Lecture 6: Mark 6-12
Lecture: Mark 6-12
We’re going to look at Mark 6 through the first part of chapter 11. We left Mark at the end of chapter 5 last time. Starting in Mark 6, we have a series of miracle stories. We have some very important teachings there that I won’t have time to cover, on religious and human traditions and how legalism doesn’t work, because it only works on the outside and not on the inside. There are some more conflict with the Pharisees, and then in Mark 8:27 we enter the second major phase of Jesus’s life.
You remember when I introduced Mark, I said that Mark was broken down into 3 chunks: after the beginning, then there’s the Galilean ministry, then the travel ministry, and then the Jerusalem ministry. Mark 8:27 is the ending of the Galilean ministry, and it’s the beginning of the travel ministry.
Second Major Phase of Jesus’s Life (Mark 8:27-11:11)
Peter’s Confession as the Hinge
The structure of 8:27 through 11:11 is a fascinating thing. Mark 8:27-30 is called Peter’s confession, it’s a very important part in the overall flow of the theology of Mark. Jesus has been teaching publically about the Kingdom of God. He’s been doing miracles and talking about the Kingdom of God. Then in 8:27, he has the disciples alone, and he says, “Okay, guys, it’s time to fess up. Do you believe what I’m talking about or not?” he asks, “Who do people say that I am?” They go through this process, and then in verse 29, Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ,” and he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. So they had been with Jesus perhaps a couple of years at this point, and Peter, probably speaking for all the disciples, was willing to finally say, “Yes, we believe you’re the Messiah; we believe you are the Christ.” Jesus, as we said last time, accepted the title, but he just doesn’t want them to use it in public.
Peter’s confession is a hinge. Sometimes you’ll find that commentaries put Peter’s confession with the Galilean ministry, whereas sometimes they put it with the travel ministry, because it really is a hinge story. It is a hinge in that it is a culmination of the Galilean ministry—it brings it to conclusion—but in the process, it also introduces this new phase, this travel ministry. Things are different from here on out: Jesus’s ministry for the most part is private and Jesus is dealing, not with the Kingdom of God, but with discipleship. It’s as if Jesus says, “Okay Peter, you understand that I am the Christ, I am the Messiah, I brought in the Kingdom of God; now from here on out I’m going to teach you what the Kingdom of God is like, specifically what is it like to be a disciple in the Kingdom of God.” That’s the change.
One of the reasons that I enjoy Mark so much is that the structure of this passage is so clear. What you have are three units of teaching, and these three units of teaching are all structured the same way. They all begin with a death prediction. That would really have thrown the disciples, who would’ve thought, “I said you’re the Christ, you’re not going to die!” “No, I am going to die.” In each of these cycles, each of these units starts with a death prediction. This is followed by a misunderstanding of what discipleship is, where, in light of Jesus’s prophecy of the cross, a disciple says something that obviously shows they don’t understand yet what discipleship is all about. Then that’s followed by a new teaching on discipleship. So there’s a very clear cycle going on through the middle part of Mark. Sometimes there are a few extra stories, but then the cycle starts all over again. We’re going to walk through those three cycles, those three units, and you’ll see that pattern established.
Unit 1: Mark 8:31-9:29
The first unit is in Mark 8:31-9:29. This is the unit of material following on the heels of Peter’s confession. I’m going to spend most of the time tonight with this passage. I think that if you can understand this passage, you’ll understand all the other passages about discipleship, and what it’s really like to be a disciple in the Kingdom of God. This has probably been the most formative passage for me in the Bible over the last 10 years. I think I always read Jesus through Paul’s eyes, and he never made sense to me, because I always just struggled with getting a grasp on what the gospels were doing. Then I started teaching New Testament Survey at my old seminary, and so I had to deal with the gospels as gospels; that threw my Pauline grid. What happened was I came to see how Jesus uses different words and different metaphors and somewhat different concepts to express himself. A large part of this reorientation in my own theology was about what Jesus teaches on discipleship. When I went back to look at Paul, after I had figured this out, I started reading Paul differently too, which was interesting. This has been the formative passage over the last ten years of my life, and you’ll see why.
The message of this passage is about what it is to be a disciple, and there are three words that I’m going to use here. First, I think Jesus teaches that discipleship is total. In other words, Jesus expects his disciples to be fully devoted. There’s no part-time discipleship in Jesus. I can’t find it anywhere. It’s a total commitment to Jesus as Master. Second, discipleship is essential. It is essential for your salvation. As I read about Jesus talking about disciples, the way I like to say it is, only disciples are in Heaven. There is no other category of “Christians” that make it into Heaven, except for disciples. Third, discipleship is life long. We are called to persevere in our walk with Jesus. We’re not supposed to give up; it’s supposed to be our entire life. Discipleship is total, it’s essential, and it’s life long. Those commitments on my part come primarily out of this passage, and then filter out through the rest of the Gospels.
In this passage, Jesus starts with his first death prediction in verse 31. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer (31)). Can you hear the contrast in that? Daniel’s Son of Man, who comes into the presence of God the Almighty and who holds the eternal kingdom and who is worshiped, that’s the Son of Man who will suffer—many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days, rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him (32). But turning and seeing his disciples, (in other words, Jesus wanted to make sure the other eleven were listening), he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ (How do you think Peter felt right then?) ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man (33).’” Jesus is predicting his death; he’s combining the Son of Man and suffering servant concept. Peter in his response shows that he didn’t really understand what he had said when he said that Jesus was the Christ. Again for him the Christ is a victorious leader. Jesus is saying that he’s dying, and Peter starts to rebuke him. There’s your misunderstanding of discipleship. Then what follows is the new teaching on discipleship, which addresses the question, “What is it like to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God?” Let’s examine verses 34 to the end of the chapter, slowly. “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples,” you understand there was a much larger group that followed Jesus, not just the twelve. So he called everyone, not just the twelve, “he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me(34). For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it (35). For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life(36)? For what can a man give in return for his life(37)? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (38).’” Jesus spoke in a way that was designed to make people reflect. There is so much crammed into a few words that he probably said this and the people looked at him and thought “What?” But he’s speaking in this way because he wants the people to mull over and to think.
Let’s mull it over. Verse 34, I think, is the thesis statement. I think verse 34 is the heart of what Jesus is trying to say. He says, “If anyone would come after me,”—notice that Jesus thinks in terms of following. He thinks in terms of discipleship. That’s his frame of reference. Notice he doesn’t say, there are certain things that you have to believe if you want to be my disciple. It’s not an issue of specific theological truths, it’s an issue of following him, it’s an issue of being his disciple. That’s how he pictures things, as being a disciple. “If you want to be my disciple then you have to do 2 things, the first is that you have to deny yourself.” He says, “Let him deny himself.” Now what on earth does that mean? It’s one of these phrases that, if you were raised in a church, you’re probably use to hearing. But it’s a phrase that’s hard to define. In fact, what makes it even more difficult is that Jesus uses other terms throughout this paragraph to mean the same thing. For example, in verse 35, he’s talking about somebody who loses his life. That’s the same thing as denying. In verse 38, he’s talking about people who are ashamed of him. These are different ways of saying the same fundamental thing. What does it mean to deny yourself? It means to lose your life for the sake of the gospel. It means to not be ashamed of me.
I don’t think Jesus is talking about the denial of things in general. This is not asceticism; this isn’t like Lent where you give up something for Jesus; that’s not what he’s talking about. There is a hint in verse 36 that denying yourself means to not pursue the things of this world. You see that in verse 36: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” You might think, “Jesus, why are you talking about this? Gaining the whole world is the opposite of denying yourself.” Here’s what I think it means. To deny yourself means to say to no to your very self; to say no to the very core of your own being; to say no to your own ambitions; no to your own desires. In the words of Jesus in Gethsemane, it is to say to God, “Not my will, but yours be done.” You’re going to have to spend some time reflecting on this paragraph because it’s very condensed, but I think what to deny yourself means is to not to pursue the things of this world. But it’s more than that. It’s also saying no to my will. I’m going to say no to me as an independent individual, after all, who am I now? I’m a follower, I’m a disciple, and followers or disciples don’t go off in the direction they want to go. Followers follow. That’s what’s going on in this paragraph. To deny yourself is to say I am a follower, not my will, but God’s be done. To say it another way, to deny yourself is to make a wholehearted commitment to the Lordship of Christ. He is now Lord, I am not. I know some people have baggage with that phrase, and in many cases justifiably so, but Lord is a great word—a biblical word after all. If you don’t want to use that word, another passage you can look at is Matthew 10, which is another way I think that Jesus is saying the same thing. Matthew 10:34 says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (35). And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household(36). Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (37). And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (38). Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It’s those passages that say that what Jesus requires is a complete and total and unconditional commitment to Jesus as Lord, to Jesus as master. The life of a disciple is to be someone who lives in subjection to his master, saying not my will, but yours be done (39).
When we follow Jesus, we take on his goals, his ambitions, and his desires. We don’t live a life independent from him, we follow him and we try to do his will. That’s a brief definition of the word deny. It’s a very deep, very powerful concept. It is something you really need to mull over, at least I did. It took me about three years to get to this position of teaching this class and saying what does that mean. I know it’s central to what Jesus is saying, and I think that’s what it means. So if you want to be a follower of Jesus, you have to first of all deny yourself. The four spiritual laws provide another way to look at it: You’re sitting on throne of your own life, and then conversion means that you are no longer on the throne of your life, God’s on the throne of your life. This is a picture—another way of saying the same thing. So if you want to be a follower of Jesus, you must deny yourself, say no to yourself, and then secondly you must take up your cross. In the parallel passage in Luke 9:23, Luke adds, “Take up his cross daily.” In other words, Luke is trying to help us understand with completeness what Jesus is saying that this is a daily action that we are going to take.
What does it mean to take up your cross? Does it mean that you need to wear a crucifix around your neck? No. It’s easier to understand the imagery, knowing that Jesus is going to be dying on a cross. To take up your cross means to daily live out the fact that you do not live for yourself, to daily live out the fact that you are no longer central in your life, to daily live out the fact that you have died to yourself. Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ.” I’ve not been maimed, I’ve not been cut, I’ve been crucified, completely and totally killed. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Paul is saying the same thing in Galatians that Jesus is saying here. To take up your cross means to live every day as someone who is denying themselves. David Garland in his commentary carries the imagery a little bit further, I don’t know what to think of it, but I’ll share it with you. He says, “Jesus expects them to be willing to join the ranks of the despised and condemned. They must be read to deny themselves, even to the point of giving their lives.” David thinks that the imagery can even be stronger, in that it means that you must daily die to yourself and live for me, even if that means you do actually die on a cross. Possible. If you want to be a follower of Jesus Christ you must deny yourself, take up your cross. It’s like Jesus says, and in that way, this is how you follow me. We don’t have time to go into it more, but it’s one of the reflection questions and I would encourage you to think about it and that is you know what does this look like. What does it look like to live a life of denial? I heard about a teacher the other day who has made a commitment to simplicity. He doesn’t own a car (I think his wife has one, but he doesn’t have one). He rides a bike to work. He doesn’t have a TV. There are many things that Roger doesn’t have, because he has made a commitment to simplicity—a life of denial. An interesting question to reflect on is, “What does it really mean to deny? How would this impact all the different areas of my life?” Something worth thinking about; you can do that later on.
The passage continues. He states this thesis verse about denial, and then in verses 35-37 he gives the rational. He tells us why verse 34 is true. He does it two different ways. First of all, in verse 35, he points out that if you attempt to save your life, you’re going to lose it. In other words, if you refuse to deny yourself, if you think you’re going to save your life, you are actually going to lose it. The opposite of what you think is going to happen is going to happen. He says, “For whoever would save his life”—if you want to use the same imagery as 34, if you refuse to deny yourself,—”you’re going to lose your life, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s”—whoever denies himself,—”that person will save his life.” The imagery is changed, but it’s still making the same point. If you attempt to save your life, if you refuse to follow, if you insist that you still have control of your life, if you insist on not being a fully committed follower of Jesus Christ, you are going to lose your life. But if you chose to lose your life for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel, in other words, if you chose to be his follower, then you’re going to save your life. It is good to take time for reflection on these verses, since they can be a bit overwhelming.
What does it mean to save your life? Verse 38 shows at least one way in which you and I save our lives by being fully committed disciples of Jesus Christ, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation”—if you refused to deny yourself,—”of him will the Son of Man”—remember, Son of Man from Daniel implies judgment—”will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Certainly part of what it means to save your life has to do with saving your life at the final judgment. Certainly saving your life has something to do with where you’re going to spend eternity; that’s what verse 38 is getting at. I told you this might be a challenge. If you attempt to save your life, if you attempt to keep control of your life, if you refuse to give up control of your life to your master, you’re going to lose your life. But if you lose your life for the sake of the Gospel, if you deny yourself, if you do truly follow him, then you’re going to save it, and that means at the final judgment. Because you were not ashamed of God during your life, he will not be ashamed of you at the final judgment. The ramifications of that are immense. This is why I say that discipleship is essential for salvation, and that only disciples are in Heaven, because Jesus says it in verse 38.
Verses 36-37 say there’s nothing more important than your life. Why would you gamble with your life? What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What does it matter if you refuse to deny yourself, hang on to your own worldly aspirations, and even if you even got control of the entire world, what’s the point? You’re going to forfeit your life—you’re going to go to Hell. What can a man give in return for your life? What can you give of equal value to your soul? Nothing. So that’s what is at stake in this whole issue of discipleship. Why pursue the things of the world? Why maintain control of your life? Look what it’s going to cost you. Then when you get to verse 38, verse 38 is a warning. It says be really careful how you decide on this whole issue of discipleship. He’s using Son of Man terminology from Daniel that we talked about last time—the Son of Man coming in judgment, coming in power. Jesus is saying that if in this really lousy generation this adulterous and sinful generation, you’re ashamed of me, then when I come as judge, I’m going to be ashamed of you. What does it mean to be ashamed of someone? It means you’re going to distance yourself from them. It means you’re not going to want to be connected with them, you’re going to want to separate yourself from them. What are ways in which we separate from or are ashamed of Jesus here and now? We don’t stand up for him if we think it’s going to cause us trouble; there are all kinds of ways in which people are ashamed of Jesus. In the language of this passage, the person who is ashamed of Jesus, the person who doesn’t want anything to do with him, the person who is wants to be disconnected from him is the person who refuses to deny himself. That’s the thread running through the passage. He says if you live out your life ashamed of me, if you live out your life separated from me, not wanting anything to do with me, then when I come in judgment, I’m going to be ashamed of you. I’m going to cut myself off from you, I’m going to have nothing to do with you. What happens when the judge totally disassociates himself from you at judgment? You’re condemned. He’s the only person who can give us life. This is why only followers of Jesus, only disciples, are in Heaven. What I’m trying to do is to use biblical language.
Sometimes we have to use non-biblical language, for example, we have to talk about the Trinity, even the word doesn’t appear in the Bible. Trinity is a made up word that means three-ness so it works. There are some times that we can’t use language that is strictly biblical, but I think some of this non-biblical language that we have inherited as Christian is very confusing. One of the things that I try to do is to try to use biblical language to describe biblical issues. It tends to keep me out of trouble, at least a little. Jesus talks about discipleship. Jesus talks about following me. Jesus talks about not being ashamed of me and Jesus talks about judgment being based on the fact that we are or aren’t disciples, or followers of him. I think it’s important to pick up that language. Those of you who go to church here may notice that when I preach, I talk about disciples a lot. I don’t generally talk about being a Christian, I don’t talk about getting saved, I talk about becoming a disciple, living as a disciple, dying as a disciple, because that’s the biblical way of expressing how you and I relate to our master. I think it’s really important.
When you talk about discipleship in this way, you understand discipleship is a life-long thing. Discipleship is not just raising a hand at camp and thinking that’s all there is to it. I believe there are many people who think they are going to Heaven, but because they were mis-taught the Gospel and hence not challenged with the true Gospel, they will end up, much to their surprise, in Hell. If you want to know what pushes me so hard when I preach and teach, that’s it. Even if you disagree with me, understand my heart. It’s like John Piper, I asked him once, “I thought I was aggressive, but I’m lazy compared to you, what pushes you so hard?” Piper said, “I’m convinced that the church is full of people going to Hell.” If you will share the Gospel, the question is if you respond to it, will you go to Heaven or Hell? If somebody says, “Are you sorry for your sins?” and you say, “Yes,” are you on your way to Heaven that easily? That person is going to get to the gates of Heaven and Jesus is going to say, “There’s no such thing as salvation by sorrow, it doesn’t exist.” Sometimes I think that all preachers should stand by the judgment seat, and everyone they have ever preached to should walk by, and the pastor should have to listen to the judgment, and then live out our lives with that picture in our mind. I can imagine what it would be like standing by the throne of judgment and having Larry Kaufman be told, “I know you did everything the preacher ask you to do, but guess what, he didn’t tell you the Gospel, and you’ve got to go to Hell,” and have Larry turn and look at me and say, “I did what you told me to do.” Forgive me if I get a little aggressive on this point, but I think only disciples go to Heaven, and I think that because I think that’s what Jesus says. My job as a pastor and my job as a preacher is to use his language, and to speak in his categories, and to let you know that you can’t be ashamed of God, or he’s going to be ashamed of you at judgment.
Student Question: Don’t you have to be saved, don’t you have to have Christ as your Savior before you can become a disciple of Christ?
Response: I think that you become a disciple and then live as a disciple; yes, there is a beginning point, which the language of “getting saved” expresses.
Student Question: Wait a minute, you act like saying that I have received Christ as my Savior is something that is rather insignificant.
Response: I don’t think it is insignificant at all, in fact, I am going to address that particular issue, but the problem is, in my mind, that in the American church, this passage doesn’t exist. I think that for decades it has been preached that if you make a profession of faith, somehow that’s all there is to getting into Heaven. It’s just not what the text says, I don’t think, and I think it’s very clear. I’m going to come back and talk specifically about that, but this is what is driving me and pushing me in all of this. I think Jesus teaches that only disciples get to Heaven, and so my job is to preach that. Becoming a disciple, living not being ashamed of Jesus, and dying as a disciple—those are the biblical categories, I think.
What we’re going to do is to finish out the text, and then we’re going to come back and talk about the issue of what’s called sanctification, specifically Don’s question about the relationship between becoming a disciple and living a disciple.
Jesus tells the story in verse 38 and then he concludes in 9:1, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” These things that he is telling the disciples are difficult for them, as it is for us. He says “In order to confirm that what I’m saying is true, you will see the Kingdom of God come in its power before you die.” he’s probably referring to the initial growth of the church in the Book of Acts. What’s interesting is that the story of the transfiguration comes next where Jesus goes up with Peter, James, and John to a high mountain and he’s transfigured; he gets very bright, and ends up talking to two Old Testament figures. A voice comes from the cloud and it’s the voice of God the Father, “This is my beloved Son,” and then the voice says, “Listen to him.” Who do you think the voice was directed at? Probably Peter, because Peter was the one who rebuked Jesus, so God the Father is saying, “he’s my beloved Son, and he knows what he’s talking about. I know this discussion on discipleship is difficult for you; I know you thought you were going to sit on twelve thrones and judge the nation of Israel and everyone else. He knows what he talking about.” So you have an initial taste of the power of God in the story of transfiguration, but he’s probably talking mostly about the spirit of the church. They come down from the mountain, and there’s a story about the exorcism of a boy. It’s got one of the greatest verses in all of the Bible. In verse 24, the dad says, “…if you will you can exercise the demon.” Then Jesus says, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes. Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” There’s a prayer that you can always pray from the story of this exorcism.
Unit 2: Mark 9:30-10:31
Then in Mark 9:30, there is the second cycle, and you get another death prediction followed by a misunderstanding on discipleship. In verse 33, Jesus says, “What were you all talking about?” Of course they got really embarrassed, because they had been talking about who was the greatest. Wouldn’t that have been an interesting discussion to have the apostles arguing, about which one really was the greatest? Certainly Peter, James and John being the inner-circle would have had most of the votes, but who knows.
Then you move into his new teaching on discipleship, and again verse 35 is the thesis verse. He knew exactly, by the way, what they were saying. In verse 35, he said, “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’” Then in order to illustrate what discipleship looks like it says, “And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me, but him who sent me (37).’” If you’re going to use the language of denial, back in chapter 8, you can say that one way in which denying yourself shows itself is that you’re willing to be servant of others, that you’re not going to assert that you’re the greatest or that you should be served, but rather that you are a servant of others. Almost all of Jesus’s teaching is the exact opposite of the world’s, isn’t it? It almost like you can take whatever the world says and flip it around and you’ll get the truth.
Student Question: It’s not like servant hood, but it looks like it’s servant hood to those you think are normally under you isn’t it?
Response: I think the illustration of a child answers the question. Children can be illustrations of a lot things in Jesus’s talking, like humility. Here, I think it’s an illustration of absolute helplessness, of someone who has no assumption of greatness. The exact opposite of what the disciples were doing and saying—”this is what it means to be a servant of all, that you’d be willing to serve even the lowliest in society—children.” I think I’d want to be more general along those lines. This is what discipleship is about, this is what it means to deny yourself—it means to not want to be first, but to be willing to be last as the world sees it. It means that you must be willing to serve even the lowliest and the most humble in the social cast system, and that being children.
The stories go on, and there’s another illustration of bad discipleship starting in verse 38. There are discussions of the value of children, the conflict with Pharisees, and the story of the rich young ruler.
Let me just mention the rich young ruler. What you get from this story are the rewards of discipleship. Jesus tells the rich young ruler that you have to sell everything in order to get into Heaven, and he leaves the way sad. Jesus says in verse 23, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God.” The disciples were amazed at his words because they always associated wealth with God’s pleasure—if you were rich, therefore God was happy with you. He explains how difficult it would be to enter the Kingdom of God: “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” By the way, there is no such thing as a small door inside a door that if you take the bags off the camel and it gets on its knees it can get through—that’s a completely made up story and I have no idea who started it. It doesn’t exist. The whole point is that it is impossible for the largest of animals to get through the smallest openings, and likewise, it is impossible to get into Heaven by human ability. That’s the whole point—it’s impossible. Peter and the disciples are pretty pleased. Verse 28: Peter said, “‘See, we have left everything, here you want to pat me on the back, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you (here are the rewards of discipleship), 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 (29)(and he’s not talking just about missionaries to foreign countries. In most countries, China, Indonesia, I mean you go through a lot of the countries today if you become a Christian you have left everything), who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, (here’s your earthly reward you’re going to get), houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands (30).’” What’s that? That’s the church. That’s the whole new set of family relationships that exist within the church, but you’re also going to get “persecutions,” he adds, “and in the age to come, eternal life.” There it is again: the gift of eternal life is theirs because they became disciples and gave up everything and followed him.
Unit 3: Mark 10:32-11:11
And right away we start the third cycle. I love how Mark has structured his Gospel. Mark 10:32 through 11:11 is the third cycle. It starts with another death prediction, and then beginning at Mark 10:35, you get another misunderstanding of discipleship. Here is one of the all time great questions in the Bible. I always thought it was really silly until my kids started asking me the same thing, and I’m sure I asked my parents the same thing. James and John come to Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” It’s like Tyler coming to me and saying, “Dad, will you do me a favor?” “What’s your favor?” “Just say you’ll do it.” No, Tyler, I’m not going to say I’m going to do it; you tell me what you want.” So they are asking Jesus for a favor and just commit to it without it. They wanted to sit at the right and left-side of him. They wanted the two positions of honor and power. They still aren’t understanding. It’s not that they’re stupid. You and I have the Holy Spirit, that’s why we get it. They don’t have the Holy Spirit yet. That’s how hard it is to learn the things of God on a human level. They’ve been with Jesus for two to two and half years and they’re still not getting it. They don’t have the Spirit.
In order to answer that desire for fame and power, you get the new teaching starting at verse 41. The really important verses are down in 43 and following, where it talks about how in this world, people lorded over people. Verse 43: “But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” This is the first is last and the last is first stuff. ”and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all (44). For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (45).” So the basic teaching is clear enough that if you want to be great in the Kingdom of God, greatness is an issue of serving, of denying yourself, of putting your will aside, and putting other people in front. Verse 45 is an especially important verse. It’s one of those verses that gets quoted a lot when it comes to trying to understand what Jesus did on the cross. “For the Son of Man” (I) in other words, “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The word ransom was a well-known metaphor. It would have been connected with the slave market. If you would have gone to the market and you might see an old friend for sale; you would ransom them. The the two ideas connected the ransom are that a price was paid and freedom was secured. Those are the two parts of what it means to ransom. When Jesus provided a ransom for you and for me, the price paid was his life and his death, both of them, and the freedom secured for you and for me was freedom from sin. It’s a powerful metaphor. Now you and I don’t have to imitate the ransom; we’re not called to die on the cross, but certainly implicit in this verse and the previous one is that we are not here in order to be served, but to serve. We are not here to put ourselves first, but to put the good of others ahead of ourselves, loving our neighbor as ourselves. That’s the end of the teaching on discipleship.
The next story is the story of blind Bartimaeus and then the story of the triumphal entry, which again is a hinge passage: It’s a conclusion of the travel ministry—he got to where he was traveling—but then it’s the beginning of the third ministry, the ministry in Jerusalem.
Most of what I’ve been covering comes under the head category. Let’s move into the heart category or theology. Let’s go back from a theological point of view to some of what we’ve covered.
First of all, and this is something that I had not realized until I started teaching this class, the Gospels are radical aren’t they. They are radical; they are counter-cultural. Jesus taught in a way to make us uncomfortable. That was the whole point. “Blessed are the poor.” What? God’s blessing goes on people who don’t have money? I’m not saying that’s what it means, but the way in which Jesus says things and more importantly the impact behind them is extremely counter-cultural. It’s very radical. When you read it and see it in those terms you can realize why the Jewish leaders hated him so much. He was so radically, fundamentally different from who they were.
The Gospels are not for the half-hearted. Luke 9:57: “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’” I’ll be your disciple. Jesus said to them, “Hey, glad to have you along, jump on board.?” No. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” You want to follow me? Do you really want to follow me? I don’t even have a place to sleep. Do you really want to be that radical in your commitment to me? If I have no place to sleep, then you have no place to sleep. “To another he said,” and the he is Jesus, “‘Follow me.’ But he,” the person that Jesus spoke to, “said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’” One of the most fundamental obligations of a good Jewish kid. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” Jesus is radical. He’s counter-cultural. If you’re reading Jesus and he’s comfortable and easy, you’re probably misreading him. I really want to stress that this is radical stuff.
Student Question: What are the implications of that, the fact that the Gospel is radical in terms of the movement of seeker sensitivity of the mega church whose desire is to make the whole service comfortable for the non-Christian?
Response: In light of the radicalness of the Gospel, what about the seeker-driven services where they’re trying to make people comfortable and not be offensive to them? The answer is, the Gospel is offensive. Woe be to any church and any preacher who waters down the Gospel. That’s what I was talking about earlier. I believe that when people come into the church, they are supposed to feel welcome, they are supposed to feel that we want you here. Some churches don’t want non-Christians. Ever been in one of those churches? It’s their own little closed group and they don’t want anyone else. I think they are supposed to feel welcome, meaning, “you’re welcome to come in,”, but they are supposed to feel outside. I know of one church where the pastor’s altar call is, “Do you believe? If you believe stand up.” Now if somebody stands up are they a Christian, necessarily? If you believe what? Or in my more caustic moments, “Good, at least the demons are standing up.” The demons believe. We are not a seeker-driven church, and again this is one of our real concerns for Spokane. We have to proclaim the Gospel so clearly such as if somebody responds to it they are on their way to Heaven, and not just one step closer to maybe getting in. It is radical.
Let’s move on to the issue of sanctification. This is article 7 in the BTI Statement of Faith, and this is a topic we are going to talk a lot about as we go through this class. Maybe I don’t say this enough, and I should say it more. I don’t ever mean to devalue the conversion experience. I don’t ever want you all to hear me devalue that experience. It is absolutely crucial, and without the conversion experience you’re going to go to Hell. This year at camp, Tyler held the hands of one of his best friends and this kid was sitting there shaking with joy, praying to become a Christian. I talk about camp a lot in a derogatory; I don’t really mean I; I’m working against a stereotype that I despise. The conversion experience is valid. It’s important. I didn’t actually get to hear this, but a very good friend was present at the First Baptist Church of Bowling Green, KY where the pastor preached that if you come down the aisle and sign the roll book of the first Baptist Church you shall be saved. In other words, if you want, you can go out and live a good Christian life and that’s nice, but the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is once you’ve signed the roll book of the church you can go out and live any way you want, it doesn’t matter you’re still going to Heaven. I hate that! What he did was he lulled, in my theology, in Jesus’s theology, he lulled people into complacency. He did not challenge them with the full Gospel, and people are going to Hell thinking they’re going to Heaven. That’s why this thing bugs me so much.
My question is, is there any place in Jesus’s teaching for the American (and I know it’s not true of all America, but it is a peculiar phenomenon in America) version of salvation where, if you’re sorry for your sins at camp, you got your ‘get out of Hell free’ card and you can live any way you want to. Or perhaps you raised a hand or you came forward at a revival meeting, or you prayed a magic prayer, and somehow in this country we’ve gotten the idea that if that’s a single event in your life, then nothing else matters. That’s really what Christianity is and you’re going to go to Heaven. There’s a man, I think he’s in Texas, who teaches that if you have a moment of positive volition you’re eternally saved. If you have one positive thought about God, you’re in Heaven. It’s not in Scripture at all. We’ve got to learn to think biblically, and I believe the biblical way to think about conversion is that Carolee became a disciple, she is living as a disciple, she is growing as a disciple and she, by the grace of God, will die a disciple of Jesus Christ. That’s Jesus’s way of describing the Christian life, not a moment of positive volition.
Perseverance and Assurance
That raises all kinds of interesting theological questions, like, do you believe in the idea that once you’re saved, you’re always saved? This is just me processing, do with it as you will, but I believe in perseverance and I think the language is extremely significant. I believe that God perseveres with me. God saved me; no one can snatch me out of his hand. He did a regenerating work in my spirit, in my life. I’ve been given a new birth. I believe that God did the work of salvation; I didn’t do it. He is going to persevere with me; he is going to continue to empower me, he is going to continue to give me desires to grow. In response to him I will continue to persevere. In the words of Paul, “I will continue to pummel my body, lest having preached the word I be denied the prize.” I think for Paul in the final verse of 1 Corinthians 9, the prize is Heaven. Paul says, I’m going to hang in there, I’m going to run the race, I’m going to fight the fight. I’m going to hang in there until the end. God is persevering with me; I’m a saint; I’ve been changed, and changed people live in a changed way, so I will live a changed life until the day that I die. That’s what I believe. I say that at first, so you won’t stone me with what I’m about to say.
I do not believe in the idea of once saved, always saved. It is not biblical language. I have never used it except as a license to sin. Over years of people saying they believe in once saved always saved, it has always been a license to sin. “I have my ‘get out of Hell free’ card and so I can live any way I want.” For that reason, I don’t believe it. I think the distinction of language is critical. ‘Once saved, always saved’ sounds like a license to sin. ‘Persevere; God is going to persevere with me and I’m going to persevere because he enables me’ is biblical language, and I think it’s right. That’s why again I talk so much about discipleship. In the Bible Jesus says, “he who perseveres to the end will be saved.” How does that fit in a once saved always saved theology? It doesn’t. It can’t. It’s impossible. So we talk about becoming a disciple, living a disciple, and dying a disciple; persevering to the end. That’s why our Statement of Faith uses that phrase, persevering to the end. So, I believe in perseverance, I don’t believe in once saved always saved.
Student Question: What are some of the passages that people use for ‘once saved, always saved’?
Response: They will use the ‘believe’ language in John as the main place they are going to go. They will say, “When I was twelve, I raised my hand and I believed,”, but they’re misunderstanding what ‘believe’ in John means. That’s where Hodge and some of these people who write on this go, to John, before they go anywhere else. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you shall be saved.” Also, Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized.” But I think these verses are taken out of context, and you know, if you confess that Jesus is Lord, you’re confessing that he’s master, that he’s God, you know that that’s going to fundamentally changed how you live your life.
What about carnality then? We say, “Well, he’s a carnal Christian.” (Carnal means fleshly, or not walking with Jesus). The question is, is carnality an acceptable lifestyle? Is it okay to say, “I became a Christian, and that’s all that really matters, and it is okay to let sin have an ongoing role in my life.” “I’m going to take a front seat on earth and I’ll take a back seat in Heaven, that’s okay.” They are going to be shocked, I believe, when they get to Heaven and there are no back seats. “It’s okay to live in sin, I raised my hand and prayed the prayer.” Is that an acceptable lifestyle? Obviously, my answer is no. Carnality is described in 1 Corinthians 3. I do not believe that it is my role to judge your salvation; I don’t think it’s your role to judge me. I’d have to say that perhaps there comes a time when the church as a whole has to make a pronouncement on something, there are verses that imply that there may be times. I’ve seen people make the decision as to whether you’re a Christian or not; I can’t do it and neither can you. I know that some people like to pass judgment, “You’re not showing enough works in your life, so I’m not sure you’re a Christian.” That is not my role to play.
But what I will say about carnality, on living with ongoing sin in your life, is that the issue is assurance. How can you know you’re a Christian? If you’re living in constant sin, how can you know that you really are a child of God? Again, I’m not going to pass judgment, at least I don’t want to pass judgment on whether you are or aren’t a Christian, but what I can say is that you have no assurance at all that you really are a child of God. This is because assurance is wrapped up in the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, whispering to me that I’m a child of God (Romans 8) and my changed life. 1 John 2:3-6 says, “And by this we know that we have come to know him,” this is how we know that we are in a relationship with him, “if we keep his commandments. 4Whoever says ‘I know him,’” whoever claims to be a Christian, “but does not keep his commandments,” is a carnal Christian who will barely get into Heaven, and have a small house during the millennium? No—”is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” That’s really strong isn’t it, because in John’s language, if the truth isn’t in you, you’re not going to get into Heaven. “But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” If you’re keeping his word, if you’re striving to live as he is calling you to live, this means that the love of God is being perfected in you, it is changing you into what God wants you to always be. “By this we may know that we are in him: 6whoever says he abides in him,” whoever says I am a Christian, “ought to walk” (probably not a great translation, ought in the sense of must) “in the same way in which he walked.”
The same thing occurs in 1 John 3:6. We were pretty interpretive in translating the ESV to help you understand: “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” These are the verses that I think are really crucial to balance all of this mis-teaching that is going on. If you are living in sin—and again John’s not talking about a sin, confession, and repentance; see John 1:9; he’s not talking about that otherwise we’d all be in a lot of trouble, right? Has anyone not sinned today? he’s talking about someone who says, “Sin is okay. I’m going to live in it,” where sin is an ongoing characteristic of their life. No ones who abides in Jesus keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. In 1 John 2, he says that these people went out from our midst because they were never part of us; they were never Christians to begin with. As far as Jesus is concerned, we are to be fully devoted disciples. If we are not growing in that direction, if that process is not part of our lives, there cannot be an assurance of salvation, certainly not based on a profession of faith forty years earlier.
This does not imply that we’re earning salvation. None of this obedience that John is talking about is doing something to get God to love us more. We can’t do anything to make him love us more or love us less; that’s grace. What we’re talking about is that when God converted me, when I became a child of God, I was fundamentally changed. I was regenerated, and the expectation of Paul, and the expectation of Jesus, is that changed people live in a changed way.
Head Issues: Presenting the Gospel
One last statement and then we’ll see if you have any questions. This has many ramifications. I think one of the most significant is how we present the Gospel. One of the most humbling, most frustrating, experiences of my life was when I was in grad school for my PhD, so of course I had all the answers, right? No. It was the end of my first year and I was waiting for the bus to come to the dorm where I was living, and a 17-year old girl came up, she was a Freshman in the university, and she said, “You’re one of those divinity people, aren’t you?” (Over there it’s called the school of divinity). I said, “Yeah, I guess so.” She said, “So you’re a Christian.” I said, “yeah.” She said, “What’s that all about?” I knew the bus was going to get there in 2 minutes. I didn’t have an answer. At 24-25 years old, I had not figured out how I wanted to share the Gospel. I never saw her again, I figured out an answer that I could give in 2 minutes, but I never saw here again. I lost the opportunity.
My last couple of years of teaching in seminary I was a real pain in the neck on many different levels, but one of them was going around asking everybody, “What’s the minimum it takes to get into Heaven?” Of half of the seminary professors that I ask that question of, their answer was, “That’s not a good question; that’s not the right question, Bill.” I said, “Yes it is. A seventeen-year-old just asked you how to become a Christian. The bus is going to be here in 2 minutes. Go.” “Bill, that’s just not the right way to approach it.” “What’s the minimum it takes to get to Heaven. I said you’ve got a minute and fifty seconds—you’re losing.” “But Bill…” “A minute 45.” It was interesting who knew an answer and who didn’t know an answer. I talked to one teacher who taught Evangelism—he had no answer. I thought that was pretty unusual. I asked a youth pastor and he said, “That’s easy, A, B, C – admit you’re a sinner, believe that Jesus’s death paid the penalty for your sins on the cross, and commit your life to him. Wow, I’ve got a lot of time for discussion.” But all of that is background. How are you going to present the Gospel? Is it A B or is it A B C? I don’t know of anyone who would say that by admitting you’re a sinner, you’re saved. There has to be something about Jesus in there.
The question that I have to come to the conclusion of, is whether, in my two-minute sharing of the Gospel am I going to tell the person to count the cost. Jesus said ‘count the cost,’, but are you and I going to say ‘count the cost,’ because it makes it a little harder to get it in 2 minutes. To say, “You know, when God changes you, do you understand that he’s going to change you from the inside out and that he’s going to put his power, his Spirit, within you and that Spirit is going to be changing your life and your life is never going to be the same. Are you willing to make that commitment to him as your Lord? Because he doesn’t come just as Savior, he comes as Savior and Lord, that’s the whole package if you believe that.”
I guess there’s another side to it too where some people might unnecessarily add stuff. “There’s A B C and then of course there’s B again, like being baptized.” I was in a church the other day, it was honest at least, on their bulletin it said that the Holy Spirit enters upon your water baptism. Their communion table has a top and it opens up to the baptistery. So if you come forward, you get wet really fast. At least they’re being consistent. But do you have to repent and be baptized, as Peter told the Jews in Acts 2? For some people they are going to want to add more to this it as well. I think there are a lot of ramifications to this.
Student Question: Let’s say you have a conversion experience and you receive Christ as your Savior. I believe the Scripture says that that salvation is sealed by the Holy Spirit.
Response: I believe that too.
Student Question: In addition to that, you become the adopted sons of God because of that. If you’re sealed, your conversion and your soul is sealed by the Holy Spirit, you’ve been adopted into God’s presence as an adopted son, how can you lose your salvation?
Response: I don’t believe you can lose your salvation, (the verse he’s referring to is in Ephesians 1: “the Holy Spirit is our guarantee, it’s our seal”). Part of the trouble with this concept is that there are a lot of verses we can throw around: “he who perseveres to the end will be saved.” How are you going to deal with that? I taught in a Wesleyan School for 10 years, so I’ve had this discussion before. I think that the Bible teaches that you have a conversion experience, God regenerates you, and he makes you new, not because of anything you’ve done, but because of his grace and mercy and election (we’ll talk about that later). God by his grace and his mercy saves us not because of anything we deserve, but while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. He changes us, he regenerates our heart, and he seals that with the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to continue the work of us having faith and responding to God in faith. The problem is when someone starts living in sin. Scripture is equally clear that if they live in sin, they never were a Christian to begin with. It is explicitly stated in 1 John 2, but it’s all the way through John, that a Christian’s life cannot be characterized by sin, because Christians don’t go on sinning. The question is, how do you put those together? The answer is that a person who is truly saved will change, and that’s where the assurance is. Unfortunately, there are people who think they are going to Heaven and aren’t. Matthew 25: “But Jesus, we did miracles in your name and we cast out demons….” Jesus can say “I have no idea who you are.” So what you have is the problem of people who went through a conversion experience that wasn’t valid, that wasn’t real. The way that you know it’s real is that, as you go on your life past conversion, Romans 8, the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart confirming that God is Abba and you are the child of God. The confirmation is that your life changes. In the middle between these two things, the sealing of the Spirit in 1 John, is where assurance lies. A person who is living in sin can’t have any assurance that their conversion was real. I don’t believe that you can lose your salvation, but I don’t talk in that language because the closest that comes to it is John 10, “No one can snatch them out of my Father’s hands.” Again, the argument in the Wesleyan school is, “I can snatch myself out.” No, that’s not what it says. No one can snatch you out of my Father’s hands, if you truly are a child of God. But if you are truly a child of God, you don’t want anyone to snatch you out of his hand and you don’t want to snatch yourself, because God is at work in you and you are growing and changing. The thing that always concerns me the most as I’ve come out of the discussion of discipleship, is whether people understand that conversion is essential and critical, even if you can’t nail it down to the second, but that it’s the beginning, it’s not the end. That’s why, for example, I’ll say it’s not so much how you start, it’s how you finish.
Student Question: I’ve heard from people who are evangelizing that the word repent means to stop and turn, which carries the connotation of commitment or changing the direction of your life. Is that a true translation of the word?
Response: Yes, there are some people that will say that repent means to change your mind, and that’s one of the primary illustrations we use in seminary of how you don’t discover what a word means. The word means to turn, that’s the basic meaning of the word, so to repent is to acknowledge that you’re going in a wrong way, and if you really want to be careful, to commit to turning. Right at the point of conversion is right where you did it. Not that I’m going to turn on my own power, but my ability to turn is because of God’s empowering me to turn. So repentance is to change your direction by God’s strength. If anybody says it means just to change your mind they are very wrong.