Sunday, September 01, 2019

First Cross, Then Crown


Slave of All
(Mark 10:32-45, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, September 1, 2019)

[32] And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, [33] saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. [34] And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

[35] And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” [36] And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” [37] And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” [38] Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” [39] And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, [40] but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” [41] And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. [42] And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. [43] But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, [44] and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. [45] For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Going up to Jerusalem to Die and Rise Again

Jesus was leading his disciples on the road to Jerusalem, and they were both “amazed” and “afraid.” What Jesus was doing was not wise in their eyes. People had been seeking to kill Jesus in Jerusalem. Would it not be more prudent to stay away? Also, the danger was not just to Jesus, since his followers had some reason to think that association with him could be dangerous for them.

Just in case some of the disciples were assuming that Jesus would never lead them into danger, he again, for the third time, became very specific about his own future. In his first revelation of this awful truth (Mark 8:31), he taught them that he would 1. “suffer many things,” 2. “be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes,” 3. “be killed,” and 4. “after three days rise again.” When he returned to this important theme again (Mark 9:30-32), he added a fifth point: “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men,” vaguely alluding to the very important detail that an insider would hand Jesus over to his enemies.

In the passage this morning we get these additional details: 6. This will all take place in “Jerusalem,” 7. that there will be a Jewish judicial process, 8. where the religious rulers will actually “condemn him to death,” and 9. “deliver him over to the Gentiles,” and 10. that the Roman authorities will “mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.”

This is an amazing amount of detail to get right. Jesus knew exactly what would happen to him, yet he went to Jerusalem anyway. But why would people of power be angry enough with Jesus to express their rage through an unjust murder covered in official process? While we can offer many possible answers to this question, we need to realize that this was not just about the bad personalities or wicked tendencies of a few dangerous people. Paul writes in Colossians 1:21 that all of us were once “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” The problem here is part of the human condition.

Thankfully, the truth of our alienation, hostility, and evil deeds cannot change the greatest fact that Jesus foretold regarding the events that would soon take place in Jerusalem. We must not forget that Christ predicted that this story would end with a physical resurrection. And so it did.

We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.

Meanwhile, two of his disciples had a plan for victory of their own. They wanted the best seats in what they must have assumed would be an immediate coronation of Jesus. James and John asked to sit at his right and left hand when he entered into his “glory.”

Jesus plainly revealed their ignorance of what was to come: “You do not know what you are asking.” He was about to have a baptism of suffering and death. They would eventually learn through life experience, that they would have a “baptism” fitting for those who following a king who came to his glory through a cross. James would be the first of the disciples to be martyred (Acts 12:2). John would have the suffering of a sacrificial life, would author five books in the New Testament, including one that describes him as an exiled captive. “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 1:9)

Slave of all

When the remaining disciples heard about the episode with James and John, they took offense. Jesus had to explain to them all that honor in his kingdom was not going to be like that of the kings and princes of this world. He, the king of glory, had come to serve as a lowly slave, dying for our sins on the cross. They too must serve.

In the midst of this discussion we have these clear words of Jesus regarding his death as a substitutionary atonement. This is what we mean when we think of Jesus as the Passover Lamb of God. By his blood shed for us, we have life. His was the holiness, ours the sin. He took the death, faced it, and conquered it. We are united to him in his death and resurrection. He was “slave of all.” For “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Having won life for us, must we now still give our lives for him?

THE POINT: The mission of Jesus is for our salvation and also for our imitation. James and John did not yet understand. They had different expectations regarding how they would be right with God and how they would serve the Lord. So do we.

Applying these verses:

1. The cross and resurrection is not the way that people expect to be saved. Just magic.

2. The cross and resurrection is not the way that people expect to serve. How do we follow a cross and resurrection savior? What does this look like? See 3 John & Nazareths

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 119:41-48 – The steadfast love of Jesus

New Testament Reading—Romans 3:21-31 Righteousness of God apart from the Law

Sunday, August 25, 2019

E FP TOZ LPED

Seeing Jesus
(Mark 10:17-31, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, August 25, 2019)

[17] And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [18] And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. [19] You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” [20] And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” [21] And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” [22] Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

[23] And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” [24] And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! [25] 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.” [26] And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” [27] Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” [28] Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” [29] Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, [30] who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. [31] But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

THE GOOD TEACHER EPISODE – Good Teacher!

Among many other things that could be said about Jesus, our Lord was a “good teacher.” Of course the word “good” here was not so much about the ability of the Messiah to communicate. This was a moral compliment, which anyone might have expected to be received by Jesus without any objection.

Instead we are surprised to see that Jesus replies with a question and an important statement regarding true goodness. He says, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

We measure ethical goodness on a relative scale, comparing one human being with another. Jesus goes right to the source of all righteousness in his statement. Here we have the distinction between the great I-AM and all of fallen humanity. There is simply no comparison. But does the rich and relatively “good” young man talking to Jesus understand who Jesus is? That he is the I-AM himself now come in person?

You know the commandments.

The title “Good Teacher” was not the main point of this man's address. He had a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus is being approached as a holy rabbi who can answer important spiritual questions, and this is a very important question.

The man is surely expecting that he will win the eternal inheritance of life by something that he will do. Again surprisingly, Jesus goes along with this assumption, showing him the requirements of the Covenant of Works. In order to deserve heaven, someone would have to keep the entire moral law—and not just a little bit. This law, which is summarized in the Ten Commandments, binds everyone to personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience. This is what we all owe to God, and none of us has delivered. Therefore we deserve the curse of the law rather than a rich inheritance.

Jesus particularly focuses on the duties of loving our neighbor. “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” The man does the math on his own relative goodness and comes up positive. “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” He gets the wrong answer because he has ignored the absolute goodness that is required.

You lack one thing.

Jesus loves this man. Very encouraging, isn't it? He gently corrects him by showing him what the man preferred to the privilege of following the one who is not only good, but also is God, and is the only way for us to receive eternal life. This comes by way of a simple instruction. “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” He went away “sorrowful.”

He called Jesus, “Good Teacher,” but he did not properly see the God/man. He was willing to keep his riches and to walk away from Jesus. That's a mistake.

THE GOOD TEACHER EPISODE: THE DEBRIEFING – How difficult!

What point does Jesus make from this fascinating interaction. It is very difficult (Camel through the eye of a needle difficult) for people blinded by possessions to see Jesus rightly. (Revelation 3:17) “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (See the rest of Revelation 3 for some advice.)

All things are possible with God.

The disciples of Jesus were quite alarmed by all of this. “Then who can be saved?” His answer: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” That is a very good word for anyone who can hear it. Not only that, but he promises those who surrender all in favor of Jesus that they will have a hundredfold now (in the household of God) and in the age to come, eternal life, which was the point.

THE POINT: Jesus is worth more than anything, but only by the power of God will we get this straight. THE GOOD TEACHER IS GOD, THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW AND OUR ONLY HOPE OF ETERNAL LIFE

Applying these verses:
1. Jesus knows we are not seeing things rightly, but he looks at people like us with love.

2. The commandments are real and GOOD. We need that personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience. Where will you find what you need, if not in Jesus? Remember you do not have the right to change the rules and to set up a different standard than the one that sent the Son of God to the cross.

3. Do not walk away from GRACE. Fast or slow, happy or sad. Where would you go?

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 119:33-40 – Teach me

New Testament Reading—Romans 3:1-20 By works of the law...

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Following Jesus: The single man, the husband, the older brother


Jesus on Marriage and Children
(Mark 10:1-16, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, July 21, 2019)

[1] And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

[2] And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” [3] He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” [4] They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” [5] And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. [6] But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ [7] ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, [8] and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. [9] What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

[10] And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. [11] And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, [12] and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

[13] And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. [14] But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. [15] Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” [16] And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

He taught them.

It would be easy for people in every era to underestimate Jesus. With the benefit of the Old Testament that prepares us for his coming and the New Testament that sends us forth in mission as his followers, we need to avoid this serious error. He is Jehovah in the flesh, the great I-AM come in person. He led a life of singular holiness. He showed a commitment in love to us that is the very definition of faithfulness. He knows that we are vulnerable and he powerfully watches out for us and shows us the right way to grow as Christians.

Many people came to see Jesus perform miracles. Some heard him gladly when he taught. We need to do more than that—we must be disciples. We see, we hear, and we follow by his grace.

Marriage: What God has joined together...

The Pharisees came to Jesus with a question, not because they were looking for his perfect instruction, but to test him with the aim that he would get himself in trouble either with powerful authorities or with crowds of people.

The questioned they asked concerned divorce. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus turns the question back upon them: “What did Moses command you?”

No one could answer that Moses commanded that anyone get a divorce. Moses did record God's instructions for marriage from Genesis 1 and 2. They ignored those important words, and referenced not a command but a limitation or an allowance.

Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” Deuteronomy 24:1-4 gives us the passage they refer to. The first three verses present the situation. A man gives his wife a certificate of divorce. She then becomes another man's wife. The new husband then dies. Those are simply the facts of the case. There is no commandment in any of that. The ruling comes in verse 4, that if the original husband then desires to take his wife back who he had divorced, he cannot have her back. That is said to be offensive to the Lord and defiling to the land of Israel.

Jesus teaches that Moses allowed the divorce only because of the “hardness of heart” among the people. Divorce was never commanded or recommended. The larger instruction of the first two chapters of the Bible was what they needed (and we still need that), not what might be the horrible remedy under all kinds of particular cases that display our own hardness of heart and that of others.

The best answer is positive and not negative. Here is the outline of five very practical points: 1. Marriage was instituted by God and comes from the “beginning of creation.” 2. It is part of the essence of this divine institution that “God made them male and female.” 3. A new marriage requires some measure of leaving and cleaving. Though an extended family or clan remains and can be a great blessing, a new family is formed when a man and a woman take their vows. 4. This relationship of the vow-making joining of one man and one woman is God's plan for “one flesh” intimacy according to the obvious design of the Almighty. 5. God joined the two together. “Let not man separate” what the Lord has united.

Through further probing from the disciples on this matter, one additional theological proposition is added, and it is very important. Jesus surprisingly calls two specific cases of these principles (of which there could be as many as people can imagine) “adultery,” thus connecting all of this behavior with the Ten Commandments and in specific the seventh which says, “You shall not commit adultery.” Passages like this one and Matthew 5:27-28 teach us that the meaning of the Ten Commandments is not limited to the strictest literal words, but reflect the heart matters at the root of honest obedience.

Children: He took them in his arms and blessed them.

The verses that remain in our text teach us the blessed fruit of marriage in the amazing gift of children. Specifically, people have an impulse to have Jesus lay hands upon their little ones for a blessing, and this is very good. Conversely it is very bad to hinder them from being brought to Jesus and their later coming to Jesus without the aid of being carried. This was to be seen by all, as marriage also clearly is, as an illustration of spiritual truths that go to the core of our relationship with God and our place in his kingdom.

THE POINT: Jesus believes in marriage and the blessing of children. All his disciples need to receive his teaching and follow him in accord with their specific callings.

Applying these verses:

1. Following Jesus, the single man. Who is teaching all of this? A single man. Dignity.

2. Following Jesus, the husband. Who loves us as his blood-bought bride? Jesus only.

3. Following Jesus, the older brother. Who watches over us entirely? Our shepherd.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 118 – The stone that the builders rejected

New Testament Reading—James 5:19-20 Bring the wandering one home

Monday, July 15, 2019

Some thoughts on salt...


Elijah, Jezebel, and the Israel of God
(Mark 9:49-50, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, July 14, 2019)

[49] For everyone will be salted with fire. [50] Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Everyone will be salted with fire

In the previous verse, Mark 9:48, Jesus spoke of hell as a place where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Last week we noted that hell is not just a hangover from the Old Testament, but that Jesus and the entirety of the New Testament is actually far clearer about hell than the Old Testament teaching on Sheol.

In the case of Mark 9:48, however, Jesus is actually quoting from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah. Let me give you three verses that contain these alarming words about fire, Isaiah 66:22-24: “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD. And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

Because of this quote using the word “fire” in Mark 9:48, we need to connect our verses today with these words of judgment. What can it mean that “everyone will be salted with fire?” In this world since the fall we experience many blessings, but also lots of trouble. These varying experiences in life have nothing to do with whether or not we love the Lord. They come to all kinds of people. Nonetheless, this sprinkling of fire that touches us can be a testimony to all who will receive it, of a much more substantial trouble that all the descendants of Adam and Eve deserve. This salting of fire is a taste of hellfire judgment in the common tribulations of this world. It is not a bad thing, but (Luke 13:1-5) an expression of God's grace that will be very useful for all who will hear its message.

Sometimes food can be far too salty for most of us. And there are two moments in the timeline of the world, one past and one future, when the fullness of hellfire became (and will become) far more than what we can bear. The future one is the promised judgment of mankind in the return of the Lord. The former crisis was at the center of God's plan of forgiveness, when the hellfire of his justice came down on the innocent Jesus for all who would call upon the name of the Lord for mercy. (Consider 1 Kings 18:38 and the cross.)

Salt is good

The symbolic use of salt is very intriguing and worth further examination. For a symbol to be an effective form of communication, there must be some connection between the properties of the symbol and the thing which is symbolically represented. In this case, what is it that is true about salt that justifies its use as a symbol. 1. Salt has a distinctive taste, 2. salt is useful to preserve decay, and 3. salt was used in the culture of the ancient near eastern world in connection with treaties or covenants between nations.

In the Bible God has given us several passages related to salt and his covenants. Leviticus 2:13 - You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.
Numbers 18:19 - All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the LORD I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD for you and for your offspring with you.”
2 Chronicles 13:5 - Ought you not to know that the LORD God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?
Exodus 30:35 - and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. (symbolic of prayer)
Leviticus 2:13 - You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt. (the grain offering and the fruit of human labors)
Colossians 4:6 - Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Salt is good. It is a symbol of the Lord's everlasting promises of judgment and mercy. As a symbol of enduring gospel truths, it needs to be soberly considered. As Colossians 4:6 insists, everything we say in life needs to be “gracious,” “seasoned” with the “salt” of the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace, Paul is telling the Colossians in his letter, will be able to make you wise in the way that you speak with and live among all people.

But if the salt has lost its saltiness...

Yes, salt is good, but what if your “salt” has lost its distinctive taste? How can it do anything if it is not salty? (Matthew 5:13-16) What if the followers of the Lord in their words and their lives are not any different than the world that will one day face God's coming wrath? What if we refuse to repent of our sins or refuse to forgive others? How will we be the salt of the earth, if we are not salty with the covenant of grace?

We are missing something important if we deny Christ and his cross, if we act as if Jesus had nothing to say about right and wrong, or if our lives are not seasoned with the salt of true grace. (What I love about the church's love for purity and peace in missions...)

THE POINT: Our Lord calls us to have a taste of his holy mercy in our souls, and to live with the gift of a humble and faithful confidence in Jesus. PURITY: This must include a historic and biblical understanding of right and wrong, without which the cross of Christ makes no sense. (Example of Elijah and Jezebel) Is there no right and wrong? What then did Jesus die for? Is there a new right and wrong based on some other standard than God's revelation preserved for us over many generations? How can humanity define ethics that are superior to the wisdom of God? PEACE: But also quite essential, we must have the compassion of our savior for every person who seeks to turn from sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Are you all peace? All purity? We need both.)

Applying this verse:

1. Have salt in yourselves. This is not just about others. Repent of all sin. Believe in Jesus and the gospel.

2. Live at peace with one another. Extend the grace to others that Jesus has granted you.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 117 – All Nations and All Peoples

New Testament Reading—James 5:13-18 Elijah—a man with a nature like ours...

Sunday, July 07, 2019

More than Death and Hell


I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living...
(Mark 9:43-48, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, July 7, 2019)

[43] And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. [45] And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. [47] And 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, [48] ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

The seriousness of sin

It is a serious thing to lose a hand, or a foot, or an eye. Over the last several weeks we have had the privilege of praying for a soldier who sustained multiple injuries. Not only is he alive, but he is gaining weight, and will apparently be transferred soon to a better place for continued physical therapy on his road to a fuller recovery. We are not privy to his exact medical condition, but we know it was serious enough that we were all asked to earnestly pray that he would make it, and it does appear that he has.

All along we were not simply concerned about his limbs and his muscles. We also prayed about his emotional condition. What would it feel like for this warrior when he realized the extent of his injuries? How would he come to grips with whatever his inabilities turned out to be? If you lose a hand, foot, or eye, you may also lose your courage, or your sense of who you are. How would our friend bear these realities that were beyond what anyone could even talk about?

There is a still more important matter beyond our limbs and our emotions. How is it with your spirit today? Jesus draws our attention to this weightiest of matters. A person may be whole in body, sound in mind, and yet be dead in his spirit. On the other hand, someone can be wounded in his limbs and torso, and even troubled in his psyche, and yet be an heir of eternal life, with a spirit that is very much alive and trusting in Jesus.

Someone who has no answer for his problem of sin and guilt is in a very precarious position. Sin has 1. an eternal penalty, and it also has 2. a present power that traps and enslaves us so that we may feel that all hope of true repentance is gone. We need a heavenly gift and we should certainly ask for it. Why? Because it would be better to lose hand, foot, or eye and still have heaven than to have perfect physical and emotional health but to be “thrown into hell.”

The problem of hell

A just God and his own measured response to our transgression of his law is the most serious problem that any human being can face. Some people imagine that talk of hell is only an Old Testament issue. This is not the case. Genesis through Malachi is actually more vague about eternal punishment than Matthew through Revelation. God prepared us all in the earlier writings with the concept of Sheol, the land of the dead. It is Jesus and the apostolic writers who wrote their epistles after the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the church who taught us more specifically about hell.

There are only two points that we need to make about hell today. 1. Hell is not a desirable destination (“fire... thrown into hell... thrown into hell... fire”). 2. Hell is forever. (“unquenchable... where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched...”).

The first of these two points is obvious. The second is worth further consideration. Again, let me emphasize that the doctrine of the eternality of divine punishment is not some Old Testament wrath of God hangover that has little support in the New Testament. A 2011 article by Gospel Coalition author Justin Taylor cites ten passages that teach that hell is a place of eternal punishment. Eight of them are from the New Testament (Matt. 18:6-9, Matt. 25:31-46, Mark 9:42-48, 2 Thes. 1:5-10, Jude 7, Jude 13, Rev. 14:9-11, Rev. 20:10, 14-15). The two from the Old Testament are very relevant to Mark 9:48. Is. 66:22-24 refers to the fact that in final punishment “their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched” as quoted directly in our passage. Daniel 12:1-2 tells us that at the end of time, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This matches Matthew 25:46, which refers to “eternal punishment” right alongside of “eternal life.” How can the life part be eternal but the punishment be temporary?

Eternal life and the kingdom of God

If we have noted two facts about hell, it seems more than fair that we should be treated to at least two about the new heavens and the new earth. Jesus does not disappoint us. 1. The new creation that is surely coming is a desirable destination. (“It is better for you ... better for you ... better for you”) 2. The new creation is forever. (“enter life... enter life... enter the kingdom of God”)

THE POINT: Jesus, whose holiness and death were necessary for our forgiveness, is telling us all not to make excuses about sin. The truth is that neither hand, foot, nor eye causes anyone to sin. We have been slaves of sin since the fall of Adam. Out of a bad root comes evil fruit. What matters now is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15). Still, getting rid of sin is worth very drastic actions.

Applying this verse:

1. How is it with your spirit today? Are you alive in Christ? Is Jesus Lord? Did God raise him from the dead? Romans 10:9 says that you will be saved if you believe and speak such truths. You have the pearl of great price. Put your toe in the Jordan River of repentance, and see what happens next. You will change your thoughts, speech, and behavior. Today is the next day of your testimony about God in you, the hope of glory.

2. We do not do ourselves or others any favors when we blame our sin on some aspect of who we are, as if the Lord were powerless to give us victory over sin. It is time for us to sue for grace, and to walk in the newness of life based on the strength of our redeemer.

3. Pray for Christians like our warrior friend and so many others. No matter how they may find themselves “crippled” or “lame” or blind, they would do well to remember again that if they have the grace of repentance and faith, their spirits are now alive and they are better off than anyone else who is whole in body and mind, but dead in spirit. Pray and care for the weak, and may your own heart be filled with hope as God assures you that his promises to you are yes and Amen in Jesus Christ.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 116 – I love the Lord because...

New Testament Reading—James 5:12 Yes or no?

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Cornerstone and the Stumbling Stone


One of These Little Ones, the Cornerstone, and Stumbling Stones
(Mark 9:42, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, June 23, 2019)

[42] “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

Whoever

There are over 7 billion people on the earth today and there were probably about 300 million people in the days of our Lord's earthly ministry. Either then or now, that is a lot of people, and each one was created in the image of God. That means that they have an inherent dignity and also a God-given responsibility to do what is right.

Today many people have no written source that would be the final authority concerning ethical behavior. That does not mean that people have no sense of right and wrong. They do. But where do the new rules come from that so many people seem to have so swiftly adopted?

The new world that we live in believes in the autonomy of the individual above all. In this biblically strange but very familiar way of thinking, each person is an I-AM who is justified in seeking happiness as long as he or she does not unreasonably violate the will of another person who is also an I-AM. The key missing ingredient in this philosophy of life is that there is already an I-AM who has staked out the ground of self-existence and self-determination. Jesus is the I-AM who arrived in person in the womb of a virgin, taking on our human nature for the purpose of His own glory and our salvation.

Though we are not all I-AMs, we very much do matter, not only because of our creation in God's image, but also because of the blood-bought redemption of all the chosen ones in God's good plan for a new resurrection world. Therefore, when Jesus uses the word “whoever” in our text, he is asserting his authority over each and every human being, past, present, and future. Jesus is the I-AM over billions of moral agents that must answer to him concerning how we treat children and vulnerable adults.

One of these little ones who believe in me

There can be little doubt that every child matters to the God who assures us that he is aware of the death of a sparrow, and who at the moment he said the words that we are examining today was actually carrying a little child in his arms. Yet the specific focus of Jesus' saying in Mark 9:42 is on the little ones who believe in him. We will do well to think of the disciples and all those in the new entity that the master in Matthew 16:18 calls his “church” as the children of God through adoption.

The elders of our church have had the great privilege of hearing the faith narratives of many believers. It is often the case that men and women who are joining us say something like this: “I cannot remember any time in my life when I did not believe in God.” They generally have always had affection for Jesus and believed in the cross and the resurrection, not knowing specifically when they began to understand the gospel.

Our region of the country is often noted as a very irreligious are. A recent study by the Barna Group identified Manchester/Boston as number five on the most post-Christian cities in the nation. The “winner” was Springfield/Holyoke, so let me quote a few unsurprising stats for that area: 87% have not read the Bible in the last week. 65% have not attended a Christian church in the last six months. 60% have never made a commitment to Jesus. 47% have not prayed in the last week, 41% say that faith is not important in their lives. What does surprise me is that many people who don't normally read the Bible, don't usually go to church, and who have never made a commitment to Jesus, actually prayed this week! How many of these are vulnerable people, “little ones,” perhaps thinking of themselves as having very little significance in a celebrity world, and yet are actually open to the idea of making some commitment to Jesus? That could be thousands of people all around us, but they are probably not going to say anything to anyone about it. Nonetheless a bunch of them prayed to God this week.

Causing little ones to sin

In today's passage, Jesus is warning everyone in this massive world, not to put any stumbling block in front of vulnerable people who might want to follow up on their belief in him. The word for “sin” is not in the original, so the point here is not directly about someone who introduces little ones to sinful behavior patterns, such as someone who might entice children into substance abuse. (Ps. 118:22-29, Is. 8:13-15, Rom 9:30-33, I Pet. 2:1-10)

What is in view? The leaders of the church are supposed to serve the vulnerable in making progress in faith and obedience. When they misrepresent Jesus as someone different than who he is, they sow seeds of confusion. When they make the church a place where people are always trying to appear to be the greatest, they distract little ones from the glory of Jesus who says to all, “Come to me,” and “I will give you rest.” The best thing that we can do for “little ones” of every age is to help those who have charge of them in the Christian nurture of each one who believes in him. (Piper, Christa)

It would be better for him...

THE POINT: Jesus loves his “little ones.

To make them stumble is a personal offense against him. That could have very serious consequences. How serious? It would be better to have a very sizable upper millstone around your neck and be cast into the sea, which is no way for anyone to swim.

Applying this verse:

1. How can those who are spiritually bruised find healing from childhood traumas in this life and in the one to come? There is no easy answer here, but hearing the word of God with faith has to be a big part of the way forward for all of us. It will also help release us from much bondage if we can discover the essential grace of forgiving.

2. What hope is there for those who have led many astray in various ways? This is the kind of question that many would rather not consider. It is natural to care more about the victims than about the one who really should have known better. Yet even those who have failed badly as responsible adults can find a way out of bondage. There is yet grace even for someone who knows that he is the “chief of sinners” and repents. (see Paul)

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 114 – Mountains Skipping Like Rams

New Testament Reading—James 5:1-6 Come now, you rich...

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Why not rather disciple them?


A Good Reward
(Mark 9:38-41, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, June 16, 2019)

[38] John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” [39] But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. [40] For the one who is not against us is for us. [41] For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

We tried to stop him

The disciples of Jesus were very jealous for their special proximity to the master. Of course they had just had been arguing with each other about which of them was the greatest. (For more sibling rivalry, see John and Peter after the resurrection). Jesus had picked up a little child and told them that the greatest one should be a servant of all.

The disciples could not yet embrace that thought. As far as we can tell, Jesus was still holding the little child. Meanwhile they had moved on to a concern about some other person who might be a competitor for the title of the greatest.

Who was this intruder into their special circle of insiders? He was just someone who was casting out demons. That does sound pretty impressive. Not only was this a superstar activity, but he was doing it in the name of Jesus. The disciples acted as those who owned the copyright on the phrase, “in Jesus' name.” This “someone” was using their words that they knew to be powerful.

So what did they do? They “tried to stop him.” Why? “He was not following us.” The principle that they were suggesting was that only those who were part of the inner circle should be allowed to use the name of Jesus to perform miracles. Everyone else had to cease and desist. The disciples owned Jesus. Others should find their own savior of the world, thank you very much.

Do not stop him

Jesus did not agree with their assessment of the situation. He plainly instructed his closest friends, “Do not stop him.” Why? A person who did a mighty work in Jesus' name was one less person to oppose them as they sought to proclaim the name of the Lord and to see his kingdom established.

In this world, the close followers of the Lord would meet many who did not treat the name of Jesus with respect. Many would hate the name, as Paul once hated all those who were followers of the way of the Lord. Why should the disciples make more trouble among those who did not want to be their enemies? See Romans 12:18.

How did this strange situation described in these verses happen. People had heard that miracles were being performed (including casting out demons from people) by simple men (the disciples) who had been taught to do mighty works in the name of Jesus. They decided that they should try to do the very same thing that plain fishermen like Peter, James, and John were doing, and lo and behold, they found that it worked. That name!

Jesus' conclusion was good practical advice. If you tell such people to stop doing good deeds of power in Jesus' name because they are not one of us, you will be seen as protecting your own self-interest in a very small-minded way. You will also create an immediate enemy when you could have had a friend. Jesus' conclusion: “The one who is not against us is for us.” So be it.

You belong to Christ

There's more here. The man who was casting out demons in Jesus' name was not trying to show disrespect to the Lord and his friends. Quite the opposite. He was in effect serving the man who at that moment had a little child in his arms.

Why would anyone serve the twelve+ who was not following in the circle of the twelve? Simple answer straight from the Son of God: Because the disciples “belong to Christ.” There would be people who would want to come alongside the followers of Jesus because they knew that these men were connected to the Lord—even owned by Jesus.

Think of the many examples we have of similar behavior from the Old Testament. The Egyptians gave of their wealth to the Israelites after God had shown his devotion to his people. Think of those desperate souls who wanted to be associated with David because they had come to believe that he was the Lord's man. The same was true of faithful prophets like Elijah and Elisha. Think of the servant of the evil king Ahab, Obadiah, who had secretly supplied 100 men with food and water in order to protect them from the dreaded Jezebel. He did this for Jehovah God even though he an official of evil Ahab.

Of course each of these true servants of the Lord had many enemies too. The Israelites were despised and persecuted by Pharaoh. Elijah was pursued by the king's wife with all venomous hatred. Good Mordecai had his Haman, who built a seventy-five foot gallows to hang the man he could not tolerate. But with so many real persecutors, why should we demonize those who are only seeking to come alongside us with respect as a way to touch the hem of Jesus' garment through proximity to us? (Why not disciple Apollos).

Why would we be treated well by anyone? Because, in the words of our savior, we “belong to Christ.” This is the very thing that some disciples forget when they are busily pursuing their own greatness. We have the privilege of being held in the master's arms. We belong to him. This is a most interesting turn-around, since these friends were thinking that they owned the exclusive rights to the name of Jesus, and they were ready to protect their possession. How did Jesus treat Nicodemus? Zacchaeus?

The disciples thought that Jesus (and his whole brand) belonged to them. The truth was that they (and we, and many others) belong to him. These are two very different ways of looking at life and ministry. Being owned by Christ is the true believer's greatest glory.

Truly good works may be done by all kinds of people out of reverence for Christ and his church. (Consider 1. Other Denominations, 2. Admirers of the Western Tradition.) We should always encourage others in what is virtuous, even though those who get credit for virtue may not be in our churches. God has ordered this world so that those who are kind to us for Jesus' sake will by no means lose their reward. The church belongs to the Lord because of the good work of our glorious savior. Jesus is our best reward.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 113 – Who is like the Lord our God?

New Testament Reading—James 4:13-17 A mist