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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Jesus and Blindness (Mark 8:11-33)

Matthew 16:17 1 Corinthians 13:9–12 Isaiah 55:6–9 Mark 8:11–33

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Body of Christ

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Bearing Fruit Through Suffering

1 Corinthians 10:13 2 Timothy 3:12 John 15:1–11 Revelation 3:19 John 16:33

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Bear Fruit

Philippians 1:6 John 15:1–11 1 Timothy 2:1–4 Ezekiel 36:26–27 James 2:14–17

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20)

John 1:12–13 Matthew 5:11–12 Acts 17:30 Isaiah 41:10 Galatians 5:22–23

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Purpose of Parables

2 Peter 3:16 Mark 4:21–25 John 6:66 John 3:19 John 6:53

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Jesus and Blindness (Mark 8:11-33)
Jesus and Blindness (Mark 8:11-33)

Marc Sims • September 20, 2020

Sermon Audio Recording

Sermon Manuscript:

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – Mark 8:11-33

Draw three three circles on a piece of paper, with a dot in the center. These three circles represent three different types of “knowledge.” The dot at the center represents Truth, and the circle represents our distance from the truth. On the first circle, draw a line from the edge of the circle directly towards the dot at the center. This could be what we call “simple knowledge.” It is knowledge that comes about by a direct exposure to evidence. So, if you had never known that a kiwi was fuzzy because you had never seen a kiwi and then one day found a kiwi, you now know that a kiwi is fuzzy. 

On the next circle, draw a line that traces the outside edge of the circle. This could be called “relativistic knowledge.” This is the belief that it is impossible to ever arrive at the truth and that our own previous experiences, commitments, worldviews permanently blind us from ever arriving at Truth—all we have is our own relative perspectives. So maybe you have one perspective on systemic racism and police brutality and someone else has a perspective on Covid-19 and someone else has a perspective on how to vote this November, but because Truth is relative, all you can do is yell and intimidate one another because there is no concrete Truth that has sway over all of us, regardless of our perspectives and worldviews. 

On the last circle, draw a line from the edge of the circle that spirals in around and towards the center of the dot. We could call this “tempered knowledge.” This is the belief that acknowledges that we all are powerfully affected by our previously held commitments, worldviews, experiences, and those often create roadblocks that prevent us from having a direct access to knowledge (at least in the way “simple knowledge” does). But, this disagrees with “relativistic knowledge” in that it admits that there is such a thing as Truth, and we, from one degree to another, can move closer and closer to the Truth. And with each step closer, we realize what some of our baggage is that is limiting us from accepting the Truth, choose to set it aside, and move even closer, which reveals more limitations we were previously blind to, and can choose to set those aside, and so on and so forth.

As we look at our text today, we are going to get to interact with all three of these different perspectives as we ask the question: How can I arrive at the Truth of knowing and embracing Jesus Christ?

Total Unbelief

Mark opens up with Jesus being accosted by the Pharisees: “The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.” (Mark 8:11-13).

In Mark’s gospel the word “to test” is not a positive word. It can also mean “to tempt” and it is only used of the Pharisees accusations and of Satan’s temptations of Christ. It is not an impartial, unbiased evaluation of the evidence. It is motivated reasoning. It is an intentional effort to interpret Jesus in as negative of a light as possible. They are looking for ways to discredit Jesus as a false Messiah (cf. John 8:6). Like spiders weaving webs to catch their prey, the Pharisees are engaging in questions with Jesus only to entrap Him. 

Jesus asks why the Pharisees are even seeking a sign before curtly telling them that He will not give them any signs, and then promptly leaves. Why doesn’t Jesus perform a sign for them? The simple answer, of course, is that Jesus has given them signs. Repeatedly, throughout Mark’s gospel account the Pharisees have witnessed Jesus’ miracles, healings, and exorcisms. And what is the conclusion they have reached? In Mark 3, they are convinced that Jesus performs all these wonders because He is in league with Satan! They have already begun to plot out His death (Mark 3:6). Any other signs Jesus would have performed would have done nothing to allay their doubts. Even after Jesus is put to death and resurrects from the dead, what do they do? We are told that they pay off the Roman guards to tell everyone that the disciples stole Jesus’ body while they were asleep (Matt 28:11-15). That is a remarkable, willful resistance to accept the truth.

While I was in seminary, a certain professor was giving a lecture that a friend of mine and myself attended. I had read a book by this professor ahead of time that I disagreed with and I walked away from the lecture fairly unimpressed. But my friend, who is far smarter and far godlier than I am, went away raving about how enlightening the lecture was. Why didn’t I get the same experience? Well, likely because I went into the lecture predisposed to look for something to disagree with, and so I was blind to be able to receive anything profitable from him. My friend didn’t have that predisposition, and simply had a heart and mind that was prepared to receive, and this enabled him to glean fruit that I couldn’t. This is what the Pharisees are like—they do not lack evidence, they lack hearts that are willing to accept that evidence and all of its implications. They lack the ability to admit that they were wrong. And so they persist in their unbelief.

This is a sobering reminder for us: our commitments radically affect how we interpret reality. The woman who is in an unhealthy relationship which everyone can see but her; those on the extreme edges of the political spectrum who can see no wrong with their candidates; the self-righteous man who angrily denies he has done anything wrong. We all can be blinded by previously held commitments and can warp and twist any evidence, any information to the contrary so that the arrows of conviction that should wound us, should tell us we might be wrong, are blunted and bounce off of us. How do we guard our hearts from this? What should you do when confronted with a claim that seems to contradict a previously held belief?

This could turn into a lengthy rabbit trail, but it basically boils down to humility. Are you willing to admit you might be wrong? Are you willing to acknowledge that your understanding, the narrative you have been telling yourself may be incorrect? Perhaps you are a skeptic listening today, and I wonder if you are, in your heart of hearts, willing to admit that your previously held commitments might be wrong? Are you willing to extend the same skepticism towards your own worldview that you extend towards the Christian faith? Maybe there is a worldview with more explanatory power, more satisfying answers for the problems of this world that you have been cut off from because you have dismissed it out of hand. Can you be consistent with your skepticism and apply it just as much to your own previously held commitments?

The Pharisees could not, and so were left utterly blind to who Jesus was. But what of Jesus’ disciples? Surely, here there must be a deeper understanding, more accuracy of who Jesus is, right? Well, sort of.

Partial Belief

Jesus speaks a parable of warning to the disciples: “Watch out: Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod,” (8:15). Jesus is speaking, as He usually does, in the form of a parable—there is a spiritual truth cloaked behind the literal meaning of the words that requires spiritual eyes to discern its meaning. Jesus is not concerned about bread products that come from the Pharisees or King Herod. “Leaven” was a metaphor for the teaching, the lifestyle, the worldviews of the two: the leaven of rigid, cold hearted self-righteousness (Pharisees) and the leaven of a lawless, sensual worldliness (Herod). There are two extremes by which one can run away from God—religion or sensuality, the prodigal son or the elder brother, self-righteousness or self-indulgence. 

But the disciples completely miss this and think instead that Jesus is making a comment about their lack of literal bread. Jesus then launches into a barrage of critiques, piling up question after question: “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:17-21). The two words that Jesus begins his warning in verse 15 with are verbs for “see”—Jesus in effect says, “See, see!” only to discover that his disciples “having eyes do…not see.”

Jesus abandons his lesson of the parable and turns towards the profound unbelief of his disciples by asking them about the two feeding miracles. The disciples are worried about not having enough bread; they are consumed with their immediate needs and this has blinded them from being able to see the real meaning of Jesus’ teaching. So their unbelief is twofold—(1) their worried about running out of food, when they have just witnessed Jesus miraculously multiply bread and fish (twice!). Jesus is a walking grocery store, but they are still worried. And (2) this worry—setting their minds on the things of man—has led them to totally misunderstand Jesus’ teaching. Jesus is astounded at their unbelief.

Jesus disciples are not made up of sage gurus, mystical gnostics, or brilliant philosophers who have peered into the mysteries of the universe and discerned the beginning from the end. Mark has written his gospel account so that the reader is left somewhat shocked by the unbelief of the disciples—I mean, if you witnessed the feeding miracles, don’t you think you wouldn’t be worried about not having enough bread? Right?

Well, maybe. It is easy while reading to laugh at how dense the disciples appear to be, but I wonder if we were in their shoes if we would be any different. How many times has God answered prayer, come through, revealed His goodness to you, and yet we still doubt? I know God has gotten me through hard times before, but I don’t know about this, our hearts often tell us. Friends, we are very much like the disciples. 

Sight in Stages

Mark expertly places Jesus’ next healing account in his story for a very specific purpose. After marveling at his disciples’ unbelief, Jesus travels to Bethsaida where he is immediately met by a group of people bringing a blind man to him, begging Jesus to heal him. Jesus pulls the blind man aside and (just as we saw last week with the deaf man) uses his spittle to heal him. As odd as this is to us, saliva was often used in healings of the first century. But what is more intriguing about this healing is that it is the only healing recorded in all of the gospels that happens in stages. After Jesus spits and lays his hands on the man, he asks him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking,” (Mark 8:23-24). So, the man’s sight is restored—but only partially. “Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly,” (Mark 8:25). 

What is happening here? Jesus is showing us, and his disciples, a physical picture of what is happening to them spiritually. Remember, Jesus tells his disciples to “look, look!” back in verse 15, and then lamented, “you have eyes, but you do not see, you do not perceive” in verse 18. Blindness is repeatedly used by Jesus and the Bible as a metaphor for the spiritual state of those alienated from God. The disciples are like this man has had his sight partially restored. They are not like the Pharisees, who are totally blind. But they also do not see everything clearly. They see dimly. This is illustrated again by the immediately following story (which we will look at much more closely next week).

Jesus asks His disciples who He is, and Peter gives the correct answer: “You are the Messiah.” In Matthew’s account of this, Jesus praises Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven,” (Matt 16:17). God is at work in Peter’s heart, revealing truth to Him. “Flesh and blood” is a biblical idiom that just means what is natural and normal to mankind, apart from God. In other words, Peter could not have come to that conclusion on His own—God revealed it to him. If that isn’t a description of “seeing clearly” than I’m not sure what is!

Nevertheless, the great confession of Peter, is ironically almost immediately met by the great rebuke from Jesus. Jesus begins to teach his disciples that he will be killed and three days later, rise again. Mark tells us, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man,” (Mark 8:33).

Isn’t this astonishing? In one breath, Jesus is praising Peter and acknowledging that God has revealed truth to him, then in the next he acknowledges that Peter is thinking like Satan! Peter is somehow filled with God’s insight, and Satan’s thinking, simultaneously. This is Peter, the leader of the disciples, representing what all of Jesus’ disciples are like—seeing partially, but still blind; understanding in a way, but still confused; believing, but still filled with unbelief.

So, how should we apply this truth to ourselves today? What should we do when we come face to face with our own unbelief?

Do Not Despair

Jesus’ own disciples, the core team of the Jesus movement, the foundation on which the church is built, were filled with doubts, ignorance, and unbelief. And yet, Jesus still chooses them, still uses them, still calls them “friends” and “brothers,” still loves them. If you find within yourself unsettling depths of doubt, seasons of skepticism, or even the lingering thought do I really believe this? while walking the Christian life, do not despair. God rescues us from our blindness, but we only see partially. While in Jesus we are saved from the penalty of sin, and the power of sin, we are not yet delivered from the presence of sin, and won’t be till the day we die. So, we ought not despair when our sin still taints even the best of our good works with lingering doubts, unbelief, misunderstandings, or total misapprehensions about God. 

Two friends are skating on a frozen pond. One is under the impression that the I  ce will become thinner the further out you go, so he is anxious and timid as he skates towards the center. The other knows that when a pond freezes, the ice is actually the thickest in the center, so he skates at the center of the lake with a peace of mind. One of the skaters is filled with fear, the other with serenity, both have very different levels of faith, and yet both remain safe as they skate, because it is not their confidence in the ice that keeps them from breaking through, it is the strength of the ice itself that holds them up.

You are not saved by the strength of your faith, but the object of your faith. Jesus is willing to take you, forgive you, embrace you—even if you are still filled with some measure of unbelief. He is not scared by your doubt. I think that is hard for us to really come to grips with because we often think, Well, if I was in God’s shoes, I wouldn’t put up with this, I wouldn’t stand for this flighty, mixture of doubt and faith, and so we assume that, in our darker moments when we realize just how much unbelief lies under the hood, we assume: Surely, God couldn’t want me! But friends, praise God, God isn’t like you! Hear this good news from Isaiah 55:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8-9). Perhaps you are familiar with that verse; I’m guessing that you have heard it used at times to describe when God does something that just doesn’t make sense to us, whether that be not answering a prayer the way we would like or sending some strange season of suffering into our life. Why would God do this? we think, and we often hear, “Well, God’s ways are not your ways.” And that is, of course, true. But have you ever read the verses right before that passage? Let’s read it all:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD,” (Isa 55:6-8). What is the most baffling, confounding heavenly mystery that makes God’s ways so unlike our ways? God’s compassion for the wicked; his abundant mercy towards the unrighteous. So, friends, do not project your own human limitations of forgiveness onto your heavenly Father. He is not like you. You may wrestle with how you could love and forgive someone who is as inconsistent and disingenuous as you are—but God doesn’t. He has an abundance of forgiveness that He is eager to dole out upon his stumbling, wayward children, even as they harbor suspicions that maybe He doesn’t really care for them. Rest in the sweet thought that your God is not like you. Paul reminds us, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful,” 2 Tim 2:13. Do not despair.

Accept Rebuke

Jesus rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith, and gives Peter one of the most stinging rebukes in all of history. But this is precisely what can happen when you realized just how radically God loves you. When you know that you are not accepted on the basis of your performance, by the strength of your faith, then you become far less protective and sensitive, you become far more open to accepting correction, even criticism. You will even see brothers and sisters who bring correction to you as an act of love. If we are to love one another as Jesus loves us, then we must speak the truth to one another as Jesus does to us.

While Jesus accepts us and loves us as we are, He has no intention whatsoever to leave us as we are. Unbelief is a terrible plague on our joy, on our faithfulness, on our consistency. We no more want to maintain our unbelief than we would want to keep poison in our system. So, friends, lean into the rebukes from the Lord. Remind yourself that you are not justified by your performance, so when your performance is exposed to be lacking, your salvation is not in danger! This means that when a brother or sister points out areas in our life that seem to reflect a lack of faith, don’t become defensive! Don’t ignore it and tell yourselves a bunch of lies about how awesome you are (so they must be wrong), or how abysmal you are and don’t deserve to be called a Christian (so there is no hope for you ever changing). Both of those responses show that you do not really believe that you are saved apart from your works. Both of those responses say: I am saved by how good of a person I am, therefore I will either defend my righteousness intensely against any assaults, or I will admit that my righteousness is insufficient and will collapse into a pit of despair. Both are a rejection of the gospel, and both will keep you from ever actually changing. 

Faithful are the wounds of a friend (Prov 27:6), so let yourself be wounded so that you may recognize your persisting unbelief, repent, ask the Lord for help, and grow.

Long for Heaven

There will be a day when you will be freed from all unbelief. Paul explains, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known,” 1 Cor 13:9-12. When Jesus returns, He will remove all of the scales on your eyes. He will pull all of the venom of sin from your heart, all of your cravings for the flesh, all the worldliness that has polluted your mind. And your knowledge, your faith will flower into full maturity, the way a child grows into a man.

So, as we labor on the way, beset with sins, temptations, and unbelief, as we mourn our lack of faith, remember—a day is coming when it will not be so. We will behold our God with our eyes, and He will dwell with us, forever. Long for that day, hope for that day, rest knowing that day will soon come.

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Jesus and Outsiders (Mark 7:24-8:10)
Jesus and Outsiders (Mark 7:24-8:10)

Marc Sims • September 15, 2020

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Sermon Manuscript:

24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

1 In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. – Mark 7:24-8:10

One interesting cultural dimension we regularly come across when reading the Bible is the distinction of “clean/unclean.” It seems foreign to us modern Westerners because our society simply doesn’t have this same emphasis. At least, we don’t think we do. While we may not have official, political and religious clean/unclean distinctions (as some countries still do today), we have unofficial categories of individuals, groups, and types of people whom we would never want to associate with. Today, with the political tensions in the air, that may come across political divides. But it is easier to see when looking back on history. 

Just this last week, on September 8th, was Ruby Bridges 66th birthday, the first African-American student to integrate an American elementary school in the South, at the tender age of six years old. Ruby and her mother had to be escorted by US Marshalls on their way to school in New Orleans every day of the year, as they marched pass protestors screaming slurs and threats at them, at one point seeing a woman holding a small coffin with a black baby doll in it. The entire school board assumed that Ruby, being black, would simply not be academically capable of keeping up with the other white students. There was only one teacher who was willing to take Ruby on as a student, and the rest of the students in that class were removed by their parents to other classes or pulled entirely from the school—Ruby spent every day of that school year eating lunch alone. Ruby’s father lost his job, her mother was refused service at grocery-stores, and her grandparents, share-croppers, were evicted off their farm. 

Today, as we look back on the bravery of a young six-year-old girl and her parents and are appalled at such overt racism, we are given a helpful analogy for how the people of Jesus’ time would have viewed those who were deemed “unclean.” Why did parents pull their children from being in Ruby’s classroom? While there was no law or religious code enforcing it, they all felt, in some degree, that being around an African-American was somehow detrimental to their children. Of course, this is not a perfect analogy for the clean/unclean of Jesus’ day—which was not exclusively race based (Jews could make themselves ritually unclean), but the posture that ardent Jews of Jesus’ day felt towards outsiders, non-Jews, was very, very similar. As we look at the story of Jesus we will see, time and time again, that Jesus seems to always go out of His way to push against this mentality. Jesus works intentionally to show that with His coming, those who are on the “outside” are brought in.

A Gospel Recap

As Christian preached last week, Jesus has come as the long expected Jewish Messiah, “from the right line at the right time.” However, He also wasn’t what anyone expected. Jesus is extremely popular with the common people, but He associates with individuals and does things that lead the religious elites to become incredibly skeptical, even to the point of being convinced that He needs to be put to death.

At the beginning of Mark 7, Jesus enters into another debate with the religious leaders, who note that His disciples do not follow their traditions of ceremonially cleansing their hands before they eat. This was not a teaching from the Bible, but was an additional practice that they had built around the Old Testament’s purity laws. After Jesus exposes their hypocritical adherence to their own traditions at the expense of the clear commands of the Law (Mark 7:6-13), He then shockingly explains that ingesting the wrong food is not what makes you ceremonially unclean, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him…For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person,” (Mark 7:15, 20-23). Where does defilement come from? Certainly not from eating with unwashed hands—Jesus says that there is “nothing outside a person” that can make him unclean. Rather, impurity is buried in our hearts and is made manifest by our sin and sinful desires. 

The problem is not “out there,” friends, but “in here.” The source of sin is not in ideologies, people groups, politicians, or Hollywood. We can certainly see its effects there. But the nuclear reactor of sin lies within the heart of every human being—we are the problem. When a fog or smoke lies thick, you notice that it always looks like it is forms a thick wall just a few hundred yards ahead of you, but right next to you it appears that there is no fog, no smoke, when really you are just as much in the smoke as those far away from you. That is what sin is like; it looks like it is always out there, far away from you, when in reality you are just as mired in it as everyone else. 

Mark, as he is relaying this account, provides this concise editorial comment: “Thus he declared all foods clean,” Mark 7:19b. What does that mean? It means that Mark is understanding that Jesus has brought about a cataclysmic, watershed moment in the history of redemption. The old covenant prescribed a number of specific laws that marked God’s people off as distinct and unique from the surrounding nations, the non-Jews. God’s program with His people in the Old Testament was to create a gathered nation-state that was marked off by God’s laws of morality, purity, and civil codes. One of those distinct laws was the kosher laws surrounding food: certain foods were off-limits for Israel to eat. When Jesus pronounces that all foods are clean, He is signaling that there is now coming a change to God’s covenant with His people—and that is precisely what Jesus has come to do, to bring about a new covenant. This means that the civil laws of Israel and the purity of laws of Israel are now set aside. But this also means that God’s people are now no longer required to adopt many of the traditional Jewish customs in order to be included in God’s family—which means that a relationship with Yahweh, something that primarily has been with Jews, is now open and available to non-Jews, Gentiles.

Remember, Jesus says that “nothing outside a person defiles him”—not just food, but there is no-thing that can make someone unclean, and that includes other people too! This was Peter’s lesson he had to learn when he was told to go preach the gospel to the Gentile, Cornelius. 

Now Mark is going to show us the same truths that Peter learned: that if foods can’t be unclean, then people can’t be unclean either. Mark sandwiches three stories of Jesus interacting with Gentiles immediately after this declaration of all foods being clean: the Syrophoencian woman, the healing of the mute man, and the feeding of the four thousand. All of these are showing what Mark has been laboring to show all along in his gospel with Jesus’ interactions with women, lepers, demon-possessed, sinners, and tax-collectors: Jesus has come to turn outsiders into insiders, and to reveal that those who thought they were insiders are really outside (See Mark 3:22-35). Let’s look at these three accounts in reverse order

The Four Thousand (Mark 8:1-10)

We are told that during Jesus’ time of being in a Gentile territory (“In those days” 8:1), He is teaching to a great crowd out in a desolate area for three days and they are left with nothing to eat. Jesus then performs play by play almost the exact same miracle we saw a few chapters earlier where he fed the five thousand (Mark 6:30-44). But the five thousand He fed then were five thousand Jews, and in John’s gospel Jesus explains the symbolic significance of this feeding by comparing Himself to Moses who gave the Israelites bread from heaven (manna) in the wilderness (John 6). However, here, Jesus is performing the same miracle, acting as a new Moses to Gentiles. A new Moses to Gentiles? How could that be? Well, Jesus has come, as Paul tells the Ephesians, to take Gentiles who were once estranged from Israel and to unite the two together into one new man (Eph 2:11-22).

The Deaf Man (Mark 7:31-37)

While Jesus is in the Gentile region of the Decapolis (7:31) a deaf man with a speech impediment is brought to Jesus and we are told that those who brought him “begged Jesus to lay his hand on him,” (7:32). While “laying your hand” on a Gentile was not as outrageous as laying a hand on a leper or a woman with a discharge of blood, it would was still culturally not proper to touch a Gentile (see John 18:28 where the Pharisees refuse to even enter Pilate’s headquarters lest they become defiled). Here, however, Jesus not only lays His hands on them but He thrusts his fingers into the man’s ears and places his spit on the man’s tongue! 

Jesus’ use of spittle to perform a healing appears totally baffling to us—especially because thus far Jesus has healed people exclusively with His words or at times laying His hands on them. Why use spit here? Well, we aren’t sure. Apparently spittle was commonly used at that time for medicinal purposes, so perhaps Jesus was just accommodating to popular customs, perhaps He wanted others to know that He wasn’t casting a demon out of this man, but merely healing an infirmity. We aren’t sure exactly, but we know that Jesus’ physical interaction with a Gentile would have certainly raised some eyebrows. 

Even more surprising, the word used to describe this man’s speech impediment is only used one other place in the entire Bible. It is the prophecy of Isaiah 35 where God promises that when Israel’s exile ends, He personally will come and deliver them and He will transform the world into the glorious New Creation: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy,” Isaiah 35:5-6a. What does this mean? It means that Jesus is bringing about the end of His people’s exile—but, wonder of wonders, He is including Gentiles in the promise of new creation!

The Syrophoenician Woman (Mark 7:24-30)

Certainly the most surprising of the three stories rests with the account of the Syrophoenician woman. This is surprising, first, because of the region that Jesus travels to: Tyre and Sidon. Tyre (formerly known as Phoenicia) had been the home of Jezebel, the wife of the pagan king Ahab. Together they were the most wicked power couple of the entire Old Testament; they represent Israel when it is at its worst. There is a reason that no one names their son Judas, and there is a reason that no one names their daughter Jezebel. Tyre is repeatedly decried for its wickedness by the prophets in the Old Testament (Ezek 26:17; Zech 9:3) and was also a bitter enemy of Israel, who sided with Seleucid armies against Israel during the Maccabean revolt. Furthermore, Tyre was infamous for their extreme and gross pagan worship. 

Nevertheless, Jesus journeys to what would have been seen as a region that no faithful Jew should ever venture. And there He finds a woman who “falls down at his feet,” (Mark 7:25). The last person to fall down at Jesus’ feet was Jairus in Mark 5:22. Jairus could not be in a more different social class than this woman—he was a man, a Jew, and a ruler of a synagogue. In 7:26 we read what one commentator calls a “crescendo of demerit,” “Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth and she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.” She is (1) a woman, (2) a Gentile, (3) not just any Gentile, but a Syrophoenician, and (4) her daughter has a demon. Nevertheless, she literally throws herself onto Jesus and pleads for His help. Even Matthew the tax collector would have been scandalized by this woman.

Jesus response is surprising. He speaks to the woman in a parable: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” Mark 7:27. What does Jesus mean by that? He seems to be echoing a common Jewish sentiment—Gentiles were unclean, like dogs. They were not “God’s children,” that is, Israel. So why should Israel’s Messiah be consorting with or helping those outside of Israel? But look at the woman’s response: “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter,” Mark 7:28-29. In Matthew’s account of this, Jesus responds to the woman: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done as you desire,” Matt 15:28. Jesus at first appears cold and disinterested, but then immediately flips and commends this woman’s faith and grants her request. What happened? 

First, notice that this woman with such a shameful social standing is the first person in Mark’s gospel who understands one of Jesus’ parables. She answers back to Jesus from within the parable itself, knowing exactly what Jesus means by it—Jesus’ own disciples don’t even understand the parables without Jesus’ special help. Earlier, as Jesus is laboring to explain the true source of defilement, He cries out: “Hear me, all of you, and understand,” (Mark 7:14). In Mark’s gospel, a true disciple is marked by someone who hears Jesus’ words, understands them, and applies them (Mark 4:20). Here, we have the first example of someone hearing, understanding, and applying Jesus’ words—this woman is, at this time, somehow more of a disciple of Jesus than His disciples are. 

But what is it that she understands? As the text says, she understands that Jesus’ evaluation of her is correct: she is a dog, she is unclean. She doesn’t deserve anything from Jesus. And yet she comes, asking for just the crumbs from His table, unclean though she be. And it is this acknowledgment, this confession of total spiritual bankruptcy which turns Jesus’ loving heart towards her. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3). This is exactly what Jesus is wanting to teach His disciples, wanting to teach us all: what makes us unclean isn’t something out there but what is in here. It is not certain human beings who make us unclean, but rather our own human nature, our sin, which makes us unclean. As the prophet Isaiah tells us: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags,” Isa 64:6. 

After Lady Macbeth goads her husband into killing Duncan, she eventually becomes haunted by her guilt, by her uncleanness. She sleepwalks to the sink and manically scrubs her hands: Out, damned spot! What is she doing? Lady Macbeth is desperately trying to wash her hands clean of symbolic blood that stains them, but nothing eases her agonized conscience. Not all the perfumes of Arabia could sweeten this little hand, she tells us. That’s what Isaiah is telling us. No righteous deeds, no good works, no amount of charity, no donations, or activism, or penance will make us clean. Not even coming from a religious background, being raised a Jew, will make you presentable before God. And it is only when we recognize that truth that we can have an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ.

Admit Your Need

Do you remember the story of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9? After Jesus heals the man he explains: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains,” (John 9:39-41). The only people who are kept from seeing Jesus are those who see no problem with themselves. Non-Christian listening today: your doubts are not keeping you from Jesus, your past sins, your guilt, your burdens are not what are preventing you from coming to Jesus. In fact, they are the very things that qualify you to come. Jesus has come for the sinners, not the righteous. For the unclean, not the clean. And if you will merely admit your need, admit your sin, and like the woman fling yourself at Jesus’ feet for mercy, you will find it. He is gentle and lowly, a merciful high priest who will in no way shut you out. He is eager and able to save you to the uttermost. His death on the cross has secured every means necessary to provide cleansing, forgiveness, and restoration. Did you feel like an imposter wearing white on your wedding day? Do you feel like a phony leading your family in prayers? Do you feel like if any of your closest friends were to find out how deep your doubt, greed, and lust were they would be repulsed by you? Jesus is here, with open arms for you today.

Nothing in my hand I bring

Simply to the Cross I cling

Naked come to thee for dress

Helpless look to thee for grace

Foul I to the fountain fly

Wash me Savior, or I die

Check Ourselves

Dear Christian, recipient of grace, do you treat others the way Christ has treated you? Are there “outsiders” that, in your estimation, don’t deserve the time of day? In our day, the biggest divide might be across political barriers. Would you be able to sit down and share a meal with someone you strongly disagreed with politically? Would you be able to see how Christ may invite them in, or already has, to be a part of His family, to be your sibling in Christ?

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Your Brother's Keeper (Matt 18:15-20)
Your Brother's Keeper (Matt 18:15-20)

Marc Sims • September 09, 2020

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Sermon Manuscript:

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” - Matt 18:15-20

We have spent the last number of weeks examining the calling and responsibilities of the church. We have been saying that the Bible assumes that to be united to Christ is to be united to His body, the church. The passports of the church, as we considered last week, are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are meant to symbolize and display what the gospel is and our response to that gospel in repentance and faith. That life of repentance and faith is then played out on the canvas of the local church. We saw in Hebrews 10 that active participation in the local church is one of God’s means to keep Christians from unbelief. We saw in 1 Corinthians 12 that the life within the local church is meant to be a life of mutual dependence and unity, the same way a body is comprised of many different members. And we saw in 2 Corinthians 4 that the engine that is fueling the growth of the church is not gimmicks and salesmen techniques, but simple and plain proclamations of the gospel. 

Friends, do not be mistaken—God cares deeply about the church. The church is God’s program by which the Great Commission will be accomplished, by which disciples are made, individuals are baptized, Christians are matured, use their gifts, taught by gospel preachers, and are thus kept from false teaching and error. We are the salt of the world, a city on a hill, displaying our deeds of righteousness so that the watching world may glorify God (Matt 5:13-16).

But, brothers and sisters, what happens if that salt loses its saltiness? What happens when someone who has been baptized, receives the Lord’s Supper, a citizen of the Kingdom, begins to live like they are a citizen of the world? If you are not a Christian here today, perhaps you can think of someone in the church who claimed to be a follower of Jesus, but then hypocritically participated in some egregious sin—maybe, you have told yourself, that is why you aren’t a Christian. I’m sure many of you who are Christians here today can think of someone who has taken the name of Christ, and then acted in such way that brings shame and dishonor to the name of Christ. Just this week the leader of the largest Christian university in the world was fired after it came to light that apparently he and his wife participated in some scandalous sexual affair with another individual. So now, all over the news, we are hearing about a person who was supposed to be a model of Christian virtue now bring shame and dishonor to the name of Christ. There are few things more detrimental to testimony of church than people who take the name of the Lord in vain, living like they really are a child of the devil. 

This brings us to our final consideration as we think about our responsibilities to one another within the church: the issue of church discipline. I am, in many ways, opening up a can of worms with a sermon like this. This is an issue that is very rarely talked about or taught on in the church, and is even more rarely practiced. But it is clearly taught in the Bible and assumed to be practiced in the local church. So I will provide an overview of what the Bible teaches about this, but will by no means answer every question. So if after hearing this sermon you are left with some serious questions, then please come up afterward and bring those to me. I’d be more than happy to talk through this more. 


What is church discipline? Church discipline is where a congregation responds to a fellow church member who is walking in persistent, unrepentant sin, by formally removing that person from the membership roles as a way of showing that they can no longer affirm that individual’s profession of faith. It is a way of saying: We cannot understand how you can continue to walk in this sin and be genuinely filled with the Holy Spirit. 

In our text we saw in Matthew 18 we see one example of what church discipline looks like. Matthew 18 describes the dilemma of interpersonal sin within the church. One person sins against another member in the church. When this happens, Jesus tells us: “go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” What a great model for us, church. How should you respond when someone sins against you? You go directly to that person—you don’t start talking to a bunch of people about it first, spreading salacious gossip about how this person has sinned against you. You lovingly confront them. “If he listens to you,” Jesus continues, “you have gained your brother.” This is how 99% of the conflicts in church should be handled.

But, if he refuses to listen to you, you are two bring two or three others with you. If he refuses to listen to them, then you are to “tell it to the church,” that is, the entire congregation. And if this brother refuses to listen even to the church, then you are to treat him as a “Gentile and tax collector.” All of Jesus’ immediate hearers would have known that Gentiles and tax collectors were not members of God’s covenant community. Why can the church do this? Because Jesus has given the keys of the Kingdom to the local church (18:18, see Matt 16:19): “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Here “binding” refers to the congregation receiving people into membership in the church, and “loosening” refers to dismissing people from membership. 

So, church discipline is the sad action a congregation must take when one of its members no longer has any credible grounds due to their unrepentant sin to bear the name of Christ. Of course, interpersonal sins as laid out here in Matthew are not the only reasons one may be put under discipline. In 1 Corinthians 5 we see an example of unrepentant sexual sin. In Titus 3:10-11 we see unrepentant divisiveness in the church as an example of church discipline. Gal 1:6-9 shows believing a false gospel warrants discipline. In 2 Thess 3:14 shows rejecting the authority of Scripture as an offense worthy of discipline. But, of course, these are not intended to be exhaustive lists of the only sins that warrant discipline. Church discipline, rather, is intended for any kind of outward, visible sin that is persistently unrepentant, even in the face of repeated pleas from the congregation to repent. It’s ramifications then are that the person is removed from the membership roles and is to no longer be treated as if they are a Christian, and, as we see in Paul’s example in 1 Corinthians 5, they are prohibited from partaking in the covenant meal of the covenant community, the Lord’s Supper.


Who is liable to this kind of accountability structure? Well, Paul makes this fairly clear in 1 Corinthians 5: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.””

This means, at a bare minimum, that the accountability structure is reserved for “those who bear the name of brother,” that is, a Christian. We don’t expect non-Christians to live and act like Christians. But, again, we must remember what the Bible assumes is normal for a Christian life—the Bible assumes that anyone who is genuinely a Christian is someone who has meaningfully attached themselves into a local church. Paul’s language of “insiders” and “outsiders” nods in this direction. It is those “inside” the church who are accountable. But how do we know who those people are? Is it just the people who show up on Sunday? And the “outsiders” are people who don’t come to church? No, because later in 1 Corinthians 14, we see Paul use this language of “insiders” and “outsiders” again, and assumes that “outsiders” will be present at the worship gathering on Sunday (1 Cor 14:22-25). So the “insiders” are more than just people who are attending on Sunday morning, but have, in some way, made themselves known to the leadership of the church and the rest of the congregation, and consented to live their life in accountability to the rest of the church—to “associate,” or “fellowship,” or “formally partner”, to use Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 5:11, with the other members of the church. So, this accountability structure of church discipline is then reserved for those who have become members of the church—not just people who might show up (even regularly!) on a Sunday. 

Further, if church discipline is removing someone from the membership roles, it becomes practically meaningless, if not impossible, to be carried out if that person is not even a member! And, friends, churches that do not practice church membership, when they get stuck in a nasty situation that requires church discipline, they are either left with a toothless warning, or they inappropriately use their authority and warp church discipline into something like intimidation by force by physically barring the person from entering the church. That is not what church discipline is. 


What is the purpose of church discipline?

1.     Church discipline protects the glory of God and the testimony of the church

a.     When a man is repeatedly cheating on his wife, being dishonest in his business dealings, or is feeding an addiction to alcohol, all with a stony, unrepentant heart, and comes to church each week to receive the Lord’s Supper, God’s glory is being besmirched. We are telling the watching world: this is what God is like, this is what a life under the power of the Holy Spirit looks like. It robs God of His glory and sours our community’s perception of our church.

2.     Church discipline preserves the gospel

a.     A large stumbling block to practicing church discipline is the difficulty of how we can reconcile it with the gospel of free grace! God accepts us as we are and loves us unconditionally, right? Doesn’t church discipline make it seem like we are saying the opposite? That you have to be a morally good enough to be worthy of God? Doesn’t that twist the gospel? No, it actually does the exact opposite. It is true, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone—but it is never a faith that remains alone. The 1853 New Hampshire confession of faith explains that faith and repentance are “inseparable graces” both given by the Holy Spirit. To claim to have faith, but to evidence no repentance, is to present a different gospel than the one the Bible presents. James warns us that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). When we come to believe in the gospel, we are banking on what Jesus has accomplished on the cross and that alone to make us right with God. But God also gives a new heart with new dispositions that desires to obey God, to turn from sin, and to walk in holiness. When we as a church continue to affirm the spiritual state of fellow church members whose lives are not giving any fruit of repentance, we are actually proclaiming a perverted gospel.

3.     Church discipline protects the health of the church

a.     A church without church discipline is like a body without an immune system. Paul warns the elders in Ephesus that wolves would arise in the church, looking to devour the other sheep. Church discipline can help identify those wolves and protect the rest of the sheep from being destroyed. Further, churches that permit unrepentant sin to run rampant in the life of its members are not loving the church. Paul warns the Corinthians in chapter 5: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (5:6). When church members know that member so-and-so has a gambling addiction and other member so-and-so is living with his girlfriend, and that other member so-and-so only attends Sunday worship once or twice a month, but they are still active members, serving, taking the Lord’s Supper, raising their hands during worship—they begin to think that maybe they don’t need to take their own sin that seriously. It breeds a posture of casualness towards sin, rather than the needed deadly seriousness. But, when church discipline is brought forward, it has a salutary, awakening affect on sleepy Christians 

When I was in seminary, while attending a member’s meeting at my church, there was a case of church discipline brought before the church. There was a case of church discipline brought forward that woke me up. It was a member who was currently at the school I was attending, getting his PhD studying the life and theology of Jonathan Edwards—a personal hero of mine. However, it was revealed that this man had been in an extramarital affair for two years. His wife had been suspicious and had repeatedly asked him, even bringing in pastors from our church to discuss this matter with him, but he denied that anything wrong was going on, lying about the affair for two years. He only finally confessed his sin because he had gotten the other woman pregnant and couldn’t hide it any longer. His confession, however, lacked any signs of genuine repentance and still was marked by self-defense, deceptiveness, and an unwillingness to own up to his sin. So, he was being brought forward to be put under church discipline as his wife wept in the front pew. The pastor who was conducting the meeting eventually paused and looked at the congregation, “All of you seminary students out there: don’t think this couldn’t happen to you. This is exactly where your sin wants to take you, that little flirtation with lust is wanting to steer you to this place.” And I felt this intense, somber weight land on me then and there that I had never experienced before. And I knew: I never want this to happen to me. I saw the danger of sin in a way I never had before.

4.     Ultimately, church discipline is done for salvation

a.     Paul commands the Corinthian church to remove the brother caught in unrepentant sexual sin from their membership: “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord,” (1 Cor 5:5). What’s the end goal of taking a member out of the citizenship of the Kingdom and handing him over to the world? We want that person to be saved! Church discipline is the final, tragic, but necessary means by which God may shake a lukewarm Christian to wake up to the eternal peril their soul is in. Sometimes, someone who has been nibbling at the edges of forbidden fruit needs to just go out and fill their belly before they will realize how putrid and rotten it really is. The prodigal didn’t return to his father till he was eating pig slop. So, friends, as painful and heartbreaking as it is, we want to do the most loving thing we possibly can for someone in this state—we want their soul to be saved.

But this should inform how we go about this process. 

                                               i.     Church discipline should be done slowly, following the procedures laid out in Matthew 18

                                             ii.     It should never be done solely on the account of one witness

                                            iii.     It should be done with mourning and weeping (1 Cor 5:1)

                                            iv.     It should be done in a “spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1), not regarding the person as an “enemy” 2 Thess 3:15

                                              v.     It should never be done out of a spirit of self-righteousness, but rather with the humility that admits that we are likewise just as susceptible to stumbling into sin (Gal 6:1).

                                            vi.     It should be done in such a manner that communicates both the severity of their sin and the real danger their souls are in, what repentance would look like, and the free gift of grace that is always available in Christ to any and all who will repent of their sins.

                                           vii.     It should never be done without the knowledge of the entire congregation. Elders should conduct the congregation through the manner, but should not hide the issue from the congregation and should never dismiss someone from membership without the congregations knowledge and approval.

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Displaying Death and Life: Baptism and Communion
Displaying Death and Life: Baptism and Communion

Marc Sims • August 24, 2020

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Sermon Manuscript:

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:1-5

The title of my sermon today is near Puritanical length: Remembering and Displaying Death and Life: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It hinges on the idea that the Christian practices of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper function as a means of remembering and displaying both death and life. Let’s think for a moment on remembering and displaying in the way I will refer to them in the sermon.

How do you remember important moments in your life? Maybe you keep a photo album (do you remember photo albums?), mementoes, or maybe you have a special celebration each year to remember some significant event, like an anniversary or birthday. My wife and I keep a shoebox under our bed filled with letters we have written to each other from the time we have been dating till now. Every now and then we will pull that shoebox out and read through some of them. It’s a sweet (and sometimes embarrassing) ritual. The further back into our letters you go, the more obvious it becomes that I am trying really hard to sound interesting and deep: I saw the sunset this evening and begun to meditate on the brevity of existence... yikes. (But, somehow it worked because now we’re married!). A more helpful analogy for the sake of the sermon would be our wedding rings. Hillary and I wear wedding rings as a way of both remembering the covenant that we made with one another and also as a way of displaying that covenant to the watching world. Our rings are a memento of sorts that broadcasts to others that we are united to each other, that our status has been permanently altered. This is similar to what Baptism and the Lord’s Supper does for the church. It is a means by which we remember and display the gospel, our response to that gospel, and who God’s people are.

Displays the gospel

How do baptism and the Lord’s Supper display the gospel itself? Well, before we can answer that we need to know specifically what the gospel is. We could helpfully summarize the gospel into four major movements: God, man, Christ, response.

God: In the beginning, there was God. Before there was anything created, God eternally existed within the community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, infinite in power, love, and holiness. And out of the overflow of that holiness, love, and power, God created the heavens and the earth the share and display His goodness with His creation, namely with the crown jewel of His creation: man.

Man: Mankind was made in the image of God, made to be in a loving and obedient relationship with their maker. When the Bible says we are made “in the image of God,” that means that we intended to reflect that character and nature of God in our lives the way a mirror reflects your image back to you. Human beings were designed to live moral, pure, selfless lives and so reflect God. But, in the beginning, shortly after God made the first human beings, they were quickly deceived by God’s enemy to rebel against God. And now all of their descendants are born with a nature that is spring-loaded towards rebelling against God’s design.

Thus, while we still bear God’s image and are thus called to reflect God, instead we live selfish, immoral, impure lives. And while we may always be able to find someone else who is failing much worse than we are, if we are honest with ourselves we know, in our heart of hearts, that we too have failed to measure up. We do not live as we ought to, but often are motivated out self-interest, are hypocritical, quick to anger, cowardly, controlled by lusts, lazy, addicted to the praise of others, arrogant, unwilling to admit fault, and always seeing the problems in others more than we see the problems in ourselves. This heart does not reflect the purity, excellence, holiness, and righteousness of God. This is what the Bible calls “sin” and it is what every human being has been actively participating in since the creation of this world, as Romans 3:23 tells us: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” 

And this sin, not only brings the consequence of a frustrating, painful life here, but it brings about eternal consequences. Sin brings about an eternal separation from us and God—Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death.” And, of course, “death” entails physical death, it also entails a far more severe and far more perilous death—a spiritual death, that is an eternal death. Sin is a rebellion against God, a rejection of God, a desire to be at war with God. And if we persist in sin, God will give us what we want—war with Him, separation from Him, and finally, judgment from Him.

So mankind has been called to a high and glorious calling, but the story of the Bible is a story of man repeatedly failing to measure up to that calling, and choosing instead to plunge himself into sin. Which leads us to wonder: what will God do in response to this? Will He simply consign all of mankind to destroy themselves? The rest of Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”

Christ: Who is Jesus Christ? Many people today imagine Jesus was a fantastic teacher of love and altruism, pointing people to God—which is true. Others imagine that He was some sort of healer, miracle-worker of sorts who helped out the disadvantaged and the poor—which is true. Others think of Him as a renegade of sorts, courageously challenging the religious hypocrites in power and exposing their dead faith—which is also true. But is that all He is? Was Jesus someone like a prophet Mohammed or Joseph Smith, who taught people a new pathway to please God and earn a place in Heaven? Was He like the Buddha, who taught how an individual could achieve nirvana? Was He just another Mahatma Ghandi or a Martin Luther King Jr., who fought for the disadvantaged and oppressed? 

No, Jesus was something else entirely. According to Jesus’ own teaching, He understood that He was actually God in the flesh. The same God who made the heavens and the earth, who had made man in the beginning. This God had now condescended to His creation, and took on a human body, becoming a real person in human history. Why? Two reasons: (1) so He could live the life we were supposed to live. The Bible describes Jesus as the image of God (Col 1:15)—meaning, Jesus, because He was God, was without sin. He always did what was right, just, holy, loving, and selfless. He perfectly obeyed and fulfilled the Law of God. (2) So He could die the death we all deserve to die. God took on flesh so He could die. When Jesus was put to death on the cross, He was not merely lynched by the religious authorities of His time, but He taught that His death was going to be a “ransom” or a “substitute” for His followers (Matt 20:28). This means that on the cross, Jesus was not only accepting the physical punishment for our sins, but also the spiritual punishment as well, and absorbed the eternal death, the eternal separation into Himself for all of the sins of His people. But, three days later He rose from the dead, He resurrected. Jesus, being God Himself and infinitely holy and infinitely powerful, could not remain dead, since death had no power over Him. So He resurrected, and then ascended up to heaven and now dwells in heaven to intercede on His children’s behalf.

Response: This gospel message, this news demands a response. We either laugh at this Jesus as a crazy person, an imposter, or we fall down at His feet as our Lord and God. The Bible describes the right response to Jesus as “repentance and faith.” Repentance means to turn away from our life of rejecting God and living for ourselves. Faith means to turn towards God in allegiance and trust; trusting that Jesus’ death on the cross has secured the forgiveness of your sins, and committing yourself in allegiance to Jesus as the Lord and King of your life. We now follow Him.

God, Man, Christ, Response. God is holy, man is sinful, Christ is an all-sufficient savior, and a response is required. This is a synopsis of grand and majestic story of the gospel. 

Now, what does all of this have to do with baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two ordinances that Jesus commands His church to regularly practice. Baptism is the entry sign and symbol of someone who has believed the gospel, repented of their sins, and turned in faith towards Christ. The Lord’s Supper is the covenant renewal sign of that same truth. These display the gospel in their dramatic reenactments of the gospel itself. Romans 6 tells us that when we go under the waters of baptism, we are being baptized, (submerged) into Jesus’ death. The book of 1 Peter compares the waters of baptism to the flood waters of Noah, the waters of chaos and destruction. So when we see the water in the baptismal, we should think of death, destruction. This is what our sins have earned. But we not only go under the waters of baptism, we come up out of them (praise God!). Just as Jesus did not remain in the grave, but resurrected with a new life, so too do Christians emerge from the baptismal waters to newness of life! Though they have gone under the waters of death, because they have put their faith in Jesus, they follow Christ their captain up out of the grave! Their destiny is no longer to be consigned to death, to absorb the penalty of their sin, but to inherit the gift of eternal life. So, there is nothing mystical or magical about the waters in of themselves. Rather, the act of baptism is a dramatic reenactment of what has spiritually already taken place within the souls of those who are participating in it.

But what about the Lord’s Supper? Well, on the night that Jesus was betrayed, He met with His disciples one last time and celebrated a special, Jewish feast called the Passover. But, that night Jesus inaugurated a new feast to be celebrated in its place. He took the bread of that meal and told His disciples: “This is my body, broken for you,” and He broke it and handed it out to His disciples and commanded them to eat of it. Then He took a cup of wine and said: “This is my blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins, take and drink.” He then taught everyone that they should regularly eat this special meal of bread and the fruit of the vine, and when they do they should remember the broken body and shed blood of Jesus for our sins and to look forward to His second coming. So, when we take this meal, as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we perform a mini-drama of the crucifixion itself. As our teeth crush the bread, and we drain the cup, we are reminded: my sins destroyed Jesus, it was my sins that shed His blood.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are tactile, visual tokens by which we remember the glorious, old, old story of the gospel. But they don’t only help us remember, they also display something.

Displays God’s People

Just as my wedding ring not only reminds me of the covenant vows I have made to my wife, it also displays for all to see that my status has been permanently altered—I am no longer a single man, but a married man. So too do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper display a permanent alteration of all who participate in it. Baptism, as the entry sign into this new life, and the Lord’s Supper as the covenant renewal ceremony, display those who have responded truly and fully to the gospel message. But this isn’t exclusively an individualistic encounter. Rather, these signs, these dramatic displays display a people, not just an individual. 1 Cor 12:13 shows us that when we are baptized, we are actually baptized into the body of Christ, the church, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” So baptism isn’t just a way of displaying our personal response to the world, but is also a way of publicly associating ourselves with God’s church, with His people. So too with the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Cor 10:17 we see that when we partake of the Lord’s Supper we are binding ourselves together as the body of Christ, as the church, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” And then later in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul sternly reprimands the Corinthians for misusing the Lord’s Supper because they are failing to wait for one another, and not taking it together collectively as a church.

So, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper mark off who God’s people are. They are the objective, concrete markers that say: this person has believed in the gospel and submitted Himself to Christ as King. But these markers are administered through God’s church so we do not participate in them apart from the church. 

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