Jesus takes on mere human traditions. Mark 7:1-13

The literary structure of Mark 7 1-13

We’re launching into an important passage today, Mark 7:1-23. There are actually two significant issues that are talked about in these verses – human religious traditions and how to be pure before God.  The plan is to deal with the first one today, in vs. 1-13. And we’ll look at the second, purity, next week.

Our Scripture begins with Jesus involved in, surprise, surprise –

A conflict

1Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.

So some Pharisees are present and also some experts of the Law from Jerusalem – the theologians of that day. They’re checking Jesus out. They want to see what he’s up to.

The last time we saw some scribes they accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan (3:22), so not a friendly audience. Well, they and the Pharisees take issue again when they see some of Jesus’ disciples not washing their hands before they eat.

Now, this isn’t about good hygiene. As v. 2 indicates, it has to do with ritual uncleanness or defilement; that is to say, eating this way makes you ceremonially unclean before God.

Mark goes on to explain –

3For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.

[“All the Jews” is a bit of a generalization. Certainly the Pharisees, who were influential, held to the need for washing hands, as did the Essences, another prominent group of Jews. 

One word in not translated. It comes at the end of the phrase in v. 3, “they wash their hands . . ..” It says literally “with a fist.” No one knows for sure what this means. It might mean “carefully” or it might refer to how the hands are ritually washed. 

The very last phrase of v. 4, literally “and beds” or “and dining couches” is not in all the manuscripts. So if your Bible doesn’t have it, that’s why.]

Mark here is helping his non-Jewish readers (us) understand the situation. 1) Washing things was a big deal for many Jews, especially the Pharisees. And 2) The command to wash hands comes from “the tradition of the elders” not from Scripture itself.

This body of tradition was followed by the Pharisees. It’s sometimes called the oral law. The idea was that Moses wrote down the Law in the Bible, but other instructions were passed on generation to generation by word of mouth. (This tradition was later written out in the Mishna, and other writings.) So, the Pharisees believed there are two sources of commandments, the written Law in Scripture and the oral law or tradition of the elders.

5And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

This is really an attack on Jesus. The charge is that his disciples aren’t faithful to God, which means that, since he’s their teacher, he’s not faithful. (Jesus also didn’t follow this practice – Luke 11:38).

Their charge involves both the issue of 1) keeping the traditions, and 2) what purity means. But as I said, we’ll focus on the first for today.

Jesus on human traditions

Jesus’ first response comes in vs. 6-8, where he calls them out as hypocrites.

6And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

A hypocrite looks one way – good, but is actually another – not so good.

Jesus quotes from the prophets, specifically Isaiah 29:3, a passage that deals with honoring God. And he sees this verse, on one level, as pointing to the Pharisees and the scribes – and their error here. (The quote is closer to the LXX, although the same basic point in made in the MT).

The word “worship” should be taken in its broad sense of  a life of service and obedience to God, not just how they participate in a worship service.

They look like they’re honoring God with their lives. But this is only external, with their lips. Their heart remains far away. Why is their heart far away? Why is their worship “vain” or useless? Because they are only about teaching and following human rules.

He’s saying Isaiah hit it right on the head about you guys –

8You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Notice the contrast here between a life that is based on God and God’s commandments, and a life that is based on tradition and human commandments, which is useless.

Jesus’ second response comes in vs. 9-13, where he illustrates their hypocrisy. He begins with the same point he just made in v. 8 –

 9And he said to them, “Well have you set aside the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!’”

He’s saying again, you prefer your tradition to God’s commands. You leave or set aside what God says, to keep what you say.

Jesus then quotes from the Law on honoring parents –

10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’”

 He’s quoting Exodus 20:12, the fifth of the ten commandments and Exodus 21:17. It was understood by all that honoring parents, for adult children, includes caring for them financially when the’re older. The second reference shows how serious this issue is. Those who don’t honor their parents, but revile or curse them, deserve the death penalty.

Then Jesus lays out their hypocrisy –

11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother . . .”

Notice the strong contrast between what God has said through Moses, and what they say based on their tradition, which is not God’s word.

The word “corban” is a technical term for a vow to give your resources to God (that is, the Temple), but apparently the person here could still have access to them and use them until a later time. (This view was most likely held by many Pharisees and scribes at this time. It was rejected in later Judaism m. Ned. 9:1).

So based on their tradition the Pharisees and scribes said that you must keep your vow, and not the commandment to honor your parents. That is, you can withhold giving your resources to support your parents.

“. . . 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

They allow people to nullify what God commands, in order to keep a vow that is unrighteous in the first place. Indeed, they allow not only the breaking of the fifth commandment, but an action that is on a par with reviling one’s parents, which deserves the death penalty!

Summing up: Their charge was, ‘Jesus, you’re not faithful to God because you don’t keep the traditions of the elders.’ His response was, ‘Pharisees, you’re not faithful to God because you keep the traditions of the elders.’

They neither honor God (Isaiah 29) nor people, that is, their parents (Exodus 20 and 21). This is why they’re hypocrites. And he makes his point, not based on the traditions of the elders, mere human teaching, but based on the Law and the Prophets, that is, based on God’s word.

Well, it’s easy to criticize others, like the Pharisees, but –

What about us?

We all have human traditions. We all have opinions and convictions about how Christians should do things – that are not explicitly taught in Scripture.

  • What style of music should we sing in worship?
  • Should the sermon be about evangelism each week, with an altar call, or not?
  • What kind of clothes should we wear to church? Should we dress up or it doesn’t matter as long as they are modest?

Maybe you would see “the tradition of the elders” as equaling doing things the way we’ve always done things. But maybe our religious rule is that we have to be on the cutting edge and always do something new. It can work either way.

Now, for sure, we have to make choices on things to be able to function as a community. It isn’t wrong to have some traditions. But they can be taken too far.

What about us? Learn to differentiate between your traditions and God’s word. Eight times, in one way or another, our passage talks about human religious traditions. And throughout these are contrasted with “God’s word” or what is written in Scripture. These things are not the same. And so do not put them on the same level as the Pharisees did.

Yes, sometimes we have different views on things based on different interpretations of Scripture. But in the examples I have given you there is no explicit Scriptural teaching to settle the issue. They are matters of personal conviction, or a whole church’s conviction. And faithful Christians can differ.

What about us? Make sure your obedience to God is based on God’s word, and not mere human traditions. If your Christian life is just about making sure you practice your  traditions – I dressed right for church, I only sang the right kind of songs – then your obedience to God is useless, just like the Pharisees. Congratulations, you are a hypocrite! You look religious, but you haven’t built your life on following what God is actually interested in; what God teaches us.

Finally, what about us? Don’t judge others as unfaithful because of your traditions. This is what the Pharisees did to Jesus and his disciples. Jesus was faithful in every way, but was rejected as unfaithful because he didn’t conform to their merely human traditions.

And we do this too. Look, they aren’t faithful to God because they don’t dress right or sing the right kind of songs. When we do this we place our traditions over God’s commands. We do just what Jesus says about the Pharisees in v. 8 – we “leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

So let’s learn to identify and relegate our traditions to what they actually are – just our own convictions, not God’s commands. And let’s be generous and flexible with each other in the practice of our common Christian faith.

Jesus heals many people. Mark 6:54-56

Our passage this morning is quite short – only 3 verses! But I want us to look at it because its important and it leads us into a focus on Jesus as the anointed one, which I’ll get to later.

Let me say two things about these verses first: 1) They are the end of a large section of material in the Gospel of Mark from chapter 4:35-6:56. You can see how this section of Mark is put together in this handout – The literary structure of Mark 4:35 – 6:56. 2) These verses parallel another section of material just before the feeding of the 5,000, in 6:33-34. See this handout – The literary structure Mark 6:54-56. Notice that each set of verses has three parts – they recognized Jesus, they ran through all the towns/the whole region, Jesus taught/healed. These sets of verses frame the two stories of the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water letting us know that Mark wants us to think of them together.

Alright, let’s look at our verses –

Mark 6:54-56

54And when they got out of the boat . . .

Remember with me, Jesus has just walked on water and calmed the wind, and he and the 12 have now landed at Gennesaret.

. . . the people immediately recognized him 55and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was.

Once again, we see here Jesus as the celebrity of the day. He was truly famous and sought out by the common person. Not always for the best reasons, we could say – to believe in him, to be his disciple – but to have their needs met. Nevertheless Jesus does care about them and by and large he accommodates their requests for help.

56And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces . . .

These would usually be the largest open area of a given village or town. And so these people, not the sick themselves and not the disciples, are running ahead of Jesus to bring the sick to these marketplaces wherever he went.

. . . and (they) implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment.

The fringe of his garment refers to the four blue tassels that all Jewish men were to wear according to the Law of Moses (Numbers 15:38-39; Deuteronomy 22:12). This shows us again that Jesus was an observant and devout Jew (see also Mark 1:44.)

And as many as touched it were made well.

What an amazing display of God’s power. God’s Spirit was so upon Jesus that such a simple act of faith, touching the fringe of his garment, brought healing.

Notice the expansive language in these verses – people ran through the “whole region” to bring the sick to “wherever” Jesus was going. Mark is emphasizing the extent of Jesus’ healing ministry in this region. And then notice what little they had to do, just touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as did this were healed. All of this is to remind us of who Jesus is and his great healing power. Which brings me to my point today –

Jesus really is the anointed one

Remember “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. No. It’s a title. It’s the same word as “Messiah.” Christ comes into English from Greek and Messiah from Hebrew, but they’re the same word. Christ or Messiah is a title that describes who Jesus is – it literally means “the anointed one.”

What does it mean to be “the anointed one”? In the Old Testament people were anointed to carry out specific tasks for God: kings (2 Samuel 5:3), priests (Exodus 29:7) and prophets (1 Kings 19:16). Oil was used representing the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

To say that Jesus is “the anointed one” is to say that he’s the one, promised in the Old Testament, who brings God’s salvation.

When did his anointing happen? At his baptism. Mark 1:10 says, “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”

How do we know for sure that Jesus was anointed? Mark narrates it for us. These are the works of Spirit power that Jesus has done so far in our story: (Red is an exorcism, green a healing and purple a miracle.)

1. Cast out a demon (chapter 1)

2. Healed Peter’s mother in law (1)

3. Healed many and cast out many demons in Capernaum (1)

4. Healed a leper (1)

5. Healed a paralyzed man (2)

6. Healed a man with a withered hand (3)

7. Healed many and cast out many demons from a crowd from all Israel and beyond (3)

8. Calmed the storm (4)

9. Cast out a legion of demons (5)

10. Healed a woman (5)

11. Raised a girl from the dead (5)

12. Healed some in Nazareth (6)

13. Fed 5,000 people (6)

14. Walked on water and calmed the wind (6)

15. Healed many from Gennesaret (6) which is our passage.

Here are the works of Spirit power that we haven’t looked at yet:

16. Cast out a demon from a girl (7)

17. Healed a deaf man who also couldn’t talk – (7)

18. Fed 4,000 people (8)

19. Healed a blind man (8)

20. Cast out a demon from a boy (9)

21. Healed a blind man (10)

22. Killed a fig tree with his words to make a point (11)

And the other gospels record many more works of power by Jesus. And so I highlight all this for you to make the simple point that – No one has ever done such things! Jesus is indeed the anointed one; the one promised now come.

How should we respond?

  • We should believe that he’s the one, as Jesus calls us to in Mark 1:15, “believe the good news” that he’s bringing God’s kingdom salvation.
  • And we should turn away from our sins, as he calls us to in the same verse, “repent.” We are to become his disciples and put into practice his teaching and example.
  • And we should receive the salvation he gives to us, through his death and resurrection – forgiveness and new life by the Spirit.
  • And as his people we should trust and know that we can rely on him, the anointed one, to take care of any need we have.

Jesus walks on water. Mark 6:46-53

The literary structure of Mark 6:46-53

We have now covered Jesus feeding the 5,000, both the miracle of it, and also how it functioned as a sign which points to who Jesus is. Well, right after this we have our story for today – Jesus walking on water.

This story is somewhat similar to what happens in chapter 4 when Jesus calms the storm. And, as we’ll see, the question the disciples ask at the end of that story, “Who then is this that even wind and sea obey him?,” is answered even more clearly in our passage.

[In fact, this story in chapter 4 begins this section in Mark and our story today ends it in chapter 6, which we talk about next time.]

[Notice the parallels between these two stories: 1) Both are a water crossing – west to east; east to west. 2) Both begin with the same time frame – “when evening came.” 3) Jesus is not available – he is asleep; he is on land. 4) There is wind and struggle – the boat was taking on water; they can’t make headway. 5) The disciples are afraid – going to die; a ghost. 6) Both have the same phrase – “the wind ceased.” 7) Jesus demonstrates his power over the waters – calm sea; walks on the water and calm. 8) Jesus challenges the disciples’ fear – “Why are you so afraid?” “Do not be afraid.” 9) The disciples respond in similar ways – “filled with great awe” “utterly astounded”]

Here is a map of where this happens –

Galilee Jesus feeds 5000 2

There are two key things I would like to highlight from this story, a word of encouragement for us, and what we will look at first as we go through the passage –

Who Jesus is: Mark 6:46-53

46And after he had taken leave of them (the crowd), he went up on the mountain to pray.

Finally, Jesus gets some time away from the crowds, even if just for a few hours. And he spends it in prayer. (See also – 1:35, 14:35-39).

Jesus has just revealed himself, his identity as the Messiah and Son of God in the feeding of the 5,000, at least to those who had eyes to see it. And he’s about to reveal himself again to the 12.

47And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.

So the disciples are in the boat and he’s still on land.

48And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.

Jesus, still on the mountain, saw the 12 struggling, just after it got dark. The disciples were several miles away. Was it a clear night so that Jesus could see them in the moonlight or is this supernatural? Not sure.

Unlike in chapter 4 and the calming of the storm, the 12 are not in mortal danger. But they are struggling mightily against a strong headwind and not getting anywhere.

And about the fourth watch of the night . . .

 This would be from 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM in the morning. Now Jesus saw them struggling earlier in the evening, but doesn’t do anything about it until the fourth watch, several hours later.

What does he do?

. . . he came to them, walking on the sea.

This is the miracle of our story. He’s not on another boat. He’s not walking in shallow water – there’s no illusion going on. He’s literally walking on top of the waves and the water!

Here we need to remember that in Hebrew thought the deep waters are connected to ideas of chaos, turmoil and evil. Indeed they are associated with Satan and judgment (e.g. Psalm 74:13-14, Revelation 12:9). And Yahweh is the one who has power and dominion over the waters (e.g. Psalm 93).

This was clearly demonstrated when God divided the Red Sea and allowed his people to escape Egypt. And when this happened, God is described as making a path through the sea. Psalm 77:19 says, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters.” (See also Isaiah 43:16 and Job 9:8).

That Jesus walks on water, that is, he makes his path through the sea, shows that he too has complete dominion over the waters. Jesus is doing what only God can do, which demonstrates that Jesus is God’s Son, for like Father like son.

The story goes on –

He meant to pass before them . . .

It doesn’t seem likely that Jesus intended to leave the 12 behind while he went to the other side. No. The word for “pass before” is used in some key places in the Old Testament (LXX) for when God reveals himself. And this is in the background here. Let’s look at the most important example. Remember in Exodus 33 and 34 when Moses was on Mt Sinai? God, it says, “passed before him” – Exodus 34:6 (Also 33:19, 22). And when he does this he reveals himself to Moses. He can’t see God’s face because that would kill him, but he sees God’s back. So ‘passing before’ has to do with God’s self-revelation to people. (See also 1 Kings 19:11-12).

Well, here, like God his Father, Jesus is seeking to reveal himself to them; his identity as God’s Son in walking on the water.

49but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50for they all saw him and were terrified.

So Jesus is trying to reveal himself, but the disciples don’t get it, but are rather terrified thinking that they’re seeing a ghost or sea demon on the water. We get our word “phantom” from the word used here for ghost.

But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

So Jesus comforts them by telling them that it’s him and encouraging them not to be afraid. But there’s more going on here. The phrase “It is I” (ego eimi) is the way that God’s name “Yahweh” is translated into Greek – Exodus 3:14. And when God passed before Moses on the mountain, a key part of God’s revealing of himself was saying his name – Exodus 33:19. So Jesus here is saying the divine name in relation to himself,  or more specifically – I am Yahweh’s Son. He is God’s Son in human form. This is who Jesus is.

51And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.

This is what happened when Jesus calmed the storm in chapter 4. Both have the phrase “the wind ceased.” Jesus delivers the 12 from the storm.

And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

They couldn’t believe what just happened. As we saw before, if they had gotten what Jesus was trying to communicate in the feeding of the 5,000 – they would’ve known that Jesus is God’s Son. And as such he’s perfectly capable of walking on the waters.

Our story ends with v. 53 –

53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore.

They made it safely to the other side and back onto land.

Now let’s talk big picture for a moment. As we have gone through this perhaps you’ve noticed that our story today, and the story of the feeding of the 5,000 go together. The feeding of the 5,000 which we saw is reminiscent of the feeding of Israel in the wilderness is paired with this water crossing which has parallels to the crossing of the Red Sea.

[Parallels between this and the Red Sea crossing include:

  • God came from his mountain – Habakkuk 3:3. Jesus came from a mountain to the 12.
  • The Israelites crossed the sea at night, early morning – Exodus 14:21, 24, 27. This story takes place at night and early morning.
  • There was a storm involved – Exodus 14:24-25; Psalm 77:17-18. There was a storm involving strong wind.
  • God is described as making a path through the sea – Psalm 77:19-20; Isaiah 43:16. Jesus walks on the water to his disciples.
  • God came for the salvation of his people – Habakkuk 3:13. Jesus came to deliver his disciples.]

So in these two events Jesus is symbolically reenacting the story of Israel’s salvation, although in reverse order; God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt and his caring for them in the wilderness. (It’s not in reverse order if this is seen as the crossing of the Jordan into the land of Israel, which itself was a reenactment of the Red Sea crossing).

In this light, Jesus can be seen as showing forth his identity as the  Savior of God’s people. Just as God delivered Israel and cared for them, so Jesus as God’s Son is the one who is bringing about God’s kingdom salvation for the remnant of God’s people. This is who Jesus is.

Let me end with –

A word of encouragement for us

 This story can teach us a few things about going through trials ourselves.

  • Just as with the disciples, we will go through deep waters and experience strong headwinds in life, both as individuals  and as a congregation.
  • Just as with the disciples, Jesus sees us and knows our struggles. Even though he seems far away or absent, he always knows what’s going on in our lives.
  • Just as with the disciples,  he lets us go through trials. Jesus saw the disciples struggling but waited several hours before he came. We have to remember that trials are meant for our good. God is working in us to cause us to grow in our character and relationship with him. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
  • Just as with the disciples, Jesus comes to be with us and tells us to take heart, don’t fear. He gets into the boat with us in the midst of our struggle. As Isaiah 43:1-3 says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you . . .. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
  • Just as with the disciples, Jesus reveals himself as Son of God and Savior. At the right time he delivers us from the wind and storm; from the clutches of the deep waters. Peter gives these comforting words in 1 Peter 5:10 – “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

Jesus is our one teacher. Matthew 23:10

I want to share with you today on how Jesus is our one teacher, and we’re beginning in Matthew 23. In the midst of a blistering critique of the Scribes and the Pharisees in this passage, Jesus says something that is everywhere else assumed throughout the whole New Testament. And I want to highlight this for you this morning and talk about what it means for us.

It’s found in v. 10 where Jesus says to his disciples,

“you have one teacher, the Messiah”

So Jesus is saying that he is our one teacher. Well –

What does this mean?

For one thing it means that Jesus teaches us how to interpret the Bible. And he’s clear that it’s about him.

First he tells us that his life, death and resurrection fulfill the Old Testament story-line. After his resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 24:44, “. . . everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Jesus is telling us that the Old Testament has the character of promise to it and his coming is the fulfillment of all its promises.

One simple example of this is the prophecy of Micah 5:2. It says that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. And Jesus is, in fact, born in that city.

Second, Jesus tells us that his teaching on God’s will fulfills or perfects Old Testament teaching on this. As he says in Matthew 5:17, “I have not come to abolish the Law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.” Jesus is telling us that Old Testament teaching about God’s will for our lives is preparation for his teaching, which fulfills it.

After our verse, Jesus goes on in Matthew 5 to give several examples where he says, “you have heard that it was said to those of old (that is, by Moses), but I say to you . . ..” And the teaching that follows fulfills or perfects what Moses taught. One example of this is the topic of loving enemies. The Old Testament allows you to hate your enemies, at least your nation’s enemies. But Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:44 to love our enemies and he gives no exceptions. It includes our nation’s enemies. Jesus raises the standard. So we really do need to check to see what Jesus has to say about any topic that we are studying in the Bible.

Also let’s note that the rest of the New Testament points back to Jesus. That is, it points back to what is revealed about him in the Gospels. After all, Jesus commissioned the apostles to preach the good news of his coming and to teach new disciples “all that I have commanded you” – Matthew 28:20. And this is what the New Testament writers do. They point people back to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and his teaching about God’s will.

So Jesus really is the center of the whole Bible. It all leads to him and focuses on him. The Old Testament points forward to him and the New Testament points back to him. And we can understand it by seeing how it all connects up with and fits together with him. Jesus really does teach us the right framework for how to interpret the Bible.

Well, to have Jesus as our one teacher also means that no one has the right to set aside what Jesus teachesAs we just saw, Jesus said that we are to teach people “to obey all that I have commanded you”- Matthew 28:20. Not part, not some, not most – but all! Every bit of it.

No one can override Jesus. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. If someone says, but Moses said this, or our government says this, or this doesn’t apply anymore – and it goes against what Jesus says – then we stay with Jesus. We cannot take away from what Jesus and his apostles teach us.

And finally, to say that Jesus is our one teacher means that no one has the right to add to what Jesus teaches. There are two ways that this typically happens.

First, we add on our own human opinions and rules and make them binding on others. We’re all really good at this, we have lots of opinions and convictions, which is fine – the problem comes when we require everyone to follow our views, that go beyond Scripture, to be accepted as a good Christian.

Jesus condemns this in talking to the Pharisees, who were really good at this, and he calls it “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”- Mark 7:7, as opposed to teaching as doctrines the commandments of God.

This has happened a lot in church history. Perhaps its Catholics saying that everyone has to submit to the Pope. Or maybe its Anabaptists arguing over whether buttons or hooks and eyes are required to be faithful to God.

Second, some try to add a supposed new revelation that supersedes Jesus and what he has said, in part or in whole. We know that there are various groups and cults that have been formed that make this claim, leading people astray. Mormonism would be an example here.

But Jesus teaches us to “be on guard” against false messiahs and prophets. And he tells us that we are not to believe them – Mark 13:21-23. No one has the right to add to Jesus’ teaching.

Now, if we ask –

Why is Jesus our one teacher?

The scriptural answer is clear: As God’s Son, Jesus gives us the fullest and final revelation of God.

John 1:17-18 says, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus the Messiah. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Notice the contrast with the Old Testament in John’s reference to the Law. Moses gave a true and trustworthy revelation of God and he is considered the greatest of prophets. But John is teaching us that the Word made flesh gives us the complete and perfect revelation of God. For Jesus is not just a prophet, he is God’s Son.

Remember Philip’s question to Jesus, “Show us the Father?” Jesus responded, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” – John 14:9. Jesus gives us the fullest and final revelation of God.

A final question –

What does this mean for us?

We are to believe that Jesus is the promised one, just as he taught us. He is indeed the Messiah. As Jesus implores in Mark 1:15 – “believe in the good news” What good news? That the time of fulfillment has come – that he is here, the Messiah and Son of God. His life, death and resurrection fulfill the promises.

Also we are to follow Jesus’ teaching on God’s will for our lives. He is the perfect revelation of God’s will to us and this is how we are to live.

  • Jesus asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” – Luke 6:46. Can you hear the confusion in this? If I’m your Lord, why don’t you listen to me?? Something is wrong here. These things don’t add up. If you call Jesus your Lord then you must obey him.
  • Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” – John 14:15. If you’re not obeying Jesus you don’t love him. No matter what your feelings about Jesus might be. If you claim to love Jesus then you must do what he says.

And, of course, if we are to believe and obey his teaching, we need to learn what Jesus teaches us. Biblical illiteracy is a plague today. And I’m not just talking about among unbelievers in the world where this is expected. Right? What do they care? I’m talking about in the church. Even in churches that value and seek to follow God’s word. And more specifically, I believe we are functionally illiterate when it comes to understanding Jesus’ teaching.

  • Where is our love for his teaching? He became human to show us God’s way. Yet we put so little effort into understanding what he says.
  • Where is our love for Scripture? Where is our hunger and thirst to understand it? Are we curious? Do we ask questions?
  • Or are we apathetic. It doesn’t matter, I know the basics. Or I’ll leave it to my pastor or to my favorite celebrity preacher.

No. We need to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11. After Paul taught them it says, “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scripture daily to see if these things were so.” Notice their eagerness. Notice their examination of Scripture and that they did this daily.

I want to encourage you this morning, in the words of Jesus in Mark 4:24, “Pay close attention to what you hear.” (NLT) Or as we would say it today since this is all written down “Pay close attention to what you read.” Pay close attention to all the Scriptures – learn them, examine them, meditate on them – and especially pay close attention to what Jesus teaches.

Jesus feeds 5,000 people (2). Mark 6:33-45

We’re back in Mark 6 today taking another look at the feeding of the 5,000. We went through this passage last week, but to refresh our memory let’s read it again.

33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. 45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.

Last time we saw how Jesus, without anyone asking, multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed a crowd of over 5,000 people. All ate and were satisfied and there were 12 baskets full left over. Today we look at how this feeding is more than just a miracle – it’s a sign. That is, it points to something about Jesus; about who Jesus is and the salvation he brings

That this is so comes out in the very next story, in Mark 6:51-52. After Jesus walked on the water and the winds ceased these verses say –

51And they (the disciples) were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

Mark is saying, if the disciples had understood what the feeding of the 5,000 was about, they would not have been surprised that Jesus could walk on water. They understood that Jesus did a great miracle, but they missed something important. So what is it that they didn’t understand? This is our topic today.

And first we note that there are –

Parallels between the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of Israel in the wilderness

There are connections between the two. Not everything is the same for sure, but there’s enough commonality to make a link. Let’s look at this –

1. Location. The Israelites were in the wilderness. The 5,000 are in a desolate place. And Mark emphasizes this by saying it three times (vs. 31, 32, 35).

2. Organization. The Israelites were organized into groups of 1000’s, 100’s, 50’s and 10’s (Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 1:15). Jesus organizes the 5,000 into groups of 100’s and 50’s reminiscent of this – v. 39-40.

3. A miracle. There was a feeding miracle of bread (manna) and meat (quail) – Exodus 16. There is a feeding miracle of bread and meat(in this case fish).

4. Much food. There was an abundance of food – Exodus 16:12. Psalm 78:25 says of this, “he sent them food in abundance.” All 5,000 eat and are satisfied with much left over; 12 baskets full.

So there are broad parallels between these stories. Let’s see now what this tells us about –

Who Jesus is

  • Moses was the leader or shepherd of Israel during this feeding.
  • And Jesus is the shepherd in our passage, who teaches and feeds the multitude.

This connection between Moses and Jesus is highlighted in that Jesus alludes to Numbers 27 in v. 34 when he says that the crowd of 5,000 are “like sheep without a shepherd.” That’s because Numbers 27:16-17 is a prayer of Moses that uses shepherd language and has this phrase in it:

16Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.

This is Moses praying for a successor, another shepherd for Israel. And historically this was Joshua. But interestingly the name “Jesus” is another form of the word for “Joshua.” So the reference to this passage in v. 34 indicates that Jesus is acting as the true successor of Moses come to shepherd God’s people.

(A similar connection to Moses is made in John’s telling of the story where some in the crowd want to make Jesus king because they think he is, “The prophet who is to come into the world” – referring to Deuteronomy 18:15-19, again talking about Moses’ successor.)

And there are other messianic predictions that use shepherd language (See – Micah 5:2-4, Zechariah 13:7, Jeremiah 23:1-6). Ezekiel 34 in particular connects with the phrase “like sheep without a shepherd” because it describes the scattering of the sheep due to Israel’s bad shepherds. And then God promises in –

v. 23 – And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.

So this is a prophecy about the coming Messiah. And in Mark 6, Jesus is the Shepherd who feeds the 5,000.

All of this shepherd language and the allusions to Moses or Joshua or David as previews of the Messiah make the point that Jesus is the true Shepherd and Messiah of Israel. Who is Jesus? The feeding of the 5.000 portrays him as the Messiah.

But there’s more. Only a glance at our story shows that Jesus is much more than just a human Messiah. Who was it that fed Israel in the wilderness? It was God, not Moses. In Exodus 16:15 Moses said, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat” (Also Psalm 78:23-24)

And who is it that feeds the 5,000? It is Jesus. Mark 6:41 says “Jesus broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.” Jesus takes up the role with the 5,000 that God held with Israel in the wilderness in creating food for God’s people. He is much greater than Moses, Joshua or David, or whoever.

That he takes up God’s role shows us that Jesus is the Son of God. He can do what only God can do. Like father, like son, Jesus is God’s son. This is who he is.

Next, we look at what this story tells us about –

The salvation Jesus brings

And first we note that the feeding of the 5,000 points back to Passover. This was the meal that remembered and celebrated Israel’s salvation from slavery. Because of the death of the Passover lamb, the firstborn of Israel were spared and everyone was freed from Egypt.

  • In our passage, in v. 39, the reference to “green grass” shows us that this happened in springtime, which is broadly when Passover occurs.
  • And we learn more specifically that this indeed happened at the time of Passover in John 6:4.

So the Passover meal is certainly in the background to help us understand this feeding miracle.

Second, the feeding of the 5,000 points forward to the Messianic banquet. This is that great meal of celebration at the end of the age that Isaiah 25:6-9 talks about –

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine . . .. 8He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces . . .. 9It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.”

Jesus talks about this event in numerous places, for instance in Matthew 8:11 he says,

I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

  • In our passage, in v. 39 the word “sit” can also be translated as “recline.” It’s a word used for how you sit or lay down at an ancient banquet. It’s the same word that’s used in Matthew 8:11 – “recline at table.”
  • Also in v. 39 the word used for “group” (symposia) can mean dining groups at a banquet.

This banquet terminology shows that the feeding is being presented as a preview of the still to come messianic banquet on the last day.

And then finally the feeding of the 5,000 points to the Lord’s supper. Not everything is the same, for instance in the Lord’s supper you have bread and wine and the feeding has bread and fish. (Although throughout the emphasis is on the bread and not the fish.) But despite some differences, there’s a connection.

And in fact, as I have shown you before, the Lord’s supper itself is connected to both Passover and the Messianic banquet.

Here are some connections between the Lord’s supper and the feeding:

  • Both involve reclining, that is, they are pictured as banquets – 6:39; 14:18
  • In both Jesus is the host of the meal
  • And in both Jesus performs the same actions, in the same order: he takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread – 6:41; 14:22

That the feeding of the 5,000 is connected to the Lord’s supper shows us that the bread from the Lord’s supper (the Passover bread) which symbolizes Jesus broken body on the cross for our salvation -is also symbolized in the broken bread of the feeding miracle.

As we learn from John’s account of the feeding, Jesus is the true bread that comes down from heaven.

________________________

Who is Jesus? He is who Mark told us he was in chapter 1:1 – “the Messiah” and “the Son of God.”

And what does he do? He brings forth the salvation of the kingdom of God that Marks tells us Jesus preached in chapter 1:15. This salvation was pictured long ago in the Passover meal, predicted in prophecies of the Messianic banquet, symbolized in the Lord’s supper and also in the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus feeds 5,000 people (1). Mark 6:33-45

Jesus feed 5000 people: Literary structure

Today we’re in Mark 6:33-45 looking at the feeding of the 5,000. This is a really important story. In fact it’s the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. Think about that, of all that Jesus did.

I want us to look at it in two parts – first today, what Jesus did, that is, the miracle itself, and then next time what this miracle tells us about who Jesus is and the salvation he brings.

Mark 6:33-45

And we begin with setting the scene: vs. 33-34. Last we heard, the 12 had just come back from being sent out by Jesus. And they were overwhelmed by the crowds, so much so that they couldn’t even eat. So Jesus said, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” – Mark 6:31. Now a desolate place doesn’t mean here a desert, it means a place where there aren’t any people. But this plan get derailed –

33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34When he went ashore he saw a great crowd . . .

So Jesus and the 12 are in the boat, but the crowd on land is especially eager and run by foot ahead of them. Jesus and the 12 must not have gone a great distance because the crowd greets them when they land.

Now where they land is disputed, that is, where Jesus feeds the 5,000. Here’s my understanding. Luke 9:10 tells us that they land near Bethsaida, which is just East of where the Jordan river comes into the Sea of Galilee. And John tells us that they cross the Sea of Galilee to the other side, that is, to the eastern shore. So it seems best to say that they’re somewhere East of Bethsaida, where there are no villages or towns – the yellow circle on the map below.

Galilee feeding of the 5000

. . . and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

 Certainly there would’ve been the temptation for Jesus and the 12 to be angry that their attempt at rest has been thwarted. But instead of this our verse tells us that Jesus “had compassion on them.” It can also be translated as he had pity on them  or felt sympathy for them.

Why? “Because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The shepherd image is a common one in the Old Testament for leaders among God’s people (Numbers 27:17). If sheep don’t have a shepherd, they don’t know where to go; they have no one to guide them to food or to protect them from dangers. So this is a serious critique of the current leaders of Israel. They have failed at their job.

Jesus’ response is simple –

And he began to teach them many things.

They don’t have proper guidance and so he gives this to them. He teaches them about the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). [Pastors/elders are called shepherds (Acts 20:17-35; 1 Peter 5:1-4). And certainly in the New Testament shepherding is closely connected to teaching (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:7; Titus 1:9).]

We saw before that we need to have times of rest away from our work for the kingdom. But here we also see that sometimes, out of love, we must interrupt our times of rest from kingdom work to meet a real need.

There is also another lesson, we too should have compassion towards those who don’t know the way.  Not hatred towards unbelievers or even Christians we strongly disagree with. Not disgust. Not anger. We should have mercy and try to help them understand.

This brings us to the feeding of the crowd

 35And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

So the disciples are thinking very practically here. Let’s let them get back to civilization before dark – so they can get some food for themselves. It was probably late afternoon.

But Jesus has a different idea –

37But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

Practical thinking is fine, except when it goes against what Jesus wants to do – which is a miracle here.

The first part of Jesus’ statement can be translated, “you yourselves give them something to eat.” The emphasis is on you the 12, not the crowd. They are being stretched here.

And this is a lesson for us. God will stretch us as well. As we go through our lives as followers of Jesus we too will experience times when we need to move beyond merely practical thinking; what seems sensible to do what God wants to do, which is often counter-intuitive and seems all upside down and out of whack. So with all our practical sense and wisdom we need to be careful to discern when God is asking us to set this aside to do something crazy for him.

And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?”

They’re still thinking practically here and they raise two problems.

1. Shall we go? But this involves the same problem that the crowd would have – they’re in a desolate place, far away from anywhere to get food. And 2. the cost is prohibitive. 200 denarii is the equivalent of 200 hundred days wages for a common worker (Matthew 20:2). That’s about 8 month’s wages. And this is an amount they most certainly don’t have.

They don’t yet get what Jesus is up to. Jesus is their greatest resource and he is right there with them and he doesn’t charge any money. Since they are clueless, Jesus helps them.

38And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”

Jesus gives his practical thinking disciples a practical task, “go and see” what we have. When he says “you” it means the crowd also. As we learn in John, what they find comes from a boy in the crowd (John 6). They report back that they have five loaves of bread and two fish, which were probably dried.

39Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.

That there’s green grass tells us that it’s Spring time. And John tells us that it was during Passover, which would have been sometime during March/April.

Jesus gets the crowd organized to facilitate the distribution of food.

41And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.

After the blessing the miracle begins. Now, just how the multiplication actually happened is unclear. It says he “broke the loaves” and “divided the two fish.” Does this mean that he kept breaking the loaves and more appeared each time some was taken. Or does it mean that the loaves and fish themselves multiplied so that there was a pile of each Such details weren’t preserved. The fact is simply that the amount of food increased.

Notice how it was the disciples who gave the crowd food, just as Jesus said to them, “you yourselves give them something to eat.”

42And they all ate and were satisfied. 43And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

We have three things in these verses that highlight the magnitude of this miracle.

1. All ate and were satisfied. To eat till you’re full was not something that could be taken for granted in the ancient world. This was a feast of bread and fish.

2. There was an abundance of leftovers. Twelve baskets full.

3. And the crowd was large, 5,000 men. And as Matthew tells us there were also some women and children there (14:21).

Just an observation – no one in the crowd is recorded as being amazed by this miracle. Did they know the full story of how the food was multiplied?

Also, notice the contrast with Herod’s feast a few verses back, where all the big wigs were together and John the Baptist was murdered. Notice the contrast between this and Jesus meeting the needs of common people.

Here’s a lesson for us from this story God takes what little we have and makes it more than enough. Any time God uses us we are inadequate. But he can take who we are and the gifts we have and multiply them to accomplish his purposes.

The story ends by noting that the disciples and the crowd leave.

45Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.

The word “made” can also be translated “compelled.” This may reflect what John says about how the crowd sought to make Jesus their king. He didn’t want them getting caught up in this. More likely it’s that the disciples would have been very reluctant to leave Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They were always together and they were the ones who took care of his needs and also kept the crowds away from him at times.

The phrase “to the other side, to Bethsaida” is a little strange. Since we learn in v. 53 that they’re heading West to Gennesaret, he must mean they are to go West “towards” Bethsaida over to the other side.

Galilee Jesus feeds 5000 2

Earlier the disciples had wanted to dismiss the crowd so they could get food. Jesus here dismisses them having himself met their need.

Let me end by saying –

Jesus is amazing!

What a miracle! What power! What ability to do things that go beyond human understanding. No one even asked him to do this . It was pure grace. Jesus is amazing!

Strength in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 is a passage where Paul has some profound things to say about the theme of strength in weakness. And I want us to begin by reading this passage.

. . . to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Perhaps it’s my age, but I’m becoming more aware of my weaknesses. But also, I think, a part of this is just becoming more mature. (At least I hope I’m getting more mature.) When you’re young you think you can be anything and do anything. When you grow older and wiser, you can better evaluate yourself. You become more aware of your limitations.

There are many preachers today who present a gospel of strength. God doesn’t want you to be weak. In fact, God will take away all your weaknesses, that is, if you have enough of or the right kind of “faith.”

But this doesn’t match the Scriptures, which teach us that God does allow us to be weak and God wants us to have his strength in the midst of our weaknesses.

First, let’s look at how –

God does often allow us to be weak

Weakness is a part of this fallen, broken world that we live in. And God hasn’t rescued us from it yet. That won’t happen until the resurrection when all things are made new. We long for this, but until then, we will continue to struggle with our weaknesses.

Here are three examples: 

God allowed Paul to be weak

  • Paul suffered much lowliness, going without, physical suffering, but also being shamed and publicly humiliated. In 1 Corinthians 4:10-13 he says, “We are weak . . . we [are held in] disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the earth, the refuse of all things.”
  • Paul’s “thorn” was not taken away. This comes from our passage in 2 Corinthians 12:7-8 – “So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.”  There’s lots of speculation about what this thorn is. It was probably a permanent physical disfigurement from persecution. Perhaps damage to his eyes (Galatians 4:15; 6:11)? But in any case, a physical disability. God’s answer to Paul’s request was “No.” In this instance God wanted Paul to be weak.
  • His personal presence wasn’t impressive. We like to glorify Paul, but he didn’t make that big of an impression on many in his day. His opponents said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his personal presence is unimpressive.” Paul agrees in 1 Corinthians 2:3 – “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.”
  • His public speaking wasn’t very good. His opponents said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his speech is contemptible.” He could write well, but apparently not speak well, at least not by Greek standards. Paul agrees in 1 Corinthians 2:4, when he says that when he visited them, “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom . . ..”

A second example, God allowed Timothy to be weak

  • He was apparently introverted. But God called him to a ministry that involved public speaking, and working with people. So Paul encourages him in 2 Timothy 1:6-7 not to give in to a spirit of fear, but to remember that God has given him a spirit of power, and love and self-control.
  • He had bodily weaknesses in terms of his health. In 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul speaks of stomach problems and also “frequent illnesses.”

Finally, lest any should doubt God allowed Jesus to be weak

  • Jesus became human and took on the weakness of the flesh; the weakness of human existence. And we see Jesus struggling with this weakness in Gethsemane facing his death in Mark 14:38. As he said, “the Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
  • Jesus became a servant to others. Philippians 2:7 says that he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.” This is a position of lowliness and weakness.
  • He was persecuted and shamefully killed. As 2 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Jesus was crucified in weakness.” Was there another way for Jesus? No. Weakness was God’s path for Jesus.

What we learn from these examples is that God allows us to be weak: to be persecuted, to have illnesses and bad health, to have physical disabilities, to have personality weaknesses, to be in lowly circumstances in life, to be poor, to be in difficult situations that we are not gifted to handle. God doesn’t rescue us from all weaknesses, but –

God wants us to rely on his strength in our weakness

Rather than always delivering us he calls us to depend on him. Let’s look at how this works:

1. Accept God’s grace to help you. “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you . . ..” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

It’s hard to rely on someone else when we’re weak, but this is what God calls us to do. We want to be independent; self-sufficient. Sometimes we have pride thinking that we can do all that we need, that we don’t need anyone else. But in times of weakness we have to accept help and especially from God.

Our text shows us that God promises help to those who are weak when it says, “my grace is . . . for you.” And so we need to accept this help that God gives.

2. Know that God’s grace is sufficient for your need. “My grace is sufficient for you” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Here we emphasize the word sufficient. This is the promise of God to us  – God can take care of us no matter our weakness. Nothing is too difficult for God. If God’s grace was sufficient for Paul, God’s grace will be sufficient for you as well.

3. Know that when you are weak, you can be strong in the Lord. “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Here we focus especially on the last phrase. When we’re weak and we’re relying on God’s strength, then we are truly strong, for it’s God’s strength working through us, not the strength of our own flesh.

As Paul says in v. 10, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” When we accept our weakness, in that we know that God has chosen not to take it away, or at least not yet – then we can rely fully on the Lord; then we can be truly strong in the Lord.

4. Bring glory to God through your weakness. “My grace is sufficient for you” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

If we ask, “sufficient for what?” The answer is, to bring glory to God. When we are weak and yet we remain faithful to him; when we are weak and yet God does great things through us – this brings much glory to his name, which is what we were created to do.

As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” We are indeed clay vessels, easily shattered and full of weaknesses. But within us is the Spirit, who works through us and does great things that are beyond our strength and so others know it’s not us – and give glory to God.

So this morning I am encouraging you to be strong in the Lord. In the words of Ephesians 6:10, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” In your times of weakness, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Whatever your circumstances might be, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Will you enter the kingdom of God?

A test from the words of Jesus

Today I’m asking the question, “Will you enter the kingdom of God?”

The phrase, “the kingdom of God” (or “heaven”) is another way of talking about God’s salvation. And it was the favorite way that Jesus spoke of this. It means the blessings of the age to come – eternal life, joy and peace. We can have a foretaste of these things now, but we await the fullness of these blessings when Jesus returns.

So you can see, this is a very important question. And you can answer this by testing yourselves against the words of Jesus. Here are ten specific examples where Jesus speaks of entering or being in the kingdom of God.

Do you have faith in Jesus?

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 8:10-11. (NIV)

Jesus here commends a non-Jewish soldier for recognizing his authority as the one sent to establish God’s kingdom on earth. The man had asked Jesus to heal his servant. His sense of Jesus’ authority was so great that he didn’t even need Jesus to come to his house. He said, “Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed” – Matthew 8:8. Jesus was amazed.

Unlike so many in Israel, this man both recognized Jesus’ authority and boldly acted on it. That is, he had strong faith in Jesus. And Jesus is saying it’s those who have faith in him, whether Jewish or Gentile, who will take part in the great feast and celebration of God’ kingdom salvation at the end of the age, which is what’s pictured in these verses.

Do you recognize Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and will you boldly act on this? Like this man, do you have faith in Jesus?

Have you repented of your sins?

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” – Matthew 21:31 (NIV)

Jesus is referring to the tax collectors and prostitutes who had responded to John the Baptist’s message of repentance (Matthew 21:32/Luke 7:29-30). These are the same people who received Jesus’ message of repentance (Matthew 4:17) as opposed to the leaders of the nation of Israel, the “you” in this verse.

To repent means to have a change of mind and heart that leads you to begin to do God’s will (Matthew 21:28-31). You turn away from your old life to live a new one. These are the ones who enter the kingdom, even ahead of others who may seem like they should be first in line – religious people, or people without sordid backgrounds.

Have you repented? Have you had a change of heart and mind so that you now have submitted your life completely to God? Those who have repented can ask for and receive the free gift of the forgiveness of their sins through Jesus (Luke 24:47, Acts 2:38).

Are you born of the Spirit?

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” – John 3:5.

To be born of water refers to the process of natural birth. We all have this. To be born of the Spirit is to receive new life from the Spirit of God; it is to be born anew (John 3:3). And not all have this. Jesus is teaching us here that each of us must be born of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God.

Have you received this gift of God; this gift of new life? This is what makes all the rest of what we’ll talk about today possible.

Are you doing God’s will according to the teaching of Jesus?

Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:20.

Jesus also said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” – Matthew 7:21. (NRSV)

The first verse is near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, a long series of Jesus’ teaching on what it means to do God’s will. And the second verse comes near the end of the Sermon on the Mount. It gives a warning to heed all that Jesus has just taught. Both make the same point, to enter the kingdom you must practice the will of God that Jesus teaches. This is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. (See also Matthew 19:17; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5; 2 Peter 1:11).

Having been born of the Spirit and empowered by the Spirit, are you practicing God’s will just as Jesus taught it?

Are you generous with your wealth?

This is a specific example of doing God’s will, and one that Jesus talked about constantly.

Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” – Luke 18:24-25.

Jesus said this after a rich man chose not to follow him because he loved his money too much. The camel proverb is meant to make the point that it’s impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom. The pull of wealth and what comes with it, security, power and comfort is just too great.

But then Jesus says in v. 27, “What is impossible for people is possible with God” (NLT) That is, God is able to change our hearts so that we give up our wealth and become generous toward God and others. In this way we can enter the kingdom.

Has God worked in your heart, so that you are now generous with whatever resources God has given to you? 

Are you separating from what causes you to sin?

Jesus said, “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell” – Mark 9:47.

Not only do you need to repent,  you also need to stay away from whatever might lead you to sin – stumbling blocks. Even if this means taking radical action – like tearing your eye out. Even if this means losing something precious to you – like your eye. Not literally, of course. That wouldn’t stop you from sinning. It means get rid of whatever leads you to sin – maybe it’s a friend who influences you in the wrong direction, a job, unfiltered access to the internet, alcohol or whatever.

Are you guarding your obedience to God? Are you willing to give up whatever stands in the way of your doing God’s will?

Are you humble like a little child?

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 18:3-4.

In Jesus’ day children were very low in social standing, like slaves. To become like a child is to be humble or lowly. This is in contrast to the disciples who were focused on who was the greatest among them (Matthew 18:1). Humility means being willing to submit to others, to forsake honor, to serve others and to suffer lack. (See also Matthew 19:14; 5:3).

Are you doing these things? Do you accept lowliness?

Do you experience rejection for your commitment to God?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:10.

Those who suffer rejection for the kingdom will enter the kingdom; indeed it is already theirs. Suffering includes anything from being ridiculed to being killed. (See also Acts 14:22; Romans 8:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5).

Is your commitment to God more important than your reputation? Is it more important than your life?

Are you serving God?

Jesus said, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” – Matthew 25:21. (NRSV)

This comes from the parable of the talents. This parable teaches that we are to be busy serving Jesus while he’s gone. We are to be busy with whatever responsibilities God has given us. This could include sharing your faith, serving in Jesus’ community, and serving the needs of others. It means using your gifts for God.

Those who serve Jesus will enter the kingdom, “the joy of (their) master,” with a reward based on their work. But those who do nothing to serve God will be cast out of the kingdom (Matthew 25:30).

Are you serving God doing the work of the kingdom?

Are you ‘forcibly seizing’ the kingdom?

Jesus said, “The good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone is forcing their way into it” – Luke 16:16 (NRSV)

Those who want to enter the kingdom must be forceful in how they lay hold of it: They must seize it; they must grab hold of it; they must seek it first above all else (Matthew 6:33). This paints a picture of someone who refuses not to gain the kingdom, but does everything necessary to enter it. They pursue it at all costs (Matthew 11:12; 13:44-46).

Do you seek God’s kingdom above all else – money, relationships, family, status?

Finally, let me say, it’s not too late. That is, when you test yourself against the words of Jesus and you find yourself lacking. Rather, see this as an invitation even now:

  • to look to Jesus in faith
  • to submit yourself fully to God
  • to receive new life from the Spirit
  • by God’s grace to walk in this new life
  • and to hold nothing back as you do this

Where do Jesus’ words convict you? How do they show you what you need to do? Do these things and you will be ready for the kingdom of God and the blessings of the age to come, when Jesus returns.

God doesn’t sleep

Today I am sharing with you more of a devotional. Let’s begin by reading –

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

Sleep . . .

– is an odd thing really. Have you ever thought about it? I think about it from time to time. Why did God make us so that we need to sleep? I’m assuming that God could have made us differently, but he didn’t.

  • We spend 1/3 of our lives asleep
  • So a person of 70 years has slept: 204,400 hours, or 23 years of their life.
  • This is for Sonja and Jeff, parents of a newborn child lose six months of sleep in the first two years of their child’s life.
  • The record for not sleeping is 11 days. Another person did this more recently, but he died from it. 

One statistic I don’t have is this: The average number of church goers who sleep during the sermon??? But seriously, we need our sleep. Without it we get sick, mentally ill and, as we saw, we can even die.

But my point today is that God doesn’t sleepThis comes from our Scripture reading – “He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” – Psalm 121:3-4

Now false gods may sleep . . . in that they don’t answer or respond to people. Remember the story of Elijah? Where he challenged the priests of Baal and they all gathered together to see which god would answer by sending fire to consume the offerings? And when the priests of Baal called out nothing happened. And so Elijah taunted them saying of Baal, “Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” – 1 Kings 18:27.

The true God may seem to be asleep . . . in that God doesn’t appear to hear us. As the Psalmist prays, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!” – Psalm 44:23. And there are times when we struggle with God in prayer and with God’s will and timing. And we ask, “Is God really listening?!”

But, as our text tells us . . .

God doesn’t sleep!

God is always active and busy for our well being. God is awake and working, even while we sleep. So let’s look at what this means for us.

1. God watches over us as we sleep. When we sleep we are weak and vulnerable. So in Old Testament times you needed a watchman who stayed up during the night to look out for enemies and attack. Even if you lived in a walled city, there needed to be watchmen on the wall. The night is also a time of evil. We know that “darkness” is used as an image of evil in Scripture. And we know that we are more susceptible to fear of the demonic at night.

The point of Psalm 121 in saying that God will not slumber is that God is watching over us to protects us. God is our watchman. Six times Psalm 121 says, in one way or another, that God will “keep us.” This means that:

  • God will oversee us as we sleep and are vulnerable
  • God will protect us from any evil of the darkness

Because of this we do not need to fear, but can have peace as we sleep.

Psalm 91:5 says, “You will not fear the terror of the night . . ..” Why? Because God is our refuge and fortress; our shelter, the Psalm tells us. It’s like we are sleeping in God’s house.
Our own Psalm 121:6 says, “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.” The moon here is seen as a sinister or even demonic power. But God is our protector.

So we can sleep peacefully knowing that God is protecting watching over us:

“I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me” – Psalm 3:5. God kept the psalmist from danger.

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” – Psalm 4:8.

2. God can minister to us in the night. We may be trying to rest, we might be asleep or half asleep, but God can do work in our lives.

Psalm 16:7 says, “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.” Job 35:10 says, God gives “songs in the night.” And there are many examples in the Scriptures of how God speaks to us in dreams:

  • Think of Jacob and his dream of a ladder (Genesis 28).
  • Think of Joseph, Jacob’s son, who dreamed of his exaltation.
  • Think of Daniel, whom God spoke to in a dream and visions of the night (chapter 7).
  • Think of Joseph, Mary’s husband whom God spoke to several times in dreams (Matthew 1-2).
  • And think of Paul who was given direction on where to minister in a dream (Acts 16).

As Job 33:15-16 says, “In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then God opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings.” And, of course, it doesn’t have to be terrifying.

3. God provides for our needs as we sleep. Psalm 127:2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” This last phrase can be translated differently, as “he provides for his beloved during sleep.” This fits the context best. The point of the verse is that we don’t need to wear ourselves out with our work. God is busy providing for our needs, even while we sleep.

And beyond our work, we can let go of our burdens and anxieties for tomorrow and next week and next month. We can let go and rest because God is busy working on all this even as we rest. God is taking care of us 24/7 with no sleep, no breaks and no vacations.

The point of all this is to say that God is always there for us! Isn’t our God great in power that he needs no rest, easily doing what would kill us? And isn’t our God merciful to us, working on our behalf even as we sleep? Let us be thankful to the Lord. We serve a good and powerful God!

John the Baptist’s death. Mark 6:14-29

The literary structure of Mark 6:14-29

We’re in Mark 6:14-29 today, if you would like to turn there. Last time we saw how Jesus sent out the twelve to do the work of the kingdom: to preach repentance for the kingdom of God is at hand, to heal the sick and to cast out demons. We also saw how they came back to report to Jesus and he called them to rest from their kingdom work.

Well, in between the beginning and the end of this story; the working and the resting – Mark tells the story of John the Baptist’s death. And as I said last week, there’s a reason for this; there’s a link between these stories, which we’ll look at in a moment.

John raised from the dead?

14King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.

King Herod here refers to Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, the one who tried to kill Jesus as a baby. When Herod the Great died his territory was divided into four parts and four of his sons took over one part each. Herod Antipas was given rule over Galilee and Perea.

So in our verse we learn that Herod Antipas heard of the mission of the disciples. They went out in Jesus’ name and have now made him even more well known. As we’ve seen, Jesus’ fame has been increasing and here even the political leaders of the day have heard about him.

Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”

This is the first indication in Mark that John has died. Last we heard back in 1:14 he had only been arrested.

Although not really plausible, since John and Jesus are about the same age and were together for a time, some think that Jesus is just John raised from the dead. And it’s because he’s raised that he now has these miraculous powers.

5But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”

Elijah, or someone like him, was prophesied to return in Malachi (3:1; 4:5-6). But as we will learn later, Jesus identifies John as this Elijah (9:11-13).

Others thought Jesus was a significant prophet, since they compare him to prophets from the Old Testament.

16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

Herod declares his opinion that Jesus is John raised from the dead. He here also confesses to killing John, “John, whom I beheaded.” And perhaps there’s a connection between his guilt over killing John and the fear that John has now come back with even more power to haunt him.

Having told us that he died, Mark now gives us a flashback and tells us –

How John was killed

17For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Herod Antipas was not known as a devout man by any stretch of the imagination. In this case, John has be criticizing his marriage to his second wife Herodias. She was previously married to Herod’s half-brother Philip.

So Herod married his brother’s wife, while his brother was still living. This is strictly forbidden in Scripture. In fact, it’s considered incest (Leviticus 18:16; 20:21). Herod and Herodias have broken a basic boundary that God has laid down for sexual relationships.

And this plays into why John was arrested. Apparently Herod didn’t care too much about it but arrested John “for the sake of Herodias.” And this makes sense. After all, John was calling into question her marriage and thus her power. So she would have wanted him silenced.

But not only this –

19And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death.

Her response is straightforward and brutal.

But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

So even though Herod is not a devout man, who here flouts biblical teaching on incest, he’s still fascinated by John and is afraid to do more than arrest him. Indeed he protects John from his own wife. He even went to listen to him from time to time.

21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23And he swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”

Herod throws a birthday party for himself and all the bigwigs of Galilee and Perea are there. And no doubt it was a lavish event.

Herodias’s daughter, most likely from her first marriage, dances. And she does such a good job that Herod promises to give her anything. He even swears an oath to give her “up to half my kingdom.” (The word here in v. 23, sometime translated “vowed,” does mean he made an oath and not a vow.)

The phrase “up to half my kingdom” was a proverbial saying that just means – whatever you want (1 Kings 13:8; Esther 5:3, 6; 7:2). He couldn’t give his kingdom away even if he wanted. He was a client ruler under Rome’s power.

24And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

This was the moment Herodias was waiting for and she does not hesitate she wants John’s head. And notice her daughter’s grisly addition “on a platter.”

26And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.

It’s not that Herod is suddenly concerned about righteousness and keeping oaths, it’s that all the important people in his realm heard him and so he feels he has to come through on his foolish and rash oath. Even though he personally didn’t want to kill John.

27And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.

Herodias got what she wanted all along. Herod kills John, a person he knows to be “a righteous and holy man” – v. 20. A man about whom Jesus said, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater” than John. And he was killed for the most petty of reasons, so that Herod could save face in front of his guests.

Notice the contrast in this story and Jesus calling the twelve to go out. The same word “sent” is used in both. Jesus sends out the twelve to preach and heal and cast out demons (v. 7). Herod sent to have John arrested (v. 17) and sent the executioner to kill him (v. 27). There is a contrast in kingship here between Jesus the true king and Herod the worldly king. Jesus bring peace and blessing. Herod kills the most righteous man up to that point in history. (Perhaps this is why Mark uses the language of “king” for Herod even though he was really only a tetrarch).

[There are some interesting parallels between this story and the story of Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah. Except in this case “Jezebel” gets to kill God’s prophet]

29When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

The story begins with Herod hearing about Jesus’ disciples, and it ends with John’s disciples coming to honor their teacher by giving him a proper burial.

Let me end by highlighting three truths from this passage:

1. It’s not enough to hold Jesus in high regard. You can have a very high opinion of Jesus; that he’s a prophet – whether Elijah or John or another great prophet. And many people today do have a high regard for Jesus. If they don’t hold the church or Christians in high regard, and tragically too often with good reason, they do respect Jesus.

But Jesus is not just a prophet or a good man. He’s much more. Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. And it’s a faith in this Jesus, not in Jesus as a prophet or good man, that saves.

Jesus himself tells us that there will be many on the final day who even call Jesus “Lord” to whom he will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” Luke 13:27

2. God sets the boundaries for sex and marriage, not us.

The world says, as long as sex is adult and consensual – it’s fine; there’s no problem. But Herod and Herodias were both adults and their relationship was consensual and it was incest and it was wrong, as John the Baptist made clear. (See also 1 Corinthians 5:1-2)

Likewise a same sex sexual relationship can be adult and consensual. But it’s still wrong. And two people living together outside of marriage can have adult and consensual sex. But it’s still wrong. For Christians, God sets the boundaries, and those boundaries are found in Scripture.

Just like Herod and Herodias in their day, the world today can seek to silence us. But you know what? Even if it does, sexual sin is still sexual sin. And that’s because God sets the boundaries for sex and marriage, not us.

But certainly the main point of this story is that 3. Working for God’s kingdom will cost you. I believe this is why the story of Jesus sending out the disciples to do kingdom work and this story are intertwined in the way they are.

John’s death for his work of the kingdom forebodes the persecution and death that awaits Jesus and the apostles and even the opposition that awaits us – as we work for the kingdom. Are you ready for this?