Greek word translated “decease” is “exodus” and it simply means going out or departure. Just as the exodus from Egypt delivered God’s people from the bondage of slavery, Jesus’ exodus on the cross and from the grave would deliver believers from the bondage of sin and death.
  • Galatians 1:4
  • Colossians 1:13
  • Hebrews 2:14-15

Of course, if ever there was a man who did not know when to keep quiet, that man was Peter. Some people are gifted (cursed may be the more appropriate word) with always having something to say when there is nothing to be said. Peter exhibited this quality in verse 5. “Peter answered” Mark said, but no one had asked Peter anything! No matter. He was nervous and afraid (Mark 9:6), and just as some people eat when they’re frightened, Peter talked.

It is likely that the Transfiguration occurred during or near the time of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (Tishri – October). This was a week long feast that commemorated the exodus, and during that week the people were to build and live in tabernacles – booths or tents. It’s conceivable that Peter picked up on this talk of exodus, and he wanted to observe the feast on the mountaintop with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

Whether or not this is the case we do not know. We do know, however, that Peter was afraid; probably excited as well, but that is no excuse for what he said; which was either ignorant or forgetful or both. Once again he was setting his mind on the things of man instead of the things of God. It had only been a week since Jesus plainly taught them that He must go to the cross. Perhaps Peter wanted Jesus to hold on to the glory apart from the suffering, but this was not God’s plan. As Sinclair Ferguson writes, “This glorious moment was not an escape from the cross, but the preparation for it.”

Plus, Moses and Elijah are not on equal footing with Jesus. They were representatives of the Law and Prophets and witnesses that Jesus was indeed He of whom they had prophesied. Peter needed then, much like we need today, to focus his attention on Jesus.

That’s not just my opinion. It is the testimony of God the Father, which He makes crystal clear in verse 7.

The Declaration – Mark 9:7

The cloud spoken of is the shekinah glory of God, the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites in wilderness (Exodus 13:21; Numbers 9:17), the cloud that covered the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 40:35), the cloud that filled the Temple in Jerusalem on the day of its dedication (1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chronicles 7:1), the cloud which Ezekiel saw departing from the Temple because of Israel’s apostasy (Ezekiel 11:22-25). This was the presence of Almighty God, and Peter, James, and John beheld God’s presence, and then they heard God’s voice declare, “This is my beloved Son: hear him.”

Jesus is the one of whom David prophesied in Psalm 2:7. Jesus is the One of whom Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:15. Now God speaks directly to these witnesses and declares that Jesus “Is my beloved Son: hear him.” Listen to Him! The Law and the Prophets are partial expressions, He is the final statement, the fulfillment of all that they announced. Jesus is the ultimate expression of truth. This is restated in the first two verses of Hebrews where we read, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by [his] Son.”

Listen to Jesus! When He says that He must go to Jerusalem to die on the cross, hear Him! When he says that He will rise again on the third day, hear Him! When He tells you to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him, hear Him. When He says that He will come again in glory, hear Him. Hear Him! Trust Him! Obey Him! Follow Him!

Matthew says that when the disciples heard the voice from the cloud “they fell on their face.” Jesus touched them, and said, “Arise, be not afraid.” (Matthew 17:6-7) When they looked up all Jesus, who was no longer glowing, was all they saw. Moses and Elijah were gone, as was the cloud of God’s presence. All that remained was the Word.

What wouldn’t I give to have been on that mount?! To see the transfigured Christ, be witness to and listen in on the discussion between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, to have been surrounded by the shekinah glory of God, and to hear Him speak. Listen, the voice still speaks!! It is critical for us to pay attention to what God said from the cloud. He said, “Hear Him!” Not…

  • “Don’t forget this vision.”
  • “Pray for more spectacular visions.”
  • “Remember what you’ve witnessed.”

None of that! He said, “Hear Him!” Years later Peter, who still remembered this unforgettable experience, said:
"For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”

Peter has taught us with these words that if we would see the glory of Jesus Christ now, we must read Scripture and live Scripture just as eagerly as Peter would have lingered on that mountain. The same voice speaks in both places! The memory of visions will fade, but the unchanging Word abides forever. The glorious vision was not an end in itself; it was God’s way of confirming Christ, the Living Word. “Hear Him!”

Monday, February 9, 2009

24 Things About to Disappear in America

Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher, aka "the Crunchy Con", posted on Friday a list of 24 Things About to Disappear in America. Here are some of the things that made the list: Yellow Pages, Movie Rental Stores, VCRs, Answering Machines, Cameras That Use Film, Hand-Written Letters, and Personal Checks.

Click on the link above to read all 24.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What Does it Mean to Confess Christ?

We have arrived at the hinge point in our study of Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s story through 8:30 reveals Jesus the sovereign servant. Beginning in verse 31 the story transitions into Jesus the suffering Savior. It is here that Jesus began to instruct His followers that His ministry would end on the Cross. Jesus Christ did not come to be served but to serve, and to be offered as a willing sacrifice for all those who would repent of their sins and believe in Him. The “hour” of Jesus’ passion is fast approaching, and from this point forward His face is set towards Jerusalem and all that awaited Him there: betrayal, abandonment, injustice, being mocked, beaten, and humiliated. The Cross.

This transitional text clarifies what it means to confess Christ. The famous confession of Peter is located here. This test explains what it means that Jesus is the Christ, and it clearly explains and vividly illustrates what it means to follow and be identified with Jesus. In other words, we learn, not only theologically but practically, what it means to confess Christ.

Jesus is the Christ - Mark 8:27-28

Up to this point in the narrative Mark has recorded several groups of people who have wondered at the identity of Jesus. The Pharisees, the people of Nazareth, King Herod and his court, and even the disciples have all asked in one form or another “Who is this man?” In this passage the roles are reversed; it is Jesus who asked the disciples, “Whom do men say that I am?”

Then, just as now, all kinds of opinions existed as to who Jesus was, and then, just as now, they were all wrong. Word on the street was that Jesus was no ordinary dude, but as to His true identity most were clueless. The speculation abounded despite the massive reservoir of evidence that clearly revealed Jesus as the Messiah.

It is one thing to talk about the convictions and beliefs of others and another thing to share what one’s own beliefs and convictions are. Jesus was not content to only hear the opinions of others regarding His identity. He wanted to know who His followers thought He was. So He asked them - Mark 8:29-30.

“You are the Christ,” was Peter’s answer, and this was indeed the correct conclusion; a momentous and magnificent affirmation!

What was Peter doing when he called Jesus the Christ? For starters, he was not simply stating the last name of Jesus. “Christ” is not Jesus’ surname; it is His title. Christ is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Messiah and it means “the Anointed One”. This was truly a tremendous profession, one which we should not pass over lightly. Peter and the rest of the Twelve were Jewish men who from their birth had been taught the “Shema” of Deuteronomy 6:4. In confessing Jesus as the Christ he was saying something revolutionary, not just about Jesus but about the very nature of God. This was no easy or trite confession. It was a bold declaration that they believed Jesus was not just a wonderful teacher, an Old Testament-like prophet, a super-rabbi, a political activist, national hero, or magic-man. They believed that Jesus was the promised Savior, the true Prophet greater than Moses, the predicted and long hoped for Messiah.

We should not think that Peter alone thought this of Jesus. He alone had the courage to answer the point blank question, but we may be sure that the others also recognized Jesus as the Christ. Bear in mind that Andrew referred to Jesus as the Messiah from the very beginning of His ministry (John 1:41).

It is also worth mentioning that this confession was made despite the fact that Jesus was materially impoverished and despised by the leading men of Israel. The Apostles’ confidence in Jesus was not shaken by any of this.

But as with the blind man of Bethsaida their spiritual sight was gradually increasing. While they recognized that Jesus was the Christ, they did not know what all that meant, specifically in regards to the Cross; a topic about which they were not only confused but totally oblivious. That is why Jesus strictly warned the Twelve not to tell others that He was the Christ, because the messianic mission of Jesus cannot be understood apart from the cross. While the Jewish nation would have gladly received a political/military Messiah, one who would lead the nation to cast off the Roman yoke and establish a new Jewish Kingdom, very few were interested in a suffering Savior.

The Twelve had enough spiritual understanding to answer the question of Jesus’ identity, but they did not yet understand the nature of Jesus’ ministry. He was about to make that unmistakably clear.

The Christ Must Suffer on the Cross – Mark 8:31-33

This is the turning point of Mark’s Gospel. The Lord’s disciples are firm in their understanding of who He is – the Messiah – now they must learn what He intends to do. For the first time Jesus began to “openly” – to plainly – teach that before He would wear the crown He must first suffer on the cross. Yes, Jesus was the Promised Messiah, but He was also the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:1-12; the one who would be despised and rejected by his own people, executed alongside transgressors before triumphing and being honored by God.

Notice that Jesus said that “the Son of man must suffer many things.” He must suffer. He must be rejected. He must be killed. Why did the Lord say "must"? Was He unable to escape the suffering because a stronger power would force Him to die? Impossible! Did He mean that He must die as an example to the world of self-sacrifice and self-denial? That’s not it either.

Christ must have suffered, been rejected and killed because it was necessary in order to make atonement for my sin and for your sin. It was necessary that Christ endure the Cross because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22). Without Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the Cross there could be no satisfaction of God’s holy and just Law. This was why the Son of God became flesh. He was made to be like us in every respect, yet without sin, so that he might make propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17; Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). Christ must be delivered up for our offenses, and He must be raised for our justification!

Stunned! Appalled! Troubled! Those emotions are what best described the apostles. We know this because of Peter’s acerbic reaction. The second half of verse 32 is a startling statement: “And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.”

As with the earlier confession this rebuke was a shared reaction by the group. Peter was just bold enough, or foolish enough in this case, to say what the rest of them were thinking. We know this because of verse 33, “But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples…” They were approving of what Peter had said, and Jesus was about to rebuke, not just the outspoken Apostle but the entire Twelve. "But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men."

These words were the harshest ever uttered by Christ to a genuine disciple. Why did Jesus explode with such a severe rebuke? Because the Gospel was at stake; Peter had ignorantly and unintentionally spoken with the accent of Satan. Satan’s final temptation of Christ in the Wilderness was to abandon the Father’s will and receive a crown by forsaking the cross. (Matthew 4:8-10) Jesus rebuked the enemy then, “Get thee hence, Satan,” and He rebuked His disciples here for mimicking the enemy’s voice, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.”

The disciples were revulsed at the idea of a suffering Messiah because it made no sense; at least humanly speaking it made no sense. In his book Hard to Believe John MacArthur writes:

Crucifixion was a repugnant, demeaning form of execution for the rabble of society. The idea that anybody who died on the cross was in any sense an exceptional, elevated, noble, important person was absurd. The authorities reserved the cross for rebellious slaves and conquered people…for notorious robbers and assassins. The Romans used [crucifixion] only for the scum, the most humiliated, the lowest of the low.

This is why Peter initially responded as he did, because death on a cross was not only reprehensible but it was dishonorable to the minds of people in Jesus’ day.

Today is no different.

The message of the cross is scandalous to many folks. They view it as absurd, obscene or both. The preaching of the cross is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others. How could the Messiah, the Son of God be so powerless as to be crucified like a common criminal? And what does the death of a Jewish man on a Roman cross two millennia ago have to do with my life now and the afterlife to come?

Yes, humanly speaking the cross is foolishness, now just as it was then, but the foolishness of God is wiser than men. As we’ve discussed, Christ’s death appeased the righteous wrath of God for those who will repent and believe; just as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21.

And to knowingly or unknowingly oppose the cross is to follow the world’s pattern instead of the Godly pattern. Unlike Satan, however, Peter had the best of intentions. He meant well, but zeal and earnestness are no excuse for error. One may mean well and yet fall into tremendous mistakes.

The Twelve needed to learn this lesson, as do we. They needed to understand exactly what it meant to confess Jesus as the Christ. Because of the suffering Savior’s finished work on the cross salvation is all of grace and freely offered to all sinners, but those who receive so great a salvation must prove the reality of their faith by carrying their cross after Christ. He who will not carry his cross will not wear a crown.

To Be a Christian is to Be a Cross-Bearer – Mark 8:34-38

The Lord Jesus taught His disciples, and instructs us, that to confess Christ is not just to say words but to follow Him. Confessing Christ is not just words it is action. To sincerely confess Jesus as the Christ is to take up your cross and follow Him. This is the core of Christian discipleship. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a call to self-denial, self-sacrifice, and surrender; not self-love, self-esteem, and self-fulfillment. Whosever will may come to Christ and be saved, but whosoever does come to Christ must come on His terms, not their terms. Christ’s terms are these:

1) deny yourself
2) take up your cross
3) follow me

The Principle

Deny Yourself

To deny yourself is not to “be in denial”; in other words, it is not to check your brain at the door in order to become a Christian. To deny yourself is not to forfeit your unique personality and become some kind of clone. The self to which Jesus refers is not your distinct identity; rather it is the natural, sinful, unredeemed self that is at the center of us all. To deny yourself is to be convicted of your sin; to recognize that there is nothing in yourself that is commendable to God. Therefore you turn to Christ in repentance and faith, because only through Christ will you be made acceptable before God. So, denying yourself is subjecting yourself to the lordship and resources of Jesus Christ alone.

Take Up Your Cross

You would be wrong to think of normal hardships and difficulties as crosses. An unreasonable boss, an annoying neighbor, a pesky mother-in-law do not qualify as a cross. Not every uncomfortable, unjust, or unhelpful incident in life qualifies as a cross to bear. So what does?

To take up your cross means to walk in Christ’s steps, to embrace His life; it means to endure disdain because of the Gospel. To take up your cross is simply to be willing to pay any price for Christ’s sake; it is the willingness to suffer shame, criticism, rejection, persecution, and even death – the cross is a symbol of death after all – for the sake of Christ.

Therefore, if you’ve been laid off of your job because the company is downsizing that is not bearing a cross, but if you were fired because your boss hates Christians or because you’re Christian conscience would not allow you to lie in order to make the sell that qualifies. As Kent Hughes writes, “Difficulties are not an indication of cross-bearing; difficulties for Christ’s sake are.”

Follow Christ

To follow Christ to be obedient to Him; confession without obedience is a sham. Does this mean that a believer will perfectly obey Jesus? Not hardly! But as my former pastor – Darrell Sparks – was fond of saying, “Obedience to Christ is not about perfection but direction.” And as the Lord Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Hell will be populated by plenty of ethical, religious, and church-going people. It’s not enough to just think highly of Christ. You must obediently follow Him.

The Paradox

Mark 8:34 provides the principle of confessing Christ; Mark 8:35 is the paradox: whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s, will save it. In other words, losers are winners and winners are losers.

The picture of Christ crucified is hardly attractive. It’s certainly not motivational poster material. Normally it’s the losers who get crucified; not the winners. In fact, the whole concept of denying self, taking up a cross, and obediently following One who was literally crucified sounds like the description of a pathetic loser. Perhaps that is what motivated Ted Turner to declare that, “Christianity is for losers.”

Actually, Turner is absolutely right! Christianity is for losers. That’s what Christ said,“Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” He also said, “If any man desire to be first, [the same] shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

If you only live for this life, you will eventually lose everything. On the other hand, if you’re willing to give up this life and follow Christ you will eventually gain everything. You have a choice. You can “go for it” now and lose it forever, or forsake it now and gain it forever. It’s all a matter of perspective. If this life is all there is then following a suffering Savior is the epitome of being a loser, but if not then “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy [to be compared] with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

This obviously flies in the face of American pop culture, academia, or even what some would call common sense, but it is the plain, unvarnished, and even hard truth of the Gospel. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Losers are winners. Winners are losers. It sounds paradoxical but it is simple truth. As Paul wrote to the Galatians (2:20):
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
This is what it means to confess Jesus as the Christ: to recognize that He is the Messiah, to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him; to lose this world in order to gain eternity. Jesus said that “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” When next we see Christ, He will not be the suffering Savior but the glorified Lord and Judge. It is far better to endure the shame of this world for the sake of Christ than be ashamed of Him for the sake of the world.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Eyes that See

Mark’s purpose is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, and he has spent much of the first eight and half chapters answering the question “Who is Jesus?” The first words of this book are, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark is quite clear that Jesus is the Son of God, but to Roman readers of the first century that title – “son of God” – could be a bit confusing. After all, Caesar regarded himself, and expected to be regarded by his subjects, as a god. The religious climate of the Empire was polytheistic; there were many gods and sons and daughters of gods. Therefore it was necessary for Mark to explain and demonstrate exactly what he meant when he called Jesus “God’s Son”.

Mark demonstrated the divinity of Jesus by recounting the myriad and miraculous works that He accomplished. One miracle after another is described in nearly each section of every chapter. These were indeed miracles and not mirages, because even His enemies verified the wonders He performed. They could not deny that Jesus did miracles, so they questioned why or how He did them. But Jesus was no charlatan. He was not a conjurer of cheap tricks or a circus performer. His unparalleled power over disease, death, and demons undeniably demonstrated His divinity. All of it was a fulfillment of prophecies which declared that through the Messiah’s ministry the blind would receive their sight, the lame would be made to walk, lepers would be cleansed, the deaf made to hear, the dead raised to life, and the poor would have the good news preached to them. (Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35-4-6; Isaiah 61:1; Psalm 22:26)

While Mark plainly stated at the book’s beginning that Jesus was the Son of God, he records the questions of several different groups of people who asked “Who is Jesus?” First up were the Pharisees. They were present when Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic. Immediately the Pharisees asked – within themselves not openly – “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They were right! Only God is able to forgive sins, but they refused to believe the evidence, especially since this Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and “sinners”. So they concluded, “He is blaspheming!”

Jesus’ own disciples were struck dumb with terror on the Sea of Galilee. Initially they were afraid that the storm they were in would cause the boat to sink. In the end they “feared exceedingly” not because of the storm but because Jesus had the power to calm the storm. They said one to another “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

When Jesus preached in his hometown synagogue the congregation murmured, “Who does he think he is? This is the carpenter’s kid; Mary’s son.” Even Herod Antipas, the regional ruler under Rome, was asking the same question about Jesus.

In Mark 8:22-26 one more piece of evidence is presented. Like the healing of the deaf and mute man in Decapolis (Mark 7:31-37) this is a unique miracle; not only in how Jesus restored the man’s sight, but that Mark is the only gospel writer to record the incident. What also makes this particular story unique is that it follows a series of queries that Jesus had presented to the Twelve. One question was especially appropriate to today’s text: “Having eyes do you not see?” Jesus had stung the disciples with that barbed question following their complete confusion concerning His warning about the sins of worldliness and hypocritical religion. Jesus was in the habit of opening blind eyes; both physically and spiritually speaking.

Giving Sight to the Blind – Mark 8:22-26

The miracles of Mark 7:31-37 and 8:22-26 are not only unique to Mark’s Gospel; they are also just plain unique. While they are distinctive from the other miracles recorded in the scriptures, there are a couple commonalities between the two. In both cases friends brought the men in question to Christ, and in both instances Christ led the men away from the crowds, in this case outside of the city, as opposed to healing them on the spot.

Friends Bring Friends to Christ

Praise God for those who bring their friends to Christ! That is certainly not the focus of this passage, but it cannot be passed over in silence either. The blind are in need of a guide, and fortunately for this man he had friends who guided him to Jesus; the One who is able to heal physical and, most importantly, spiritual blindness. Their faith in Jesus was not just theoretical, it was practical. They didn’t just talk about bringing their friend to Jesus. They didn’t just pray about bringing their friend to Jesus. They brought their friend to Jesus.

These men knew what they wanted. They wanted Jesus to touch their friend, and they begged Him to do just that. He had healed multitudes with a touch; maybe even some of these friends had been healed by Jesus’ touch, and that is what they wanted for their friend. Whatever their expectations were, I’m sure that they did not anticipate Jesus taking their blind friend’s hand and leading him out of the city, spitting on his eyes and twice touching them before restoring his sight.

His Touch Varies but His Grace is Always the Same

Christ could have healed this man with a single word, with a look, with a touch, or with just a thought. He could have healed the man on the spot, or even as the friends were en route. Why did Jesus lead the man on a hike and then heal him in stages? Was this just an especially tough case? Did this man’s blindness give Jesus a hard time? Was the Lord experiencing an energy shortage? Was Jesus too winded to heal the man at once? No, no, no, and no!

JC Ryle has some insight worth sharing about this passage:
The meaning of all these actions the passage before us leaves entirely unexplained. But it is well to remember, in reading passages of this kind, that the Lord is not tied to the use of any one means. In the conversions of men’s souls there are diversities of operation, but it is the same Spirit which converts.
Christ knows better than we just how and when to minister His grace. He is not limited in how He touches a soul.

Many believers commit the error that Kent Hughes describes in his commentary:
We sometimes make our experience normative for others. In fact, it is not our experience which is normative, but our belief, in that we rest our faith in Christ alone, trusting him for salvation. We must realize that the experience of the “touch” varies, but God’s grace is the same.
We must submit to God to do His work and will in His own way.

Gradual Understanding

Jesus never asked a question to which He didn’t already know the answer, and His miracles were more than just healing events; they were parables of spiritual reality. When He asked this fellow what he saw, the question was more for the benefit of His followers than for the one being healed. Remember again what He asked the Twelve in Mark 8:18, “Having eyes, see ye not?” The lesson here is that spiritual understanding comes gradually rather than instantaneously.

When one is converted he is literally transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son; called out of the darkness and into His marvelous light (Colossians 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9). As such his eyes are dazzled and unaccustomed to the light, and it takes a while for his eyes to adjust. How long? Try a lifetime! No new believer will see things distinctly at first; indeed, the new believer says, ““I see men, but they look like trees, walking.”

Gradually our spiritual sight will improve as we “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). That is why the prayer of David from Psalm 119:18 should be on the lips of every Christian – not just new believers but all believers – as they open the Scriptures: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” That is why Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus as he did in Ephesisans 1:15-18.

Only Christ is able to restore sight to the blind. Come to Christ in repentance and faith and He will give you sight. Your sight will improve as you daily grow in your faith. The more we walk with the Lord the more clearly we see, and there is coming a time when we will see all things clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2). Therefore, let us be content to watch, work, and pray until the Lord comes and our sight is perfected.