Monday, August 31, 2009

What Happened to Sarah?

We'll find out soon enough.

I haven't heard anything from or about Sarah Palin since July. That is when she announced her plan to resign as Alaska's governor and when I posted on Facebook a Peggy Noonan article that lambasted the (at that point) lame-duck Governor of Alaska. That sparked a fun little debate with my uber-conservative friends from Sayler Park, OH, the duBarrys (at least the Karen portion of the duBarrys!) among others. In retrospect, I should have posted
Cal Thomas' column, but that's neither here nor there now.

Like I said, I haven't heard anything about Palin since then. I think that's about to change, at least if Mike Allen from is accurate. Allen posted on Politico this morning that Palin will begin this week to accept and/or reject invitations she has received for paid speeches and political appearances. How many invitations has she received? More than 1,070! Allen also writes that Palin is
about 85 percent finished with her book, due out this spring from HarperCollins. Then she’ll begin looking through the inch-and-a-half thick file her lawyer, Robert Barnett, has built of offers for network and cable pundit gigs, documentaries and business opportunities.
I've a feeling we're about to be up to our elbows in Sarah.

You'll notice I didn't say that is a bad thing. (Because that remains to be seen!)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Cursed Tree and a Cleansed Temple

The King had entered Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11). Without doubt, His procession was the lowliest and meekest of any monarch in history, but just as the timing of His coming was according to the Divine plan, so too was the manner of His coming. Jesus came as the Sovereign Servant; seeking to serve rather than be served, and to give His life as a ransom for many. Do not confuse the meekness of Christ with weakness. Jesus was the master, not only of Himself but of every situation. In today’s text - Mark 11:11-26 - we see His awesome authority and His burning zeal for the things of God.

Upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple and had a look around. What He would have witnessed there was nothing less than an overcrowded bazaar. The outer most section of the temple was the Court of Gentiles. This was the only section of the temple that allowed access to everyone. The purpose of that access was for worship, but it had come to be used as a religious marketplace. The chief priests would allow merchants to sell items which were used in worship; sacrificial animals, along with wine, oil, and salt. The chief priests also allowed moneychangers to exchange foreign currency into Jewish money. The Jews were required to pay an annual temple tax, but it was unacceptable to pay that tax with Gentile currency. This required that monies be exchanged so that the taxes could be paid.

These services were needed. Providing these services was appropriate. It was completely inappropriate that these services be provided in the temple area. This selling and exchanging was not being done out of concern for pilgrims and a desire to serve the hundreds of thousands of worshippers. Greed was the motivating factor. According to Alfred Edersheim, the Jewish-Christian historian, people would sometimes be forced to pay ten times what the animal was worth. The same types of exorbitant rates were applied to the money exchange. The animals used for sacrifice had to meet certain standards. They could not be used for sacrifice unless they had been “approved”. As you might imagine by now, the only approved animals were the ones sold at the temple.

Of course, the chief priests were receiving a “franchise fee” from the merchants who ran the various booths. They were making themselves rich at the expense of the people whom they were supposed to serve, and, if that wasn’t bad enough, they were doing this all under the pretense of worshipping God.

This is what Jesus saw when He entered the temple and looked around. He turned around and left for Bethany. In the morning He returned with His disciples. Along the way He did what he always did. He taught the Twelve, and His lesson was vividly illustrated with a common object.

A Cursed Tree - Mark 11:12-14

Jesus was hungry. There’s nothing amazing about hunger pangs. Everyone gets them. (Some of us give in to them more than others!) But that is exactly what makes them so amazing in this case. Jesus was hungry! How easy it is to read over such a statement and miss it. He was hungry because He was human, and humans get hungry. Jesus was (and is) the Son of God, “all things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made,” (John 1:3), but in His incarnation He was also 100% man. He had all the normal characteristics and physical limitations common to man, yet without sin.

God the Son became flesh so that He might identify with us. This is a marvelous truth, without which no man would have any hope, and the apostle Paul stated it best in his second letter to the Corinthians:
“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich”… “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.” (2 Corinthians 8:9; 5:21)
Remember I said that Jesus in His incarnation had all the normal characteristics and physical limitations common to man, yet without sin. This means that he never behaved in an ill-tempered manner. This means that He never flippantly or spitefully used His power. This means that when we read Jesus’ curse of the fig tree in v. 13, “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever” we may be assured that Jesus was not being a grumpy Jesus!

This was not the case of the pouting prophet who cursed the fig tree because it had the audacity to be fruitless when he was hungry. That may seem obvious to some of you, but others have been critical of this story. Kent Hughes refers to the commentator William Barclay who wrote, “The story does not seem worthy of Jesus. There seems to be petulance in it.”

Other commentators, in an attempt to exonerate Jesus from all charges of arbor cruelty, over-analyze the phrase, “for the time of figs was not [yet].” Their line of thinking insinuates that since figs weren’t in season Jesus had no grounds for cursing the tree. Therefore, we must engage in a fig tree lesson: the variables of the growing season, the condition of the soil, the amount of rainfall, and the types of figs that blossom and when, etc.

Listen, none of that is necessary. Here is what you need to know: Jesus was hungry. It was not yet the season for figs, but this fig tree gave an appearance of bearing fruit because of its leaves. When the hungry Jesus approached the tree He noticed that it only looked fruitful but was actually barren.

You should also know that in Scripture the fig tree was commonly used as a symbol for the nation of Israel (Hosea 9:10). The prophets also used it as a symbol of prosperity and blessing (Deuteronomy 8:8; Zechariah 3:9-10), and as a symbol of judgment (Jeremiah 29:17; Hosea 2:12).

That’s a versatile fruit! And on this occasion, this particular fruit tree was given another use. It was forever made into a visual parable which portrayed the spiritually degenerated nation of Israel. This particular fig tree looked good from afar, but upon closer inspection it was far from good. The same was true of Israel. The nation, like the fig tree, showed the outward signs of bearing fruit, but the spiritually hungered found no fruit; nothing but leaves. Yes, “they [had] a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). Israel promised all who saw her that she could show them the way to God, but, in reality, she could only show them the way to Hell. Israel looked alive, but was spiritually barren.

She had no reason to be. Indeed, Israel had been given every advantage. They had received the personal attention and redemption of Almighty God. They had been planted in a good land. They had the Word of God, the prophets of God and the Temple of God. They had everything they needed for a spiritual bumper crop, but they remained fruitless.

The symbolic judgment on the leafy but barren fig-tree was immediately set forth still more clearly when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the second time of Passion Week, went up to the Temple, and, instead of having a look around, cleaned it up.

A Cleansed Temple – Mark 11:15-19

The beauty and grandeur of the temple was nothing but amazing. Along with its adjunct buildings, the temple stood on a mount, and was arranged in terrace form; one court being higher than another with the temple proper being the highest of all. The ancient historian Josephus wrote that the temple’s wall
“reached up 450 feet from the valley…at its lowest…in other places it was higher...Nine of the temple gates were covered on every side with gold and silver, as were the doorjambs and lintels, but one gate…was made entirely of Corinthian brass and excelled the others.”
This is most likely the Beautiful gate that we read about in Acts 3:2. It was roughly speaking, 90’ high and 73’ wide and more richly adorned with precious metals than the other gates.

Here’s the point: the temple was magnificent and awe-inspiring by any standards. It was also all leaves and no fruit. As stunning and as spectacular as the temple was, the purpose for which it was built had been perverted. This was hallowed ground, but the temple had become spiritual squalor surrounded by architectural splendor. This place was dedicated to the worship of the One True God, but it had been desecrated by the very ones who were charged to lead in and safeguard that worship. Instead of being a place of worship, prayer, and even missionary activity it had been converted into a combination stockyard, market, and bank. The prophet Ezekiel perfectly described the religious leadership of Jesus’ day: “Woe [be] to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with wool, ye kill them that are fed: [but] ye feed not the flock” (Ezekiel 34:2-3).

The religious leaders purposefully and greedily consumed the people with their outrageous marketplace, and they sacrilegiously operated that marketplace in the outer court of the temple. This outer most court was commonly referred to as the Court of the Gentiles because this was the only section of the temple which allowed their presence. Instead of being a house of prayer for all nations the temple had become “a den of thieves.”

This is something that Jesus would not tolerate. Upon entering this den of thieves Jesus took swift and violent action. There were no deliberations or negotiations.
“Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought…and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and would not suffer that any man should carry [any] vessel through the temple.”
The holy wrath of Jesus burned with a white-hot intensity and a frightening purity. Have you ever seen a table violently overturned? It’ll startle you, to say the least! Everyone and everything fled, and no one dared move against Him; not any of the merchants or any of the priests or any of the temple guards or any of the customers. He put an immediate halt to this contemptuous behavior in and against His Father’s house. No one raised a hand or a voice against Him. Like the lions whose mouths were shut when Daniel was thrown in their den, these wolves were silent before Jesus.

“Meek and lowly in heart” is how Jesus described himself (Matthew 11:29). He taught, “Blessed [are] the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). He here demonstrated that meekness is strength under control. This was not a fit of rage. This was righteous judgment poured out on greedy hypocrites who had profaned the place of worship and the worship itself. Jesus had not come to destroy the Law and the prophets or the temple worship. He had come to fulfill them all, and at the end of this week he would.

A Church’s Lesson – Mark 11:20-26

So what? That’s what we need to know. We aren’t the nation of Israel. We weren’t the ones buying and selling in the outer court of the temple. So what do the cursed fig tree and the cleansed temple have to do with us? Two words: fruitfulness and faithfulness.

Bearing Fruit

When reading about the cursed fig tree you are driven to one of two possible conclusions. First, Jesus cynically and callously (mis)used His power. Second, the matter of spiritual fruitfulness is serious, and we ignore it at our own risk. Just a hint, option two is the correct conclusion!

Living things bear fruit. Dead things are barren. Saved people, which means people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). Fruit is always an indication of salvation, the manifestation of a transformed life in which God’s power is in operation. When a person is saved by God’s grace, they will bear fruit for His glory!
  • Matthew 7:15-20 – In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, specifically speaking of false prophets but the principle is applicable to all people, that we’ll know them “by their fruits.”
  • Mark 4:3-20 – Jesus taught the parable of the four soils. The soils represented men’s hearts. Only one of the soils was good, and that ground was proven to be good because it yielded a crop. Jesus explained that the good soil is the person in whom the seed of God’s Word takes root; “such as hear the word, and receive [it], and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred” (v. 20) but always a crop!
  • John 15:5 – Jesus also said, during this very Passion Week, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
Think about your life, your family, and your church. Then ask yourself: “Do we only look like we’re bearing fruit, or are we producing fruit?” Being leafy will not do. We must be fruity! (Don't read more than what's there into that statement!)

Don’t forget Christ’s words to the church at Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6):
“I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.”

Religious profession without spiritual reality is an abomination to God and is cursed. Of course, there will be no fruit if there is not first faith. The person who is lost and in their sins will never bear fruit that is pleasing unto God until they place their faith in God to save. The believer bears fruit as he faithfully follows wherever his Lord leads and that is the lesson Jesus teaches the twelve in the final section of our text.

The power of faith coupled to God's will and His purposes will overcome any and every obstacle.

Being Faithful

Passing back by the cursed fig tree, now withered from the roots, Peter commented on the tree’s condition. Jesus’ answer was, “Have faith in God”, and then He taught them to pray with a believing mind and with a forgiving heart.

Mountain moving faith is a figurative principle. By this I mean that God will not empower you to physically move Mt. McKinley. Just like Jesus didn’t petulantly curse the fig tree, He will not empower you to pretentiously move mountains. The idea of moving mountains is simply to maneuver through immense problems and overcome massive obstacles. And the key to it all is “Have faith in God.” Not faith in faith or faith in your dreams or faith in your education or faith in your ideas. The foundation of fruitfulness is faith in God. As John MacArthur writes:
“Mountain moving faith is unselfish, undoubting, and unqualified confidence in God. It is believing in God’s truth and God’s power while seeking to do God’s will. The measure of such faith is the sincere and single desire that, as Jesus said, ‘the Father may be glorified in the Son.’”

Having faith in God is trusting in the revelation of God - the Bible. Jesus taught the Twleve and us that when you seek that which is consistent with God's Word, and trust in God's goodness to provide it, your request will be honored because your request honors God! To do what God says is to do what God wants and to receive what God promises.

This type of faith is activated by persistent prayer (Mark 11:24). To persistently pray is to pray believing God and to pray forgiving others. If you want what God wants then ask God and receive it. If you want what God wants for your life you'll receive. But understand that not every aspect of God's will for His children involve pleasant things. It's also God's will for His children to sacrifice, suffer, and sometimes die in service to Him. Finding satisfaction and joy in Christ is not a matter of being prosperous, famous, problem-less, or successful. It's about being faithful and fruitful (1 Corinthians 4:2).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Picking an EPL Side

Until last year my soccer viewing was limited. I watched the World Cup, and I watched my kids' pee-wee teams. I watched the World Cup because I enjoy watching almost any sport that's played at a high level of skill and with a high level of passion. The World Cup qualifies on both counts. Of course, I watched my boys play because I love my boys! I'm not quite sure how this happened, but all three of my kids have played/are playing soccer. None have played organized basketball. None. Two have played baseball, and one played football. Like I said, how this happened I'm not sure, but it has.

Last year my cable provider provided me with a free preview of Setanta sports. I was able to watch EPL (English Premier League) soccer, as well as other top flight European leagues. I was hooked! Especially with the Premiership. I've actually become a fan of soccer. I used to think it was boring, with no where near enough scoring, but I've since come to appreciate the details of the game and the skills of the players. While the free preview of Setanta sports is long gone, ESPN has purchased the rights to broadcast one EPL game a week, and I've watched one contest on ESPN 360.

The rules of the game are not difficult, but I'm clueless in regards to strategy, formations, or even positions. Although, I do know who the goalie is! One aspect of the Premier League that is a brilliant idea is relegation. At season's end the three clubs at the bottom of the League are relegated to the next league down - the Championship - and the top three teams from that league are promoted to the Premiership. This idea should be imported to all North American sports. (Of course, that would mean the Cincinnati Bengals would be relegated to the Canadian Football league, but that's where they belong!)

My current dilemma is in choosing an EPL side to follow and support. I've narrowed my choices down to four teams. I've not considered Manchester United because they are too obvious of a selection. That would be like a Brit choosing to follow the Yankees. I don't want to ride the bandwagon, but I don't want to choose a team that flirts with relegation every year.

Here are my four finalists. They are listed in a particular order, from most to least likely.

First is Arsenal. The bandwagon potential is really high with this club - The Gunners - because they are a perennial top four team in the EPL. Still, I like what I've read about them, and I like what I know about Arsene Wenger, their coach (even though he's French). Plus, I just love their logo.

My second option is Manchester City. This team is intriguing to me because they are the cross-town rivals of Manchester United. Being an American I love the underdog, and Man City will most likely forever be in the shadow of United. Although, the club has spent an immense amount of money this year in signing top talent, including players from United, and they are undefeated at this early stage in the season. I think their home and away "kit" (that's English for "uniform") is sweet, but I hate their nicknames - The Blues or The Citizens.

Option number three is Tottenham Hotspur. What intrigues me most about this team is the low bandwagon potential. They have started this campaign rather well, but they just missed relegation last season. Their main sponsor is a casino, so that rules out buying any of their gear. Dianna would consider that a plus. It's a negative for me. Their nicknames are stupid - Spurs or Lilywhites (that's not a typo). Evidently, the nicknames of EPL teams is nothing like pro teams in the states, with several teams having multiple monikers. Another negative for this team is that Arsenal is their biggest rival, and I'm leaning toward the Gunners.

Finally, and purely for sentimental reasons, I'm considering Fulham. By sentimental I mean that Fulham has had several Americans on their team in the past, including my favorite Brian McBride. Currently Clint Dempsey is on the squad and a solid contributor. Another plus is their main sponsor - LG - I've actually used and enjoyed their products in the past. I like their gear and colors too, but their nickname - The Cottagers - just sounds stupid.

Any suggestions?

Saturday Morning Cartoons

My oldest son is 14 and an eigth grader. Which means that while I find this cartoon funny; it's also painful.

Will the the swine flu be a pandemic? Will we see a higher than average number of death this flu season? I have no clue, and I'm also fairly certain than no one else does either.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Here Comes the King

Jerusalem was jumping. It always was at Passover as people from all across the region and beyond journeyed to the city on a hill to observe the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But this was no ordinary year. Jesus of Nazareth, a man who spoke like no one had ever spoken and who did things that no one had ever done was on His way. Just a while back He had been in nearby Bethany and had called Lazarus, a man who had been dead for four days, back to life. More recently, in Jericho, He had given sight to blind Bartimaeus. But the people of Jericho didn’t know what was more amazing: blind Bartimaeus seeing or tax collector Zacchaeus repaying four-fold all the people whom he’d cheated, and also giving half his goods to the poor. Jesus had run into this traitorous extortionist and after He had gone to Zachhaeus’ house, Zacchaeus was never the same.

People were also aware that the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where Jesus was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest Him. All of this conspired together to create a sensation as people watched the road, wondered to themselves and asked one another: “What do you think? Do you think that he will come to the feast at all?” (cf. John 11:55-57)

Mark 11:1-11 answers their question! The answer comes in a public and prophecy fulfilling way, and I don’t doubt that the answer caused more than a few chief priest and Pharisaical faces to turn red, with smoke billowing from their ears. They’d wanted to stealthily nab Jesus and destroy Him after the feast, but here He comes; riding into town on a donkey with the crowd going nuts. This was not according to their plan. All of it, however, was according to God’s plan. Everything about Jesus, from His birth to His death to His resurrection and all points in between, it all happened according to divine plan.

His Coming

For some time now Jesus had earnestly prepared His disciples for the week that this momentous ride inaugurated. He was well aware, that the religious and political leaders had likewise been plotting His destruction. We first learned of their murderous intentions way back in Mark 3:6. Still, Jesus resolutely journeyed to Jerusalem. He did so in accordance with the Father’s will (John 4:34) and in fulfillment of OT prophecies (Luke 24:25-27). He had come to save His people from their sins, and that salvation could only be earned by His death (because without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin - Hebrews 9:22), burial, and resurrection. This is why Jesus came, and that is why He now entered Jerusalem.

There are three aspects of His coming to Jerusalem that I want you to understand. First, He prophetically came.

Prophetic Entrance

Why is Jesus all of the sudden riding instead of walking? Was He tired? I’m sure He was. Was He stressed? Of course He was; knowing with certainty what awaited Him at week’s end. But Jesus did not triumphantly ride into Jerusalem by accident, coincidence, or for convenience. His riding into Jerusalem was a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”

The crowd would not have known that Jesus was riding an animal that had never before been ridden, but the twelve knew. The significance of that fact would’ve been obvious to an ancient culture, while easily overlooked by our own. Any animal devoted to a sacred task must be one which had not been employed in any secular duty. For any and all who had eyes to see this was a deliberate claim to being the One of whom the prophets had so clearly written.

Public Entrance

There were a lot of eyes watching Jesus enter the city, and there were quite a few who participated in it. Mark tells us that the people strawed the road with their garments and palm branches. As they surrounded and escorted Jesus into the city they cried out in praise. Mark may be indicating that there was an antiphonal aspect to their praise. One group may have been shouting, “Hosanna!”; a Hebrew term of praise which meant “Save; save us!” The second group responded by quoting Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord,” and the first group would answer, “Hosanna in the highest.”

In Luke’s telling of this occasion the red-faced Pharisees said, “Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:39-40).

This is a marked departure from past public proclamations of His divinity. We regularly read that early in His ministry demonic spirits would cry out “I know…who thou art, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7), and often we read that when He healed lepers, when Jairus’ daughter was resurrected, and even when Peter confessed that He was the Christ, following all of those proclamations Jesus had required that it not be publicly repeated. Why?! Again, He was operating on a divine timetable! During all of those just mentioned occasions it was not the time to announce the King’s coming.

But now the time had come, and Jesus basically said, “It’s ok; everybody can shout as loud as they like, and if the people were to hush then the rocks would pick up the happy chorus.” The King is coming to establish His kingdom! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord; salvation in the highest!

Not a Pompous Entrance

Publicly and prophetically rode Jesus into Jerusalem but not pompously. By any other standard in the world this Monarch’s entrance was not impressive. Let me provide you with a comparison. David McCullough begins his book 1776 by recounting the October 26, 1775 procession of His Royal Majesty King George III from St. James’ Palace to the Palace of Westminster. There the King addressed Parliament regarding the “rebellion in America.” Here is how McCullough describes the King’s procession:
Two Horse Grenadiers with swords drawn rode in the lead to clear the way, followed by gleaming coaches filled with nobility, then a clattering of Horse Guards…in red and gold livery, and a rank of footmen, also in red and gold. Finally came the King in his colossal golden chariot pulled by eight magnificent…Hanoverian Creams, a single postilion riding the left lead horse, and six footmen at the side.

No mortal on earth rode in such style as their King, the English knew. Twenty-four feet in length and thirteen feet high, the royal coach weighed nearly four tons, enough to make the ground tremble when under way. Three gilded cherubs on top – symbols of England, Scotland, and Ireland – held high a gilded crown, while over the heavy spoked wheels, front and back, loomed four gilded sea gods, formidable reminders that Britannia ruled the waves.

It was as if the very grandeur, wealth, and weight of the British Empire were rolling past.
Jesus, Son of David, King of kings and Lord of lords rode into the Holy City on little more than a borrowed burro, yet there never was a more regal entry into Jerusalem than on that day.

Jesus did not come in earthly majesty or to reign in earthly power. The nature of Jesus’ kingship and of His kingdom always perplexed the people, even the disciples for a time. The kingdom of Jesus was and is not of this world. If it were, His servants would have fought to prevent His being delivered over to Roman authorities. He came in poverty not prosperity. He came humbly and meekly not pompously. He came to save all mankind, not to slay Israel’s enemies; to conquer sin and death not the Romans. He didn’t come to guarantee external peace in the world but to offer the greater blessing of internal peace with God. This He would do by freely offering His life as a ransom for many. He came to establish His kingdom, but by way of the cross before the throne.

The message of Christ’s kingdom is the cross. The focus of Christ’s kingdom is a regime change of the soul not a particular nation, and Christ’s kingdom has grown and will continue to grow among all peoples until the His Second Coming. The kingdom was not for the Jews only. The kingdom is not for us only. The kingdom will not be the domain of one little sub-group of humanity, but individuals from every kindred, tongue, and people group. It may not be apparent to us, but throughout the world today men, women, and children are hearing the Gospel and being brought to King Jesus, whose kingdom reaches to the very ends of the earth. Psalm 2 is a Messianic psalm, and in verse 8 we read, “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen [for] thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth [for] thy possession.”

How pathetic Jesus must have looked to the high and mighty as He rode into town on that donkey. How pathetic He must have looked a week later as hung on the cross, a bloody, crucified Messiah. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. He was betrayed, abandoned, falsely accused, unjustly condemned, mocked, scourged, and crucified. He was buried in a borrowed tomb. Praise God! He only needed it for three days.

This all may have looked weak and pathetic, but it was anything but that. What Jesus did in Jerusalem established a kingdom which will outlast all the kingdoms of this world and break in pieces every man-centered kingdom which sets itself against His kingdom.

At His first coming Jesus came not to be crowned but to be crucified. His coronation will occur at His Second Coming, then “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven, and [things] in earth, and [things] under the earth; and [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

His first coming was in order to save His people from their sin. His second coming will be to display His sovereignty. John saw a vision of this coronation in Revelation 5:6-14:
And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain…And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.
Do you know this King? Do you know Him? Is He your King? Have you bowed before this King and given your life to Him; to His service? This is why life is worth living; not only this life, but especially the next. Is your life about His kingdom or your own? If you have been made a child of the Kingdom you exist to live for it, to herald the Good News about your King to all those who haven’t heard and all those who aren’t listening.

Give up your small ambitions! Serve the King! Bury yourself in service to this Lord. This is eternal business, not temporal matters. Whatever you’re going to do with your life, do it to and for the glory of the King. As Isaac Watts wrote so many years ago
“Jesus shall reign where ’er the sun
Doe his successive journeys run,
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

Let every creature rise and bring
Honors peculiar to our King,
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud amen!”

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Return of Michael Vick

I was going to post my thoughts about the societal reaction to Michael Vick's release from prison, reinstatement to the NFL, and signing by the Philadelphis Eagles.

I was going to do that, but then I read this
post and just decided to link to it instead. Here's a taste:

Michael Vick is still having a hard time, despite serving…well…hard time. Because he hurt dogs. And we can’t have that, now, can we? His case says more about society than Vick, despite the fact that his actions were despicable. We value life, just not human life.

Mild-Mannered Revolutionary

Last April I blogged about a newly purchased board game, designed and hand-crafted by my good friend Philip duBarry. Since then 'Revolution!' has been picked up by Steve Jackson Games and has recently shipped to a game seller near you. The game's reception at Gen Con Indy - "the original, longest running, best attended, gaming convention in the world" - seems to have been enthusiastic. Click here to read a quick review of Gen Con Indy's response to 'Revolution!' and see a picture of Philip with a chainsaw wielding munchkin. The buzz surrounding the game's release combined with its appearance at Gen Con earned Philip a spot in the online edition of the Business Courier of Cincinnati. You may read it here. My favorite line from the Courier article inspired this blog's title.

As revolutionaries go, Philip duBarry seems a bit on the mild-mannered side. The Sayler Park father of three is the children’s pastor at Addyston Baptist Church. He’s been a fan of board games since he was a kid. And yet, he’s been known to blackmail the printer, threaten the innkeeper, even bribe the priest.

I must agree! Philip is no Che, but he is the ultimate mild-mannered revolutionary! Don't you agree?!

In all seriousness, the game is great fun. I have three boys between the ages of 14-9. All three enjoy the game, and all three are eager to have a copy of the new edition. (That's one copy for the family; not one copy per child!) The game play is fast paced. It grabs and keeps your attention, and it doesn't drag on forever. We've never played it only once. There is always at least one rematch.

Philip is a gifted game designer, and you'll enjoy the 'Revolution!' Buy a copy and start a revolution with some friends and family.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Believing Is Seeing

Jesus is set to go up to Jerusalem. Waiting for Him there are the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, all who seek to destroy Him. Waiting for Him there are the physical, emotional, and spiritual sufferings of the cross. He knowingly and purposefully strides towards it all, because this was the Father’s will. For this hour He had come; to give His life as a ransom for many.

Along the way He taught His closest disciples – the Twelve – what would transpire in just over a week’s time. He had steadily prepared them for this hour, but they still had not grasped the lessons. They just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see it. In light of the disciples’ dim sight they bump into a man who is completely blind. We are told of this encounter in Mark 10:46-52

The Man

The blind man’s name was Bartimaeus, which simply means son of Timaeus, and his city was Jericho.

His City

If you are at all familiar with the Bible you’ve heard about Jericho. That was the first city which faced the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership. The Israelites marched seven times around that walled city, and after the seventh trip round God knocked the walls of that city down; demonstrating that He fought for His people. Jericho was the city of Rahab the prostitute. Because of her faith in God she and her family were the only ones spared in the city’s overthrow. Rahab was graciously saved by God, married an Israelite from the tribe of Judah, and their firstborn son was a boy named Boaz. He was the great-granddaddy of David, and from the line of David would eventually come the Messiah, who know strode through ‘New’ Jericho on His way to Jerusalem.

That was the OT Jericho which was in ruins, but just south of the ruins was NT Jericho. The city had been rebuilt, and according to historians it was a thriving, beautiful city at this time. Just fifteen miles south of Jerusalem as the crow flies but it was at the bottom of the mountain. The climate was so different from Jerusalem that King Herod made his winter home in Jericho. He had built for himself a wonderful fort and palace there. Evidently it was a beautiful well irrigated city where palms, balsam trees, fig trees, citrus trees, and rose bushes flourished. In fact, it was such a magnificent place that, according to the historian Josephus, Marc Antony gave the city to Cleopatra . That's a pretty good gift!

His Condition

Because of this man’s condition, however, Bartimaeus was unable to enjoy the beautiful and bountiful city in which he lived. He was blind. He was a beggar. This man lived a sorry existence. He sat along the roadside, every day, and begged. Everyday it was the same. Wake up, grab your little bowl, feel and tap your way to the familiar begging spot along the highway side, and beg. It was the only method in which Bartimaeus could be at all productive; if you want to call begging productive.

The condition of this man was pathetic and desperate. We’ve seen that before, haven’t we? All through Mark’s gospel we have witnessed Jesus, this One who did not come to be ministered unto but to minister, we’ve seen Him go to and meet the needs of the pathetically desperate and hopeless. Blind Bartimaeus proves yet again that Jesus calls and cares for the least, the last, and the left out. This is a stumbling block for some people; for those people who count themselves among the most, the first, and the insiders. The only thing that Jesus has to say to such people is, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).

Bartimaeus was blind, but he knew he was blind. He knew he needed Jesus.

His Cry

I’ve always heard and read that people who are deprived of one sense are usually stronger in their other senses. For instance, a blind man would hear and smell better than average, because he has better developed those senses. Therefore, it stands to reason that while Blind Bart couldn’t see what was going on in Jericho, he certainly heard a lot. And in the last three years there had been a lot to hear! A fellow named Jesus had created quite a stir in the whole region. Just imagine what Bartimaeus would have overheard as he sat on the highway side in the bustling city of Jericho!

One conversation may have sounded like this:
“What do you know about this Jesus of Nazareth?”

“Well, remember that John the Baptist character, the one who was baptizing people in the Jordan not far from here, he said that Jesus was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

“Yeah, but I heard that John, after Herod locked him up for a while, started to have doubts.”

“He did. He even sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he’d been right about Him.”

“Really?! What did Jesus say?”

“Well, after He did all kinds of miracles, he told John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you’ve seen and heard: how the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

“Well, that ain’t nuthin’! Haven’t you heard what happened up the road in Bethany to that Lazarus feller?”

“You mean the guy who had two sisters? I heard he died.”

“He was dead. Been dead for four days when Jesus showed up and told them to roll the stone away. He said a prayer, then He called with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”

“Yeah?! Then what happened?”

“Lazarus came hobbling out of his tomb. His body still wrapped up in the burial cloths!”
Now picture blind, begging Bartimaeus, sitting along the main road, just soaking all of this news up day after day, processing all of this fantastic news. The dead restored to life. Demons cast out of people. Lepers were cleansed. The lame walked. The deaf heard. And the blind received their sight! The blind received their sight!! No doubt that news reverberated through Bartimaeus’ mind. As he laid his blind head down at night, mumbling to himself, “Jesus restores sight to the blind. That’s what the prophets said the Messiah would do!”

Bartimaeus was sitting in his usual place. The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread was near. During that time of year the road up to Jerusalem was always crowded with pilgrims. With the travelers in a more festive mood, he might be able to earn some extra food scraps or money. There was always a buzz surrounding the feast times. That’s to be expected with great multitudes of people making their way up to the holy city, singing the songs of degrees (Psalms 121-134), “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help [cometh] from the LORD, which made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). But this time the energy in the air was excitedly intensified. Blind Bart could hear; he could feel the charge in the air.

He must have asked, “What’s going on? What’s happening? Why all the excitement?”
“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” someone answered.

“When he heard that…he began to cry out…Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The word translated “cry” is krazo and it means to scream. Bartimaeus was desperate for Jesus to hear him. He could not see Jesus. He could not go to where Jesus was. He had to have Jesus come to him, and He did not want the Lord to pass him by. So he screamed above the din of the massive multitude. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

There is something you have to notice about his cry, beyond the fact that he is yelling it for all he’s worth. When he asked what the hullabaloo was about, the answer, you remember, was that “Jesus of Nazareth” was passing by. That’s not unusual; to identify people by their hometown. But Bartimaeus was not screaming, “Jesus of Nazareth, have mercy on me!” Oh, no. He called out to Jesus, Son of David. His choice of name indicates an insight that many in the multitude lacked.

You see, the title “Jesus, Son of David” is a lot different than “Jesus of Nazareth.” “Son of David” is a Messianic title. In 2 Samuel 7:12-17 God promised David that one of his offspring would be established on the throne forever. God promised David, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son.” One of the songs of degrees – Psalm 132 – that the pilgrims would be singing as they made their way to Jerusalem states, “The LORD hath sworn [in] truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.”

In Luke 1:31-33 when the angel Gabriel appeared unto Mary and explained what was about to happen to her he said, “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

Bartimaeus was blind, but he could see better than most. He clearly saw that only the promised Messiah; the greater Son of David could do all of these miraculous works. And even though he had not witnessed one miracle, he had heard the report of Jesus’ mighty works and marvelous words, and hearing he had believed.
I’ll explain how we know that he believed in just a moment, but first we have to take inventory of the multitude that surrounding the man.

The Multitude

There isn’t much to say about them except for the fact that they were a fickle bunch. They were fickle, and they had no use for the marginalized of society. “Shut up, beggar!” That’s what they said.

“Who is yelling like that?”

“It’s one of those blind beggars who clog up the road every day. Hey, be quiet, you!”
They rebuked Bartimaeus, and told him to be silent.

It didn’t work! He ignored their scorn. We refused to allow the criticism and the condemnation of others to prevent him from calling out to Jesus. Mark said he cried out all the more. Second verse same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse! “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

I am so delighted that Bartimaeus didn’t wither under that harsh, uncaring criticism. I am thrilled that he didn’t grab his bowl, wrap his cloak tight around his stooped shoulders and slither away because of the opinion of the crowd. There is a lesson here for us. Listen to how JC Ryle states it,
“Like [Bartimaeus] we must care nothing what others think and say of us when we seek the healing of our souls. Like Bartimaeus we must cry out the more, ‘Jesus, have mercy on us.’”
The crowd is so fickle. It always is. At the beginning of Passion Week, when Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowd will shout, “Hosanna in the highest.” But at the end of the week, having been stirred up by the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees they will shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” We witness that same vacillation here. One minute they shout Bartimaeus down, but after Jesus “commanded him to be called” they are all sugar and spice to him. “Cheer up and get up, Bart. He’s calling you.”

Despite the capriciousness of the crowd, isn’t verse 49 beautiful? “And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee.”

The Master

Praise God that Jesus calls. Mark doesn’t record this, but it was while in Jericho that Jesus said, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Praise God that He does! Praise God that Jesus came for the least, and the last, and the left out! He didn’t come for the “Big Man on Campus” or the beauty queen or “Dr. Smarter-than-everyone-here.” This doesn’t suggest that they cannot come, but it certainly means that no one comes before Christ thinking they deserve to or are worthy of coming.

The fact of the matter is that all of us are the least, the last, and the left out. Oh sure, perhaps not in terms of prosperity or popularity or professional proficiency; it is easier to identify the blind beggar as needy, but spiritually and eternally the playing field is leveled. We are all in desperate need of Jesus, but unless you realize that apart from Christ you are dead and without hope in the world you will be passed by. Only the humble heart will come to Christ. The one who knows that he needs Jesus’ mercy, and is humble and desperate enough to call out for it will receive it. Bartimaeus brought nothing to Christ except his need. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling. Rock of ages, cleft for me; Let me hide myself in Thee.”

“Cheer up. Get up. He’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. The Lord said, and He wasn’t being na├»ve when He asked him, “What wilt thou that I should do for you?” Jesus came not to be ministered unto but to minister. He had just stated that truth, and not we see it in action. He is also putting Bartimaeus to the test. How much – or how little – did he think Jesus could do for him?

The answer is immediate and to the point! “Lord, that I might receive my sight!” His request for it was evidence that he believed Jesus could provide it. He knew what he needed. Do you? He knew to whom he must go to receive what he needed. Do you? He believed and trusted Jesus. Do you?

“Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.” Bart’s faith didn’t create the cure. His faith was the means by which he received the cure.

The Master heard, despite all the noise, ruckus, and pandemonium, He heard Bartimaeus’ cry. He heard, and He had time. He still does. He always does. Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation, stood still and called for this marginalized man who was pitied by some, but most people considered him nothing but a nuisance. Jesus had time for him; time and attention that were willingly given. This is not a forced interview. As you’re thinking about that, consider the subject matter that Jesus had just finished discussing with His disciples.

He had just reminded them that in Jerusalem He would be delivered to His enemies and the Romans, mocked, abused, and killed; because He was set to give His life as a ransom for many. I don’t know how much time you have for people; especially people you don’t know and who are needy, but I’m certain that during times of great difficulty and trial you have even less time for others. You are so overwhelmed with the weight of the burden it’s hard enough to remain same, let alone help others.
Here is Jesus under the shadow of the cross. In just over a week He will be crucified for the sins of others. He is painfully aware of all that’s about to transpire, but he heard Bartimaeus cry out for mercy. He heard. He stopped. He called. He healed and saved.

He still hears. He still stops. He still calls, hears, heals, and saves. All that is necessary is that you and I come to understand our blindness and come to Christ believing that He will make us to see.

“Pass me not my gentle Savior. Here my humble cry. While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by. Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry. While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by.” This was the one occasion when Christ would pass by this man in his need, and on that occasion he cried out to Jesus. Whenever the Gospel is preached, read, or heard Jesus passes by. So today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.

Seeing is not believing. How many people on that day saw Jesus restore sight to a blind man? They were impressed, but they were blind. Bartimaeus had not witnessed one miracle. He had not seen one supernatural display, but he had heard of Jesus. He believed that only the Messiah, the promised Son of David could do such things. So when he heard that Jesus was passing by he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus called him. He asked how he could serve him. Blind Bartimaeus said, “Lord, I want to see!” On that day Bartimaeus proved that believing is seeing. Once you’ve believed, then you’ll see.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sacrificial Service

In our study of Mark's Gospel we have arrived at Mark 10:32-45. If you’ve ever visited a waterfall you know that the velocity of the river accelerates on its approach to the falls. Likewise, as the earthly ministry of Jesus nears its climatic conclusion (the Passion Week is just around the corner) there is a frightening resolution about Jesus. Unique to Mark’s account is the vividly detailed snapshot of this event. Verse 32 doesn’t simply tell us that they went up to Jerusalem. Instead we read that “Jesus went before them.” This is no leisurely stroll up to the holy city. Jesus purposefully strides before His followers with an unwavering determination. His resolve intimidated the disciples; not because Jesus normally vacillated. Not at all! His followers were “amazed” and “afraid” because, to quote Sinclair Ferguson,

“the degree of commitment which Jesus manifested was something they had never before encountered. They could not fully understand it, but it unnerved them just because it drew them into its own orbit. They sensed that His commitment required their commitment!”

Jesus came down from heaven to do the will of the Father that sent Him. The “hour” that had been appointed in eternity past was fast approaching, and Jesus had set His face like a flint (Isaiah 50:7; Luke 9:51) towards Jerusalem so that He might accomplish His Father’s will. What is the Father’s will? It is this: just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life; for God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world, through Him, might be saved.

As Jesus marched towards Jerusalem “he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him.” He described for them, now for the third time, exactly what it meant for the Son of man to be lifted up.

Selfless Sufferings Predicted

Do you know what a polysyndeton is? It is a rhetorical device where conjunctions are repeated in close succession for effect, as in the phrase “neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail.” A better example is Mark 10:33-34. Each grisly aspect of Jesus’ soon and severe suffering is stressed with an “and”. “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem…”
  • AND the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests…
  • AND the scribes…
  • AND they will condemn him to death…
  • AND deliver Him over to the Gentiles…
  • AND they will mock Him…
  • AND scourge Him…
  • AND spit on Him…
  • AND kill Him…
  • AND after three days He will rise again!!
Praise God that the Resurrection of Christ was as inevitable as His death!

Of course, this was the third time that Christ had openly discussed with the Twelve that He would suffer, die, and be resurrected. His first mention of it was in Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:31). The news so shocked the Twelve that Peter actually “took him, and began to rebuke him.” This was tantamount to denying the Gospel. To this end Christ was born. He came into the world for this cause. Therefore, Peter received a stern rebuke from Jesus: “Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men” (Mark 8:33).

The second time Jesus taught the disciples about the cross was in Mark 9:31. But Mark says they didn’t understand what he said and were afraid to ask. Undoubtedly, the echo of “Get thee behind me Satan” was still ringing in their ears, but the greatest hindrance to their comprehending and accepting the idea of Jesus suffering and dying was that they did not want to believe in such a Messiah. How easy it is to ignore, either purposefully or by insincere ignorance, unpleasant truths. The disciples poorly reacted to Christ’s teaching for the second time; not only by their willful ignorance but by their audacious arrogance. They had disputed among themselves who should be accounted as the greatest.

True to form, this latest at more comprehensive instruction of the fast approaching suffering and sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of mankind was followed by a foolish, proud, and ridiculous request from the sons of Thunder.

Selfish Pride Revealed

We know from Matthew’s account that not only James and John but their mother also approached Jesus with a request that reeked of pride and selfishness. Speaking in private with Jesus the family wanted a favor. “Master, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Their approach is not unlike a child who wants his parent to agree before the request is made because he’s certain that it will otherwise be denied. “Dad, before I ask you this I want you to promise to say ‘yes.’”

Listen to their desire: “Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.” These close followers of Jesus had still not grasped His ministry or their place in it. These must serve as a warning to those of us who have spent our entire lives in church and with a Bible. Familiarity with Jesus does not always equal singularity with His purpose. They recognized that He is the Christ. Three times now He has plainly and painfully described the suffering that awaits Him, and the best they can do is to argue over and maneuver themselves for the chief seats in the kingdom.

It appears that the disciples always assumed the kingdom would be established soon. This is one reason why they were discomfited by Jesus’ talk of suffering and dying. Jesus had also said, however, that He would rise on the third day. The brothers wanted to put in their request early; before anyone else had an opportunity. The arrogance of their request is staggering. Next to the king, the highest positions of authority and prestige belonged to those who were on the right and the left hand of the sovereign. In effect, they were claiming that of all the great people of God who had ever lived, they deserved to have the two highest places of honor.

Jesus doesn’t scold the brothers, but He does correct them by asking a question (Mark 10:38). Basically He asks them, “Do you even know what you’re asking?” It’s obvious that they didn’t.

The cup and the baptism that Jesus spoke of were clear allusions to His impending sufferings and death. Commentator John Phillips writes, “The cup spoke of His inward sufferings; the baptism spoke of His outward sufferings.” These sufferings far exceeded the physical agony of crucifixion and the emotional anguish of abandonment. The full measure of this cup was taking the world’s sin upon Himself. This was an agony so horrible that we read in John 12:27-28,
“Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. 28Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”
On the cross Jesus would drink the bitter cup of God’s wrath against sin, and He would be baptized (overwhelmed, immersed) in God’s judgment on the same. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” The proper answer was “no”, but James and John didn’t understand the question; so they answered, “Yes, we can.”

Remember, these were faithful men who loved Jesus. They had walked away from the family fishing business to follow Him, leaving their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants in order to be made fishers of men by Jesus. But with all of their passionate zeal for the Lord and His way they neither knew their own hearts nor the nature of the path before them. They were over-confident in their own strength. They still thought of temporal crowns and earthly rewards.

Are you any different? Is it yourself that you’re trusting in or do you lean on Jesus? I fear that we often expect, or at least would be content to receive, our rewards and ultimate joy here and now. We are apt to forget the cross and to think only of a crown.

Now it must be said that there is nothing wrong with desiring a crown. We are right to desire greatness, honor, and rewards. We are right to long for the day when Jesus will reign on this earth as King of kings and Lord of lords, and we shall reign with Him. Seeking greatness is right; it’s only wrong to seek the world’s kind of greatness. It is right to seek eternal glory because that kind of glory is God-given. Just consider these passages from the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:11-12; 6:5-6; 16-18:
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly...Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
Paul spoke of a “crown of righteousness” that was laid up for him in glory which Christ the righteous judge would award to him (2 Timothy 4:8; cf. Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Nowhere does Jesus rebuke His followers for desiring greatness or rewards. What He always rebuked was the worldly pursuit of such things.

That was the problem with the “desire” of James and John, and that is what stirred the other ten “to be much displeased.” We are not told how the rest of the apostles discovered what James and John had requested. Surely, such a thing could not be kept secret for long, and perhaps the brothers had sheepishly rehearsed the conversation to their fellow laborers. However they learned about the discussion, when they learned of it they were not happy.

Sacrificial Service Required

Do not be fooled by the displeasure of the other ten. Theirs was not a righteous indignation. They were aggravated that James and John beat them to the punch! They resented James and John using their familial relationship to Jesus as a means to curry favor. We know this because Jesus gathered the Twelve together and reinforced a lesson that He had taught and demonstrated time and again: Godly greatness is the polar opposite of worldly greatness. True greatness requires sacrificial service, humbly and joyfully offered. As John MacArthur writes:
“The world’s way of greatness is like a pyramid. The prestige and power of the great person is built on many subordinate persons beneath him. But in the kingdom, the pyramid is inverted. As the great commentator R.C.H. Lenski has observed, God’s ‘great men are not sitting on top of lesser men, but bearing lesser men on their backs.’”
This is a simple truth that is not difficult to understand, just difficult to apply. The way of the disciple is different from the way of the world. According to God’s standard of measure true greatness is determined by sacrificial service not by the number of servants. It is seen, not in how high up the ladder we have climbed, but how far down the ladder we are prepared to climb for the sake of others. A genuine follower of Christ will let go of a desire for honoring himself or seeking to be honored, and will instead give honor to others. To walk in Christ’s steps is be useful to others. Not users of others. Not useless. Not used to getting your way all the time. Rather, it is to be useful to others by submitting ourselves as an instrument of God whereby our fellow man are made more holy and happy.

A life spent in this fashion is truly Christ-like, and brings its own glorious reward. To be this type of sacrificial servant is to be like Christ. He came to serve others not to be served by them. He came to give His life for others. “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 is the key verse, not only of this sermon but of this book. What a blessed truth it is. This is the atonement: the work Christ accomplished by His living and dying to earn our salvation. Christ died for us to remove us from the wrath of God that we deserved. This means that He is the propitiation for our sins, as the aged apostle John, years after his selfishly motivated request, would write, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Here is Bishop JC Ryle’s comment on this happy truth…
“[Christ’s] death was no common death, like the death of a martyr, or of other holy men. It was the public payment by an Almighty Representative of the debts of sinful man to a holy God. It was the ransom which a Divine Surety undertook in order to procure liberty for sinners, tied and bound by the chain of their sins. When He died, he died for us. When He suffered, He suffered in our stead. When He hung on the cross, He hung there as our Substitute. When His blood flowed, it was the price of our souls.”
This is what Christ has done for us, and we are to model ourselves after His example. Not seeking our own honor but desiring to honor others, and, most of all, to honor and glorify the Father in Heaven. The desire to be great is a good and Godly desire. It is also a summons to be a slave – doulos – that is the word translated as “servant” in Mark 10:44. It is not a grievous but a joyous thing to be Christ’s slave, and if you are a believer you have indeed been “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20) “therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Don’t desire to lord over people. Instead be great by being servant of all. Be first by being last. Be willing to serve in the hard, uncomfortable, lonely, and demanding places. Time is short and eternity is long, so be willing to spend and be spent. Be zealous unto good works, but do so without becoming proud. Withstand criticism without becoming bitter. When you’re misjudged don’t become defensive. Endure suffering without succumbing to self-pity.

This is Christ’s example to follow. His steps may only be traced by the spirit that is totally surrendered to Him.