Last week we saw how Jesus called out the first leaders for his new community – Simon, Andrew, James and John. The story of Jesus’ early ministry in Capernaum continues today with Jesus teaching and casting out a demon in their synagogue.
Let’s begin with some –
Capernaum was a fishing town. As I said before there was a booming fishing industry around the sea of Galilee as this time. It had a significant North-South trade route running through it and so it had a customs office for taxes. And there was also a small Roman garrison there.
Here’s a map . . .
This is a picture of the 4th century synagogue, with the floor of the first century synagogue under it, where Jesus was teaching and ministering in our story today.
Let’s look at our story –
21And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.
Jesus and his new disciples come into the city and are attending the weekly worship service at the synagogue. Jesus must have taught enough that the local synagogue leader had heard of him and asked him to teach, as was the custom to do with traveling teachers.
Mark doesn’t tell us what he taught. We know it had something to do with his basic message in chapter 1:15 – “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” And it would probably depend on what the Scripture reading was in the synagogue service that day (Luke 4:17ff).
Mark’s focus isn’t on what he taught, but how he taught – “as one who had authority.” The scribes taught based on citing tradition and various teaching authorities. So and so said this and so and so said that. Their authority came from being a scholar and they simply placed their opinion alongside others in expounding on the Law.
Jesus taught based on his own authority as Messiah and Son of God. Perhaps a part of his teaching here is like what we find in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, where he says several times, “you have heard that it was said to those of old. . ., but I say to you . . .” – and then he clarified and raised the standard of Old Testament teaching.
Jesus spoke clearly and authoritatively about God’s will to the people. As he said in Matthew 7:24, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them . . .” will make it through the final judgment. His words determined one’s eternal destiny.
The result of his teaching was that they were “astonished”; it blew them away.
Well, if Jesus’ authority in comparison to the scribes stood out to his audience, certainly his authority, or as it can also be translated “power” stands out in the next episode in relation to demons.
23And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”
An unclean spirit is another way of saying “demon” (e.g. Mark 5:2; 15) Demons are spirits that are in rebellion against God and under the dominion of Satan (3:22-23). Paul, referencing Deuteronomy 32:17 (also Psalm 106:37) tells us that demons are the spirits behind the idols that pagans worship (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).
It’s unclean in that it’s contaminated by sin and evil and thus it makes the man unclean. Here the spirit has control of the man so that it speaks through him.
Now we want to avoid two extremes in talking about demons. The first is saying that demons don’t exist because in our culture we only believe what we see. The second is thinking that demons are behind every bush; that they’re the cause of anything that’s bad.
Let me give you an example in relation to the second extreme. Scripture tells us that demons can cause physical problems – being deaf or unable to speak. But not all such physical problems are related to demons. And Jesus heals people in numerous cases, where there’s no exorcism involved. The key is that when a demon is involved, it means there’s a personal, destructive, supernatural force at work. And this force has to be dealt with for the symptoms to be resolved.
The demon asks, “What have you to do with us?” This comes from a Hebrew idiom. (Literally, “What to us and to you.” It is used several times in Scripture). It means ‘what business do we have with each other?’ Or even, ‘get out of my face.’
Notice that this demon speaks for his comrades too. “Have you come to destroy us?” It’s threatened and defensive. And it should be, because it knows who Jesus is. All the demons know who he is (1:34) since they are from the Spirit world. And though they cause people to fear, Jesus causes them to fear.
The title “holy one of God” is likely the same as saying, “the Son of God,” which is what the other demons in Mark call Jesus (3:11; 5:7).
25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.
Jesus’ authority stands out here. Others at times cast out demons (9:38). But not like this. They relied on magic, incantations and spells. Or they prayed to God who acted for them. Jesus casts out the demon with a simple command. Not even a prayer to God. And there’s really no struggle. Jesus speaks and the demon has to obey, even though it tries to resist.
Why silence the demon??? It’s not that what they say is wrong. Mark expects us as readers to take into account what they say, because demons do know who he is (1:34). It’s that Jesus wants to reveal the fullness of who he is in his own time and in his own way.
In terms of the bigger picture and in answer to the demon’s question – Jesus has come to defeat and destroy them. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God has come with his coming – and wherever it comes there is a clash with the kingdom of Satan. And so here we see, right at the beginning of his ministry (and will continue to see) that God’s kingdom will win this war.
27And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
The people recognize that this is really different. And they are amazed. What’s going on? A new teaching backed up by a demonstration of God’s power through Jesus in the casting out of a demon. Here is someone who speak with God’s authority, clearly, about God’s will. And backs it up with actions that show that God is working powerfully through him.
28And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
Jesus becomes a celebrity. As we will see, crowds begin to swamp him.
As we will also see later, just because people are amazed by Jesus doesn’t mean that they believe in him or accept his message “to repent and believe the good news.” In fact, many of these same people will turn on him and reject him (Matthew 11:23-24).
And isn’t this true today? Many are amazed by Jesus in various ways, but never give their life to him. Jesus is popular; he’s famous, but no one does what he says or trusts in him with their very lives. Being amazed and believing in him and obeying him are quite different things.
Let me end by sharing –
– I want you to take with you and put into practice.
Jesus speaks clearly and authoritatively to us about God’s will for our lives. He teaches us how to live.
And as the crowd said, it’s “a new teaching.” In his teaching Jesus revealed God as God had never been revealed before. He gives us the highest and final revelation of God. It is in accord with what came before, but it goes above and beyond it.
Do you build your life based on his teaching (Matthew 7:24-27)? Or do you pick and choose what you accept? And then add in some of what this person teaches, some of what that person teaches and, of course, what you think is right?
Jesus is our teacher and authority for all of life. Build your life on his teaching. Study it. Understand it. Put it into practice.
The second truth is this – Jesus sets us free from Satan and his demons! We need not be under Satan’s power.
We see today what happens when an unclean, unholy spirit comes up against the Holy One of God – anointed with the Holy Spirit, indeed, the anointed one. Jesus wins. And he wins every time!
We can be free and we can be free of our fears of demons and all the power of evil, for Jesus not only sets us free, he protects us and cares for us. Trust in him; call out to him and he will deliver you.
Alright, we’re back in Mark. John the Baptist has come and prepared the way. Jesus has been revealed to Israel in his baptism and has committed to his mission. And Jesus has successfully overcome the testing of Satan.
Mark tells us in 1:14-15 that “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” This tells us that Jesus is going around Galilee preaching this.
And now today we begin to see him in action in specific stories, here ministering to two sets of brothers – Peter and Andrew, and James and John. Let’s look at these two parallel calling stories of these four fishermen.
And we begin with some background
“16Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee . . .”
The sea of Galilee is really an inland fresh lake. It’s 12.5 miles long and 7 miles wide at its widest point. Jesus is around or even on the Sea of Galilee for most of his ministry in Galilee. This is the central setting all the way through chapter 8 of Mark.
Fish was the staple meat item in the ancient Greco-Roman world. And there was a booming fishing industry at this time in Galilee – with fish even being exported to Syria and Egypt. As we will see, James and John’s father Zebedee had a boat and hired hands to work. And Luke 5:10 tells us that Simon and Andrew and James and John were business partners. So, they were not dirt poor laborers, as they are sometimes portrayed – but more like middle class, business-people.
The calling of Simon and Andrew
16. . . Jesus saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Simon, or as he’s nicknamed by Jesus, Peter (3:16) and Andrew are originally from Bethsaida (John 1:44) but now live and work in Capernaum. (It’s not clear whether they were on the shore or in a boat).
Jesus calls them to “follow me.” Literally he says, “come after me.” He’s inviting them to become his disciples and full time apprentices (France). They are being called to join him in his mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God.
He specifically says, “I will make you become fishers of people.” The idea seems to be that just as they cast their nets and gather together fish, so they will come to gather together people for the kingdom of God. (Fishing references in the OT are all negative – Amos 4:2; Habakkuk 1:14-17; Jeremiah 16:16; Ezekiel 29:4-5). (See Jesus’ positive image of net fishing as gathering in people for the kingdom in Matthew 13:47-50) (The negative view of the Sea and the deep may be in the background here. It represents chaos, evil and death. The “fish” are delivered from this.)
And Jesus will train them to do this, “I will make you become” this. This is why they need to follow him and learn from him. And we see them doing just this, especially after Jesus’ death and resurrection in the book of Acts.
There’s no need to think that this is the first time they met Jesus. As Mark indicates, Jesus has been preaching the good news in Galilee (1:14-15). And the Gospel of John tells us that Andrew and Peter knew Jesus before this, with Andrew, at least, being a disciple of John the Baptist. (The way Luke tells the story in 5:1-11, Jesus is first in Simon’s house and there is also a miracle involved on the boat before they leave everything).
So their response, “immediately they left their nets and followed him” wasn’t done on a whim. They knew who Jesus was and had considered his message. (Most commentators go on about how Jesus’ authoritative presence and call is the explanation for them immediately leaving their nets to follow him. But, of course, many didn’t listen to Jesus, including the rich young ruler – Mark 10:17-22. His authority is rather displayed by his call to “follow me.” More below.)
The calling of James and John
19And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
There are several people named James connected to Jesus. This is not James the son of Alphaeus, one of the 12 (3:18). And it’s not James the brother of Jesus, who later led the Jerusalem church. James the son of Zebedee is the one who was killed by Herod Agrippa as described in Acts 12:1-2. So this was a fateful decision for him. He died for his choice here to follow Jesus.
As with Peter and Andrew, Jesus engages them in the midst of their work of fishing. Here, it says, “he called them.” If Peter and Andrew’s calling emphasized leaving career behind, here the emphasis includes not just the family business but also leaving family behind. It says, “they left their father Zebedee.”
These four disciples remained important for the Christian movement. They are the first four names on all the lists of the 12 apostles in the New Testament (See also Mark 13:3). And the three – Peter, James and John became the inner core of his disciples (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33), with Peter being the leader.
Now, let’s look at some –
Key themes and challenges
– from this passage.
First, there’s a real emphasis in this first part of Mark’s Gospel on Jesus’ authority or power. As we will see in the next few chapters – Jesus has authority over demons, to forgive sins, to heal, to perform miracles, to rule on proper Sabbath observance and so on.
This shows up in our story in that Jesus operates differently than Jewish rabbis did. They waited for students to seek them out. But here Jesus calls those he desires. And he does so in a distinctive way. He doesn’t say, ‘come follow God,’ or ‘follow the Law.’ He says “follow me.” He is the focus. (There are some similarities with Elijah’s prophetic call of Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21).
Well, Jesus is our authority. It’s not Moses, but Jesus. As he says in Matthew 23:10 – “You have one instructor, the anointed one” or “Christ.” And it’s Jesus who gives us the highest revelation of God’s will and purpose for our lives – not just as a fellow human being, but as God incarnate. Jesus is our authority and we are to follow him as well.
A second theme is just this, following Jesus. As I said, Jesus calls these four fisherman to be his full time apprentices. This meant that they had to leave their occupations behind and their family, so that they could travel with him. They literally followed Jesus around Galilee and beyond, learning from him.
As Peter later reflected in Mark 10:28, speaking to Jesus, he said “we have left everything and followed you.” Now this didn’t mean they sold everything they had, like Jesus asked the rich young ruler. Peter and Andrew still had their boat and fishing gear as we see in John 21:3. And likely the boat Jesus uses at various times during his ministry was theirs (or James and John’s). And they kept their house; it doubled as a house church. And they still saw their family. As we will see soon, Peter and Andrew’s house in Capernaum becomes their home base.
But it was a severe disruption and change in their lives. In that sense they are models for those called to lead and to proclaim the good news of Jesus today. These first leaders in Jesus’ newly forming community had a change of vocation and a change in their family life.
Now all Christians are called to follow Jesus in a more general way, as Jesus says in Mark 8:34 – “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Whether you are a leader or not, following Jesus will change everything about your life. Just think for a moment about what it means to deny yourself and to take up your cross. And in this sense these four followers of Jesus are models for all Christians.
A third theme is Jesus’ new community. The ‘authorities that be’ have already rejected John the Baptist, who was to turn their hearts to God. And soon they will reject Jesus as well.
And so right away Jesus begins to build an alternative people of God; a remnant. And this means selecting and training leaders. A few verses from ours today (1:29-34) he also plants his first house church. These are the ones who will support him and these leaders as they minister.
But what I want to highlight is the priority Jesus places on the church; his community. It’s right at the top. And so I ask you, ‘Do you prioritize the church, God’s new people, God’s new nation on this earth?’ It’s absolutely central to God’s plan for the kingdom. We are the people God has chosen to use to transform the world and no other. Is it central to you?
And then one final theme, people fishing. These four fisherman were called to “become fishers of people” as leaders among his people. But all of us are to be involved in this in whatever way we can; it’s the call of the whole church, not just its leaders.
And so I ask, ‘How are you doing gathering people in for the kingdom?’ With the gifts that God has given you and with the circumstances of life that God has put you in, how’s it going?
This story shows us that Jesus didn’t come to do everything for us. He came to do what only he could do, but what we can do he came to empower us to do. We are a part of God’s kingdom plan and we can’t be passive; we can’t sit on the sidelines. We must also, like these disciples join in and follow Jesus and take up the work.
Series: Mark’s prologue
This morning, we’re coming to the end of our study of Mark’s introduction to his Gospel. And to finish I want us to revisit the first verses and the prophecy there from Isaiah 40:3 and in particular Malachi 3:1. And I want us to focus on the question, ‘Who is Jesus?’
So let’s look at these verses once again:
1The beginning of the good news of Jesus the anointed one, the Son of God – 2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
- We have seen how Mark is combining together Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.
- And we have seen how these prophecies set out the basic logic of this introduction – the messenger, John the Baptist comes first to prepare, and then comes the Lord, who is Jesus.
Now let’s explore more deeply than we have, what these prophecies say about who Jesus is. Specifically, we are looking at the divine identity of Jesus.
We begin with –
As I have said before, this verse promises the coming of a messenger and then the Lord. It says, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God.’” (follows the LXX, except at the end)
The Lord here, in Hebrew is “Yahweh,” God’s personal name. Yet in Mark, Jesus is the one who comes. So, according to Mark “the Lord” in Isaiah 40:3 is a reference to Jesus. In fact, this whole first sentence in Mark is addressed to Jesus, as the Lord. So Mark is saying that Jesus shares in God’s divine identity. That is to say, when Jesus comes, it is God who comes.
[Mark changes the Isaiah quote at the end from “the paths of our God” to “his paths.” This allows the word “Lord” in the verse to refer to Jesus. In early Christian practice, the word “Lord” in the Old Testament was sometimes taken as a reference to Jesus, but not usually the word “God.”]
This same dynamic is going on in –
In context Malachi’s audience is wanting God’s intervention to bring about the promises. And so Malachi prophesies that first will come a messenger to prepare, and then the Lord will come.
And once again, in the context of Mark, it is Jesus who comes. So this is quite the claim concerning Jesus’ divine identity. When Jesus comes, it is God who comes.
But there is something more here that we haven’t looked at yet; a further distinction that’s important. And if I may, I will ask your patience as I lay this out.
Here in Mark and also in Matthew 11:10, where Jesus quotes it, the translation of Malachi 3:1 is a little different than what shows up in your Bibles. (Matthew 11:10 and Luke 7:27 also add at the end “before you.”).
Let’s begin with the traditional rendering of Malachi 3:1 – “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me/my face.” It looks like there are only two points of reference here – God and the messenger. But there are really three. More literally in Malachi the phrase “before me” is “before my face.”
And God’s face is spoken of in some interesting ways, for instance in Exodus 33. If you’ll remember, this is where, because of the golden calf incident God says he will not go with Israel to the promised land. He will send his angel (Exodus 14:19; 23:20, 23; 32:34; 33:2), but he himself will not go. This leads Moses to intercede for Israel, because this would be a disaster!
And God responds to Moses in Exodus 33:14, and literally it says, “My face will go with you and I will give you rest.” Face is usually translated as “presence”, but literally it says face. As the passage goes on we learn that God’s face is God – 33:16. For to have God’s face go with them, means that God himself goes with them.
But God’s face can be differentiated from God – 33:15. Moses prays in this verse, again literally, “if your face will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” So Moses can speak to God in prayer and in the process refer to God’s face in the third person, as if it is somehow distinguishable from God.
Well, Jesus and the early Christians, including Mark in our passage, I believe, are seeing something similar going on in Malachi 3:1. When it says, “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before my face,” they are reading God’s face as something or someone who can be spoken of in distinction to God, but yet who is God.
And to highlight this distinction, they say “before your face” and “will prepare your way” – making God’s face a person. In Mark 1:2: It goes like this – “Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way.” So God is speaking to God’s face here.
[In Malachi it would be as if, drawing on the imagery of the throne room from Isaiah and Revelation, God is on his throne saying, “I will send my messenger before my face,” while pointing to his face as a separate person standing there. In Malachi God is speaking to Israel. In Mark God is speaking to his face.] (Why it says “your face” and not just “you” is hard to understand, unless here, in contrast to the Malachi text, it means simply “before you” which is the simple rendering of this idiom. Whatever the case may be, the sense is not that God’s face is also being interpreted as having a face!).
[Some include Exodus 23:20 as a part of the composite quote in Mark 1:2. The language is close and has in it Mark’s phrase, “before your face.” In some Jewish interpretation Malachi 1:3 and Exodus 23:20 are connected (Exodus Raba 32:9; Deuteronomy Raba 11:9.) And some see Malachi 3:1 as a reflection on Exodus 23:20 (Beth Glazier-McDonald.) But it doesn’t line up with what Mark is saying. The “you” in Exodus 23 is Israel, not Jesus. And in Exodus 33, see above, the angel is distinguished from God’s face, who is Jesus.]
Drawing on the title in v. 1 and what God the Father says in v. 11 to Jesus at his baptism, we will call “God’s face” God’s Son.
Let me draw out several implications of this for the question –
Who is Jesus?
As Mark (and Jesus) present this, we have in Malachi a conversation between God the Father and his face or God the Son. And when does this conversation take place? It takes place before Jesus was born! This shows us that the Son of God is preexistent.
So although “son of God” language can be used in reference to human Israelite kings and even heavenly beings or angels – this Son of God is in a category by himself. He is uniquely God’s son and all the rest are a lesser reflection of him.
That the Son is preexistent shows us that Jesus is not merely a human messiah. And it shows us that Jesus didn’t attain his unique status as the Son of God at some point in history. The Son was God’s Son before Jesus walked the earth.
We also learn that the Son of God is in some sense the same as God. They are the same in that they are both God. Just as God’s face is God. And that’s why Isaiah can say God will come, and then in Mark it’s Jesus who comes.
And as well, the Son of God is not exactly the same as God the Father. There is differentiation. One is the Father and one is the Son. There is God and there is God’s face, who can be spoken of as distinct from God. And in the baptism scene we can distinguish between God’s voice which speaks from heaven and the Son who is in the wilderness being baptized. And also here the Spirit is differentiated from the Father and the Son, who is sent from the Father, and descends upon Jesus. We’re talking about the Trinity here.
So, even though Mark’s introduction is usually seen as more mundane that Matthew’s or Luke’s with their stories of the birth of Jesus, and much more mundane that John’s introduction, which speaks of the preexistent Word who “was with God and who was God” – actually Mark’s introduction is quite similar to John’s. He also teaches that the preexistent Son was with God and was God. That there is sameness in that both are God and that there is differentiation in that one is the Son and one is the Father.
But going beyond Malachi 3:1 in Mark’s introduction we are talking about the incarnation, which is a fancy word that speaks of how the preexistent Son of God has become a human, Jesus of Nazareth.
We see this in the story as Mark narrates it. It is Jesus who comes to fulfill the promises of God’s coming.
And looking ahead in the introduction and beyond this is what John the Baptist expected. He saw himself fulfilling Isaiah 40:3. He is the messenger preparing for the coming of the Lord.
But he expected the Lord, God to come as a human. We see this in two ways: 1) He says in v. 8 – “After me comes one who is mightier than I . . .” It would be unnecessary to speak of “one mightier than I” if this is a simple reference to God. Of course. Duh! But it makes sense if God comes as a human, who is thus more mighty than any other human. 2) And then later, when John was in prison he asked Jesus if he was this coming one, “or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). Clearly John is looking for a human, since Jesus was a human, whose coming fulfills the prophesy that God has come.
Let me just say two things at the end here –
1. Scripture is deep and profound and you will never exhaust it. Scripture is God’s truth which anyone can read and get the basic message. But you can also spend your entire life studying it and never be able to fully expound it. We have seen some of that here this morning.
2. When we worship Jesus, we do so rightly. He is truly God – God’s Son. And he is also truly human, who came to bring to pass God’s promises of salvation. And the best response to this is not to continue to talk about it. The best response is to worship him for who he is and what he has done for us.
[I am indebted especially to Richard Bauckham and Matthew Bates]
We’ve been studying the introduction to the Gospel of Mark and how in accordance with the prophecies of Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1, the messenger comes first, who is John the Baptist, and then comes the Lord, who is Jesus. In our passage today, we come to the end of Mark’s introduction, which gives us some very important insight into what Jesus is all about.
Let’s look at these verses –
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.”
Let me first highlight, in terms of the story line, that this is the key transition where John’s ministry comes to an end and Jesus comes fully onto the scene. The baton is passed.
We’ll learn more about what happens to John in Mark 6. But with regard to our verse, I want to point out that when Mark says John was “arrested” it says literally, he was “handed over,” which is foreshadowing of what’s to come. This same word is used in relation to Jesus’ arrest, for instance in Mark 9:31, and also the coming persecution of Jesus’ disciples, in Mark 13:9. So Jesus begins his ministry on a note of persecution that hangs over all that he and his followers will do.
Second, we have in this passage a summary of Jesus’ message that tells us in simple form what he taught, what he stood for, what he was about. The rest of the Gospel gives content to this, but this is where it’s all brought together and so it’s really important to notice and understand this.
If you had to boil the gospel down to just a few words, how would you say it? Or if you had to summarize the whole message of the Bible in a phrase, what would that phrase be? Well, this is exactly what Jesus is doing here. And since it comes from him – this is how he summarizes it all, we should take notice and seek to understand what he’s saying. Which is what I want us to do for the rest of our time together this morning.
Let’s read v. 15 together – “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news” – v. 15. (See also Matthew 4:17; Luke 4:43)
First, we look at –
The coming of the kingdom
And we begin with the question, ‘What is it?’
1. The kingdom of God, to say it simply, is God’s promised salvation. It’s more than this, since it brings together most, if not all of the Bible, but it is this.
Our world lives in rebellion against God and is in misery because of this. But Scripture speaks of a day when the earth will once again be under the dominion and blessings of heaven, where God rules unhindered; a day when all the prophecies will be fulfilled.
For now, the world is characterized by three things:
- Slavery to Satan, the leader of the rebellion. [The people of God came back from exile but were really still in exile, enslaved to the powers of the nations, or the spirits (demons) behind idolatry, led by Satan.] But the promise is that God will set us free – Isaiah 61:1. That’s what the kingdom is about.
- It is characterized by condemnation for sin and rebellion. But the promise is that God will forgive our sins and he will be close to us – Jeremiah 31:31-34. That’s what the kingdom is about.
- It is characterized by subjection to death. But the promise is that God will give us new life – Isaiah 25:7-8. We will be whole and at peace. Death itself will be overcome. This is the reality of the kingdom.
So taking this into account, Jesus is saying here that with his coming –
2. The kingdom has arrived. This is made clear in our verse. Jesus said, “the time is fulfilled.” The word “time” here is not about ordinary calendar time. It’s about God’s providential time. Jesus is saying, this is the moment; the appointed time. The word “fulfilled” has to do with fulfilling the many prophecies that were made. Jesus has come to bring them to pass.
Jesus also teaches us in this verse that the kingdom it is “at hand.” This means that it has drawn near. So something new is happening, something powerful, something long promised, something desperately needed.
3. This is why this is good news. We saw previously that the phrase “good news” in both a Roman and Jewish context (Isaiah) has to do with a royal announcement. And here it’s royal as well. It relates to the coming of the kingdom of God and indeed its king.
We saw how in his baptism Jesus is shown to be “the anointed one” or the Messiah. And he is proclaimed by God to be his Son – a royal designation. The gospel is an announcement that there’s a new king, God’s Son! God’s promised kingdom is here!
4. God’s kingdom and Jesus are intertwined. That’s why the rest of the Gospel is about Jesus – his teaching, ministry, life, death and resurrection. But it is summarized here as about the kingdom of God. That’s why in v. 1 it’s “the good news of Jesus” and here it’s “the good news” of “the kingdom of God.” (The good news of God [v. 14] is that what he has promised, the kingdom, he is bringing about through Jesus.)
The king and his kingdom are interchangeable. God’s kingdom is where Jesus is, and it’s where he rules.
5. There is more of the kingdom yet to come. Jesus talks about this, for instance in Mark 13:26 when he says the world will see him “coming in clouds with great glory and power.” That is, at the end of all things.
Most of his hearers would have expected the kingdom to come all at once. But Jesus teaches that there is an ‘already, not yet’ element to the coming of the kingdom. As he taught in Mark 4, the kingdom is like a mustard seed that starts out small, but eventually covers the whole world. It’s already here with his coming, but it’s not yet all the way here. That will await his second coming.
Now let’s look at –
How Jesus brings the kingdom
1. In his ministry we see the in-breaking of the kingdom
- He sets people free from Satan through exorcisms, for instance a little later in Mark 1.
- He forgives people their sins and gives them a new relationship with God. An example here is Levi the tax collector in Mark 2.
- He heals people, making them whole, including raising people from the dead. He raised a 12-year-old girl in Mark 5.
In all these ways Jesus is communicating that the kingdom is here! And it is being made known through him. The promises are beginning to be fulfilled.
2. In his death and resurrection he establishes the kingdom
- He overthrows Satan’s authority over this world. He is now Lord. (Matthew 28:18, which was likely how Mark originally ended)
- He provides for our forgiveness on the cross – Mark 14:24
- He defeats death in his resurrection from the dead – Mark 16. Death couldn’t hold him. And he pours out the Spirit to give us new life – Mark 1:8.
3. At his second coming he will complete the kingdom
- Satan will be judged and destroyed
- We will have a very close relationship with God
- We will be resurrected to live forever – Mark 13:27
Finally, in this short verse, Jesus tells us –
How to enter the kingdom
Jesus uses the phrase “entering the kingdom” many times. This has to do with how we receive the promises of God’s salvation, made known with the coming of the kingdom. Jesus summarizes this in two words:
1. Repent – This means to have a change of heart and mind that leads us to do God’s will from now on. We turn away from our old lives and walk in a new path according to Jesus’ teaching and example. For instance we love God with all that we are; we love our neighbor as our self; we honor our marriage vows; we take up our cross and serve others and suffer for this.
2. Believe – This means that we trust in God and God’s promises. We believe that the promise of the kingdom is here and we believe in Jesus, the king who provides God’s grace to us – freedom from Satan, forgiveness and new relationship with God and new life, which includes the promise the Spirit and culminates in our resurrection.
And these two things, repentance and faith, are two sides of the same coin: For if you believe in the good news, you will do what Jesus tells you to, which is repent. And if you repent you show that you have believed in Jesus.
Some questions for us
Do you know how to communicate the gospel? It’s good to know Jesus’ way of doing this, although he was speaking to people who were steeped in the Scriptures.
How would we say it today? Much of what we can share is our testimony. We say to others in various ways that through Jesus God has given me freedom, forgiveness and new life. The fuller framework can be picked up after someone chooses for themselves to become a follower of Jesus.
How is your repentance and faith? It’s not a one-time thing. It’s lifelong. Are you still believing? Are you holding to God’s promises even when it’s hard?
Are you still turning away from sin to follow Jesus? It’s a lifelong process. We live a life of repentance. We learn more as we grow in life what God wants from us. It’s like peeling an onion. We make progress but there’s always another layer to deal with. Have you stopped along the path? Is God waiting for you back where we went off the path?
Repent and believe is what we do to enter the kingdom both now, and in its fullness on the final day.
Is God making his kingdom known through us? God still sets people free from Satan. Are people being set free here and in our outreach? God still forgives and gives new relationship. Are people coming to know God here? God still gives new life. Are people becoming alive to God here?
Is God working among us in these ways? These are signs of the kingdom’s presence. They aren’t the only ones, but they are important. How are we doing?
Series: Markan prologue
We’re back in Mark 1 this morning. And let’s begin by reading once again vs. 2-3 which give us –
– that is unfolding in Mark’s introduction.
2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
We saw last time how by quoting Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 here, Mark helps us to understand the big picture of what’s going on with the coming of John the Baptist and then Jesus.
God had promised Israel that they would return from exile in Babylon to the land of Israel; a kind of second exodus. And he promised that he would come to them and reign in glory in a splendid temple; and Israel would be established and at peace.
Well, the people returned, but otherwise the promises didn’t fully come to pass. This is where Malachi comes in. He tells them that this is due to their sin and tells how God will send a messenger to call the people to repentance so that when God comes, they can receive salvation and not judgment.
We also looked at how Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 predict a sequential relationship between the two coming ones – the messenger, who is John the Baptist, and the Lord, who is Jesus. They tell us that the messenger comes before to prepare, and then comes the Lord.
This brings us to –
and how Jesus is who the prophets foresaw as the coming Lord.
The fulfillment – Jesus in the wilderness
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
Just as with John the Baptist, Jesus is now in the wilderness. [Like with John the Baptist, Mark portrays Jesus fulfilling the prophecy of the Lord coming in two ways, in the wilderness and through his message, which we will look at next time.]
We always ask, ’Why was Jesus baptized?’ After all, he didn’t need to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Well, just as the Lord God didn’t need to be baptized, but led his people through the waters of the Red Sea (Psalm 106:9), so Jesus also goes through the waters with his people, the remnant John has prepared. Just as the Lord didn’t need to be baptized when Israel entered the promised land through the waters of the Jordan (the ark, Joshua 3), so Jesus also goes through the waters with his people.
And as the prophet Isaiah spoke of a second exodus to bring the people back to the land, he said in 43:2, “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” [Along these lines, Jesus may have seen this as a part of “the way of the Lord” that John prepared, and so saw it as fulfillment of the prophecies in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1.]
The Lord, who is pure and holy, always goes through the waters with his people and leads them to salvation.
But two other things are also going on here. 1) His water baptism, as we will see, is the occasion of his anointing by the Spirit. This is where his title “the anointed one” comes from. He received the Spirit without measure (John 3:34 NLT). He was empowered to fulfill his mission as the Savior. And Spirit baptism, of which this is the most amazing example, and water baptism are connected in both the Old and New Testaments. (Spirit baptism)
And 2) his water baptism becomes the occasion where he publicly commits to his mission, which includes the cross. We saw in previous teaching, that baptism pictures a death and a resurrection (The cruciform shape of baptism. And as well, his water baptism pictures his coming death and resurrection – his true baptism, which he submits to here (Mark 10:38-39). And it is this baptism of blood, that will bring about the reality of salvation that water baptism points to.
10And 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.
The phrase “came up out of the water” refers to when he comes out of the Jordan river where he was baptized, that is onto the shore (See Acts 8:38-39).
He then has a visionary experience. Such experiences are connected to the idea of an open heaven (John 1:51). It says the heavens were “torn open.” This likely echoes Isaiah 64:1, a prayer to God – “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down . . .” to bring salvation. (See Mark 15:38)
And then the Spirit comes upon him. As I said, this is his anointing, where his title, the anointed one (Messiah or Christ) comes from. That the Messiah would be anointed with the Spirit is spoken of in several passages, for instance Isaiah 42:1 says, “I will put my Spirit upon him.” (Also 11:2; 61:1)
The phrase “like” a dove could mean gently like a dove lands. But more likely it means Jesus saw the Holy Spirit descend upon him in the form of a dove (See Luke 3:22). What does the dove symbolize? Remember Noah’s water crossing (Genesis 8:8-12), which is a type of baptism (1 Peter 3:21) and the dove there (Passing through the waters, Baptism as a pledge to God)? It’s a sign of the end of judgment and the beginning of new life. The Spirit will bring new life through Jesus to all who seek him.
11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
God’s speech here echoes Psalm 2:7 (LXX). This is a Psalm that speaks of the coronation of an Israelite king. God says to the king in part – “You are my son.” (This Psalm echoes 2 Samuel 7:14, which speaks of David’s son and a son of God.)
And the phrase, “I am well pleased” hearkens back to Isaiah 42:1, which we just looked at. It says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom by soul delights.” (There is also a possible echo of Genesis 22:2 LXX, and Jeremiah 38:20 LXX). Jesus is God’s Son; his pleasing servant and Messianic king.
But not only this, he is God’s “beloved” or “dear” Son. This word can also mean only. He is God’s Son in a unique and special way that no one else can claim (Mark 9:7; 12:6).
[So Jesus’ baptism connects back to the titles from v. 1. Jesus truly is the anointed one and the Son of God.] [Now, although Mark’s presentation makes it sound like all this was private, Matthew’s account makes it sound public – and in John’s Gospel we know that John the Baptist saw the Spirit come upon Jesus (John 1:31-34).]
And then the scene shifts –
12The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
That Jesus is tested after his water experience/anointing fits the biblical pattern. Israel went through the waters, had a Spirit experience (Exodus 15) and then went into the desert to be tested and ended up staying for 40 years. So also David was anointed king, but then was forced into the wilderness for a time of testing before his rule.
Jesus is actually already in the wilderness (vs. 4, 9) so he is led out further, away from all people.
The word “drove out” can also be translated “cast out.” It kind of sounds like the Spirit is eager to move things forward. There’s not a lot of detail. Satan is the agent of the testing. And Mark speaks of “wild animals” and “the angels.” There seems to be two sides here, Satan and the wild animals, which are hostile – and the Spirit and the angels who support Jesus.
This episode unveils the spiritual reality of what’s going on in Jesus’ mission. There is a fight between two powerful spiritual forces. It points back to Psalm 91:9-13. This passage mentions angels supporting the righteous one, and him treading upon “the lion, the adder; the young lion and the serpent.” In this light, this short vignette pictures Jesus victorious – with the help of the Spirit and angels, over wild animals and the serpent – a reference to Satan via Genesis 3:15, when God said to Eve her offspring would “bruise the serpent’s head.”
. . . to encourage and challenge us.
As I said last week, when we see how God’s plans are from of old, are orderly and have come to pass in the coming of John and Jesus, we should take confidence in God’s plans that are still unfolding. He will come through! Jesus will come again!
John calls Jesus the Spirit baptizer. And Jesus himself was full of the Spirit. This was a key part of the promises of God, that Jesus brings to fulfillment. And so I ask, has Jesus baptized you in the Spirit? And if you have received this, are you continuing to remain full of the Spirit?
As we see in the testing of Jesus, there is a spiritual battle going on. We sometimes lose track of this. In Western culture we are not comfortable with supernatural categories. But not only is God working in this world by his Spirit and angels, there is Satan who opposes him. And we are caught up in this. And if we want to be victorious like Jesus, it will be through our faith in Jesus and the empowerment of the Spirit.
Are you alert to the fight? Or are you sleepwalking through life? Unaware. Never really knowing what’s gong on around you. We need to wake up!
Series: Markan prologue
We’re beginning a new series today on the Gospel of Mark. A few things about Mark to begin with. It was most likely the first gospel written. And it likely contains the stories and teachings of Jesus that the apostle Peter passed down [Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses] and John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13-14; 15:37-40; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:11) later wrote out. These things are likely, I think, but they’re not from Scripture.
With regard to the Gospel itself, a few observations:
- It’s fast paced. “Immediately” seems to be one of Mark’s favorite words.
- Its stories are usually longer with more vivid details than Matthew or Luke.
- And yet it’s the shortest Gospel, because it has less teaching material in it than either Matthew or Luke.
We begin with Mark’s introduction which covers the first 15 verses of the book. Notice that it’s bracketed by the phrase “good news” (or Gospel) in v. 1 and in vs. 14-15 (2x). And both of these sections have elements of timing in them – “the beginning” in v. 1 and “the time is fulfilled” and the kingdom is “at hand” in vs 14-15.
The whole introduction turns on the first three verses, which contain a prophetic word that a messenger is to come first, and then the Lord will come. [This sequence is reinforced in v. 7 by John’s message, “after me” he will come.]
Alright, let’s jump in.
The first phrase
1The beginning of the good news of Jesus, the anointed one, the Son of God –
When Mark says, “the beginning,” this has to do with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, following John the Baptist’s work of preparation [see Acts 10:37]. But it can also refer to the whole Gospel. Mark is saying, this is how the Christian movement began.
We learn several things here about who Jesus is. 1) He is the “Christ.” This is the Greek version of the Hebrew word which means “Messiah” or more literally “the anointed one,” which is what I’m going with. This refers back to the Old Testament practice of anointing someone with oil when they are commissioned by God to do something. It was especially connected to the expected son of David who would come as the anointed one, to save God’s people.
2) Jesus is the “son of God.” This phrase is most often associated with the kings of Israel (2 Samuel 7:13-14; Psalm 2:7; Psalm 89:26-27), and sometimes Israel itself (Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 31:9, 20). It can also refer to divine beings or angels (e.g. the sons of God in Job). Basically it means one who rules, although we will see that Jesus is God’s son in unique and special way (e.g. Mark 1:11; 14:61-62).
3) Finally the phrase “good news” tells us something about Jesus. In Isaiah it refers to the coming of God to save Israel and to establish his rule or kingdom (Isaiah 40:9; 52:7; 61:1). In the Roman world it was used to announce the success of an Emperor or the birth of a new Emperor. In both contexts it is a royal announcement. And so this tells us that Jesus is a king.
By means of his introduction Mark gives his readers the privilege to know a good bit about who Jesus is before the story begins, while the people in the story struggle to understand who Jesus is, to the end.
2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
This is the only place in all of Mark that he quotes Scripture. And, of course, this happens right at the beginning of his Gospel. So this is really important.
Although Mark says, “as it is written in Isaiah,” he is actually quoting two (or more) passages. This is just how they sometimes did things at this time, combining passages like this and just using one name.
Let’s look at the two key quotes here in reverse order. Isaiah 40:3 says in part, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God.’” (LXX). In context this refers to the announcement, by the voice, of the end of exile in Babylon and God’s promise to bring Israel back to its land. This is framed by Isaiah as a second Exodus from Babylon to the land of Israel. [The path here is God’s, but like with the original Exodus, it is God and his people who journey together to the land. The Isaiah Targum speaks of the way of God and the congregation of our God.] [Mark’s quote here can also be translated to match the parallelism of the Hebrew version – “A voice cries ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Witherington]
And then we have Malachi 3:1 which says in part, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” [Mark’s version is a little different, which we will look at later]. This person is further identified in Malachi 4:5-6 as Elijah, who is commissioned to bring about repentance in Israel before God comes to visit them.
In Mark’s narrative, John the Baptist is the messenger, as we will see today. But also Jesus is the Lord who comes. In both passages God comes after the messenger. This, then is an amazing statement about Jesus’ divine identity, which we will come back to in a later message.
Now, by quoting these passages we get Mark’s insight into what’s going on with the coming of John the Baptist and then Jesus. As I said, Isaiah speaks of a second Exodus out of exile back to the land. And several prophets spoke of how things would radically change; how God would reign in glory in a splendid temple and Israel would be established in the land and at peace. Well, the people came back, but they struggled, still under Gentile rule, the Persians, and still with no sense that anything had really changed. So there was disillusionment.
Well, the book of Malachi picks up in this context. He tells the people that the holdup on the fulfillment of the promises is due to their sin. And so he predicts that God will send a messenger, Elijah to prepare Israel for his coming in power to reign. And he is to prepare them by calling them to repentance so that when God comes, it won’t end in further judgment. [I am indebted to Rikk Watts for this construal of Malachi’s role.]
So Mark is saying – this is what’s going on with the coming of John and then Jesus. God is working to bring about his kingdom; to fulfill his promises to his people of salvation and blessing.
The fulfillment – John in the wilderness
After the prediction of the messenger who will first prepare the way, John shows up doing just this.
4John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Now, not everyone came, of course, but Mark is emphasizing his success.
The connection between the messenger and John is clear. The messenger is to prepare the way, which includes calling for repentance on the part of Israel (Malachi 4:15-16). And John calls the people to repentance.
Also, the messenger is associated with the wilderness as is Elijah. Well, John is in the wilderness and he is telling people to prepare the way.
And then we have v. 6.
6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.
The messenger is identified as Elijah in some sense and John looks just like Elijah. In 2 Kings 1:8 someone describes Elijah in this way: “He wore a garment of hair with a belt of leather around his waist.” As Jesus says later in Mark 9:13, “Elijah has come” and he is referring to John the Baptist. (See also Luke 1:17).
Notice how what John is doing fits with Isaiah and Malachi’s vision of the need to prepare the people for the coming of God. In the first exodus, Israel crossed through the Red Sea. And then with Joshua the Jordan river. John is symbolically having Israelites go through the waters again (here the Jordan river.) So John is calling Israel to be reconstituted as a new people, ready for the coming of God. And since the leaders in Jerusalem rejected him, he is calling out a remnant to make them ready for the Lord. All of this points to the fulfillment of the promise of the prophets about Israel’s salvation. It all fits together.
The fulfillment – John’s message
7And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
A key part of John’s ministry was calling people to be ready for the coming one (Matthew 11:3, Acts 13:25). He describes him as the mighty one.
There’s a Jewish saying that a disciple is to act as a slave to their teacher, except for taking off their sandals (b. Ketub. 96a). But here John is saying he is not fit even to do this slave work for the mighty one.
John also speaks of the coming one as the Spirit baptizer. The one who will inundate people with the Spirit, like he does with water.
This has reference to several promises God makes to his people in the Old Testament:
- Joel 2:28-29 – “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”
- Ezekiel 36:27 – “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
- Isaiah 44:3 – “I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”
John’s water baptism was preparatory. The coming One’s Spirit baptism brings the reality of the promises.
What do we learn?
This teaches us about God’s plans. They are from of old. This was all pointed to by the prophets, Isaiah and Malachi and repeated by John. God’s plans are orderly. The messenger come first to prepare and after this comes the Lord to bring salvation. God’s plans are sure and true. It came to pass just as it was supposed to, which is the story Mark is telling us about. This should lead us to trust in God’s full outworking of his plan to bring it all to completion, as we wait our Lord’s second coming.
And speaking of his coming, we need to continue to be prepared for God’s coming to us. Are we single mindedly focused on God and serving him? Or are we off following the world, waiting time, focused on this life and not finishing the mission he gave us to expand his kingdom? Are you prepared? He could come at any time.
Our title today is Jesus is our hope! The theme is hope because the message of Easter is a message of hope and because Jesus is all about bringing hope to people. This is clear from when Jesus walked the earth. Here are some examples from the gospels:
- Jesus gave hope to the sick. Mark 1:40-42 tells the story of a man with leprosy. He came to Jesus and asked for healing. He said, “If you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus was moved with compassion – and healed the man immediately. He was set free from a condition that had ruined his life. And now he was able to move forward and live again.
- Jesus gave hope to those who had sinned. In Luke 7:36-50 a woman, most likely a prostitute, came to Jesus in tears and anointed his feet as an expression of devotion and as a response to his message of repentance. Jesus said to her “your sins are forgiven.” Her repentance was accepted. She was forgiven and she was given a chance for a new life; a fresh start.
- Jesus gave hope to those who were enslaved by evil powers. Mark 1:23-26 tells of how a demonized man was set free by Jesus. He simply said, “Come out of him” and the demon had to leave. This man was miserable and enslaved, but Jesus set him free and now he had new life.
- Jesus gave hope to those who were excluded. Luke 5:27-32 tells how Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Those not acceptable to the rest of society. Instead of being outcasts, now they were befriended by Jesus and given another chance.
- Jesus gave hope to those who were confused. Mark 6:34 says, “Jesus 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. Those who were lost and needed guidance learned from the good Shepherd himself, the paths of righteousness and peace.
- Jesus gave hope to those who needed new purpose in their lives. Matthew 9:9 recounts how Jesus called Matthew out of a dead-end situation in life, a tax collector for the very empire that was oppressing his people. Jesus said to him “follow me.” that is, come and work with me. And he did. Matthew found a new life focus that was full of meaning and true significance.
- Jesus gave hope to those who needed God to be near. God worked through Jesus by the power of the Spirit. God’s presence was real to people when Jesus was around. In Luke 7:16, after Jesus raised a young man from the dead, the crowds said, “God has visited his people!” Those who felt far away, even abandoned by God, were brought close, as the Spirit worked through Jesus.
So in all of these examples we see people who were suffering, miserable, confused, disillusioned; who were despairing. And Jesus gave these very ones hope.
But the world we live in doesn’t like the hope Jesus gives. It tells us to chase after false hopes that are empty and useless. And if we do hope in Jesus, it seeks to crush this.
In Jesus’ own day, the guardians of the way things are – the authorities and the powers of evil caught up to Jesus. And they killed him. As the two men on the road to Emmaus said, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Jesus gave them hope, but now their hopes were dashed.
But guess what? Jesus didn’t stay dead! Amen? The “powers that be” thought they had extinguished our hope; they thought they had extinguished Jesus. But they failed! And oh how they failed. As the angel said to those who looked for Jesus’ dead body, “He has risen; he is not here” (Mark 16:6).
Jesus lives! And so our hope lives. For since Jesus is still alive, he is ever with us, to continue to help us. And so I ask . . .
- Do you suffer sickness? Are you in need of healing? The same Jesus who healed a leper and so many others, still lives to heal us and help us in our suffering. And when the Father says it’s time, Jesus will give us a new resurrection body that will live forever without pain or suffering. We too have hope for healing and the redemption of our bodies. Jesus is our hope!
- Do you feel guilt and shame for sin you have committed? The same Jesus who forgave sins and who laid down his life on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, still lives to forgive us when we turn to him in repentance. We too have the hope of forgiveness. Our guilt and shame can be taken away. We can have a new, clean, fresh start. Jesus is our hope!
- Are you enslaved by powerful evil forces; unable to break free from sinful habits? The same Jesus who cast out demons with a word, still lives to deliver us from the evil one. We too have hope of freedom and new life from the powers of evil that seek to enslave and destroy us. Jesus is our hope!
- Do you feel excluded, alienated, left out? The same Jesus who welcomed any and all who would follow him, still lives to befriend us. We too have hope of connection with Jesus; of acceptance by him; of relationship with him – and his people. Jesus is our hope!
- Do you need guidance in your life? Are you confused about God’s will? The same Jesus who taught the crowds of old, still lives and makes known to us his teaching. We too have hope that we can know God’s way and that we can learn, from the good shepherd himself, the paths of peace. Jesus is our hope!
- Do you feel adrift in your life; without a purpose? The same Jesus who gave Matthew new direction, still lives to call us from our dead ends and our wrong turns – to come and follow him and to finish what he began. We too have hope for a meaningful and significant life doing what God has called us to do and what God has gifted us to do. Jesus is our hope!
- Do you feel separated from God; that God is far away? The same Jesus who made God present to the people of old by the Spirit, still lives and he pours out this same Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives so that God lives in us. We too have hope of knowing and being near to God; to have a relationship with God; to have God come and live within us by the Spirit. Jesus is our hope!
Indeed, no matter what problem or circumstance we find ourselves in, because he lives Jesus gives us hope. A hope that cannot be crushed, but that sustains through all of life.
Last week we began looking at barriers to effective prayer, things that keep us from getting our prayers answered, and also how to overcome these obstacles. Today we look at several more, and we begin with –
4. Wrong relationships with others
What I’m saying here is that we can’t be in right relationship with God, if we’re not in right relationship with others, or at least having done all that we can to be in right relationship with them. Our horizontal (as it were) relationships with other people, affect our vertical relationship with God. They are interconnected. And so broken relationships with others, hinder our relationship with God and thus our prayers to God.
Here’s an example that Jesus taught about, when we wrong someone. Matthew 5:23-24 – “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come offer your gift.” He’s talking about coming into the temple to offer a gift, to worship, to pray to God. And if while you’re doing this you remember that there’s a broken relationship with others, and the context here is that it’s broken by your angry, hurtful, damaging words, go make it right with the other person first, and then come to relate to God. Why? Because it affects your ability to pray and worship.
Another example is mistreating your spouse. Peter says in 1 Peter 3:7 – “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman . . . so that your prayers may not be hindered.” What’s he saying? If you’re mistreating your wife; if you’re harsh in your words or violent in your actions, your prayers will be hindered! [See also 1 Timothy 2:8 speaking to husbands]. And this certainly applies the other way around as well, wives don’t mistreat your husbands.
Indeed, it applies to all our relationships with others, family, neighbors, coworkers, strangers, enemies. How you interact with them can affect your prayer life – if you are treating them wrongly. And so to be effective pray-ers; to be in right relationship with God, so that your prayers are heard you must tend to your relationships. Make sure you are in right relationship with others. And if there’s a problem, do all you can to make it right, from your end of the relationship.
5. Asking God for things, that we don’t give to others
We say, “Oh God, I need your help with this and that. I need your mercy; I have done wrong. Lord, I need you to provide for my material needs.” But then, when others come to us and say “I need your help, I need your mercy, I need assistance with my material needs” – we say “No way!”
There’s a principle here, God won’t give us, what we won’t give to others. God doesn’t tolerate such double standards.
A clear example of this is asking God for forgiveness. Jesus said in Matthew 6:15, “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” We can ask God for forgiveness all day long, but if we’re not giving it to those who have done harm to us and have come to us seeking mercy – we will not get it from God. As the passage says, “neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
But the promise in Matthew 6:14 is that, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” If you give mercy to those who seek it from you, God will give you mercy when you seek it from him.
This principle that, God won’t give us, what we won’t give to others, is also true in other areas. Take for instance asking God to provide for your needs. Proverbs 21:13 says, “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” If you’re someone who turns away others who come to you with legitimate needs, God will not hear you in your day of trouble; God will turn away from you.
But on the other hand, the psalmist says in Psalm 41:1– “Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble, the Lord delivers him.” If you help the one in need, God will help you in your day of need. So we should give freely to others, mercy and help, and God will give generously to you.
6. Doubting God and God’s promises
God gives us, in the words of 2 Peter 1:4, “many great and precious promises” that God will care for us; that God will give us his mercy. James 1:6-8 talks about one such promise, praying for wisdom from God. It says, “But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” When we doubt God and God’s promises, it makes us unable to receive what God wants to give us.
Here’s an example of doubt as a hindrance to receiving what God want to give us. Turn if you will to Mark 6:1-6.
1He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6And he marveled because of their unbelief.
Faith in God and God’s promises is what opens the door for God to work in our lives. So if we want our prayers answered we need to lay aside doubt, and choose to have confidence in God and God’s promises; to rely on God, who is more reliable than anyone. As 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
7. A lack of persistence in our prayers
Jesus talks about the importance of this in Luke 18:1-8. This is the story of the woman who kept coming to the judge to ask for justice, who finally received an answer because of her persistence. Luke tells us that Jesus taught in this parable that “we ought always to pray and not lose heart” – v. 1. He taught us in this story “to cry out to God day and night” – v. 7
It’s one thing if God says no, and in biblical tradition you can press God up to three times when he says no – e.g. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Paul praying about his thorn. But if there isn’t a no, go for it!
Why is persistence important? Firs of all, God wants to see where our heart is. Deuteronomy 4:29, says, you will seek and find the Lord, “if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Is this a casual thing, or are we really seeking God for an answer? Our heart is made known in the persistence or lack of it in our prayers.
And also, we are involved in spiritual warfare. There’s a third party involved, and Satan and the powers of evil resist God’s will being done on earth. And our persistent prayer plays a role in overcoming this spiritual opposition.
So let’s not give up as we seek to have God’s will come to pass in our lives and in our congregation.
Last week we looked at our need to pray so that God can work through us here to grow his kingdom. Today, I want to continue on this theme and offer some teaching that I hope will help equip us to be better pray-ers under the title, “Overcoming Barriers to Effective Prayer” We’ll look at three barriers today – things that hinder our prayers from being effective or even heard, and next week, I hope to share more on this topic.
1. Harboring unrighteousness in our lives
Sin blocks our relationship with God. As Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” In this situation, God doesn’t hear us when we pray.
And that’s because it’s hard to communicate with someone when you don’t have a relationship with them, or especially when there is a broken relationship, unless, of course, you are talking about that brokenness and trying to fix it.
And let me be clear, God’s ears are always open to hear prayers of confession and repentance! No matter what you’ve done. No sin you have committed, no wrong you have done is too great that God cannot give you the mercy of his forgiveness.
But, if we stubbornly hold on to our sin that’s a different thing. I’m not talking here about being perfect. I am talking about willful, known sin that we choose to do and cling to it. We are just plain choosing not to obey. If we hold stubbornly to these sins God will not hear our prayers. God will not respond to us.
- The blind man whom Jesus healed expressed it well when he said in, John 9:31 – “We know that God does not listen to sinners . . .” that is, those who choose to disobey God.
- In Psalm 66:18, talking about prayer, the psalmist says, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
Well, if God doesn’t hear us when we cling to our sin, we can say with confidence that God does hear us when we confess and find forgiveness for our sins and when we walk in God’s ways
There are many scriptures that speak to this.
- The blind man whom Jesus healed also said in John 9:31, “. . . if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.”
- 1 John 3:22 – “And we receive from God whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.”
- 1 Peter 3:12 – “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.”
- James 5:16 – “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
All of these passages teach us that the way we live our lives does make a difference in our prayer life.
If this is an obstacle to your prayers, I encourage you, seek forgiveness and then choose to walk in God’s ways. And then, as 1 Peter says, “his ears (will) be open to (your) prayer,” and as James 5:16 says, your prayers will be “powerful and effective” as well.
We’re talking about “pride” here; a wrongful overestimation of who we are and how good we are. This is the artificial substitute for what we just looked at. It is not the righteousness that comes from God working in us as he transforms our lives, but rather our own deeds done in our own strength to try to impress God and others, accompanied by the attitude that we are better than others.
Please turn to Luke 18:9-14. v. 9 tells us, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” So this is definitely about self-righteousness.
Let me read for you vs. 10-13
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”
So both men came to the temple, the place of prayer. And they both offered up to God their prayers. And as the story tells us God heard the tax collector’s prayer, but God did not hear the Pharisee’s prayer. Why? God does not respond to pride and arrogance
As v. 14 of our passage says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” The Pharisee received nothing from God. But God does listen to those who humble themselves before him. Again v. 14, “But the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
It is as Psalm 138:6 says, “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.” When we are self-righteousness, God keeps us at a distance. But God listens to the lowly when they call out to him.
A final barrier for today is –
3. A selfish focus to your prayers
This is where prayer is really all about you and your desires. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” The context of James 4 has to do with the people’s selfishness, worldly desires, and ambitions. And the point is that God doesn’t answer these kinds of requests.
A good example of this is from Mark 10:35-45. In v. 35 James and his brother John say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Wow! Doesn’t this sound like a lot of what goes for prayer today? And there are some who teach Christians to pray this way.
What did they want? v. 37, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” In v. 40 Jesus tells them no. Only God can determine who will be exalted in this way. And in vs. 42-45 he teaches his disciples to forsake this kind of worldly ambition to be over others. Rather they are to lower themselves and serve others.
James and his brother John asked, but they did not receive. And that’s because God doesn’t answer selfish requests. (Or if he does it tends to be in the form of judgment – Numbers 11).
Prayer is about God’s will, not just what we want. What we have to learn and remember is that God is not a Cosmic Santa Claus. And the point of prayer is not to give him our daily Christmas list of gifts we want. God is not here to cater to our dreams, our ambitions, our cravings, and what we covet. The point of prayer is to have God’s will be done.
The second petition of the Lord’s prayer sums this up. Jesus taught us to pray, “your will (God) be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And although God allows us to ask for a change in his will or to reconsider the details, and God may or may not grant it – we ask not out of self-centered ambition, but because we are seeking out God’s mercy and glory in a situation.
Alright, we have looked at three barriers to effective prayer and how to overcome them:
1 Harboring unrighteousness – seek forgiveness and walk in God’s ways
2. Self-righteousness – humble yourself before God
3. A selfish focus – pray for God’s will to be done
We’ll pick this up again next week and look at how to overcome several other barriers to effective prayer.