Marc Sims • June 21, 2021
(You can also find our sermon audio on Apple's podcast app by searching for "Quinault Baptist Church")
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What were you afraid of when you were younger?
- What are incorrect, but popular perceptions of what Christianity is?
- What does the darkness of Mark 15:33 represent? (Read Amos 8:9-10)
- Read Mark 15:34. What was so significant about the cry? What was Jesus suffering while on the cross?
- Read Gal 3:10 and 3:13. What do these verses tell us?
- Marc read this quote during the sermon: "Christ, being perfectly holy, knows and feels the horror and weight of sin more deeply than any of us sinful ones could." If that is true, if Jesus hates sin, why does He not also hate us?
- What were the two things the death of Jesus accomplished in the text? What did those two things mean?
What were you afraid of when you were younger? When I was a little kid there was a TV show called Are You Afraid of the Dark? that I was, admittedly, too afraid to watch. It was a kid’s show, but it was a show about scary stories, but scary stories made for kids, Nickelodeon style (I don’t know why this was a thing, this sounds like a terrible idea). But just the title of the show turned me off because I was afraid of the dark.
We naturally fear darkness. Some of that certainly comes from some sort of biological survival instinct. We can’t see in the dark, we get disoriented, and we panic: What if there is something lurking in the darkness that is going to hurt me! But there is something more than just a survival instinct. My children have experienced nothing but safety and comfort in our home, we don’t release wild animals into their bedrooms at night or show them horror movies before bedtime; we don’t kiss them goodnight and whisper “good luck…hope you make it,” but they still get scared at night.
Why do we fear the dark? The Bible actually has an interesting theology of darkness.
In the beginning there was darkness. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep,” (Gen 1:2). Darkness represents the disorder and chaos of the formless void. The earth had not yet been ordered, structured, and aligned by God—it was in a state of disorder, and so Genesis simply describes it as “darkness.” Throughout the Bible “darkness” serves as a picture of God’s judgment, like God is reversing the process of Genesis 1, deconstructing the order back to a state of chaos.
We see this later in Genesis when Abraham is making a covenant with God, but just as the covenant is about to be ratified this happens: “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him,” Gen 15:12. This is the darkness of God’s judgment that envelopes Abraham—a judgment that God wants Abraham to be aware of, but a judgment that He pledges to take Himself if Abraham breaks the covenant (Gen 15:17).
We see this again in the book of Exodus, when God blankets the land of Egypt in a thick darkness as a judgment, a darkness described as “a darkness to be felt,” (Ex 10:21. The OT prophets would picture divine judgment on the last day taking the form of darkness, like Amos who explains, “And on that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight,” (Amos 8:9; cf. Isa 13:10; 24:23; Ezek 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Amos 5:20; Zeph 1:15; Rev 6:12; 8:12). Jesus follows this pattern when He describes what the final day of judgment will be like, He explains that “the sun will be darkened” (Mark 13:24).
In our text today we will see this happen: God’s judgment. Jesus has been unjustly nailed to the cross and is hours away from His death while being mocked by onlookers. And suddenly, just like Amos foretold, the sun will be darkened at noon, a thick darkness of God’s judgment will fall, a darkness of dread, a darkness to be felt. The signs of judgment that are to be present at the Last Day, is showing up. But, amazingly, the darkness of judgment isn’t falling on the perpetrators of the cross, but the Victim. Let’s read:
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” – Mark 15:33-39
If anyone ever thought that Christianity was basically a moral improvement program, like a mindfulness app on your phone meant to center you and motivate you with positive messages, if anyone has thought that Jesus is basically a cheerleader there to rah-rah you on in your personal development goal-setting and that’s it—then they do not know what Christianity is about. Here’s what the world tells us Christianity should be about: you should be happy; you have dreams and goals, and the difficulty of life stands in the way of your self-actualization. Other people may not believe in you, they may doubt you, but God doesn’t! He is there to make sure you achieve your dreams! Why did Jesus come? To show us how to live a life of love and goodness, a life of impact and influence, a life where we don’t let anyone else tell us how to live! So go, follow your dreams, care for other people, and believe in yourself! That’s what God is here for.
Friends, God wants something so much better for you than that cotton-candy, whip-cream nothingness; something solid like a mountain, something gloriously bigger than you. But even if we had nothing else in the Bible but this story, we would notice that there would be a problem with this theory of Christianity as a self-improvement program: this story leaves a jagged scar on the face of this depiction of our faith. This story screams for something more than just an example. It is a story of accomplishment, of substitution. Here we see the two boulders of the holiness and justice of God crashing together with the mercy and grace of God.
The “Cry” (What happened at the Cross?)
As Jesus is being crucified He offers what is now traditionally known as the cry of dereliction: “At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (15:34). Why does Mark preserve the Aramaic phrase here? Jews in Palestine during Jesus’ day all spoke Aramaic, but Mark has been writing his gospel in Greek, so he has been translating everything thus far—why preserve this? Because the words themselves were burned into everyone’s memory. They couldn’t get them out of their heads.
Here, Jesus is actually citing Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest,” (Ps 22:1-2).
Psalm 22 is a psalm of David that recounts David’s lament that he feels abandoned by God while all of his enemies surround him and attack him (a psalm that seems to prophetically foretell precisely the crucifixion itself, see 22:16-18). By citing this passage Jesus is associating Himself with this same kind of abandonment, this same kind of despair. This is not an example of Jesus losing His faith or second-guessing the plan of salvation. Rather, Jesus is a faithful Jew who has spent His entire life reading, meditating on, and memorizing God’s Word. It is just a part of Him. So much so that when He is wanting to express His grief and despair, He reaches for God’s Word. He is experiencing real grief, real despair, but He is turning to God’s Word to express it. But what does the cry itself tell us?
Something we noted last week was that nowhere in the gospels do we hear Jesus crying out because of the physical pain of the scourging or crucifixion (though, He most certainly did)—the only thing Mark thought significant enough to record was Jesus’ complaint of feeling abandoned by God. More painful and agonizing than anything else was Jesus’ experience of the Father turning His face away. The doubling of “my God” is an expression of grief, like David weeping over the death of his son Absalom, “My son, my son,” (2 Sam 18:33). Further, note that Jesus doesn’t just say “God, God,” but, “My God, my God.” God isn’t some distant deity that Jesus is lamenting over—it is personal. If I refer to my wife as “My Hillary,” it’s a way of communicating the depth of our relationship. And the depth of that relationship means that if that relationship is severed, there will be far, far more pain. If some random stranger on the internet tells me that she never wants to speak to me again, that won’t bother me too much. But if my wife tells me she never wants to see me again, I will be devastated. What is happening at the cross? The Father is forsaking, abandoning Jesus. But considered: how deep was Jesus’ relationship with the Father? How perfect was it? And how painful would it be to experience that forsaking?
Now, sometimes preachers who get really worked up in a sermon on this passage will make it sound like the Trinity broke apart here. God the Father turns to God the Son and casts Him out of the Godhead, or something like that. That is not happening—Jesus is God, and He cannot be un-God-ed anymore than the Father or the Spirit can. So, what is happening here? Jesus, the God-man, in the fullness of humanity is experiencing for the first time of His human life an abandonment from the Father. He is experiencing the human punishment for sin: the judgment of God.
The “Why” (Why did it happen?)
Jesus cries out to the Father: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Remember friends, Jesus is citing a psalm here. Jesus knows why. He taught His disciples repeatedly that He would die, He told them the purpose of His death (Mark 10:45). So when He cries out in asking “why,” He isn’t asking that question for Himself, but for us, for us to wonder to ourselves: why is Jesus being forsaken? This question gets us down to the very heart of the gospel, to the very heart of God.
Earlier, Mark explained that Jesus was crucified at the “third hour” (which would have been 9 AM), but in verse 33 we are told that at the “sixth hour” (Noon) something odd happens, “there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,” (Mark 15:33). So, from noon to 3 PM an inky darkness covers the whole land. The darkness is the judgment of God, the judgment reserved for the Last Day when sinners will be held accountable to God. But who is being judged here? Jesus. Why? Paul provides an answer for us by summarizing our problem and our solution in Christ:
The problem: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them,” (Gal 3:10). We were made in the image of God, meaning we are meant to image God to the world around us. Our life should reflect the character and holiness of God. That was how we were designed. And from the Garden, God warned us that if we veer away from that design there will be consequences: death (Gen 2:17), a curse (Deut 27:26; cf. 28:15-68). An earthworm is designed to live buried under the dirt and eat decomposing plants and garbage; I am not. What happens to me if I try to bury myself alive or eat garbage? I will die. That is what sin does to us—it kills us. God does not give us commandments and warnings arbitrarily; He is trying to save our lives. But we don’t listen to Him and plunge ourselves headlong into the curse. And how does Jesus respond?
The solution: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree,” Gal 3:13. Jesus’s response: He redeems us through becoming a curse for us. When Jesus is hanging from the tree of the cross He is becoming the curse, bearing the punishment, the death we deserved.
Think about this: the more pure and morally clean your conscience is, the more horrified you are at the sight of evil. Conversely, the more debased and seared your conscience is, the less you are bothered by it. In Dane Ortlund’s wonderful book, Gentle and Lowly, he carries on this thought: “Christ, being perfectly holy, knows and feels the horror and weight of sin more deeply than any of us sinful ones could.,” (p. 69). This leads us to assume the natural conclusion: we should be cast out of God’s presence, we should suffer the curse—precisely because Jesus is so holy, so pure.
But Ortlund also considers this conclusion as well: “Just as the purer a heart, the more horrified at evil, so also the purer a heart, the more it is naturally drawn out to help and relieve and protect and comfort, whereas a corrupt heart sits still, indifferent. So with Christ. His holiness finds evil revolting, more revolting than any of us ever could feel. But it is that very holiness that also draws his heart out to help and relieve and protect and comfort,” (p. 69-70).
Jesus takes sin very seriously. He hates it more fully and perfectly than any other being in existence. It makes Him sick. But, amazingly, when He casts an eye an lecherous, sin-soaked people like us, what does He do? Not only did Jesus not turn from away from us in revulsion, but He was drawn to us, was willing to take on the very curse our sins deserved. The perfectly holy One, whose conscience had never tasted a drop of guilt, suddenly had 10 billion mega-tons of human guilt and corruption and condemnation dumped onto His spotless soul and presented Himself as “guilty” before the Father and was cast out, condemned, abandoned. Why? Because His pure and holy heart was drawn in by your weakness, by your plight, by your sin.
Of course, we shouldn’t pretend that judgment is no longer an option for humans. There are two places where God’s justice will be assuaged: the cross of Christ, or the eternity of Hell. If we reject the offer of Christ, then our sins will evoke God’s holy wrath and we will be left cast out from His presence. But if we are Christ’s? Then the payment for our sins have been made and our sins evoke His pity, His loving concern:
“There is comfort concerning such infirmities, in that your very sins move him to pity more than to anger…Christ…is so far from being provoked against you, as all his anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it; yes, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that has some loathsome disease, or as one is to a member of his body that has leprosy, he hates not the member, for it is his flesh, but the disease, and that provokes him to pity the part affected the more…The greater the misery is, the more is the pity when the party is beloved…And [Christ], loving your persons, and hating only the sin, his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his affections shall be the more drawn out to you,” (Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ, cited in Gentle and Lowly, p. 70-71).
Drop an axe head into the ocean of God’s grace and come back a thousand years later, and it will still be sinking.
The “Sigh” (What did it accomplish?)
“And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” – Mark 15:37-39
Jesus surrenders His spirit, breathes His last, and dies. It is finished. Immediately two things happen: The temple curtain is torn, and the Roman centurion standing opposite of Jesus confesses that He is really the Son of God.
The veil of the temple was a thick curtain erected to separate the holy of holies from the rest of the temple. It was within the holy of holies that the ark of the covenant dwelt, the footstool of God’s throne (1 Chron 28:2), dwelt. It was within the holy of holies that God’s covenantal presence dwelt. Only one person was permitted to enter the holy of holies, the high priest and only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). On that day, the high priest would enter with a sacrifice of blood from an animal, a substitute to take the penalty of Israel’s sins, and sprinkle blood on the ark, confession the people’s sins, and leaving. It is ironic, of course, that in the gospel we have the high priest working to execute Jesus, who will be the final sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
When Jesus dies, the curtain “tears”—the only the other place this word (schizō) is used in Mark is at Jesus’ baptism when Jesus sees “the heavens being torn open” (Mark 1:10) as the Spirit descends and the Father speaks His benediction over the Son. Now the curtain is being “torn” open, and just in case we didn’t catch that God is the one doing this, Mark points out that it is being torn “from top to bottom.” What is happening here? All heaven is breaking loose. God is erupting into our broken, hopeless, pitiless world.
And now, this means that anyone can get in on this. The veil has been torn, there is no separation now. Jesus has come to give us direct, unfiltered, total access to God, anytime we want! If you want to go to God you do not need to go to a priest, you don’t have to wait for Sunday, you do not need to go to some sacred spot or do some religious pilgrimage, you don’t need to be born in the right family or have the right ethnicity, you don’t need to be hyper religious and know all of the right words and all the right motions. All you need is to come to Jesus and admit your need, confess your sins, and turn away from them and turn towards Jesus. St. Augustine, writing 15 centuries ago, said: “God gives where He finds empty hands.”
We see this wide open invitation by the second thing Jesus’ final sigh does: the confession of the centurion. The centurion was a Roman soldier with rank, which meant that he had to have been in the army for quite some time. He had seen many, many people die. He likely would have performed dozens and dozens of crucifixions. But, we are told, “when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). The centurion is standing opposite Jesus, watching Him take His final breath. And there is something that happens in the heart of the centurion as he watches Jesus die that makes him realize that the sign hanging over Jesus’ head isn’t a farce. To a Roman, the title “Son of God” was reserved for Caesar—it was both a claim to deity and a claim to kingship. Which makes his confession even more astonishing: He really is the King, He really is divine.
But this tells us one final point of application: you cannot understand who Jesus really is apart from the cross. No human being in the entirety of Mark’s gospel has confess that Jesus was Son of God. While people discuss and Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:29), people at the time didn’t assume that the Messiah was divine in any way. It is only as Jesus is dying as a substitute on the cross that one can rightly understand His identity.
If you imagine Jesus as being primarily a moral example or teacher, you will misunderstand Him. If you imagine Him being a pool of energy and affirmation, there only to empower you to achieve the goals in your life, you will not see Him. If you think He is nothing but a cold, distant deity who is perpetually disappointed at your pathetic life, then you will not understand Him. It is only as you see Him as your sin-bearer, as your substitute who was abandoned and deserted on the cross, judged in your place, that you will see Him for who He is: the Son of God.
Marc Sims • June 14, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/762103--the-crucified-king
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What stood out most to you from the sermon?
- What does this story tell us about the social pressure of the crowd? Read Mark 15:11 and 15. Is there anything going on in your life or your work where you feel pressure from a leader or from crowds to accept something that is wrong?
- What are the ironies we see demonstrated in this story?
- Of all the ways that Jesus could have died, why did God choose this method? (Marc gave 5 reasons--read through each of them and discuss what each means. Which one was most helpful for you?)
A family of missionaries stationed in China had decided to employ a local woman to help manage the home. She spent hours each week with the family, saw how they cared for their children, and how they lived their life. It was a wonderful evangelism opportunity—mission work delivered to their front door! Their relationship with been going well until they noticed that the caretaker began to become noticeably uncomfortable. The husband and wife tried as hard as they could to make the woman feel welcome in their home and to be as warm and engaging as they could whenever she was around. However, her discomfort continued until it could not be ignored any longer. The wife eventually asked the woman what was wrong and she replied: “I see that you are good people and deeply care about your children, but why would you have a picture of a naked criminal being hung to death on a cross in the sight of your children?”
We can often become so familiar with the cross that the shock and gruesomeness of it is forgotten. The cross is a religious symbol, an emblem that to many communicates peace, not horror. Seeing the cross through new eyes reminds us of just how strange that is—why would a crude and ugly instrument of torture be something we would make art of and hang on our walls?
Today we arrive at the crucifixion scene in Mark’s gospel, a scene we can be so familiar with that it almost passes us by in its shocking brutality, in its offensive ugliness. Tom Holland, a classical scholar, writes, “No death was more excruciating, more contemptible, than crucifixion. To be hung naked, ‘long in agony, swelling with ugly weals on shoulders and chest,’ helpless to beat away the clamorous birds: such a fate, Roman intellectuals agreed, was the worst imaginable,” (Dominion, p. 2). What does it mean for us that our Lord and Savior suffered one of the most horrifying deaths known to man? Turn to Mark’s gospel and let’s read:
And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. 2 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. – Mark 15:1-32
Historical Understanding of the Crucifixion
Jesus is brought before Pilate, the Roman governor who is over the city of Jerusalem, so that Pilate might able to give his consent to Jesus’ execution. The charges that the high priests have accused Jesus of are religious in nature (blasphemy, destruction of the temple) and so they would be of no immediate relevance to Pilate. However, the chief priests decide to highlight a political danger to Pilate. They accuse Jesus of setting Himself up as a rival to Caesar (cf. Luke 23:2; John 19:15). Ah, Pilate thinks, here is another rebel thinking he can overthrow Rome. So Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:2; see Luke 23:2-3). Jesus responds indirectly, “You have said so,” (Mark 15:3)—perhaps because Pilate’s conception of a “king” is very different than the kind of king Jesus really is. After this, however, Jesus remains silent.
Now Pilate had a custom to release a prisoner every year to the Jews during the Passover feast. And he offers the crowd a choice: Barabbas or Jesus. Barabbas, we are told, was “among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection,” (Mark 15:7). We aren’t told specifically what the “insurrection” is that Barabbas participated in, but since it is called “the insurrection”, Mark assumes his readers are familiar with it, so it must have been large enough to be well known. What we know is that Barabbas is a rebel who committed murder in some sort of revolutionary activity. He is precisely what the chief priests are trying to depict Jesus as to Pilate: a dangerous threat.
At first glance, the choice between the two seems obvious: on the one hand there is a popular teacher, beloved by the multitudes, a wonder-worker who could heal diseases, raise the dead, and work miracles, and on the other hand you have a murderer. And yet, “the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead,” (Mark 15:11). What a poignant warning of both the danger of the influence of wicked leaders and the social pressure of a crowd. Just because a leader is telling you to do something, and everyone else is joining in doesn’t make it right. In Mark’s gospel the “crowds” have by and large been supportive of Jesus. But here? In a frenzied mob, the crowds shout out for Barabbas’ release and for Jesus’ crucifixion. The approval of the world is a fickle thing.
Pilate wonders out loud what evil He has done to be worthy of such a punishment, but the crowd only responds with screaming even louder (Mark 15:12-14). So, “Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified,” (Mark 15:15).
Jesus was then delivered over to the praetorium (governor’s headquarters) where a whole battalion is called together (approx. 600 soldiers) just to mock Jesus, likely after his scourging. You get a sense of the brutality of Rome and the way they despised Jews by how they treat Jesus. They dress him up like a mock king, make a crown of thorns (likely out of a local vine with thorns 3-4 inches in length) and crunch it down on top of his head, and pretend to bow down to Him, laughing at what a pathetic and weak spectacle the “king of Jews” is, before they begin spitting in his face and striking him with a rod (Mark 15:16-20). Once they’ve exhausted their savage humor, they lead Jesus away to the cross. Only, Jesus is now too weak to carry the cross (a testament to how intense the scourging process was), so must receive help from a bystander “Simon of Cyrene” who just happened to be walking by at the moment, to carry the cross-bar outside of the city to Golgotha, where He will be crucified (Mark 15:21-22)
What did it mean to be crucified?
Cicero, the ancient Roman, said that the crucifixion was, “the most cruel and horrifying punishment,” and that any decent citizen should avoid even talking about it (Verrine Orations 2.5.165). It was forbidden for any Roman citizen to be crucified and was reserved only for slaves and the worst kind of criminals. The entire purpose of crucifixion was to serve as a kind of psychological weapon of terror for Rome. They worked hard to imagine the most public and gruesome form of death so that they could display to everyone what would happen if you tried to disobey Rome (“Whenever we crucify the guilty, the most crowded roads are chosen, where the most people can see and be moved by this fear,” – Quintillian in Declamationes 274).
Before an individual was crucified they were first scourged (see Mark 15:15). The criminal would have their hands tied to a post and would be whipped with a scourging tool that had nine leather cords coming out of a handle with bits of rock, bone, glass, or metal attached to the end of the cords. While the leather cords would sting and cut the skin, the metal hooks would dig and rip into the muscle. The scourging would remove most of the flesh off of the back of the victim, sometimes exposing bones or organs—at times even killing the victim right there. The purpose of the scourging was to accelerate the victim’s death after being affixed to the cross.
After the scourging, the victim then was responsible to carry the horizontal cross bar to their execution site—another way of humiliating the victim and spreading terror to the bystanders—where he was then stripped totally naked and nailed or tied to the cross. Since no major arteries would be severed by the nailing process, victims didn’t bleed to death but would die from asphyxiation (slowly suffocating from not being able to inhale deeply enough because of their stretched out posture on the cross) or heart failure.
“Crucifixion was a ghastly form of death: excruciatingly painful, prolonged, and socially degrading. The thought that God's Messiah could suffer "a cross of shame" (Heb 12:2) was so scandalous that some twenty-five years later Paul confessed that the preaching of a crucified Messiah was "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor 1:23),” (Edwards, PNTC).
Jesus is offered “wine mixed with myrrh,” a rudimentary narcotic meant to numb his pain, but He refuses (Mark 15:23). The soldiers, like vultures, pick through the little belongings Jesus has—his clothes—gambling over who gets what (Mark 15:24). As was typical for those crucified, there is a placard affixed to the cross detailing the victims crime that deserved their punishment, “The King of the Jews,” (Mark 15:26). Another chilling reminder to the watching crowd: this is what happens to Jews who try to fight Rome; if THIS is what we do to your king, what will we do to you if you defy us? Somehow, rather than evoking simple human sympathy and compassion, the crowds gathered around Jesus, hung between two other criminals, and taunt Him, hurling insults at this would be Messiah, laughing at His impotence and impending death (Mark 15:27-32).
While Mark doesn’t cite it explicitly here, he obviously sees what is occurring as a fulfillment of Psalm 22, (which Jesus will quote in Mark 15:34) a psalm written a thousand years before the crucifixion of Jesus:
“All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”… For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” Psalm 22:7-8, 16-18
The Ironies of the Cross
As we read through this account, we will notice many twists of irony. Irony is when someone says or does something that means something different or the exact opposite of what they intend. We, the readers, know the truth, but the characters in the story are blind to it.
The Innocent is Declared Guilty so the Guilty can be Declared Innocent
Barabbas, a guilty murderer who participated in a violent revolution, is set free, so that Jesus, the innocent who is wrongly accused of being a revolutionary, is condemned. Barabbas’s name in Aramaic literally means, “Son of the Father,” (bar = son, abba = father). So the contrast is shocking: a guilty son of the father declared innocent; the innocent Son of the Father declared guilty. Here we have a tightly packed picture of the divine exchange that we all experience when we come to faith in Christ: Jesus stands in our place and takes the penalty we deserve so we can receive the pardon and blessings He deserves.
The Man who is Mocked as King is Really King
Could you imagine if you bumped into a person at work who, in your estimation, was kind of pathetic, unimpressive, and he asked you to do some task and you simply laughed out loud and sarcastically snipped back, “Sure thing boss! Let me just drop EVERYTHING I’m doing to wait on you hand and foot!” Only to later realize that that man really was your boss? The soldiers bowing down in mock homage to Jesus are, unknowingly, rightly identifying Jesus as King. The sign posted on the cross as a mockery of Jesus is, in fact the truth: He is the King of the Jews. Even more than that, He isn’t just the King of the Jews—He is the King of Romans, and the Greeks, and the Persians, and the Americans, and the Russians, and of every nation, from all time, in all places. It will not be long until, “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Phil 2:10-11).
The One Accused of Being Powerless is All Powerful
As the crowds and chief priests gather around the cross they mock and scorn Jesus they unknowingly are confessing the truth. Well, some of the truth.
“You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” (Mark 15:29-30). In John’s gospel, John records this short interaction with the chief priests from earlier in Jesus’ life, “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body,” John 2:19-21. The temple is Jesus’ body, and it is being destroyed, and it will be raised again in three days. It is precisely this reason that Jesus cannot save Himself.
“He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe,” (Mark 15:31-32). The chief priests have heard the stories of Jesus’ miracles. If Jesus really could do such things, then He should be able to use the same power to rescue Himself from the cross right now. And, of course, Jesus really could have done that. But, again, the chief priests are speaking the truth more than they realize: He saved others, he cannot save Himself. This is exactly true—it is precisely because He is—right now!—in the process of saving others, that He cannot save Himself. “It was not the nails that held Jesus to the wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for His father, to do His Father’s will—and, within that framework, it was his love for sinners…He really could not save Himself,” (Carson, Scandalous, p. 30).
Jesus is accused of being guilty, but really He is innocent. Jesus is mocked because they assume He is a nobody pretending to be a somebody, but really He is the King. Jesus is mocked as being powerless, when really He is all powerful. He is challenged to prove He is the Messiah by saving Himself, but He is demonstrating He is the Messiah by not saving Himself. What do these ironic reversals tell us? They provide a dramatic picture of who Jesus is and what He came to do.
Who normally gets crucified? Guilty, powerless, nobodies. Who is Jesus? Innocent, all-powerful, King of the Universe. And yet Jesus allows Himself to be treated like a guilty, powerless, nobody so guilty, powerless, nobodies like me could be forgiven, washed, and adopted into Jesus’ family.
Why the Cross?
Of all the ways Jesus could have died, why crucifixion? If Jesus needed to die in our place, to absorb the wrath of God, couldn’t He have just had a heart attack? A bolt of lightning strike Him?
1. To be a depiction of the horror and gruesomeness of sin and the wrath it deserves.
The cross is a terribly ugly thing. But the physical pain and shame of the cross is simply a picture of the horror and ugliness of our sin against God and the punishment it deserves. The physical agony Jesus experienced on the cross, though considerable, was not the worst thing He experienced. It’s amazing that Mark never records Jesus complaining of the physical pain He is experiencing. The only thing Jesus laments at the cross is the abandonment of the Father, His being forsaken by God (Mark 15:34).
2. To demonstrate just how low Jesus was willing to go to redeem us, how deep the Father’s love was for us.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16.
3. To show the world and Satan that their most vile weapons can be bent to serve God's sovereign purposes.
To comfort Christians that no matter how dark their suffering is, no matter how unjust, God can use it for good. If He can redeem something as atrocious as the cross, He can redeem your pain.
4. So Jesus could relate with those who suffer as a sympathetic high priest--He knows what it is like to suffer unjust, unthinkable torment.
5. To be a visceral picture of what real discipleship, real greatness, real power means: "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me." (Mark 8:34)
Do you remember the story of James and John approaching Jesus to ask if they could have seats of prominence in the Kingdom? "And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:37. Jesus responds to them and explains, "You have no idea what you are asking." The one other place that the phrase "one at the right hand and one on the left" appears in the gospel of Mark is in the crucifixion story describing the two thieves crucified, one on Jesus' left and one on His right. James and John are under the delusion that the path of discipleship, that Jesus' Kingdom will be one of worldly comfort, status, and glory. But Jesus shows them that the way "up" is actually "down." The path to greatness in the Kingdom, is the path of the cross, the path of service. Jesus explains:
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45
Marc Sims • June 07, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/758626--waiting-through-despair
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What is something you feel like you have been waiting for?
- Why might a Christian find themselves "in the depths"? (Because life is hard; they might be doing the right thing; they might be hiding sin; they be frustrated with their weakness; they might have no idea why)
- What role does prayer play in your life? If prayer was a piece of your car, would it look more like a steering wheel or more like a spare tire?
- As Christians wait on the Lord, what should we do? (Hope in the Word; Wait expectantly; Hope in the Lord)
- Can you think of any specific promises in God's Word you can hope in to help you wait? (Ex. Rom 8:32; Matt 6:33)
- Is there any area of prayer that is difficult to "wait expectantly" for?
- Read Luke 18:1-8. What does this tell us about prayer and waiting? (Note: verse 7 seems to tell us that God answers our prayers "speedily," yet verse 1 and verse 8 seem to tell us that there are seasons of waiting that will tempt us to stop praying, to lose heart, and lose faith. So God answers our prayers speedily, in a way, but in another way slowly enough that we are tempted. See Hab. 2:3).
Let’s begin today with the story of a king, Israel’s first king. In so many ways, Saul seemed like an ideal choice; he fits the bill of many successful politicians today. 1 Samuel tells us that he came from a family of great wealth, and was tall and handsome (1 Sam 9:1-2). He had the status and looks of a king (cf. 1 Sam 10:24). Further, he also had the decisive leadership of a king. Saul has been able to unite the army together, command men to battle, and deliver Israel from destruction (see 1 Sam 11).
Two years later, Saul is faced a crisis that requires leadership. The Philistines have invaded Israel and have gathered a massive army of chariots, horsemen, and troops, “like the sand on the seashore in multitude,” (1 Sam 13:5). Saul musters an army, but everyone is afraid of the Philistines. Even worse, the prophet Samuel is late. Saul cannot start the battle till Samuel offers the necessary sacrifices to God and while they wait people begin to peel away and scatter. So, Saul makes another decisive leadership move: he offers the sacrifice instead of waiting. But as he is wiping the blood off his knife, Samuel appears walking over the hill and asks Saul: What on earth are you doing? And Saul, looking to justify himself, explains: Look man, I waited for you but YOU didn’t show up and the army was breaking apart and I didn’t want to but I HAD to. You forced my hand by being late and…and…what else was I supposed to do? (see 1 Sam 13:8-12).
Let’s look at another story of a king, one living hundreds of years later, but in a similar situation: King Jehoshaphat. An alliance of enemies has come against Israel that totally outmatch their own strength. And as Israel is preparing for battle they catch wind that there is another massive army planning on attack on them. What does the king do? “Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD,” (2 Chron 20:3-4). Jehoshaphat assembles the whole of Judah to come to the temple and prays before God, acknowledging God’s power, God’s promises to redeem His people, and confesses their own weakness before concluding with these famous words: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you,” (2 Chron 20:12).
I read an article this week by a popular evangelical pastor on this prayer who thought that while the spirit of humility this prayer exhibited was commendable and necessary for good leadership, he thought it unwise for leaders to publicly confess that they don’t know what to do in situations and should instead project confidence. So, if you’re in a board meeting or elder’s meeting, you shouldn’t tell people that you feel overwhelmed and unsure—that’s not what people expect from a leader. Obviously, King Jehoshaphat disagreed. He stood before the gathered nation, before the people he was responsible to lead and defend at a moment of great crisis, at a time where all were tempted to despair and said: I have no idea what to do—God help!
Now, be honest, who would you rather have as your king? One who is a strategic problem solver who gets things done, or one who admits that he doesn’t know what he is doing and is waiting for God to give help.
If you’re anything like me, you get frustrated with indecisive leadership mostly because you hate waiting. We want fast solutions to problems, we don’t want to hear about limitations and nuance. We want things to be fixed because we are the products of a generation that is allergic to waiting. You hate getting stuck in traffic, you hate waiting for vacation to come around, you hate waiting for that person to respond to you when you need their answer.
But what happens when you encounter a problem where there is no instant solution? What if, as you survey the options, none of them provide a quick fix? In Psalm 130 we find a reflection from one who is stuck in a difficult situation and is left waiting for God to show up and provide relief.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
2 O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.
Why Do Christians Experience Despair?
The psalm opens with the confession: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!” (Ps 130:1). We don’t know who wrote this psalm, but whoever they were it was someone in a dark place. They were in “the depths.” In the ancient world they had a different understanding of how the world was structured. The world lay flat on a series of foundations that God had set, and God dwelled on high, in the heavens. The grave (Sheol), which represented death, was spatially furthest away from God which is why the grave is often spoken of as a place where individuals will have the hardest time communing with God (Ps 6:5; 115:17). While God is even present in the depths of Sheol (Ps 139:8), the “depths” are where God is hardest to see. This becomes a poetic metaphor used by the psalmists to describe times in their life where they feel most abandoned by God, most in despair. For instance, listen to Psalm 88:
O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
2 Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
3 For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
One reason Christians may feel despair is because of discouraging circumstance. Think of the prophet Elijah, after fire fell from heaven in 1 Kings 18 the wicked queen Jezebel still refuses to repent, Elijah flees into the desert and collapses under a broom tree, begging God to just let him die (1 Kings 19). Perhaps there have been circumstances in your life that have left you doubting that God really cares for you, really is in control. One of my missionary heroes is Adoniram Judson, the first American missionary, who traveled to Burma. He experienced a season of intense despair because of the great persecution and loss he suffered while striving to reach the Burmese people who had no Christian witness. He was beaten, imprisoned, starved, and suffered the death of his wife, the loss of his next wife, and four children, before he himself died of an infection from the jungle. At one point he sunk into such a dark state of mind that he dug a grave in front of his house and sat next to it for days, contemplating his own death.
Few of us will experience the kind of hardships that Judson experienced, but I bring up the story of Judson not because his suffering is so similar to ours but because his life demonstrates the falsehood that if you just live a godly life you won’t experience suffering, you won’t experience despair. Judson chose the narrow path; he was offered a comfortable position as a pastor of a wealthy, influential church back in America but turned it down to go live in a hut in the muggy jungle of Burma. If anyone was living a life of godliness, it was Adoniram Judson—and yet, his life was filled with extreme suffering.
This means that the difficulty in your life does not automatically mean that God is abandoning you or is punishing you. It just means that you live in a fallen, broken world, a world filled with heartache, disappointments, and sin. In fact, the Bible seems to tell us that if we desire to live a godly life we will experience even more suffering (2 Tim 3:12; Acts 14:22).
Another reason for despair among Christians is the presence of sin. Perhaps it isn’t necessarily circumstances happening to you that cause despair, but indwelling sin in you. There is no agony like the agony of tortured conscience. David writes of the pain he experienced from trying to conceal his sin, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer,” (Ps 32:3-4). If you want to experience despair, hide sin in your life, refuse to repent of it, and you will be certain to be haunted by the specter of depression.
But maybe you are despairing not because of unrepentant sin, but just a general awareness of your sinfulness. There isn’t a specific sin you can pinpoint that needs repenting of, but an awareness of your limitations, your weakness; you have an idea in your mind of the kind of person you want to be and know how deeply you have fallen short of that. Samuel Davies, one of the most fruitful and effective preachers during the Great Awakening, writes; “I have but little, very little, true religion...Perhaps once in three or four months I preach in some measure as I could wish...It is really an afflictive thought that I serve so good a Master with so much inconstancy...I am at best smoking flax; a dying snuff in the candlestick of his church...The flame of divine love, sunk deep into the socket of a corrupt heart, quivers and breaks, and catches, and seems just expiring at times.”
Or, perhaps worst of all, you are experiencing despair and you have no idea why. The dark night of the soul has flung itself upon you and left little to no clue as to why it is present. You are in “the depths” and you don’t know what has brought you here.
What do Christians do about it?
This is where the psalm really begins to give us help. The psalm gives us two things that Christians can do: Pray and Wait.
“O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!” (Ps 130:2).
As soon as the psalmist is in the depths of despair he cries out in prayer and pleads for God to hear him. But what great comfort! The depths the psalmist has fallen into are not so deep that God is unable to hear his prayers. Corrie Ten Boom, a prisoner in World War II for hiding Jews from the Nazis, reminds us that “there is no pit so deep, that Christ is not deeper still.” There is no cloud over us so dark that God cannot still commune with us in prayer. No matter how numb your soul, how bleak your circumstances, how black your guilt, you can cry out to God and He will hear you.
What does the psalmist ask for? Mercy. The psalmist knows that he does not deserve the help he is asking for, but is asking God to not give him what he deserves. This could be a plea for God to withhold the judgment his sins deserve, or it could be a request for God to give him aid even though his sins make him unworthy. It could be both. The psalmist knows he needs mercy from a holy God.
God doesn’t not give us help because we have earned it, no, His help is a help that flows from His gracious heart to the undeserving. We intuitively assume that God answers the prayers of the deserving, of the super spiritual who know all the right things to say, of the gurus who pray and fast for hours in scratchy robes in mountain caves—they have earned the right for God to answer their prayers. At least, so we think.
But here? Here we see that the psalmist understands that God does not owe him anything, even the right for his prayers to be answered—and yet he prayers! Why? Because he is confident that God is a merciful God:
“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared,” (Ps 130:3-4).
If God were to treat us according to what our sins deserved, who could stand? We would all be obliterated instantly! But praise God, that doesn’t happen! “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities,” Ps 103:10.
An employee makes a foolish, stupid mistake and winds up costing the company a fortune. He was advised not to do it, but he did it anyways and now it has blown up in his face. He knows that he will likely be fired any minute, but decides to head to the company’s Christmas party, nonetheless. He walks in, head hanging low, not looking as he grabs the wrong nametag. Before he realizes what is happening, he is being pushed on stage, handed one of those comically large checks with an eye-popping bonus on it and is congratulated for being the employee of the year. What happened? He mistakenly grabbed the nametag of someone who deserved something far different than what he deserved—he is not being treated according to his sins. But friends, where this was an accident, in the gospel it is no accident. God has not been hoodwinked. He has, from before time began, planned to send His Son to take your sins and bear them away at the cross and to give you His righteousness, so that if you believe in Him you will not be treated according to your sins, but according to your Savior. Unremitting love flows to the undeserving and unworthy.
This is staggering when taken seriously. It makes sense why the psalmist says, “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared,” (Ps 130:4). There is a kind of cheap forgiveness that downplays the reality of sin (it wasn’t that bad) that leads to a lighthearted frivolity towards God and a continued indulging of sin. And there is another kind of cheap forgiveness that is earned through our own self-righteousness where we pay God back for our sins by being really good. Then there is another forgiveness altogether. A forgiveness that is as hard as nails on the horror of our sins but as wide as the ocean in its total and free forgiveness offered. That kind of forgiveness pierces you with a fearful and awesome joy, and brings you trembling to your knees wondering: What kind of Savior is this?
So now, if you are in Christ, wherever you are, whether you are on the mountaintop of a spiritual high or in the depths of a spiritual pit, God will hear your pleas for mercy because He has forgiven your sins and clothed you in the righteousness of Christ, so come to Him with your pleas, come to Him with your prayers. You have the same standing before the Father in your prayers as Jesus does, so be bold. Seek heaven’s aid for your help, plead with the Father, call down all the resources from on high to thunder against your despair, your gloom, and your sin.
This is why we will be taking time to pray together as a church in the Fall in our discipleship classes. Life is too hard, we are too weak, and the resources available to us through prayer are too great for us not to pray together as a church.
“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,” (Ps 130:5a).
Just because we have access to the throne room of God in our prayers does not mean that we immediately receive what we ask for. We often have to wait. Sometimes when we read the Bible we can get the impression that during the Bible times there was a miracle happening around every corner, God was answering prayers instantaneously, and things were happening so evidently. And then, when we look at our life, at how mundane it is, how ordinary it seems, we can feel discouraged. The apostles in the book of Acts can pray, and bam! blind people can see. And we can think: Now that’s what I’m talking about! Why can’t I get some of that in my life? And, of course, God can and will at times answer our prayers instantly. But friend, I wonder if you realize that the normal, ordinary pattern in the Bible is a pattern of waiting.
Think of the Israelites in Egypt who were in the bondage of slavery for four hundred years, praying to God for deliverance (Ex 2:23-25; 12:40). Or think of how long Israel had to wait for the Messiah to arrive. To make it more personal, think of the prophetess Anna, 84 year old Anna, in the gospel of Luke. Here is how she is described after seeing the child Jesus for the first time: “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem,” Luke 2:37b-38. She is 84 years old and has spent the majority of her life in the temple doing what? Fasting and praying. Waiting.
Remember the parable Jesus tells of the unjust judge? There is an unjust judge who doesn’t care about justice, but keeps being pestered by this persistent widow who keeps asking for the judge to give her justice. Eventually, out of sheer annoyance, the judge answers her requests. And if an unjust judge who doesn’t care about justice will eventually give in, how much more so will just judge who loves His children? But here is how Jesus opens that parable: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart,” (Luke 18:1). In other words, you are going to be tempted to stop praying and to lose heart.
Are you tempted to stop praying because it feels like you are just left waiting? Don’t lose heart, wait. The words of the prophet Habakkuk are helpful, “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay,” – Hab 2:3.
How do we wait?
With hope in God’s Word.
“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” – Ps 130:5
As we wait, we hold onto what God has promised us in His word.
Are you faced with a perplexing decision and are unsure what to do? Pray for wisdom because God has promised in His word, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him,” (James 1:5).
Are you weary and worn down? Pray for rest because Jesus has promised: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Matt 11:28.
Do you feel emotionally untethered and fearful from the circumstances of your life? Pray for peace from the God who has promised: “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” Isa 41:10.
As you find yourself stuck in the gap between what you are praying for and the answer to that prayer, fill your mind and heart with promises from God Word and hold onto them, wield them like a sword to slay your sinful temptations. Hope in God’s Word.
Wait with Expectation
“…my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning,” Ps 130:6
As we wait, we wait with eager expectation for how God will answer our prayers. The psalmist tells us that he is waiting for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning. Night watchmen would be posted up on the walls of city or set to guard the perimeter of the camp. At the first break of dawn it meant that they and the city were safe from night assaults and they could now go and rest. As the guard is eagerly searching the horizon for the first rays of light, so too should God’s people be eagerly looking for how God will answer our prayers, trusting that He will.
We often hedge our bets when praying to God. Because we are so frustrated by waiting and think it is something strange, when we pray for a long time and keep failing to see results it makes us less confident in our prayers. But we should trust God’s timing and God’s ways.
Hope in the Lord
Earlier we were encouraged to hope in God’s Word, but the psalmist concludes by pointing us to God Himself: “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities,” Ps 130:7-8. God's character is worthy of your hope--hope in Him!
Let’s return to the story of our two kings at the beginning. Why does Saul offer that sacrifice? He has a large enemy he is fighting, the prophet is late, and his soldiers are beginning to desert the battlefield. In so many ways, it is so understandable why Saul did what he did. But it, of course, reveals what Saul was ultimately hoping in. His strength, his ability, his wisdom, his leadership. Saul couldn’t see how he could keep on waiting, so he acted. And he sinned. And it cost him the kingdom.
What did Jehoshaphat hope in? “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” Jehoshaphat hoped the Lord and his character to deliver them. He knew that he had nothing in him to make this work, but knew that God was able. And God honors Jehoshaphat’s prayer and saves Israel.
Friend, God is worthy of your trust, of your hope. He is full of steadfast love and with him is plentiful redemption. He has forgiven your sins, made you His child, and promised to care for you. Hope in him. As you wait through despair, as you are in the depths, hope in God. You may not be able to see how you can fix the problem in front of you, you may feel totally overwhelmed--but that's the whole point: hope in the Lord, not yourself! Wait for Him to answer your pleas for mercy. Wait with hope and expectation that God will provide. Wait with confidence that God will not let the righteous be moved.
Marc Sims • June 02, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/755157--jesus-and-the-trial
- What stood out most to you from the sermon?
- Who recognizes Jesus most accurately throughout the gospel of Mark? Can you think of any examples?
- How should we approach Jesus to orient ourselves correctly to the truth?
- What assumptions did the chief priests, scribes, and elders have about the Messiah that led them to condemn Jesus?
- What assumptions did Peter hold that led him to deny Jesus?
- Can you think of a time where you had some assumptions about God that have proven to be untrue?
- Read 1 Cor 10:12-13. What is this passage telling us about how we should think about sin and temptation? How does Peter's story relate to this?
How we orient ourselves to the truth will determine how we receive the truth. How you approach the truth will determine how you interpret the truth.
If a husband and wife are in a fight with each other, if the husband loves his wife, he will help his wife orient herself to that truth by demonstrating gentleness, patience, and a willingness to listen to her. But if he simply gets angry and barks “Calm down!” to her, he is going to make it harder for her to see the reality of his love towards her, it will be more difficult for her to experience that love. Why? Because how we orient ourselves to the truth will determine how we receive the truth. How you approach the truth will determine how you interpret the truth.
In our text today, we will see two examples of ways you can orient yourself to the truths of the identity of Jesus Christ, wrongly. One will be confronted with a clear and precise explanation of the truth of Jesus, but will approach it so wrongly that they will dismiss Jesus entirely. Another will be closer, but still fundamentally misunderstand who Jesus is because of a poor orientation to the truth.
53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.
66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. – Mark 14:53-72
The scene opens with the guards hauling Jesus in to the high priest and the gathered Sanhedrin (the chief priests, scribes, and elders) (Mark 14:53). This group of individuals comprises the ruling and governing class over the Temple and thus over much of Jewish life and they have been working for some time now on a way they could capture Jesus. And now they have Him. But they are running into issues:
“Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree.” – Mark 14:55-56
Mark makes it very plain for us in simply stating that they “bore false witness against him.” People are just lying about Jesus, hoping to concoct a story damning enough to get Jesus condemned. But they can’t seem to agree on what exactly it is that Jesus is guilty of, but they are certain that He is guilty!
“And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.” – Mark 14:57-59
Perhaps these people have overheard Jesus’ prophecy in Mark 13 about the temple being destroyed (see 13:2). But there Jesus does not threaten to destroy the temple Himself, but simply prophesies that God will destroy the temple. Nowhere in Mark’s gospel do we have Jesus making this claim (though a similar claim is made in John 2:19 by Jesus). But still, even about this issue they can’t agree on exactly what was said. What Mark is trying to show us is that this is anything but a fair trial. The men are not impartial, unprejudiced investigators whose only commitment is to where the evidence leads them. The jury has arrived at their conclusion long before anyone began asking any questions.
Frustrated that their efforts are getting nowhere, the high priest gets involved: “And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer,” Mark 14:60-61. Surely, the high priest thinks to himself, this man must have some defense, some justification he will try to make to escape being condemned to death. But Jesus does not open His mouth. Jesus’ silence fulfills what the prophet Isaiah foretold in Isaiah 53:7:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
Then the chief priest pointedly asks: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Mark 14:61b.
The chief priest ask Jesus if He is the Christ (that is, Messiah), and the Son of the Blessed (which is a way to describe God by means of circumlocution; pious Jews refrained from speaking God’s name out of fear of breaking the third commandment). The “Christ” was the promised Redeemer whom the Old Testament awaited; the son of David who would deliver Israel from its exile and bondage and restore the people. While there doesn’t appear to be a one-for-one overlap with the term “Christ” and “Son of God” the high priest here obviously sees them interconnected in some way—perhaps because the David is promised that his son will be treated like a son to God? (2 Sam 7:14)
Though Jesus has privately admitted to being the Messiah to His disciples (Mark 8:29-30), all throughout Mark’s gospel Jesus has never publicly taught or admitted that He was the Christ. He has also not permitted anyone to address Him as the Son of God. The only times we have heard Jesus’ be identified as the Son of God was from the title of gospel (Mark 1:1), from the Father addressing Jesus as the Son (Mark 1:11; 9:7), and from demons (Mark 1:24-25; 1:34; 3:11-12; 5:7). The only place in the gospel where we have a human acknowledging that Jesus is truly the Son of God is after Jesus is crucified—shockingly, by one of the Roman guards who did the crucifying! (Mark 15:39).
Who recognizes Jesus most accurately in the gospel of Mark? Those afflicted by demons, Gentiles, women, the infirmed, the desperate. It is like Mark is wanting to show his readers that the further away you are from the “inside clique” of religiosity, the quicker you are to recognize who Jesus really is. Why is that? It isn’t as if religion and piety are evil—Jesus Himself was a faithful Jew who observed the Torah, who was very pious and religious. The common denominator around those who reject Jesus isn’t religiosity—Pilate, after all, rejects Jesus—but self-reliance, self-righteousness. Those who want to approach God on their own terms, with a sense of entitlement and competence will always be unable to recognize who Jesus is.
Do you remember the story where Jesus is eating a meal with sinners and tax collectors, and the scribes of the Pharisees ask, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:16-17). Why do those who think they are well not flock to the physician? Because they do not think they need Him.
And in their self-competence and reliance, they fail to recognize who He is. And here, those who are most reliant on themselves have now asked Jesus point blank who He is: “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?”
Jesus responds “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven,” (Mark 14:62). Here Jesus takes several identities from the Old Testament and folds them together in order to reveal one of the fullest and most colored-in descriptions of Jesus’ identity that Jesus offers in the gospels.
First, Jesus takes the identity of the son of David from Psalm 110: “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool,” (110:1). If you remember, back in Mark 12 when Jesus had been arguing with the temple authorities, He cites this text and asks how them how David’s son could be also be called David’s Lord (Mark 12:35-37). Here, Jesus is demonstrating the answer to that question and identifying Himself as the son of David, the Messiah.
Second, Jesus takes the identity of the Son of Man from Daniel 7. In Daniel 7, we hear this: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed,” (Dan 7:13-14). Jesus folds together the identity of the son of David into this figure, the Son of Man. Fascinatingly, Jesus explains that the Sanhedrin will see Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven—potentially referring to His ascension where Jesus ascends to Heaven to take up His throne over the kingdom, and is taken into a cloud (Acts 1:9).
Lastly, Jesus could be identifying Himself with Yahweh with His response: “I am.” In Exodus, when Moses asked God to tell him His name, God responds: “I am who I am,” (Ex 3:14). Now, Jesus could be simply answering in the affirmative to the high priest’s question: Are you the Messiah, the Son of God? But it doesn’t seem inappropriate for Jesus to be subtly nudging in this direction, as He has done elsewhere in the gospel of Mark (Mark 6:50; cf. John 8:58). This actually makes the most sense of the high priest’s response.
So, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the coming Son of Man…Yahweh in the flesh. Nowhere else in the gospels—not even to His own disciples—does Jesus provide such a profound and clear description of His identity. But how do they respond?
“And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows,” (Mark 14:63-65).
The chief priests and scribes and elders’ problem was not a lack of knowledge. Jesus simply answered their question, but this only hardened their hearts further and confirmed what they already suspected, that Jesus was an imposter and a sham who needed to be killed. We must remember, it is not like Jesus was a stranger to these people. Jesus had a public ministry of nearly three years where He was complete celebrity. He couldn’t go into towns without being mobbed by crowds. His teaching drew in thousands of people who would sit and listen to Him for hours upon hours. He healed people no one else could heal, He delivered people from bondage that no one else could deliver, and He taught like no one else could teach—He even raised people from the dead! The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders knew all of this—they had access to the same information that everyone else did, information that led so many others to believe that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. And here they ask Jesus point blank whether or not He is the messiah, and He answers more fully than He has ever answered, and what do they conclude? No, this man isn’t the Messiah, this man deserves death.
Why? Because people who don’t think that they are sick, don’t see a need for a Physician. How you orient yourself to the truth will determine how you receive the truth. Their approach was wrong, so their interpretation was wrong. Like the person playing golf who thinks that the person with the highest score is winning, the chief priests have fundamentally misunderstood what the Messiah was to be, so they have misunderstood Jesus.
Peter, this whole time has been warming himself by the fire in the courtyard of the high priest, trying to observe what will happen. We could assume that there is still some mixture of fear with genuine devotion in the heart of Peter. None of the other disciples attempted to follow Jesus. Peter sincerely loves Jesus, but he is also very afraid. Three times people approach Peter and ask him if he is associated with Jesus, with each time the questioners becoming more confident that Peter is certainly a disciple of Jesus, and each time Peter responds more forcefully that he does not, indeed, know who Jesus is, until…
“And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.” – Mark 14:72
Just a few hours ago Peter was swearing up and down that he would rather die than abandon Jesus. And yet, here he is, doing just that. Now Peter, like the chief priests, isn’t looking at the information totally right. He is far closer than the chief priests, but He still has misunderstood who Jesus is. He still has incorrect perspectives on what the Messiah was, how God works, and what that would mean for his life. And because he has oriented himself wrongly to the truth, he has failed to see the truth rightly. And this produces in him the result of doing what he never imagined he would do: deny Jesus.
Which gives us a sober reminder: we should take God’s warnings about sin very seriously. Peter never thought he would deny Jesus, and yet here he is. Jesus warned him that this would happen, but Peter thought the idea that he would deny Jesus was so ludicrous that he outright contradicted Jesus: You’re wrong Jesus, I won’t deny you! But Jesus knew Peter’s weaknesses better than Peter did. And friend, God knows your weaknesses better than you do. When God’s Word warns us of the danger of sin, the danger of temptation, we should not be quick to dismiss it: I’ll never do that, I don’t need to worry about that sin. Paul warns the Corinthians, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Cor 10:12.
John Owen reminded his readers in his great work The Mortification of the Flesh that whenever sin tells you I plan on taking one step, you can be certain that it will always take two. Sin will always take you further than you wanted to go and will always demand more than you want to give. Sin is a cruel taskmaster who is bent on your destruction. Do not toy with it, do not flirt with it. This is why Owen encouraged his readers to respond to the first sight of temptation with the knowledge that it intends to take us always to its final station. That little lust? It wants to take you to an affair and the ruin of your marriage. That little white lie? It wants to so sear your conscience that you burn all trust through your habitual lying. Owen writes, “Rise up with all your strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it aims at.”
How do you approach rightly?
What is the common denominator among those who recognize Jesus? Desperation. They are desperate people. Like blind Bartimaeus who screams out louder and louder for Jesus when others try to shut him up: Son of David, Son of David, have mercy on me! They are like the friends of the paralytic who are willing to rip a roof off to lower their friend down to Jesus. They are like the unclean woman who shoves through a crowd just to touch the fringe of Jesus’ robe. Every story where Jesus is rightly identified, believed in, trusted in as He ought to, the individuals are those who have thrown self-reliance to the curb. Three times in the gospel of Mark are we told about parents with sick or dying children who implore Jesus to come heal their child. What kind of desperation would you feel if your child was on the verge of death, with no hope of any kind of medical solution, and you heard that there was someone here who could instantaneously heal your child, what kind of desperation would you feel to get your child to that person?
How do you approach Jesus?
Do you see your need?
Marc Sims • May 26, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/751936--jesus-and-gethsemane
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What stood out to you most from the sermon?
- What are you most frequently anxious about, or what are you most anxious about right now?
- Imagine that you were not a Christian whatsoever--what would be different about how you would respond to those situations that cause anxiety?
- What was Jesus so afraid of in Gethsemane?
- What can we learn from what Jesus prayed in verses 35-36? How does this help us pray?
- Why did Peter attack the guards? How did Jesus respond? (See Matt 26:52-54).
- Take time to pray for one another.
My first job was selling basketball shoes at Footaction in the mall. I was 15 years old when I got the job so I couldn't even drive myself, but had to catch a ride with my mom. I remember feeling absolutely petrified when I started working, thinking: I don't think I can do this, people are going to know I have no idea what I am doing. I became so stressed out and worried about the job that I would have nightmares where people would ask me questions about shoes and I would remain silent, till I would shoot bolt upright in bed and then try to answer the customer's questions.
When I was a younger man, the things that caused me anxiety now seem fairly silly. I had no idea the kind of pressures I would one day face and what those would require of me. And I probably still am ignorant of the many pressures that I will face in the coming years.
You would think that over the years I would have learned how to respond to stress and difficulty better, but I sadly more often than not respond with fear, anxiety, and despondency.
What do you do when you are incredibly stressed out? How do you respond to serious anxiety and depression?
32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled.
How do the disciples respond?
How does Jesus respond?
Here we are witnessing the final moments Jesus has on the earth while still walking as a free man—if there ever was a time that Jesus needed the support of His friends, it was now. And yet, what do we find? Let’s look.
Jesus leads His disciples (minus one) to a garden called “Gethsemane” at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Jesus tells His disciples to sit and wait while He prays, then, “he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch,” Mark 14:33-34.
Three words are used here to describe Jesus’ emotional state: greatly distressed, troubled, and very sorrowful. The first, “greatly distressed” connotes a sense of alarm and fear. The second, “troubled” means quite literally to be filled with heaviness—of the three different words used in the NT for depression, this is the strongest. The last, “very sorrowful” is fairly straightforward and simply means to be very, very sad—so despondent that Jesus feels like He is going to die. There is no other place in the gospels where Jesus is described like this—He is in a state of mind that likely would have scared the disciples. What does Jesus ask them to do? Watch.
What does Jesus mean by this? Well, later Jesus will explain that they are to “watch and pray that [they] may not enter temptation,” Mark 14:38a. Three times at the end of the Olivette discourse in Mark 13 did Jesus command His disciples to “stay awake” (Mark 13:33-36)—this is the exact same word as “watch” here. Just as Jesus warned at the end of Mark 13 of the danger of becoming spiritually sleepy and dozing off when we need to be attentive to the Lord and to the dangers of this world, so too here do we see the disciples meeting their first test. And totally blowing it!
The disciples are just flat out tired. Perhaps from a large Passover dinner or a busy day, but they simply don’t see the gravity of the situation they are in, so they sleep. Jesus is disappointed with His disciples; He chides them for falling asleep, asking Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?” (Mark 14:37). But He also understands, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” (Mark 14:38b). “Spirit” does not refer to the Holy Spirit, but rather to the human spirit—the human will and desire. There is a real desire for the disciples to obey Jesus and do what He says, but their flesh, their natural selves are weak and lack the ability to carry out the desire. And this is precisely why Jesus summons them to prayer!
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” Mark 14:38. Friend, do you have great ambitions for God? Do you long to obey Him, to follow Him, to do what pleases Him? Then watch and pray that you may not enter temptation, because your flesh is weak. You simply will not have the gas in the tank to do what God is asking you. But prayer is the means by which you are kept from temptation!
The book of James reminds us that we are portable temptation generators: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire,” James 1:13-14. Or, to put it in the words of Calvin, our hearts are idol-factories, constantly churning out false gods to steal our worship, fabricating temptations to draw us away from the Lord. It is this ever-present danger that leads us to pray. It is not for no reason that part of the Lord’s prayer us: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13). As frequently as you need to ask God for your daily bread—that is, every day—you need to pray for Him to deliver you from temptation. Even—especially—when you are exhausted.
But the disciples cannot help themselves, they slumber. Repeatedly Jesus comes back to them and chide them for sleeping, yet they can’t help themselves. You can hear something of their shame in verse 40, “And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him,” (Mark 14:40). And like sleeping guards letting the enemy slip in behind the gates, the disciples nod off while the betrayer approaches.
Judas has decided to betray Jesus over to the temple authorities for a sum on money—a decision he will later regret so bitterly that he will hang himself for it. But here, he is playing his part precisely like he agreed. Perhaps because it was so dark at night, Judas works out a way to identify Jesus to the guards, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him,” Mark 14:44-45. Judas approaches Jesus in the traditional form of a student addressing his teacher (Rabbi!), and a friend meeting another friend (a kiss). What an awful and accurate parable of what the whole Bible teaches about false religion, honed down to one single act.
Immediately, guards holding swords and clubs appear and “laid hands on [Jesus] and seized him,” Mark 14:46. Imagine you were in the shoes of Peter at this point, bold and brash Peter, who just a few hours ago pledged that he would die before he abandoned Jesus (Mark 14:31). You have seen your beloved rabbi, your Messiah, in a state of despair, fear, and anxiety that you have never seen Him in before, and the only thing He asks of you is to pray. But you can’t stay awake, you keep nodding off. There is no one you want to disappoint less, but there you are, letting Him down. And now, while you were sleeping(!), an armed mob materializes and forcefully apprehends your master. What strange mixture of guilt, shame, and anger would you feel? Angry enough, ashamed enough to maybe do something about it?
“But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear,” Mark 14:47. While Mark does not identify the individual, the gospel of John identifies the culprit as none other than the head disciple himself, Peter (John 18:10). Interestingly, Mark doesn’t record Jesus’ rebuke of Peter (unlike the other three gospels), apparently deeming it an unnecessary detail to include in his gospel account. But in Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus sharply rebukes Peter, “But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him,” Luke 22:51 (cf. Matt 26:52-54; John 18:11). Jesus heals the very guards who are wrongly apprehending Him, the guards that one of His own disciples attacked!
If Peter was still holding any vestige of the idea that Jesus’ Messiahship would be enacted through the sword he was forcefully disabused of the notion. Think of the bewilderment Peter must have felt in that moment—Jesus, I’m trying to defend you! You are the Messiah, we must fight to establish the Kingdom! Of course, Jesus had taught them over and over and over again that He had to die, this was part of the plan (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). But every time Jesus taught His disciples this they did not understand what it meant (cf. Mark 9:32).
So what are they left to do? Mark 14:50 summarizes the disciples reaction succinctly, “And they all left him and fled.”
So, in sum, how do the disciples respond to this moment of great anxiety and stress? The fail to pray, they fail to watch, resort to the world’s means (violence) to attempt to serve Jesus, and then, in the end abandon Jesus.
What does Jesus do?
As we said earlier, Jesus is in a depth of despair and fear that we have never seen before. At moments in His life that we would have expected him to be afraid He was always calm. He speaks calmly with individuals who are tormented by demons, He faces down Satan himself in the wilderness(!), and during a storm that threatens to sink the ship He is on He is so calm He is able to sleep! Why is Jesus so fearful here? Of course, He was aware that He was about to die, but church history has recorded numerous martyrs who have gone to their deaths with peace and joy. One doesn’t even need to be a Christian to face death with serenity and courage. When Socrates is about to drink the hemlock, he rebukes his friends and family around him for being so emotional at his death and stoically embraces death. During the Vietnam war, a number of Buddhist monks in Vietnam, as a form of protest, sat serenely in the middle of the street while they were covered in gasoline and then lit on fire. If those men, who did not even know God, could face death with such equanimity and composure, why is Jesus so haggard and tearful? Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane offers a clue.
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will,” Mark 14:36. Jesus’ petition for God to remove the cup from Him gives us an insight to what is causing such consternation and trembling in Jesus. This “cup” is a reference to a symbol for God’s wrath. In the Old Testament prophets, God symbolized His wrath towards sin through the image of foaming wine in a cup, “For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs,” Psalm 75:8. In the same way that wine would cause you to stagger with drunkenness, so too would God cause His enemies to stagger and stumble with the fury of His wrath against their sin, “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them,” Jer 25:15-16 (cf. Jer 25:15-28; 49:12; 51:7; Job 21:20; Ps. 60:3; 75:8; Isa. 51:17; Lam. 4:21; Rev. 14:10).
Jesus earlier to His disciples that His death would be no ordinary death, but would, in some way, be substitutionary, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45. Jesus is going to die in the place of sinners, giving His life as a ransom, a price paid to free a captive. And what is that price? The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), an eternal death. Sin is a high act of treason against the sovereign God who made us, a blasphemy and offense against all that is beautiful, good, and worthy, and thus aligns us only with God’s severe justice against evil, His wrath. And that is precisely what Jesus is going to drink in at the cross, the whole of God’s just and righteous judgment against sin, the utter dereliction of Golgotha that will cause Jesus to cry out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
One commentator writes, “It is one thing, fearful as it will be, to answer for our own sins before holy and almighty God; who can imagine what it would be like to stand before God to answer for every sin and crime and act of malice and injury and cowardice and evil in the world?” – Edwards, PNTC. At Gethsemane Jesus has approached the rim of the volcano of the wrath of God towards human sinfulness, He peers over and can feel the billowing heat from the inferno below Him and quails at the sight of it.
Now that we understand properly what it is that Jesus is so frightened of, let’s look at how Jesus responds to it.
First, Jesus prays. Jesus summons His disciples to pray that they do not enter temptation. They fail. But Jesus doesn’t. It is instructive in of itself that at Jesus’ greatest hour of need, at His moment of final climax, He prays. He does not exhaust every option that He has first and then, as a last resort, prays in a panic. Corrie Ten Boom once asked, “Is prayer your steering wheel or spare tire?” Prayer was what Jesus relied on. Let’s look at what He prayed: “And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will,” Mark 14:35-36.
Jesus knows that God is His Father. That alone situates the whole of Jesus’ outlook. God is not some distant entity, or disinterested Master—He is a Father, which means His disposition towards His children is that of love. Contrary to popular opinion Abba does not mean “Daddy,” (it was a term that grown men would use to describe their fathers), but it is an intimate relational term. Jesus acknowledges that, even in this moment of great suffering, God is His Father.
All things are possible for you
Jesus knows that nothing is impossible for God. Jesus is not lobbing His prayer up to heaven, uncertain about whether or not God has the ability to deliver.
Remove this cup from me
Jesus doesn’t want to die. He is asking the Father if there is any other way that the plan of redemption can be brought about.
Yet not what I will, but what you will
Jesus, despite not wanting to drink the cup, is nonetheless willing. Actually, in a way, He isn’t willing—He prays, “not what I will.” Jesus’ will at that moment is to not go through with it, He does not desire to experience what He is going to experience. But underneath that and more foundationally, Jesus’ greatest desire and greatest will is to do God’s will.
This is the prayer that is sustaining Jesus at His darkest hour. Notice verse 39 after Jesus’ first rebuke of Peter for falling asleep we are told, “And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.” Jesus is praying this over and over again. And it is what provides the second thing we see in Jesus.
Secondly, Jesus resigns Himself to the will of God. It is amazing to see how Jesus conducts Himself from now till the end of Mark. Repeatedly, Jesus is treated unjustly, dishonestly, is slandered and accused of things He never has done, is physically assaulted and shamed—yet He simply walks through His suffering with a quiet resignation. We see a small preview of that here.
As Jesus is arrested, He simply lets Himself be captured, understanding that it must be done so that Scriptures may be fulfilled (Mark 14:49). In Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus rebukes Peter for attacking the servants, He explains, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” Matt 26:53-54. In John’s gospel, when the mob approaches Jesus and asks if He is who they think He is, Jesus responds by simply stating the name of God from Exodus, “I am,” and when He does the entire mob of soldiers collapses to the ground (John 18:5-6). Jesus was not apprehended because He lacked power—He was apprehended despite His awesome power.
When Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was killed he had been put in jail for ruling over the city he was mayor of like a tyrant, and a mob of 200 angry men stormed the jail, wanting to kill Smith for stealing their wives in Smith’s polygamy and for Smith crushing any criticism of him whatsoever. How did Smith respond to the mob? He barricaded the door of his prison cell and unloaded his pistol in the mob and was shot trying to escape out of a window.
How much more power did Jesus have than Smith? Jesus could have vaporized the guards trying to apprehend Him. But He didn’t. Why? Because Jesus had wholly resigned Himself to the will of God, and that will was not to fight the way the world fights or establish a kingdom the way the world establishes a kingdom, but was to suffer and die as a substitute for the forgiveness of sins, and to resurrect three days later and inaugurate a spiritual Kingdom that is wholly unlike the kingdoms of men.
What does this teach us? Are you anxious? Are you fearful? Are you facing great temptation? What should you do?
Pray. Our flesh is weak, friends. And prayer is the pipeline of heavenly resources we can avail ourselves of. Is there much that you are frustrated about in life?
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Consider modeling your prayers off of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane:
- Address your Father
- Acknowledge His power and ability
- Present your requests to Him
- Ask for His will to be done
Trust. When we have saturated ourselves in prayer before God this will create a disposition of trust. When we don’t, we are left to try and complete the Lord’s work with the world’s means. Picking up the sword and cutting off the guards ear seems like a good option. What tragedies have Christians gotten themselves into simply because they are not bathed in prayer, seeking first the Lord and His righteousness.
Remember. Your greatest fear has been dealt with. The dread, anxiety, and sorrow that Jesus experienced in Gethsemane was not Him "blowing something out of proportion." That's what most of our anxiety and fear is. Our mind's inflate situations, deceive us into thinking a problem is really bigger than it is. Our depression often is outsized compared to the facts. But that wasn't what was happening to Jesus. Jesus' terror and depression were wholly legitimate. The overwhelming experience He was about to undergo, the entire wrath of God aimed at human sin--that is something to fear. In fact, that it is the greatest of all fears. But, dear friend, once you see that Jesus has now faced down that fear, then that puts all your other fears and worries into perspective. Your biggest problem, your biggest fear has been taken care of.
Marc Sims • May 10, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/745124--jesus-and-the-table
- What stood out to you most?
- How does God use evil to fulfill His purposes in this text? What does this teach us about God's sovereignty over evil? See Acts 4:28-29 and Romans 8:28 and Amos 3:6.
- Does this mean that God commits or condones evil? See James 1:13-14 and 1 John 1:5.
- If you were in Jesus' shoes and knew that all of your disciples were about to betray you, how would you feel towards them? What does Jesus feel towards His disciples?
- What would you say to someone who thinks that they are too sinful for God to accept them?
- What are the similarities between Exodus 24:7-11 and the Last Supper account in Mark? The differences?
- What do you think it means to "associate with the lowly" (Rom 12:16)?
And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. – Mark 14:17-31
In verses 17-21 we see Jesus prophesy that one of the twelve will betray Him (something we saw last week in 14:10-11, when Judas goes to the chief priests). In verses 22-25 we see Jesus celebrate the Last Supper with His disciples. Then in verses 26-31 we see Jesus and His disciples, after singing a hymn together, exit to the Mount of Olives where Jesus foretells that all of His disciples will abandon Him. Here we see God’s use of evil, God’s use of weakness, and God’s welcome at the table:
God’s Use of Evil
The scene opens during the celebration of the Passover meal (cf. Mark 14:1, 12). The Passover meal was the yearly celebration of God’s great act of deliverance in the Exodus. Israel had been held as slaves for hundreds of years to Egypt and God had promised to deliver them through the sending of many signs and wonders, that they may be freed. The Passover was a memorial feast to remind them of God’s deliverance, of sparing the Israelites through the sacrifice of a lamb, and of leading Israel out to Mt. Sinai where they were constituted as a nation. So the Passover was kind of like Israel’s Easter and Fourth of July all rolled into one.
If you remember, Mark’s gospel opened up with a citation from Isaiah 40, “A voice cries in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” (Mark 1:3; Isa 40:3). In Isaiah this is linked with the wider promise that Isaiah makes of a new kind of Exodus that will take place in the last days. And Mark, in announcing Jesus, explains that Jesus has come to bring that about. But where the first Exodus sought to redeem Israel from physical bondage and slavery, Jesus has come to deliver His people from their spiritual bondage to sin and death. And just as the first Exodus was immediately preceded by the first celebration of the Passover meal, so too here do we see the new Exodus that Jesus is about to work be preceded by a Passover celebration. Only there’s one problem—there’s a traitor in their midst.
At some point in the meal, Jesus pauses from eating and somberly explains to the disciples: “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me,” Mark 14:18. One wonders what was immediately going through the minds of the disciples—What? One of us will betray you?? One wonders what was going through the mind of Judas—the thrill of panic, the fear, maybe remorse? Jesus explains that it is indeed one of the twelve, one sitting at the very table (Mark 14:20). Will the traitor in their midst ruin the great plan of salvation, the new Exodus that God has been planning since time immemorial? While we may be tempted to think that a traitor may indeed thwart God’s plans, Jesus actually understands Judas’ betrayal to be a fulfillment of God’s Word. “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born,” Mark 14:21.
Jesus understands that Judas’ act is—unbeknownst to him—actually fulfilling the eternal plan of God; it has been foretold “as it is written” in the Scriptures. The Old Testament had prophesied that Yahweh’s “suffering servant” would be crushed, bruised, and killed for the sins of the people (Isa 53). But Psalm 41, a psalm of David written hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth, seems to foretell the very act of betrayal. In the psalm David laments that his enemies have surrounded him and are hoping for his demise, but the psalm concludes with David being confident that Yahweh will “raise him up” and finally vindicate him before his enemies. But notice what verse 9 explains, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me,” (Ps 41:9).
We see something similar later in Jesus’ foretelling that all His disciples will abandon Him, “And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,” Mark 14:27. Here Jesus cites Zechariah 13:7, that describes the shepherd of Yahweh being struck down, resulting in 2/3 of Israel perishing, but a small remnant being purified and saved. This could be, as Jesus is speaking, referencing to the coming destruction of Jerusalem Jesus spoke of earlier in Mark 13.
But, friend, I wonder if you see the truth that is undergirding these fulfillments. In pointing to the betrayal of Judas and the abandonment of the disciples as being fulfillments of Scripture, Jesus is teaching us that God is using evil things to fulfill His purposes, and thus in some way is in control of them.
Look at the book of Acts for a moment for a powerful example of this. Peter praying to the Father exclaims, “for truly in this city (Jerusalem) there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place,” Acts 4:27-28. Who is arrayed against Jesus here? Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles (probably referring to the Romans) and the people of Israel. All of these people, these crowds were following their heart, making their own decisions. Judas freely chose to betray Jesus. The disciples willingly abandoned Jesus and Peter chose to deny Jesus. All of them exercising their free will and doing wicked, wicked things with it. And yet, over, under, and through all of this freely chosen evil, whose hand and whose plan is working? God’s! Whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. There is no evil at work in God’s universe that is not somehow, mysteriously, being folded into God’s eternal purposes.
Friend, you need to know that for your life. There is nothing that has come into your life—big or small, good or bad—that has not been sovereignly orchestrated by our good Father, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” Romans 8:28.
I remember when I was a youth pastor I once helped lead a mission trip to the plains of Wyoming. One night, while around a campfire one of the other leaders on the trip shared her story of the terrible and dark kind of childhood she had, experiencing every kind of abuse one could experience. But, amazingly, this trauma and pain had led her to find her deepest comfort and rest in God and she now possessed a faith like on oak tree precisely because of the pain. While the story was encouraging, it brought to mind someone that I loved very dearly who had experienced similar stories of trauma and abuse. But this one had no happy ending, no bend in the river of suffering that revealed some new vista, some greater plan. This person that I knew hated God and despised Christianity because of her suffering, because of her abuse. She, at one point, had professed faith in Jesus, looking for healing and hope, but eventually turned away and found the Christian God even more impotent and distasteful than before.
I walked away from the campfire and stared up at the wide, Wyoming night sky. It looked like God had dumped a buck of marbles of light across a dark sheet. I was struck by the startling beauty of the stars, lights shining in the darkness, lights that would not be seen were the darkness not present. Pre-modern people believed that the firmament above was like a tempered dome and the stars were pinpricks of light from heaven that had punctured the solid firmament, literally displaying a foretaste of the beauty of heaven—beauty that could only be seen in contrast with the inky black of night.
And yet, I still felt angry. Why would God let this happen? Why use pain and suffering for such redemptive purposes in one life, but not in another? Why let the delicate flower of faith begin to grow, only to let it be trampled? And there under the silent night sky I received no new revelation from God, no voice, no angel from on high bringing a message. But something in me changed. What I intellectually knew to be true—God works all things together for good for those who love Him—was now being required to be applied in real life. A gun collector can keep many antique muskets hanging on his wall, but its another thing entirely to require him to go shoot one of them. When I couldn’t see how God would work everything together, when from my vantage point everything looked like a loss, would I still trust Him? Would the theology I professed to believe in actually be something I leaned on? By God’s grace, like a little kid who chooses to trust his dad, I decided that God both knew more than I did and was better than I was.
When we read these little comments about evil being used by God to bring about His work, this isn’t intended to be merely some mental exercise where we simply solve rational puzzles. These are intended to be providing foundation under our feet to give us footing when tidal waves of suffering wash over us, when your child says they want nothing to do with you or nothing to do with Christianity, when your spouse tells you they don’t want to be married to you anymore, when death bereaves you of those you love most dearly—when the providence of God seems to only hand you cold meals of baffling pain that seem to lack any point or greater meaning at all, what do you do?
You tell yourself: Just because I can’t make sense of this doesn’t make God’s promises any less true. If God can use the greatest evil in the world—the denial, betrayal, and murder of the Son of God—for the greatest good the world has ever known—salvation—then He is capable to take this suffering and use it for good.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face
God’s Use of Weakness
After the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives His disciples more bad news, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee,” Mark 14:27-28. What follows is Peter’s famous proclamation of his bold and sincere belief that Jesus is wrong, “Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same,” Mark 14:29-31.
Every time Jesus has spoken about His death the disciples have always responded with self-assertion and conceit. This is actually the second time that Peter has rebuked Jesus, No Jesus, you’re wrong. The first time was back in Mark 8:31-33 when Jesus first announces He will die and Peter pulls Jesus aside to correct Him, No Jesus, you’re wrong—you won’t die. Here again, No Jesus, you’re wrong—I won’t deny you. Even if all the other disciples fall away, even if I have to die, I won’t deny you.
Of course, it will only take a matter of a few hours before Jesus’ prediction comes to pass. One by one, all of Jesus’ disciples will fade away at the sight of armed guards apprehending Jesus, and Peter—bold and brash Peter—will not only fall away, but will do far worse. Look ahead to the end of chapter fourteen:
“And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept,” – Mark 14:66-72
It can be easy to be overly critical of Peter—making this dramatic oath to stick by Jesus come Hell or highwater when, in just a few hours, he will be literally invoking a curse on himself to prove that he doesn’t even know who Jesus is—may I be damned to hell if I am lying about whether or not I know this man! But I wonder what you or I would do were we put in the same situation, a situation which surely no one in this room has faced. Who knows what kind of justifications were pulsing through Peter’s mind in those flash moments, the fear that gripped him as he saw Jesus being publicly beaten before his eyes. What’s amazing isn’t Peter’s denial—what’s amazing is the welcome Jesus still offers despite knowing disciple’s forthcoming denial. Notice what Jesus said, “You will all fall away… But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee,” Mark 14:27-28. You will all fall away, you will deny and abandon me, and I will die. But that won’t be the end. I will rise again, and when I do, I will go before you to Galilee and await you there.
Could you imagine being in the disciples’ shoes, listening to Jesus explain this to you? You are all going to fail, you are going to let me down, but don’t worry—I’ll still be there. Even further, the language of “I will go before you,” is language again taken from the Exodus story. After God frees His people from Egypt He promises to “go before them” in a pillar of cloud and fire, leading them to freedom and safety (Ex 13:21). The plan of redemption is not foiled by Judas’ betrayal or by the disciples’ weakness, the new Exodus will occur, and it will take place through the calamity of Christ’s death. But still, to our wayward and weighed down hearts, the welcome of Jesus here is astonishing.
Many people will at times attempt to keep God at an arm’s length because they think that If there is a God, if He knew the things I have done, He wouldn’t want anything to do with me, or they stay away from the Church because they think If these people knew who I really was, they would cast me out so fast. But what do we see here? Jesus sees His disciples weakness, He knows the cowardice that lies within them, He knows that when push comes to shove they are going to chose their own comfort over faithfulness to Christ, He knows that won’t stay strong…and yet, He still stays with them—He even uses them to be the foundation of His church! God welcomes weak people. Which brings us to our last point.
God’s Welcome at the Table
One commentator writes: “In placing the Last Supper between the betrayal and defection of the disciples Mark vividly conveys that "the many" for whom Jesus pours out his life include his own companions around the table. The sin that necessitates the sending of God's Son is not someone else's sin…but the sin…of his own disciples – of Peter and James, of you and me. The essential evil in the world and the essential atonement for the evil of the word are present at the table of the Lord's Supper – whenever it is celebrated.” - James Edwards (PNTC) on Mark 14:12-31
Who is seated at the table with Jesus? Who is sharing His last meal with Him? Traitors, deniers, defectors. Jesus has not gone out to find the Olympic Gold team of spiritual gurus and world-changers and ascetic monks to share His final hours with. He has surrounded Himself with men He loves, but men who love Him far less.
What does Jesus do at this meal? Like we examined last week, Jesus shares the Passover meal with them, remembering the Exodus story of old. But Jesus transports into this meal a new significance as He looks forward to the new Exodus that is about to occur. He explains that the bread and the cup are to now be celebrated as symbols of His own body and blood, a reminder of the price He paid to secure our redemption. But as He lifts the cup He cites a passage from (you guessed it!) Exodus, the passage we read earlier in our Scripture Reading, “This is my blood of the covenant,” Mark 14:24. Jesus is echoing the story of Moses and the seventy elders eating the covenant meal before the presence of God upon the mountain. Consider the similarities:
In Exodus there are twelve stones erected to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex 24:4). At the supper there are twelve disciples. In both there is a covenant formed between God and His people. In both blood is shed and applied to the individuals there to bind them to the covenant. In both there is a meal shared before the presence of God. Now, consider the differences:
There are many—the Exodus meal takes place after the act of deliverance, where at the Supper it precedes it; the covenant that Exodus ratifies is the Old Covenant, while Jesus is inaugurating the New Covenant. But what is most striking is who is present at the meal. In Exodus, aside from Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons, it is the seventy elders who are present at the meal. This is the seventy who have been chosen out of the whole multitude of Israel as being especially wise and righteous (Num 11:16). Further, at this point all of Israel is confidently asserting that they will all obey the covenant they are about to enter into (Ex 24:7). Who is at the Lord’s Supper? The weak. The betrayers. Are these people who will be wholly obedient, are these the specially righteous and wise? Not at all—they are those that will deny and abandon Jesus at His hour of greatest need. But friend, this is a picture of who is invited to the Lord’s Table. This isn’t a meal for the spectacular and impressive, this isn’t a meal for those who are specially wise and good—this meal is for any and all who will come in simple faith to Jesus, and trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins.
- Trust in God
- Accept God’s Welcome
- Welcome other Weak People
o Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. – Rom 12:16
Marc Sims • May 03, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/741744--jesus-and-worship
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- Read through and answer these questions before you gather for your small group. What are you most prone to idolize?
- What were the four main types of idolatry that Tim Keller suggested in his book Counterfeit Gods? Can you see how what you may be prone to idolize could fit under these four headings? (Comfort, Power, Approval, Control).
- Why do you think Judas betrayed Jesus?
- Why were the disciples so angry with the woman who anointed Jesus? Why did Jesus believe what she did was "beautiful," even if it meant that the poor were not helped by the money from the sell of the perfume?
- In what way is Jesus different from all the other gods and idols in our life? See Mark 14:22-25.
- Case study: Read John 12:42-43. What do some of the "authorities" think of Jesus? What are they afraid of? According to John, what do these people really love most? So, if you were to try to help these people, what would need to change in these people to fully follow Jesus? How do you change what your heart loves? Answer: (1) see the lie the idol is making--it cannot deliver and will consume you if you fail it; (2) see what Jesus offers you in the gospel--He can deliver perfect forgiveness and acceptance and will welcome you into His family, even in the midst of your failure.
When you were a child, who did you look up to? It may have been a movie star, an older sibling or cousin, a friend, or musician. Whoever it was, whatever they did or said probably had an outsized influence on your life. Perhaps you started talking differently, wearing clothes you wouldn’t normally wear, or spending your time on new activities. While in middle school (the most painfully awkward of years) I remember wanting desperately to give off a certain kind of “vibe” in the way I dressed, the way I spoke, and the way I carried myself because I wanted so badly to be like the “cool kids.” I see this even now in my young boys, with my two-year-old parroting and mirroring whatever he sees his four-year-old brother do (which instills a terrifying sense of urgency with parenting our first-born. If we screw him up, he’s taking the other one with him!).
Why is this desire to model, image, and emulate others so second-nature to us? G.K. Beale, in his book We Become What We Worship, points to the fact that human beings are image-bearers. In Genesis (1:26-27) we are told that humans are made in the image of God, which describes certain capacities and inherent qualities we possess as humans, but also describes a fundamental shape to our psyche, our souls: we are meant to image. We are designed to reflect God, to worship Him, to adore Him, and then to be transformed into being more like Him through that worship (cf. 2 Cor 3:18). But after the Fall, human beings now no longer perfectly image God; in fact, we naturally come into the world worshipping all sorts of other things, as Romans tells us: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things,” Rom 1:22-23. Notice the inevitability of worship that is assumed in this passage. People do not simply stop worshipping God, they exchange their worship. Beale writes, “At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue: we either reflect the Creator or something in creation,” (p. 16).
How do you know what you worship? Beale explains: “whatever your heart clings to or relies on for ultimate security,” (p. 17). And whatever that is controls you and shapes you. You become what you worship. You identify with what you idolize, or as Beale puts it, “You resemble what you revere, either to your ruin or restoration.” In Psalm 115, after the psalmist describes the idols who have hands, but cannot feel, eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, feet but cannot walk, he concludes: “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them,” Ps 115:8.
You see, we are not purely rational creatures—we can know something is wrong or even detrimental, and yet still do it. This is why that friend of yours keeps throwing herself back into that destructive relationship, even though she knows her boyfriend is cruel and manipulative. This is why the porn-addict or workaholic gives himself over to what he knows is destroying his soul and destroying his family but can’t seem to help himself from stopping. This is why the student who is consumed with anxiety about the unknown cannot stop fearing what could be, even though she knows that she shouldn’t worry about it.
We need more than rational answers, cool intellectual arguments. We need to go deeper. We need to identify what it is our hearts worship, what it is that we are clinging on to for our deepest security and trust. because we become what we worship. In our text today we will see several people make what seem to be irrational decisions, decisions that seem bizarre and costly, but through them we can discover what the people worship:
It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2 for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” 3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” 10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.
12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13 And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” 16 And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
17 And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” – Mark 14:1-25
In our text today we see two groups of people who are willing to pay a high price for what they worship, who are willing to make shocking and seemingly irrational decisions: one group is bent on sacrificing others for their worship, and the other is bent on sacrificing themselves for their worship.
What They Want
If you are not very religious or are unfamiliar with the story of Christianity the first few verses of our text might surprise you (Mark 14:1-2). The chief priests and scribes—that is the religious authorities of the day—are actively working to kill Jesus?! Shouldn’t these people be on Jesus’ team? It was these people’s jobs, quite literally, to be prepared for the arrival of the Messiah. They were to study the Bible, search out the prophesies that foretold of the coming Rescuer who would deliver Israel, and to teach Israel to prepare themselves, and yet when He arrives this is the reception they prepare for Him?
Even more alarming, here we find that one of Jesus’ own disciples is plotting to betray Him (Mark 14:10-11). Judas Iscariot has been travelling all over the Judean country side with Jesus for about three years now. He shared meals with Jesus, worked with Jesus, and was even sent out on miniature mission trips on behalf of Jesus (Mark 6:7-13). He was one of the twelve, one of Jesus’ friends. And yet, Judas—a name we now only associate with betrayal—is seeking an opportunity to hand over his friend to be executed like a common criminal.
Friends, we can say without exaggeration, that there has never been a person who has walked this earth more loving than Jesus Christ. You don’t even need to be a Christian to recognize that. You will be hard-pressed today to find anyone from any religious or irreligious persuasion who does not, in some way, admire Jesus, even admit that much of Jesus’ teaching is attractive and commendable. And yet, despite Jesus’ love, His commitment to truth, His own goodness and humility, this is how He is treated: betrayal, hatred, and murder.
Why Do They Want It
Why do the religious authorities and Judas want to destroy Jesus? In Tim Keller’s wonderful book Counterfeit Gods, he identifies four basic idols that humans are most prone to worship: comfort, power, approval, and control. Judas and the religious authorities serve as helpful possible examples of these.
As we have read the gospel of Mark we have found Jesus being unusually sharp in His criticisms of the religious authorities, accusing them of hypocrisy, vanity, greed, spiritual blindness, parochialism, and an abandonment of God’s commands for the traditions of men. Jesus exudes an authority that challenges their position or threatens to bring down the ire of Rome upon them (cf. Mark 1:22). The religious authorities have a great deal of power and control; they are used to people deferring to them and not crossing them.
With Judas, his betrayal could have come from His desire for approval. Perhaps he assumed that being a disciple of the Messiah would be like getting on the fast track to the inner circle of the social elite, catching the eyes of al of the most important of people and earning access into the most exlusive of groups. But, the exact opposite has happened. Jesus has offended and contradicted and turned away from the elites of the day and instead has chosen to associate primarily with the lowly. Like if an individual today thought by serving on the board of some non-profit organization they would be attending luxurious galas and earn lots of social cache, only to find out that instead they would be serving the homeless in a soup kitchen. This is not what I signed up for; I thought I would be earning more acceptance from those I like, but Jesus seems only interested with spending time with social rejects, with women, cripples, and Gentiles.
There also, however, could have been an element of comfort compelling Judas to betray Jesus. Life with Jesus was difficult. When Jesus sent the disciples out on their mission trip in Mark 6, He forbid them from taking any extra supplies with them so as to teach them to rely on God to provide (6:8-9). Further, Jesus compared following Him to dying on a cross, a humiliating and excruciating form of death (8:34-35). That’s what following Jesus is like? This life of austerity, self-denial, and hardship was not a call to comfort. Further, the gospels indicate to us that Judas seemed to have a particular weakness: money.
In Mark’s gospel, when the woman at Bethany anoints Jesus with the costly perfume we are simply told that “some disciples” complain about the prodigal waste of it, pointing to how the poor could have been helped by the sale of such a valuable item. But in John’s gospel, John identifies that it is Judas alone who complains: “But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it,” John 12:4-6. You can make your life comfortable with a little more money, right? Of course, money can also serve the other three false gods—it can be a gateway to more approval, more control, and more power. In Matthew’s gospel we are told that Judas is paid 30 pieces of silver to hand Jesus over to the authorities, which would have been about four months of wages; certainly a tempting offer.
We may balk at what the religious authorities and Judas have done in the death of Jesus, but if we are honest, we probably see more of ourselves in them than we would like to admit. How many times has our heart functionally desired to have power, comfort, approval, or control more than Jesus? So, you love Jesus but also love the approval of others? You may find yourself changing like a chameleon depending on who you are around and utterly depressed when you feel like the “right” people don’t accept you. Do you love your comfort? You may find yourself making a thousand little compromises and excuses on things you know aren’t right but feel good. Do you love control? Then you will be consumed with anxiety and fear of the unknown and resent the trust that faith requires of you. Do you love power? Then you will become ever more protective and touchier at the thought of losing it and will be willing to compromise your convictions for greater and greater access to power. And we can do all of these things, all the while claiming to worship Jesus. But Jesus will brook no rivals. He will not be content to play second fiddle to our true love, to our false gods. And the religious authorities and Judas are cautionary tales for where our little pet idols want to take us—they want to so grip our hearts and poison our minds with their lies that the call to obedience Jesus offers seems so terrifying and offensive that we would be willing to wholly forsake Him.
Like our story two weeks ago with the widow’s offering, here in our story the hero is an unnamed woman. While Jesus is reclining at table, “a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head,” Mark 14:3. Alabaster was a precious stone and “pure nard” was a perennial herb that came all the way from India—this is why Mark explains that it is “very costly.” In fact, we are told just a few verses later that the sum total of such an item was “300 hundred denarii” (14:5), which would have been about a years worth of wages for the average day-laborer. An item this valuable could have been this woman’s dowry for marriage. Nevertheless, she breaks the bottle—which wasn’t necessary, she could have simply poured the perfume out the same way it was poured in—but breaking the neck of the bottle demonstrates that she is wanting to offer the whole of the gift to Jesus, not holding anything back for herself. This is an extravagant gesture, so extravagant that it, as we have seen, draws the outrage of some disciples.
“There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her,” Mark 14:4-5. But Jesus will have none of that. “But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her,” Mark 14:6-9.
It is noteworthy the way time and time again Jesus stands up for and defends and honors women. We hear much today about the dangers of patriarchy and “toxic masculinity,” but Jesus lived in a day where women were quite literally treated as second-class citizens. Their testimony was not admissible in court. Aristotle, the reigning philosopher of the Greco-Roman world, taught that women were inferior to men, too controlled by emotions and therefore needed to be tamed much in the same way an animal needs to be tamed. But in the gospel of Mark, time and time again, Jesus’ most significant interactions come with women. Those who exemplify the most commendable models of faith, are women. And those who first witness His resurrection and are told to share the news, are women. Here, Jesus takes this isolated act of worship by this woman and promises that everyone in the whole world will hear of her faithfulness. Jesus honored women. Thus, any church or Christian or leader who dishonors or disrespects women, who treats them as second-class citizens will find themselves running contrary to our Lord.
While John singles out Judas as complaining, here in Mark it seems that Judas’ complaint is at least coupled with some other disciples as well. While Judas is singularly fueled by his own greed (300 hundred denarii wasted!), perhaps some other disciples join in by a kind of misplaced piety. Think of all the good we could have done for the poor with that kind of money! But Jesus waves these accusations away and defends the woman. What she has done is “beautiful” because she has unknowingly anointed Jesus’ body for His burial, which will take place shortly. Jesus’ claim here is shocking: You always have the poor, but you don’t always have me. As in, Jesus is saying that He is more important than care for the poor. How could that be? Particularly in light of Jesus’ own teaching on the need to care for the poor? Didn’t Jesus just teach us that love of neighbor is the second greatest command in all of the Bible (Mark 12:31)? Indeed, it is, but there is one command even greater than that, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” (Mark 12:30). Friends, Jesus is demonstrating that He is the God to whom our primary allegiance and love is first and foremost to be directed towards.
And that is exactly what this woman is doing. See, she has nothing to gain from this act. She gets no power, no control, no approval from others (she is scolded!), and certainly no comfort. In a sense, she has nothing to gain and her act even elicits criticisms. But she wordlessly and quietly performs this act of devotion singularly out of love for Jesus. It is His approval that matters alone to this woman. And you see, friends, that’s how you overcome the false gods, idols, the siren-songs of your heart that put you under their spell. You find the comfort, approval, control, and power of Jesus to matter more than your worldly comforts, approval, control, and power—to the degree that you can forsake them.
Her act of devotion comes with a price, but so does all worship. The price of Judas’ worship is the haunting pronouncement that Jesus makes, “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born,” Mark 14:21. All worship makes demands of us, all worship requires sacrifice. David Foster Wallace, the late novelist and atheist, in his famous graduation address This is Water, makes these surprisingly perceptive comments:
"In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you… Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out."
All worship demands something of you, requires sacrifice. And Jesus will make demands of you as well; He will ask you to sacrifice things by repenting of sins, by forgiving others, by surrendering control of your life to Him. But what sets Jesus apart from all of the other gods, all the other options of worship is His willingness to sacrifice for you. At the close of our text we see the famed Last Supper, where Jesus grabs a hunk of bread and says, “Take; this is my body,” Mark 14:22 and the cup and says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” Mark 14:24. What is Jesus showing us? As the bread is broken, shredded, and chewed, so will His body be; as the fruit of the vine is poured into the cup so will His blood be poured out. Why? Matthew makes it plain, “…for the forgiveness of sins,” Matt 26:28.
For the forgiveness of sins, sins like worshipping at the altar of the world’s approval, of your own comfort. Every object of worship requires sacrifices from you, but only One will sacrifice for you. It is in your failure and weakness, in your betrayal, in your paper-thin commitment, in your desperate craving for the approval of others, in the binds of your addictions that Jesus, in all His power and glory and might, swoops in—and pays the price for your sins, who welcomes you in. Now, if you will come to Jesus and follow Him, He will confront your sin. He will make exacting demands on your life and summon you to repent and submit to Him alone as your object of worship. But He will also forgive your sins and welcome you, broken though you are, into His family. And that is how you change. You let the beauty of the grace of God in the gospel melt your heart, the unmerited welcome of Jesus shift the tectonic plates of your heart till you see Him as truly better, sweeter, and more satisfying than anything else in life.
We are all more like Judas than we care to admit. But how do we become like the woman in the story? Fix your eyes on what Jesus has done for you in the sacrifice of Himself.
Marc Sims • April 26, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/738130--jesus-and-the-end
Sermon Discussion Questions
- What stood out to you most? What part of Mark 13 was most puzzling to you?
- Why was Jesus unimpressed by the Temple?
- Marc compared the "near" and "far" fulfillment of everything Jesus prophesied in Mark 13 to a mountain range. Can you explain what that meant?
- Read 1 Pet 4:7-11. What does this text command us to do when "the end of all things is at hand"?
- Marc concluded with saying that Mark 13 shows us we should be patient, discerning, enduring, and confident. Which of those was most helpful to you and why?
In the 1950’s, at the dawn of the Cold War with USSR, America worked diligently to create a missile detection system that would alert us of incoming Soviet attacks. An array of radars were stationed at likely places that missiles would pass over en route to the States. If an incoming missile was detected, the protocol was for an immediate launching of our own nuclear salvo (it had to be immediate, of course, because once Russia’s warheads dropped it would send America back to the stone age, leaving us no ability to retaliate), creating what is popularly known as “mutually assured destruction.”
In his book The Doomsday Machine, Daniel Ellsberg (himself an architect of our nuclear defense program and now an advocate for nuclear disarmament) tells the story of an early detection system set up in Alaska. One day, shortly after the radars were up and running, alarms began blaring, alerting the command that their worst fears were realized; a Russian missile had been detected and was flying to America. Technicians quickly pulled out the keys that had to be simultaneously turned to open the glass shield around an ominous button. Panicking, they radioed soldiers stationed at the radars themselves to confirm if they could see the inbound missiles. Every second was a gamble—if they waited too long to respond, their missile launching capacities may be incapacitated once the Russian warheads detonated; but if they fired, they would likely kill every living person in the USSR. They waited, fingers poised shakily over the button, weighing their duty to their country with the sheer magnitude of the consequence of pressing the button.
Well, since we are all here, not in the grips of a nuclear ice age or locked in WWIII with Mother Russia, obviously the commanding officers decided to wait. But what happened? As it turns out, the missile detection system, still very new and prone to malfunction, had taken a flock of Canadian geese flying overhead to be a nuclear warhead. And because the soldiers and commanding officers were willing to exercise discernment in interpreting the alarm signals—even in a moment of extreme pressure!—we are all still here. In our text today, we see Jesus give us the resources we need to exercise discernment, to interpret signs rightly, to know how to respond to great calamity. Turn with me now to Mark 13:
1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mark 13:1-37
The text begins with the disciples exclaiming to Jesus: ““Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” (Mark 13:1b). It is hard to overstate just how magnificent the temple complex was. Construction on this temple began just fifty years before Jesus by Herod the Great, and was actually still under construction during Jesus’ time (it was not completed till 63 AD), but it was nonetheless staggering in appearance. Herod’s temple was far larger than Solomon’s or the second temple built under Nehemiah and Ezra. You could fit 12 football fields in the temple complex alone. The entire exterior was either covered in a white-wash or plated with gold. Josephus, the Jewish historian from the first century, writes:
The exterior of the building wanted nothing that could astound either mind or eye. For, being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from the solar rays. To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white. Some of the stones in the building were forty-five cubits in length, five in height and six in breadth. – Josephus
One commentator writes: “In the latter part of the twentieth century, a large stone on the second tier of the western foundation wall was discovered whose dimensions are approximately 42 feet long × 14 feet wide × 11 feet tall,” (Stein, BECNT). Everything about the temple, from its beauty, to its sheer size, to its solemnity made it appear to be totally permanent. But Jesus thought otherwise.
“Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down,” Mark 13:2.
Mark 13 begins with the innocuous comment: “And as he came out of the temple…” Mark 13:1a. It reminds us that the entire previous episode we have been studying has taken place within the temple: starting back in Mark 11, with Jesus’ triumphal entry and subsequent cursing of the temple, to the repeated debates and arguments with the temple authorities in Mark 12, right up to this moment. Towards the beginning of Mark 11 we saw Jesus cursing the fig tree as a sign of the judgment to come on the temple (11:12-22) and here at the end of Mark 13 we find a parable of a fig tree about the coming judgment on the temple (13:28-31), forming two brackets to tie this unit together as a whole.
Mark’s comment that Jesus is “coming out of the temple” could be a simple statement about Jesus leaving the temple grounds. Or it could be a prophetic act demonstrating that God’s presence has now departed from the temple (cf. Ezek 10). This seems more likely particularly because of the location Jesus walks to immediately afterwards: the Mount of Olives (Mark 13:3). This mountain was directly to the east of the city and gave those who sat on it a commanding view of all of Jerusalem, but especially the Temple. In the book of Zechariah, there was a prophecy of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and “on that day [The Lord’s} feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives,” (Zech 14:4). The Lord is not in the temple, in Jerusalem, but standing outside Jerusalem as its judgment comes. Jesus, before His incarnation, was the One in the temple. But now, He stands outside of it, standing over it on the Mount of Olives. The temple in Jerusalem is no longer the dwelling place of God, instead it has become a dwelling place of robbers and false religion (cf. Mark 11:17).
Alarmed by Jesus’ statements, the disciples ask Jesus: ““Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:4). This is critical to rightly understand this whole chapter; the controlling question here is: when will the temple be destroyed, and how will we know ahead of time when that will be?
In verses 5-8 Jesus explains signs that do not mean the temple is about to be destroyed: wars, famines, and earthquakes. These problems are part and parcel of living in a fallen world; they are “birth pains” (cf. Rom 8:22). Jesus’ advice is: “do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet,” Mark 13:7.
In verses 9-13 Jesus gives more signs that do not necessarily mean the temple is about to be destroyed: persecution. Because Jesus Himself was persecuted and “no servant is greater than His master” Christians have always experienced persecution. Jesus wants His disciples to know that this is to be expected, but God will also provide strength and aid to them as they share the gospel to all nations.
But in verses 14-23 Jesus gives His disciples what they are looking for: a sign that the destruction of the temple is imminent, “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains,” (13:14). The “abomination of desolation” is a phrase taken from the book of Daniel (Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11) that describes a wicked ruler who brings an end to sacrifices in the temple, destroys Jerusalem, exalts himself above God, and desecrates the temple with “abominations.” The reason Mark includes that interesting comment (“Let the reader understand”) is because for most Jews, they assumed that this event had actually already happened. Nearly 190 years before Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse, a Seleucid general named Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who ruled over Palestine, brutally squashed a rebellion in Jerusalem by destroying much of Jerusalem, entering the temple, and stopping all sacrifices. He then set up an idol to Zeus in the temple, and allegedly offered up a pig for sacrifice (an unclean animal according to kosher laws). This event is recorded in the Jewish historical book 1 Maccabees (1 Macc 1:54, 59) and was understood by all Jews to be the “abomination of desolation” that Daniel spoke of.
So, Jesus is saying: when something like that happens again in Jerusalem, you need to get out of the city as fast as possible and flee to the mountains because a judgment is going to fall on Jerusalem that us unlike anything else it has experienced in its total brutality. And this is exactly what happened. Thirty years from Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, political tensions between Jerusalem and Rome had boiled over to a screaming fever pitch. More and more would-be Messiahs began to arise, more and more began to resort to acts of violence to throw off the Roman yoke, and more and more did Rome increase the burden of its yoke on the Jews’ necks. By 66 AD, the Zealots—an extreme fanatic movement of Jews—organized a rebellion against Rome. At the same time, however, a fierce civil war broke out between the different Jewish factions, with the Zealots eventually gaining ascendancy and taking forcible possession of the city. They instituted a reign of terror in the city, quickly executing anyone who questioned them, and set up their headquarters inside the temple. Driven far more by a hatred of Rome than a genuine love for Yahewh, they deposed the current high priest and set up their own high priest (Phanni) who knew nothing whatsoever was required of being a priest and was unqualified. They executed their political enemies in the temple square and permitted criminals to enter into the holy of holies, and thus desecrated the temple.
After this occurred, the church historian Eusebius details how the Christians who were residing in Jerusalem fled, remembering Jesus’ teaching, and so their lives were spared. In the Spring of 70 AD, the Roman general Titus during the Jewish celebration of Passover besieged the city. Rome, aggravated by the decades of growing hostility from the Jews, wanted to make an example out of this small nation and so crushed the with an absolute brutality. After months of waiting the people out till they were all near death due to famine, the Romans breached the walls and slaughtered nearly everyone in the city. They crucified thousands of Jews outside of the city and burnt the city to the ground before they plundered then destroyed the temple. Josephus, the Jewish historian was present when this happened and wrote that the dead were so numerous that ground could not be seen anywhere in the city, only corpses. The gravity of Jesus’ warning is thus fitting: “But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand,” (13:23).
But Jesus’ teaching seems to extend beyond just this moment in history. As we read Mark 13 we see that Jesus also is informing us of a greater event that looms larger than the destruction of the temple alone. He describes the climactic return of “the Son of Man.” He explains:
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” – Mark 13:24-27
What is described here is the climactic conclusion to history. The sun and moon darkening, the stars falling from heaven is a prophetic description of creation itself being unraveled, as if Genesis 1 is going in reverse (cf. Isa 13:10; 34:4; Ezek 32:7-8; Joel 2:10). The coming of the Son of Man riding the clouds is an image from Daniel 7:13-14 that describe the consummation of the Kingdom, where God the Father gives to this Son authority and power over every enemy, and then the Son shares His authority with God’s people (Dan 7:27). This is detailing something much more than just the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, but is looking to the second coming of Jesus where He will destroy all His enemies and usher in the New Heavens and New Earth. But, how are we to understand the relationship between the destruction of the temple and the final judgment?
Two things are happening here in Mark 13: (1) Jesus is understanding the destruction of the temple to serve as a paradigm through which to understand what the end time judgment will look like (Paul seems to understand this and points to an event similar to the abomination of desolation as being a precursor to the second coming in 2 Thess 2:3-4). (2) Jesus sees the destruction of the temple as something that opens the door to the final judgment and His second coming.
When you look at a mountain range from a distance, it looks like all of the mountains are standing right next to each other. But when you get close, you discover that one mountain may actually be a mile further behind the other mountain. From your vantage point, the space between the mountains looks non-existent. This is often what happens in prophecy in the Bible—the future is viewed as a single event and described as such, when in reality there may be large gaps of distance in time between the events. For Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem and His second coming are bound together—after the destruction of the temple the Son of Man comes. But, what we now know is that there has been an expanse of two thousand years and we still are awaiting the second coming. Surprisingly, Jesus Himself explains that He does not know the timing of the end: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” Mark 13:32. If you’re thinking: Wait, how can Jesus not know something? You might ask yourself: Why did Jesus need to sleep? He was a human being, and in His humanity there were certain things that He was simply ignorant of. In His deity, this is not true of course. If you are befuddled by that, then feel free to come ask me questions about it afterwards.
But this dual-lens view of the destruction of the temple (near) and the end judgment (far) is how we can understand Jesus’ statement that “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” Mark 13:29-30 (Note: the “these things” and “all these things” mirror the disciples question in vs. 3, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” Thus, the “things” being accomplished refer to the destruction of the temple). And Jesus says, once that happens, you know “He is near.” One commentator explains, “Both Jesus’s resurrection and Jerusalem’s destruction are end-time events that are completed only by the [second-coming] of the Son of Man. Like engagement and marriage, they are necessarily connected, even though a time period separates them. So for Mark the events of AD 70 and the [second-coming] are united and yet separated in time,” (Stein, BECNT).
This is why all of the New Testament authors understand anyone living on this side of the resurrection to be those living in “the last days” (Heb 1:1-2; 9:26; 1 Pet 1:20; 4:7; Acts 2:17; 1 Cor 7:31; 1 John 2:10). Thus, Jesus’ short parable of the master going away on his journey and who may return at any time is a picture of the eager expectation we need now to have. As Peter reminds us, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed,” (2 Pet 3:10). At any moment, the end may come. In light of that, Peter then asks us this question: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,” 2 Pet 3:11. Let’s briefly consider that now:
1. Patient. It might feel odd to think, “How can we be in the “last days” for two thousand years now?” Peter anticipates this problem: “knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”… But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance,” 2 Pet 3:3-4, 8-9.
2. Discerning. Much of Jesus’ exhortation to His disciples—and to us—in Mark 13 is to be careful about being misled. It is ironic that Jesus explicitly tells us here that “wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes” are not a sign of the end, and yet nearly every time war breaks out, Christians (American Christians particularly) think that it most certainly is a sign that the end is near. And when we get riled up into a fever of “doomsday prognosticating” we then will be more susceptible to false prophets and false messiahs who through signs and wonders, political analysis, end-times chart making, and biblical origami try to lead astray the elect. In 1988 a book came out called 88 Reasons why the Rapture will be in 1988, giving cooky half-baked explanations for why Jesus would return (one of them: in 1988 it would be the 212th anniversary of America and 100th session of congress, and water boils at 212 degrees and 100 degrees Celsius, and America was now at a boiling point). That, of course, sounds ridiculous now—but that book was a huge seller in America. We need to be very discerning. If we give ourselves over to "end-times" fervor, we will constantly be set up to be duped and swindled and have a strange kind of vanity that assumes that our moment or location in history is always fraught with the most supreme of importance. If we were Christians living in the 700's and heard that muslim armies had taken over Jerusalem and built a mosque on top of the Temple Mount, it would be tempting to think: This must be a sign that Jesus is returning soon. If we lived in medieval Europe in the 1200's and 1300's and saw the bubonic plague (Black Death) ravage our villages and cities, killing nearly a third of the population, leaving stacks of dead bodies piled up in our streets, wouldn't it be tempting to think: Surely, this must be a sign that the final Day is near! We should be slow to assume that we are at the doorstep of the end times, slow to be jumping to conclusions; we should be discerning.
3. Enduring. Jesus assumes that the posture we need to have is one of alert readiness: “Stay awake!” he charges us. You might be tempted to spiritually doze, but don’t! As we consider the length of time we are awaiting for Jesus’ return, our urgency might slip. Think of how sleepiness comes over you at a time where you need to stay awake: you know you shouldn't, but you feel warm, your eyelids are heavy, your head begins to nod, and it just sounds so nice to lay your head back and slip into the bliss of unconsciousness. And Jesus is hear clanging a loud bell and shouting: Don't! STAY AWAKE! To resist the temptation to become spiritually lackadaisical, to resist the lusts of the flesh and desires of the world that want to lull us into a slumber, we need endurance. But notice the particular way we are told to endure in verses 9-13? We should endure through persecution. Apparently, we should expect that as we seek to obey the Great Commission, to preach the gospel to the nations, it will result in persecution: “And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved,” Mark 13:13. Jesus simply assumes that His disciples are taking the gospel to any and everyone, even if it comes at the cost of our comfort and our own lives. But in our persecution, we have the comfort that the Holy Spirit Himself is with us, supplying everything we need (Mark 13:11) and that if we continue to endure to the end we "will be saved."
4. Confident. Interestingly, during the crucifixion of Jesus we see some of the elements of judgment that Jesus describes here. Mark explains that in Jesus’ final hours, "when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,” Mark 16:33. The sun stops shining. Matthew explains that at the moment Jesus dies, on top of the great darkness, there is a massive earthquake that splits rocks in two, that tombs open up and that dead saints come to life (Matt 27:51-53). And both Matthew and Mark explain that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil of the temple is torn in two (Mark 15:38). It’s like a miniature display of the destruction of the temple and the final judgment is happening in the death of Jesus. Why? Because that is exactly what is happening. The judgment day is coming, but it is coming into Jesus. The end times, earth-shattering, cataclysm of condemnation is rending creation--but the bullseye of this wrath is aimed at the man from Galilee hanging on a cross. The future has been pulled back into the past; the Final Day is happening today, in Jesus. Jesus is taking on the judgment that the sins of everyone who has put their faith in Him deserve, so that now for those who have trusted in Christ, there is no condemnation left (Rom 8:1). Our "Judgment Day" has already happened, two thousand years ago at Golgotha. And now when we die, we will receive the blessings and welcomes that Jesus' spectacular, law-fulfilling life had earned. And that is the kind of confidence we need to face down the persecutions of this world, to endure the temptations, to be discerning, and to be patient.
Marc Sims • April 20, 2021
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/734960--jesus-and-the-widow
Sermon Discussion Questions
- What stood out to you most?
- Do you know of anyone who has left the church because of accusations of hypocrisy? What should we say to such a person?
- Read Mark 12:38-40. What do the scribes love? What might this look like today? Are there ways you are tempted by this?
- How does the widow's offering point us to Jesus? (See 2 Cor 8:9)
- Read 2 Cor 8:1-15 and 2 Cor 9:1-15 together. What does this teach us about the Christian's responsibility to generosity?
Over the past few weeks many Christian leaders have been discussing a recent Gallup poll that has caused some stir in evangelicalism: church membership has declined in America to under 50% for the first time ever. Why has this happened? Could it be…
- The death of cultural Christianity? As America has become less favorable towards classic Christianity, people who had be inhabiting the church out of cultural expectations—rather than genuine belief—have begun to decline. (This is what I usually tend to believe is happening)
- Difficulty accepting the ethical teaching of Christianity, particularly around areas of sexuality and identity?
- Difficulty accepting the miraculous?
It could be a mixture of all of those—though fewer and fewer people are raising arguments against the spiritual and miraculous. Many people have presented different takes on this phenomena, but this week Dr. Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the SBC, wrote a perceptive article noting that he has found that more and more younger Christians are abandoning the church not because they find Christian teaching to be too restrictive or unbelievable, but they believe that the Church does not actually believe or practice what it teaches. Moore writes, “The presenting issue in this secularization is not scientism and hedonism but disillusionment and cynicism.” Young people aren’t becoming more secular, but think we are becoming more secular. Certainly, many of you here know of someone who has abandoned the church because they claim that they have seen hypocrisy and abuse taking place within the church.
What are we to think of such stories? In our text today we will find a woman who has been abused and taken advantage of by religious authorities, yet see her persist in a sincere devotion and costly faith, despite her suffering. And in and through her example we will see a model of our very Lord and Savior, who when abused and taken advantage of, continued to give of Himself to the highest and most ultimate degree.
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:38-44
Jesus begins by issuing this warning: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers,” Mark 12:38-40a. We have heard of the Scribes often in Mark’s gospel, with almost every encounter being negative (Mark 1:22; 2:6; 2:16; 3:22; 7:1; 7:5; 8:31; 9:14; 10:33; 11:18; 11:27; 12:35; 14:1; 14:43; 14:53; 15:1; 15:31). The Scribes, usually paired with the other Temple officials (chief priests, elders) or the Pharisees, as a whole believe that Jesus is a false Messiah, possibly under the influence of demons (cf. 3:22ff). They have been actively working to find a way to destroy Jesus, and are one of the main parties responsible for Jesus’ arrest and execution. The one exception to this has been the single scribe who just recently approached Jesus to ask about the greatest commandment (12:28-34). So, if we have read the gospels before we know that scribes are dangerous.
But, we must remind ourselves, that this warning may have sounded strange to Jesus’ original hearers. Scribes were respected Bible scholars. They were the ones responsible for copying the Hebrew Bible down with meticulous precision and teaching the Law to the people (cf. Mark 1:22). Were Jesus giving this warning today, it would sound like, “Beware of the seminary professors…beware of the learned Bible teachers…” Why should Jesus’ disciples watch out for those kinds of people? In the last story with the wise scribe, Jesus reminded us that the greatest command of God could be summarized in loving God with everything we have, our whole life, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. And who better to exemplify and model those commands than the experts and teachers of the Law, the scribes!
But in Jesus’ eyes, do the scribes love God? No. They love being recognized, they love the approval and status and respect they get from their station. They wore special robes that let everyone know who they were as they walked down the street. “When a scribe walked down the street or passed through a marketplace, everyone (with the exception of laborers) was expected to rise before him,” (Edwards, PNTC). They loved seats of honor in the synagogue and at dinners and they loved making ornate, long prayers for show.
Do they love their neighbor? No. They devour widow’s houses. The scribes should have been the ones teaching and enacting the care for widows. Alongside the fatherless and the sojourner, widows were most frequently set aside as a vulnerable class of individuals in the Old Testament that required special care, provision, and protections from being taken advantage of. Sins against widows incur God’s special anger (Ex 22:21-24; Deut 14:29; 24:17ff; 27:19; Isa 1:17; Jer 7:6-7; 22:3; Zech 7:10; Mal 3:5; Ps 146:9). The scribes, teachers of the Law, of course knew this! And yet, they prey on these vulnerable women, using their status and privilege in some way that leads to these already disadvantaged individuals becoming even further destitute, coaxing them out of what little financial security they had.
While we see a poor model in the scribes of how to interact with widows, we need not look far in the Bible to realize that we should care for widows today: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world,” James 1:27 (cf. 1 Tim 5:3-16). While the triumvirate of “widows, fatherless, and sojourner” in the Bible shows us that God commands us to care for whoever is most at risk in society to be taken advantage of, we need not work hard to think of how to apply this command. Here, in our church we have several widows who deserve our special attention and care. Let us not grow callous and cold like the scribes, who ignore the plain commands of our Lord.
What does the false religion of these scribes look like today? It’s hard not think of some smarmy televangelist, using their platform and appearance of godliness to dupe the impoverished into even further depths of poverty: Donate to our ministry and God will bless you! We should, rightly, beware of such people.
Yet, I doubt many of us in this room are tempted to be deceived by that. Where might we encounter this kind of show religion? We can find this anywhere we find someone who is more in love with themselves than God or neighbor, who use God simply as a way to achieve their ends:
- The teenager recording some good deed just to post it on social media to earn the approval of others.
- The husband who treats his wife and children with love and respect while at church, but explodes in anger as soon as they are home.
- The student who uses Bible verses to publicly defend their political tirades, but does not seek to apply any of those Bible verses to confronting their own sin.
Do you use your spirituality or knowledge of the Bible to impress other people? If you had the opportunity to care for someone or practice your faith, but knew that no one else would ever know about it, would you still be just as incentivized to do the good deed? Jesus elsewhere warns us:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matt 6:1-4
Beware—these scribes are a picture of where that sin wants to take you. Jesus warns of the consequence of this lifestyle: “They will receive the greater condemnation,” Mark 12:40b. Have you heard that all sin will be treated the same on the judgment day? It is true that any sin constitutes the breaking of God’s Law and thus earns us judgment (James 2:10-11). But here we see that there are some sins that earn a “greater condemnation” than others. Jesus seems to be particularly outraged by people who use their religious standing and position to abuse those who are under them.
After Jesus finishes teaching he then sits down in the temple court opposite of the treasury. In the temple court there were thirteen chests for various offerings that helped support and furnish the ministry of the temple. Since it was Passover week there was likely a large crowd drawn in to bring offerings and to worship. Jesus is simply sitting, observing what is going on. He notices that many wealthy people approach and offer large sums, “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny,” Mark 12:42. While it was possible for women to own their own businesses and so support themselves (see Acts 16:14-15), it was still rare. So when a woman’s husband died she relied on her children or community to support her. If she had no children or her community turned from supporting her, she was left totally destitute. We don’t know the background of this woman other than the fact that she is a “poor widow.”
But, the fact that Mark has placed this story directly after Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes, who “devour widow’s houses,” seems to nod to the fact that this woman’s poverty has been brought about or exacerbated by the scribes’ rapacity and greed. A friend of mine describes this woman as a “carcass” picked over by the vultures and wolves of the temple. And yet, here she is at the temple, offering her two small coins to worship—knowing that those two small coins would likely go into the hands and care of those who have devoured her. The widow sees beyond those crooked leaders to the God whom she loves and her piety, devotion, and gratitude compel her to bring her offering nonetheless. What a model of love of God!
Friend, I wonder if you have been hurt by people in the church? I wonder if the hypocrisy and double-standards and compromise you have seen have given you pause on your participation in the church? And, in a way, it makes sense for someone to have hesitations about the church: the church is a total mess. We know that wolves have crept in and used their position and status to abuse, to exploit, and to get rich. This is one of the reasons why God gives shepherds (pastors) to churches, to protect the flock and chase away wolves (Acts 20:28-30). And Jesus leaves no doubt in our mind that wolves like these scribes will receive their final comeuppance at the judgment day, where they will receive a more severe punishment for their abuse. God does not take spiritual abuse lightly.
But even still, aside from intentional malicious wolf-like activity, the church still often fails to live up to its ideals. We have good intentions that we don’t follow through on; we are quick to devolve into factions, making minor issues major ones; we can be hypocritical, judgmental, and self-important. The church is a mess because we are a mess. But, to steal a line from Ray Ortlund, we are Jesus’ mess, and—wonder of wonders—He doesn’t think He is too good for us.
One of the things that should set the church apart from the world is not its preening and posturing to look better than everyone else, but our admission that we are totally broke without the help of Jesus. I knew one pastor who spoke with a successful businesswoman about Christianity, only to hear her say, “The church is a den of vipers—they are total hypocrites!” He pondered, and replied, “Yes, you’re right. But is it really any different outside the church?” Surprisingly, she was taken aback, “No…I guess it really isn’t.” After explaining the gospel to her, he boldly but gently offered, “There’s always room for one more to slither in.” The only people who can inhabit a church are sinful people because all people are sinners. We can gather together as a church, imperfectly and flawed and sinful though we are, and yet still truly and sincerely worship God and love one another. We don’t worship our leaders, or our institutions, or our ideas of what the community should be like: we worship the glorious and gracious God who is so kind and patient to deal with messy people like us.
The widow’s offering shows us that even in the worst cases of spiritual abuse, we can still come to God because it is Him, not His flawed servants, whom we are worshipping.
Jesus, upon seeing the widow’s offering, “called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box,” Mark 12:43. Now, strictly speaking, this woman did not put in more than anyone else. She put in the smallest possible amount. Why does Jesus say this? “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on,” Mark 12:44.
The wealthy people putting in large sums count little to Jesus because they are contributing out of their abundance. It is the extra that they scrape off the top; it does not affect their life in any way to give. But the widow’s offering? It is stunning because (1) it is given while the woman was in poverty, and (2) in her poverty she put in everything she had, all she had to live on. She could have thrown in just one copper coin, but she didn’t. She could have said, “I’m not in a good financial situation to be giving money away right now,” but she didn’t. She could have reasoned, “These crooked scribes have swindled me so I don’t need to give them a dime,” but she didn’t.
If you remember Jesus’ last conversation with a scribe where he explained that the most important commandment was: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” Mark 12:30. All (pas) is repeated over and over again. And here Jesus explains that this woman has put in everything, all she had (pas). Jesus is showing us a living, breathing example of someone who is obeying the greatest commandment and loving God with everything she has. The final phrase, “all she had to live on” could more literally be translated, “her whole life,” (bios). This shows us:
Little is much in the hands of God. Jesus points out that because of the woman’s heart, her devotion that has led her to contribute everything she had while in the midst of such extreme poverty, she has actually contributed more than anyone else. God doesn’t need sacrifices and offerings. He isn’t strapped for cash or talent. So the dollar amount of our offerings matters less than our hearts behind it. One thinks of the young boy who brought his few loaves and fish to Jesus, who multiplied them to feed thousands. Do you feel like you have little to offer God? Like you lack the gifts, the knowledge, the abilities, the finances, or the time that others have? I can only offer up weak prayers, I can only stutter out a few Bible verses, I don’t have much to offer God. Friend, be encouraged: God desires your heart, your devotion—He can take care of multiplying our loaves and fish.
Pursue serious generosity. Jesus did not care for the gifts of the wealthy because they gave out of abundance. In 2 Samuel, David is wanting to purchase a plot of land for an altar to God. When he speaks with the man who owns the land, he offers to give David the land and oxen to offer for the sacrifice for free. But David will not accept them, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing,” 2 Sam 24:24. If God doesn’t need our offerings, then why does He require them of us? Money is the key that opens up so many things that our hearts desire: comfort, approval, power, control. Money can seemingly buy you all of those things, and all of those things can become subtle replacements for our devotion and worship. Where we put our money reveals and exposes what we love most, and God wants to check our heart: What do you love most?
When we give out of our excess, that requires no reordering of our priorities, that requires no cost to us, that requires no trust in the Lord. You can still continue to proverbially worship at the altars of those other false gods.
In what ways are you being generous that costs you, that requires you to trust in God the way the widow was trusting in God to provide for what she needed to live on? Paul demonstrates for us what it looks like to be generous in such a way that you depend on God to provide what you need:
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. – 2 Cor 9:10-12
God will provide everything you need so that you may “be generous in every way.” So trust in God to provide what you need! This is what was produced in the churches of Macedonia that Paul describes to us:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. – 2 Cor 8:1-4
The Macedonian church in “extreme poverty” were begging Paul that they could use what little finances they had to help support other struggling churches. Friend, if you are waiting till you are just a little bit better off before you start being generous, you will never be generous. Sometimes it is good to be the recipient of generosity. Sometimes we need to be on the receiving end and to simply and humbly accept help. But God has called us, wherever we are and with what we have, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength—with everything (including our finances) we have.
If everyone else in our church followed your model in their tithes, in their financial support of missionaries and other local ministries, would our church be thriving, our missionaries, and our ministry partners be thriving? If everyone else in our church followed your model of hospitality, generosity, and benevolence, would our church be growing in fellowship, would the needs of our members be cared for, and would the poor be cared for?
How do you do this?
As we reflect on the hero of this story, the widow, we might be left thinking: how on earth does someone live like that? Well, as we consider the widow we see in her a model of the greater hero: Jesus. As Paul continues to teach in 2 Corinthians, he points the Corinthians to Jesus’ model of generosity: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich,” 2 Cor 8:9. We are told that the widow, in giving her offering, has thrown in “her whole life”—her whole bios.
Jesus likewise gives everything He has—but only He isn’t poor, He is infinitely wealthy. He is the King of the Universe, the almighty and eternal God who leaves His heavenly wealth, in order to come down and become impoverished. He takes on flesh, limits Himself by taking on a human nature, and lives a human life. And as He lives His life, His obedience to the Law and righteousness earn Him a heavenly reward, the blessings promised to those uphold the Law. But Jesus, having this wealth, further impoverishes Himself by going to the cross and taking our spiritual debts with Him, suffering the penalty our sins deserved through His death, and resurrecting three days later to demonstrate that our debts had been fully paid, fully satisfied, and death conquered. And now, anyone He who will turn to Christ and trust in Him can receive the wealth of Jesus’ righteousness credited to their account.
It is only when we see what Jesus has done for us, how deeply He has given for us, how painfully He sacrificed for us so that we could be forgiven and restored, that we find the power to be generous likewise.
So, friend, do you desire to grow in your generosity? Consider the abundant generosity you have been shown in Jesus Christ.
Have you been hurt by the church? Look to the gracious and kind God who is still worthy of your praise and devotion.
Have you been using your religion as a charade of your own self-righteousness? Drop the exhausting act and come and rest in grace and forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ.
Marc Sims • April 13, 2021
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What stood out to you most from the sermon?
- Why did Jesus answer with two commandments when asked to list just one?
- How can some commandments be more important than other commandments? (see vs. 33) Aren't all commandments equally important?
- "On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matt 22:40. What does this mean? (See section "centrality of these commands").
- How does the command to "love God and love neighbor" affect how we use our time? (See Eph 5:15-16)
- How are love of God and love of neighbor connected? (See 1 John 4:19-20) What would it look like today for someone to claim to love God, but not love their neighbor? To claim to love their neighbor, but not love God?
- Read Luke 10:25-37. Who is your neighbor? What did "love of neighbor" look like in this story? What does this teach us today?
- Close in prayer, reflecting on any area of your life where you feel like you have not been loving God most in. Confess these to one another and pray for each other.
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. – Mark 12:28-34
One of the scribes overhears Jesus’ response given to the Sadducees concerning the resurrection and is impressed with Jesus’ answer. He poses to Jesus a typical question of the day: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28). Rabbis of the day had counted a total of 613 commandments in the Old Testament and had spent time dividing the laws into “heavy” and “light” categories. Jesus seems to affirm this differentiation when he warns of relaxing even “one of the least of [the] commandments” (Matt 5:19) and rebukes the Pharisees for tithing out of their garden herbs while neglecting the “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness,” (Matt 23:23a).
This division of the law into these categories, however, wasn’t a way of saying some laws were unimportant or didn’t need to be obeyed. In fact, in Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees of paying attention to the lighter commandments and neglecting the weighty, He concludes: “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others,” (Matt 23:23b). One commentator notes, “..it is best to understand this question as an attempt to identify not which commandments are unimportant and need not be kept but rather which commandment is the most fundamental one from which all the other commandments arise,” ( Stein, BECNT). This is the Scribe’s question.
Jesus responds with the most well-known verse in the Old Testament, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” Mark 12:29-30. This citation from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 was known as the Shema because the first word of the verse “Hear” in Hebrew is Shema. It was recited morning and evening by all pious Jews. Many famous rabbis had concluded that this was, indeed, the most important command in all of Torah. But Jesus goes beyond the questioner’s original intent and instead of sharing just one command He shares two: “The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these,” Mark 12:31 (citing Lev. 19:18).
Jesus is asked which is most important, but He gives two. He labels the first commandment as “1st” and the next as “2nd”, seeing that the second commandment is subordinate to the first. But then he concludes by stating that there “is no other commandment greater than these,” setting them both apart in their significance. These two commands are foundational to the whole of the Old Testament’s Law.
The Scribe responds, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices,” Mark 12:32-33. This response is surprising; all of the Scribes interactions with Jesus thus far have been negative (see Mark 3:22-30, 7:1ff), but this Scribe responds positively to Jesus, agreeing with Him. He agrees with Jesus’ estimation, and even adds that these two commands are more important than “all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
In the Old Testament it was God who had commanded burnt offerings and sacrifices—they were not unimportant. There are huge sections of the books of the Old Testament that give precise, painstaking details about burnt offerings and sacrifices. Without burnt offerings and sacrifices the entire system of temple worship was virtually rendered obsolete—it was through sacrifices and offerings at the temple that God was praised, worshiped and sins were forgiven. But the danger was that it was possible to participate in them without loving God and without loving neighbor. In fact there are several instance in the Old Testament where this happens. In the prophet Hosea, God explains, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” Hos 6:6. Or in 1 Sam 15:22, ““Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” Participating in sacrifices and offerings to the Lord while our hearts are far from Him does nothing and God is not pleased. Further, making offerings to God while we fail to love our neighbor earns us similar displeasure from God, as Micah the prophet warns us:
“6 With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:6-8 (cf. Isa 1:10-17; Amos 5:18-24; Eccl 5:1; Prov 15:8).
What does God want from you? In the ancient world, what mattered most to the gods were sacrifices and offerings—it was through these offerings that the gods were appeased and satiated. In Hinduism today, food offerings are still presented to the gods to replenish their strength. But in the Bible we see that the God described here is very different; He does not command sacrifices and offerings because He needs them, like other gods do (see Ps 50:9-15). What God desires more than anything is obedience, is love.
The Scribe is a good student of the Bible and sees that love of God and neighbor outweigh everything else. And Jesus agrees. “And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God,” Mark 12:34. After this, no one dares ask Jesus any further questions.
This morning my wife was reading through the sermon text to prepare for the service today. As I was walking out she pointed something out that I simply hadn’t paid attention to: the scribe in his response to Jesus cites an additional Scripture to the ones Jesus cites. He weaves together 1 Sam 15:22 and Hos 6:6. It is after this that Jesus understands that the man answers “wisely.” Where does wisdom come from? God’s Word.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes; - Psalm 19:7-8
Friend, where do you look for wisdom in life? Do you want to be wise? Look to God’s Word, saturate your mind and your heart in God’s Word. Life is complicated. Politics, parentings, singleness, familial conflict, disappointment--how do you respond to all of these situations in all of their circumstantial complexity? If you read the Bible you will not find chapter and verse telling you who to marry, what job to take, or how to encourage your depressed child--but you will formed into a person of wisdom, and wisdom is what you need in life. So devote yourself to God's Word, surround yourself with God's Word, and let it shape and mold you into a wiser person.
What does this passage mean?
The centrality of these commands
Every command in the Bible could be summarized under the heading of either “love of God” or “love of neighbor.” In Matthew’s account of this story he concludes: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets,” Matt 22:40. The “Law and Prophets” was just another way of describing the Old Testament. So the ten commandments, the clean/unclean laws, the food laws, the teachings on sex and marriage, and every other command we come across in the Bible—they all are branches that shoot out of the trunk of “love God and love neighbor.” This is why Paul can say: “love is the fulfilling of the law,” Rom 13:10 and why Jesus can say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” John 14:15. This means underneath all of the commands runs these two commands: love God and love neighbor. When we are confronted with a command from God, how we respond to it reveals what you love.
Think of the issue of time management. A seemingly “small” command. Paul exhorts us: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil,” Eph 5:15-16 (cf. Col 4:5). Make the best use of the time. How do you use your time? At a time where our opportunities for entertainment, leisure, and distraction are legion, where the word ‘binge’ has become commonplace, what does God’s command to use our time well mean? Well, we understand that God has called us to many, many noble tasks: to work diligently at our vocation; to be fruitful and multiply and so raise our children in the discipline and instruction of our Lord; to share the gospel with the lost; to care for the widow, the orphan, and the poor; to help our fellow church members grow in their discipleship; to use the gifts God has given us for the good of the church; to pray without ceasing; to work for the good of our city; and to rest, relax, and enjoy the many good gifts God has given us in such a way that our hearts are warmed to the Lord. If we look at all of those commands and say: No thanks, I really need to catch up on my shows,or I can’t do that, Billy made the travelling team this year, or I’m sorry, but I must impress my boss so I have to use all my time to work, then we look at God and say: You are not important enough to be obeyed, I love these things more than you.
The connection of these commands
Why did Jesus present two commands when asked about just one? Jesus was asked which commandment—singular—was the most important. In a way, Jesus answers the question: the most important, the first, is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. But why does Jesus add the second? Why not just leave that off? Because we demonstrate our love of God through our love of neighbor. John explains: “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen,” 1 John 4:19-20.
It is impossible for us to love God and not love our neighbor, and we cannot love our neighbor with loving God, since loving God is the first and greatest commandment. This guards us against two errors: loving God without loving neighbor, or loving neighbor without loving God. Let me share two stories with you to illustrate this.
Once when I was younger I was speaking with a girl who was a Christian that I was hoping I could ask out. So, naturally I told her that I was a Christian too—I was not, but in my defense, I really thought I was. I just had no idea what that actually meant. Later in the day, while she was nearby, a friend of mine ran by and did something to me that I cannot even remember but found it extremely irritating and obnoxious, before sprinting away laughing. I exploded in anger and shouted a long, ugly string of profanities after him. The girl was shocked and looked at me: I thought you said you were a Christian? I was genuinely baffled by her response. “I am!” I responded, slightly offended. “Well, Christians definitely don’t talk like that.” I rolled my eyes and laughed at her.
(Unsurprisingly, she was no longer interested in a date).
What I had assumed—and what was so obviously wrong to the girl—was that being a Christian really required very little from you. It was just an interesting detail about your life, like your genealogy or your family traditions around the holidays, but it didn’t demand anything more than your tacit awareness and token rituals. It was merely a private, personal reality. But these commands say otherwise. The faith of the Bible is a faith that makes demands of you, and those demands extend outside of your personal, internal world. They dictate how you treat others. So much so that, as John as told us, if we claim that “we love God” but do not love our brothers, we are deceiving ourselves.
Years after becoming a Christian I worked as a server at a restaurant here in town. It became known that I was a Christian and had aspirations of becoming a pastor someday, so everyone knew I took my faith very seriously. One man (who insisted on calling me “Father Marc”) got into a lengthy discussion with me one day during a slow afternoon. In between wiping down tables he asked why Christians cared so much about sex and why we were not content with simply letting two people who loved each other to do whatever they pleased. We often hear the slogan today: “Love is love.” What that tautology and my co-worker were trying to communicate was that if two people love each other, then who cares if their expression of love looks different than traditional morality? I responded by trying to affirm that the Bible puts a very high premium on “love” and the Bible actually says that all of its ethical commands can be summarized by love. But, the Bible also defines “love” for us. To “love” someone is to be committed to their good, and what is “good”? The highest and must supreme good is God alone. So, if I try to define “love” in such a way that runs contrary to what God has commanded, then I am not actually loving. In Paul’s great chapter on love he explains, “love… does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth,” 1 Cor 13:6. So if our “love” tries to cut against the grain, if it does not flow out of and lead into a greater love for God, then it is not love. In other words, we cannot love our neighbor at the expense of loving God.
The culmination of the other commands
When the scribe points out that these two commandments are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices, Jesus responds: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” What did Jesus mean by that? If you remember, Jesus understands the kingdom of God to have come in His arrival. The Gospel of Mark opened with Jesus’ pronouncement: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,” Mark 1:15 The kingdom of God is what was lost in Eden, what the kingdom of David was a foretaste of, and what every Jew in the Old Testament up to Jesus’ day had been awaiting. In the Kingdom all of God’s promises would be fulfilled, God would restore His people, and overcome all of their enemies. Jesus teaches that the wait is over and the Kingdom is here. Of course, Mark has taught us that the arrival of the Kingdom has been surprising, not what anyone would expect, but nevertheless the Kingdom had come in the person of Jesus.
But why does Jesus tell the scribe that he is not far from the kingdom here, specifically after the scribe says that love of God and neighbor is more important than sacrifice? Further, why would there be so many places in the Old Testament that teach that sacrifices and offerings are less important than other commands? Because what the sacrifices and offerings pointed to had arrived in the person and work of Jesus. Under the old covenant, to have fellowship with God, for your sins to be forgiven, you went to the temple and offered sacrifice. But Jesus has come to usher in the new covenant, a new way to commune with God, a new way for sins to be forgiven. Under the new covenant, it is not a lamb or bull who is sacrificed, it is the Son of God Himself. Jesus’ blood is establishes the new covenant, and thus renders the old covenant and its obsolete.
So now, the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament connected to the Temple are exhausted and fulfilled through Christ, and the “lighter” matters of the law fade away.
God wants all of you. When we are told to love God with our “heart, soul, mind, and strength,” it is just a way to describe every nook and cranny of our lives. Our desires, our affections, our ideas, our thoughts, our will, our actions—there is not one square inch of our lives over which Jesus does not rightfully claim ‘Mine!”
But isn’t it interesting that we are commanded to love God—in other religions, what is the most important command? God doesn’t just want servile subjects—He desires a relationship with you. He desires your love. As a husband desires all of his wife’s heart, so too does our God desire all of us.