Let me give you a mini lesson this morning on the authenticity of Scripture and how we know it is the Word of God that we can trust and build our lives upon. Look at Mark 8:8. Do you see the script after verse 8 that says, “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20”? You see the same at the end of John 7, because the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery is not in the oldest manuscripts of John’s gospel. What does that mean, “earliest or oldest” manuscripts? The Gospel writers just wrote one manuscript each, right? That’s right, but we do not have any of the original manuscripts. We only have copies. There are more than 25,000 copies of the New Testament, complete or fragmented, some within 20 years of the originals, more than any other ancient writing. Homer’s Iliad is a distant second with a mere 643 manuscript copies, and with the oldest copy dated at 500 years after the original.
Some copies differ in a word here, or a sentence there, or even a whole section, as we see in this text. Why is that? If you lived in Israel in A.D. 60 and you wanted a copy of Mark’s Gospel, how would you get it? You couldn’t run down to Straight Street in Damascus and pop into the Office Depot with Mark’s original manuscript. You had to sit down with it and painstakingly write it out, one word at a time. And what if you made a copy error, as many did? Well, you had a copy, but it was not a perfect copy, and if others made copies from your copy, they would not be perfect either, and they may make other errors in transcribing your copy! How do we know that we have the genuine text, or at least one that we can trust to be accurate in all things that matter? An article by Craig Blomberg in the Gospel Coalition states that there were an average of 16 variations per manuscript, and “the vast majority of these involved variations in the spelling of words; the use or non-use of an article, conjunction or particle; or slight variations in syntax. The only two that involve more than one or two verses are Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8. Most importantly, no doctrine or ethical teaching of Christianity depends solely on one or more disputed texts.”
The first 6 verses in the “disputed section” form a mosaic of three resurrection appearances of Jesus, built around the theme of calling the disciples from unbelief to belief. The first reflects John’s account of Mary Magdalene weeping outside the tomb, telling the angels, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She then turned around and saw Jesus, but thought he was the gardener. Until he called her by name: “Mary.” She went and told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” Mark’s gospel says they heard her, but “they would not believe it.”
The second story reflects Luke’s gospel account, where two followers of Jesus, not two of the eleven apostles, meet Jesus on a country road. Luke tells us they were on the road to Emmaus. I love that story. They didn’t recognize the risen Savior, and they couldn’t believe that this guy walking with them didn’t know what had happened. One of them, Cleopas, said to Jesus, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know these things that have happened…?” Ha! Jesus is the only one who truly knows what happened. He reveals himself to them in the breaking of bread and then vanishes. They raced back to Jerusalem and told the eleven, “The Lord has risen indeed.” Mark says, “but they did not believe them.”
In the third story, Jesus appears to his eleven disciples and rebukes them for their “unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” Three stories, three witnesses to the risen Savior, in ascending order of reliability, according to Jewish culture: a woman, two men, and Jesus Himself. The message is clear. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Believe it. But not only that.
Go tell it on the mountain. And, everywhere else.
We are preparing to celebrate a big holiday this month where we look back to God’s providence in the formation of the United States. The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock on November 11, 1620. After a harsh winter and the loss of 45 of the 102 who came over on the Mayflower, 1621 brought hope through Squanto, an Indian who spoke English and was a follower of Jesus. He taught the Pilgrims how to fertilize the soil and produce a healthy crop. He also translated for the Pilgrims and bridged a relationship of trust with the Wampanoag tribe. Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoag, signed a treaty with the Pilgrims in exchange for their help against the feared Narragansett tribe. Governor William Bradford called the Pilgrims together for a time of giving thanks to God, and Massasoit and about 90 other Indians joined in the feast. November 25th this year is not Turkey Day, but a day of looking back, a day of giving thanks for God’s grace on this land. It prepared the way for the birth of a new nation, just as Passover did for Israel.
The first Passover took place on the same night that the final plague took the lives of the firstborn children in Egypt. God instructed Moses and Aaron to tell the children of Israel to take a lamb for each household, or to combine two smaller households if need be. Take a lamb without blemish and kill it at twilight on the 14th day of that month. They were to take blood from the lamb and put it on their doorposts and lintels, and they were to eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12). No time for bread to rise, for they must eat in haste, as the Lord would send the angel of death that night to strike the firstborn in Egypt. God said, “I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.” Those whose houses were marked by the blood of the lamb would be passed over. They would be saved from judgment. It was a picture of God’s amazing grace, and of substitutionary atonement. The lamb had to die in their place, and the blood of the lamb saved them from death. You may know that the Passover looks forward, points forward to its fulfillment in Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But I would suggest to you that the Passover also looked back to the Garden of Eden, where the first substitutionary atonement took place. After Adam and Eve had sinned, “the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) Those clothes made of animal skins required a death, but were temporary coverings, just as the sacrifice of countless lambs and goats and oxen were as well. But when God cursed the serpent in the garden, He spoke of the final and perfect sacrifice of his Son. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) This is called the “Protoevangelium,” or the first announcement of the gospel. Satan would be finally and forever defeated by Jesus, and the brothers and sisters of Jesus, his followers, will be forever with him.
Back in the upper room, now, for the final fulfillment of Passover. Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 22, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” This Passover. With you. Who is Jesus sharing this Passover and the first Lord’s Supper with? His family. Remember in Mark 3 when Jesus was teaching and someone interrupted him to say that his mother and brothers were outside, looking for him? Jesus answered, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And he looked around at the people sitting with him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
When we gather to worship Jesus, we gather as family. When we pray, “Our Father, who is in heaven,” we pray as family. When we take communion together, as we will in a few minutes, we do so as family. Brothers and sisters of Christ, our elder brother, together remembering the Savior who died in our place, looking back at the cross and looking forward to eternity with him. We are family. Just as the Passover was eaten as families, so we eat the Lord’s Supper each month as a family. And the HEAD of the family is here with us. It reminds us each month that we are neither independent or rugged individuals, nor are we struggling alone as singles or as separated families. We are one family.
Two preachers were standing on the side of the road holding signs. The first sign read, “The End is Near.” The next read, “Turn around now before it’s too late.” One driver flew past and yelled, “Get a job, losers!” followed closely by another who screamed, “Get lost, you religious nuts!” A few moments later the preachers heard the screech of brakes, followed by two loud splashes. One preacher said to the other, “Do you think we should change our signs to say ‘Bridge Out’?” You may not like those who stand on the street corners and preach or hold up signs about Jesus. You may not like the fact that some pastors give an altar call every Sunday morning and others, hardly ever. That’s methods, not message. You may not like the way an author like C.S. Lewis uses fantasy to write about the Gospel. Method, not message. It is part of the Christian maturing process that teaches us to distinguish between method and message, and to give each other great leeway with the former. Not with the latter. The message of the Gospel, as preached by Jesus and explained by the Apostles, must not be changed in any way. When someone changes it, or opposes it, to use Paul’s language, we must beware.
It was the winter of 1998, and the four oldest Fox children had walked from where we lived in downtown Graham over to the Pine Cemetery, pulling their sleds behind them. There was a great hill for sledding in the cemetery that attracted the kids in the neighborhood whenever we had a “real” winter. The little Foxes had been gone for about an hour when Jesse, then 4 years old, asked his Mom, “When are they going to come back from the grave?”
The greatest news the world has ever heard is the news that Jesus Christ came back from the grave. For centuries Christians have lived with hope amid suffering, have read his Word and kept his commandments, have gathered with others who believe and given their lives to telling the story, and have even given up their lives to follow him.
Here’s the thing. Christians do not follow a man, and our faith does not hinge on whether a local pastor or a denominational leader or a pope or an ancient prophet is a “good man” or not. Our faith rests on the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. He has existed forever and took on human flesh in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, entering human history to save those who would believe in him and in him alone. He did not come, like those who represent other world religions, to merely point to the way. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and considered the “Enlightened One” by more than 500 million Buddhists, is dead. Mohammed, the man revered by more than one billion Muslims, and believed to be the greatest prophet of all, greater than Jesus, is dead.
Jesus is alive. If Jesus is found to be a fraud, or a lunatic, or self-deceived, Christianity crumbles. If Jesus did not rise from the dead after three days in a tomb, then all we who put our hope in him are fools at best.
So, here is the challenge. If you put your faith in anyone other than Christ or in no one at all, would you at least be willing to attack the resurrection of Jesus with every molecule in your body? Do what Lord George Lyttleton, Frank Morison, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and many others have done. These former atheists were scholars, college professors, journalists, or members of Parliament. Each of them sought to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each of them came to believe in Jesus after carefully examining the evidence with a desire to know the truth.
We can agree to disagree on methods: how we will proclaim the good news of the Gospel. The Gospel message, however, must stand. It will stand. Jesus Christ is alive.
How many of you remember your Mom’s stern warning to you as a child: “Do not borrow anybody’s comb!” My Mom was pretty convinced that if I ran someone’s comb through my hair, I would instantly be infested with microscopic creatures that would eat through my scalp and destroy me and life on the planet, as we know it. She even said I would be better off drinking out of somebody else’s water bottle than to use their comb. So, I went through my childhood with an irrational fear of hair germs and would break into a cold sweat when I saw teens sharing their combs willy-nilly (or their picks…remember those?) without regard for life or limb or scalp. I was convinced that’s why this kid in high school named Chad went bald at 18. He was probably sneaking behind the gym with borrowed combs almost every day. There are some things you just don’t borrow. Like mouth guards, if you are playing on the basketball team, riding the pine, and suddenly the coach yells for you to get in the game. I never expected to be put in the game. We couldn’t be enough points ahead for the coach to put me in the game. But here he was, calling my name, and I can’t find my mouth guard. Hey, better to risk losing all my teeth in the lane as I am bumping armpits with my head, while trying to get a rebound, than to borrow a mouth guard from Lewis, the kid on the bench even further down the roster than I was. I am pretty sure that Lewis kept his mouth guard inside his tennis shoes when they weren’t on his feet. For all I knew, he may have thrown his comb in there, too. No way am I borrowing his mouth guard.
There are some things you just don’t borrow. Like burial plots. I mean, once you are dead, you’re dead, right? There is no way you can borrow a burial plot. You can only borrow something that you intend to give back.
Check the records. There is a burial plot in Jerusalem owned by a certain Joseph of Arimathea. When Jesus was crucified nearly 2000 years ago, Joseph asked Pilate if he could take the body of Jesus. He put Jesus in “a new tomb that had never been used.” Three days later, that tomb was available again because Jesus was raised from the dead, just as he said he would be. You know what is interesting about the Son of God? He entered the world through a virgin birth. He entered Jerusalem for his final week on a borrowed donkey colt, one that had never been ridden. He was laid in a borrowed tomb on Friday, and he gave it back on Sunday. There are some things you just don’t borrow.
But I will be eternally grateful that Jesus borrowed his gravesite. That means I will only be borrowing mine for a little while, too.
At the very heart of the Christian faith is the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We have come to the heart of this Gospel, and it is the reason for our hope even in the face of our own death. Anne Graham Lotz said, “Death is a door. When we close our eyes in this life, we will open our eyes to Jesus.” That’s because, as DL Moody said, “Death may be the King of terrors, but Jesus is the King of kings!” The first point of my sermon about Jesus on the cross yesterday was about the women who watched.
Mark’s gospel says these three women watched “from a distance.” But at least they watched. They were afraid, as we will see in chapter 16, but at least they were there. To be present and fearful is better than to be absent and fearful. The men, at least according to Mark’s gospel, had all scattered and fled. These three women stayed. Who were they? Mary Magdalene is named first and in all four Gospels, Mary Magdalene’s name appears as the first witness to the resurrection. We know she loved Jesus and he loved her. Luke and Mark both tell us that Jesus delivered Mary Magdalene from seven demons. You see that in Mark 16:9. But there is no biblical evidence that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. She is often portrayed that way in literature and in film, even in the excellent series, “The Chosen,” but the Gospels do not support that. This mischaracterization began in the 6th century when Pope Gregory I conflated the story of Mary Magdalene’s deliverance in Luke 8 with the story Luke told in chapter 7 of an unnamed “woman of the city who was a sinner.” Mary Magdalene is named 12 times in the Gospels, more than most of the apostles, and there is no evidence to support that she is ever referred to in the Gospels as an unnamed woman.
The second woman is Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses. Most believe this is Mary the mother of Jesus, and that her other two sons, Judas and Simon, are not named because they are not known to the church in Rome at the time of Mark’s writing. James the younger? Perhaps this is to distinguish him from James the son of Zebedee and brother of John. Many believe Salome, the third woman mentioned here by Mark, is the mother of James and John and is the sister to Mary. That would make Jesus and the sons of Zebedee cousins. We cannot know these things for sure, and it is not a hill to die on. What is important here and in the next chapter, since it is rare for Mark to mention personal names, is that he does this to establish the eyewitnesses who saw where Jesus was buried, and saw him when he was resurrected. These women were witnesses to the greatest moment in human history, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What is most important about these women and all the women who are not named but who were clearly disciples of Jesus? Mark tells us. These women “followed him and ministered to him.” The verb tenses are continuous. The women were afraid at this point, but they did not stop following Jesus and they sought to minister to him, even to anoint his dead body. It is only angels and women who are said to have “ministered to Jesus” in the Gospel of Mark. These women, and the “many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem,” as Mark said, were faithful followers of Jesus, even though they were not the most notable, and most were never named, unlike the twelve apostles. But as Mark writes, what these women did, following and ministering to Jesus, is the very picture of discipleship.
Want to be a disciple of Jesus? Follow him, day by day, and minister to him by loving his people and having compassion on the lost, day by day.
Plutarch wrote, “every criminal condemned to death bears his cross on his back.” Jesus was too weak to carry the patibulum, the cross beam, so the Roman soldiers “compelled a passerby” to carry it for him. Simon of Cyrene, which was on the north coast of Africa. Simon was likely a man of color, but he was not a Roman citizen and that’s why they told him to do it. He was close by and they needed to get this man and his instrument of torture out of town. What did Simon do for Jesus? He took up his cross and followed Jesus, the very thing that Jesus has told his disciples to do. James Edwards writes, “It is worth considering…whether Simon’s faithfulness in carrying the cross of Jesus resulted in his sons’ participation in the faith and in the church.” I would submit to you that it is the most important thing a son or daughter can see their father and their mother do! Do they see you work hard to provide food and clothing, to keep a clean house and give them opportunities to learn and grow and have fun and get rest and be healthy? Excellent! But even more excellent is that they see their dad and their mom taking up their cross daily and following the Lord. There is no price that could be put on that blessing for any child.
They led Jesus out of the city and to Golgotha, which Mark tells his Roman readers was called “the place of the skull.” There they offered Jesus an ancient narcotic, “wine mixed with myrrh,” but he refused. It would have numbed him a little, but Jesus does not give himself to dulled senses. He welcomes the Father’s will with a fully conscious state.
They divided his clothing by casting lots. The wine mixed with myrrh and the divided clothing were prophesies which the Roman soldiers unwittingly fulfilled. “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” (Psalm 69:21) “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothes they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18)
They crucified Jesus in between two robbers, recalling the question James and John had asked Jesus, if they could be positioned on his right and his left in the kingdom. Mark opens up a little more now, breaking away from his normal reserve to report on the scorners who passed by the cross. They are not given names, just described as deriding Jesus, wagging their heads, and mocking him. Again, a fulfillment of prophesy: “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (Psalm 22:7-8)
They mock him as a prophet. “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross.
They mock him as a priest. “He saved others; he cannot save himself.”
They mock him as a king. “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross that we may see and believe.”
The mockery of Jesus did not end at the cross but continues today all around the world. There are churches all over the country that have different color doors on their front lawns that represent Islam and Hinduism and Buddhism and other world religions, along with their symbols, and the message written on them is, “God’s doors are open to all.” It makes a mockery of the cross where the Son of God died who said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved…” (John 10:9) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:1-3)
Back to the cross…They mocked the prophet, the priest, the king, the Christ. Notice that all three of these taunts assume that to save oneself is the highest aim, and that to vindicate himself as a Messiah, Jesus only needs to come down from the cross and save himself. But Jesus did not leave glory and come to earth to teach us how to help ourselves or how to fulfill ourselves. We cannot save ourselves, and all the world religions deceive men and women into thinking that they can. But Jesus came to “give his life as a ransom for many.” He came to do the will of the Father, not his own will. The irony is that those who mock him and tell him they would believe in him as a Savior if he would only come down from the cross would have nothing to believe in had he done that. Jesus died on the cross. Just as he said he would.
It’s OMIF time for Peter again in the upper room (Mark 14:26ff). Open Mouth Insert Foot. He is not a bit happy that Jesus has said that ALL of the twelve disciples will fall away. And it is interesting how Peter frames his protest, isn’t it? He basically throws the other ten right under the Backslide Bus that’s about to barrel down the highway, but claims HE, Peter, will not be on it! He doesn’t defend the other disciples, only himself. It’s like the old ditty that went something like this: “There ain’t no flies on me; might be flies on some those guys, but there ain’t no flies on me!” Peter says to Jesus, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” Peter has little doubt that they will fall away, and ZERO doubt that HE will not fall away. We need to be careful, believers, of thinking of ourselves as the exception to the rule, and especially to point fingers at others we see who don’t live up to the rule. No matter what that rule is. James Edwards writes, “It is of no use to protest that we have not committed the sins we self-righteously condemn in others. The question is not what sins we have committed as much as what sins would we commit were we faced with serious pressure, temptation, opportunity, and threat.”
Jesus interrupts Peter’s boastful claims with a strong dose of reality: Truth? “This very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” The word for ‘betray” literally means to disown. To remove from oneself. To reject. Not just once, Peter, which could be excused by a momentary lapse, a moment of weakness. Three times. And you will know it has happened when you hear the rooster crow the second time. Perhaps the first time Peter heard it, there was a warning to stop in his tracks and turn back to the Lord? But he did not. But the good news is that there is future grace for the people of God! Jesus will give that to Peter on the beach in John 21, when he asks him three times, once for every time Peter disowned him, “Do you love me, Peter?” And Peter will be able to say, “Lord, you know I do, even with all of my failures, you know I do love you.” And oh, how much the Lord loved Peter, and how much the Lord loves you and me. Even when we deny him. His grace is greater than all our sin.
What are some applications from this text?
Let us recognize God is in control of every circumstance, and that future grace is there for us every moment. Without fail. God leads us beside still waters. God also leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. When we fall, his grace is there to pick us up and give us strength to keep going.
Let us grow in trust and love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. I would imagine it was very difficult for the ten to know how to deal with the one, even though it was Peter, when they found out he had denied the Lord three times. Just like it may be hard for you sometimes to love someone in the church who hurts you, or to trust the pastor or the elders when they don’t do or say what you think we should do or say. But remember, saints. We all fail. Each one of us. Good news! Christ never fails. We all fall. Good news! Christ still loves us when we do.
Cindy and I recently finished reading Megan Hill’s book, “The Place to Belong,” a book about the local church. Here’s an excerpt:
“Dear member of Christ’s church, soon you will hear the voice of Christ calling you, “Come up.” (Rev. 4:11). Come up to the heavenly Jerusalem. Come up to the city with foundations. Come up to the very throne of God and the near presence of Christ. Come up to the assembly of the redeemed. Come, join the multitude. This vision of the church’s sure and certain future ought to encourage our hearts. Soon, the ordinary congregation to which we belong (yes, Antioch!) will be glorified, and it is right for us to eagerly anticipate that day. But, in that day, your church will be no more precious to Christ than it is today. The church in eternity will appear more lovely, but it will not be more loved. And as we commit ourselves even now to the local church, we testify to this reality. Because Christ delights in his church, we delight in it. Because Christ calls it his own, we call it our own. Because Christ loves the church, we love it too. Week after week, we give ourselves for the good of the people whom God loves. And in eternity we will not be disappointed. Come. This is where you belong.”
Have you ever experienced such an intense anticipation of suffering that you cried out to God, asking him to remove it from you before it happened? I know many of you have. I remember my eye surgery in 2014, when a silicone band was put around my right eyeball in hopes that it would push it against the detached retina. That band is still there, always will be. It didn’t work, though, so the doctor told me I had to lie on my left side for 7 days, on the side of my bed or on the couch so that I could hang my head down. The hope was that keeping my head in that position for 24 hours a day for a week would help the retina to reattach. After three days, knowing I had 4 more to go, I began to cry. I came as close as I have ever been to a panic attack as I cried out, telling God, “I can’t do this! Please help me. I am not going to be able to do this.” He did help me, and I made it through. But the plan didn’t work, so the doctor tried one last thing.
He had me hang upside down out of the chair in his office, holding on with all my might to be as still as possible. Why? Because he sat on the floor and freehanded with a laser gun, shooting the beam into my eyeball in an attempt to tack the retina back in place. For 45 minutes, every time he pulled the trigger, it felt like someone stabbing an icepick into my eye. Again, I cried out to God to help me. When it was over, I praised God out loud, and so did the doctor. It worked. I would not lose my sight.
That was one of the greatest trials of my life, but I know it pales in comparison to the trials some of you have been through. A chronic illness. The agony of cancer. The loss of a spouse, or a child. I have not suffered like you have. But one thing I know. When Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was to be betrayed, and less than 24 hours before he would be nailed to a cross, he faced more intense internal agony and suffering than any of us will ever know. The Gospel of Mark says he began to be “greatly distressed and troubled.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus was in such distress that he sweated blood. James Edwards writes, “Nothing in all the Bible compares to Jesus’ agony and anguish in Gethsemane—neither the laments of the Psalms, nor the broken heart of Abraham as he prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, nor David’s grief at the death of his son Absalom.”
Why was Jesus’ soul sorrowful even to death? Was it because he knew he was going to die? No! He was not afraid to be pierced by nails and slowly lose his lifeblood in excruciating agony. His sorrow was because he was facing much more than death. Isaiah prophesied that he would be “pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.” Jesus was not suffering agony over the prospect of just being pierced and crushed. It was the knowledge that he would be pierced and crushed while bearing the weight of my sins, and yours. The knowledge that he would identify with sinners so completely as to become the object of God’s wrath against sin overwhelmed Jesus’ soul, and he cried out, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.”
Thank God for all eternity that Jesus did not end his request there, but with “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” The will of Jesus to obey the Father was stronger than his desire to serve himself, or to save himself from death. Some have said that hell came to Jesus in Gethsemane and, on the cross, he descended into it. He did that for you and for me.
I am thankful for my eyesight. But blindness would not have kept me from seeing Jesus’ face with perfect clarity on the day that is coming. Only his death and resurrection could make that possible, for all who believe in him.
Are you suffering? Jesus knows your pain, and cares.
Lydia came to faith in Jesus Christ when she heard the Gospel preached by Paul, and the Lord opened her heart. She did not come to believe by doubling down on doubt. Zaccheus came to faith in Jesus Christ when the Nazarene invited the vertically-challenged tax collector to clamber down the sycamore and let the Lord come to his house. He did not stumble through doubt-clouds and somehow find his way to truth. Nicodemus visited Jesus at night, not because he doubted the veracity of Jesus’ claims, but because he wanted to understand them. Even Thomas, made famous by first doubting the rest of the disciples’ claims that Jesus was alive, did not come to believe because of his doubt. He was kept from faith for a while because of it, and when he finally did believe, he was chided by the Lord with these words: “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Do you know what Lydia did when she became a Christian? Lydia opened her home. I love that. The Lord opened her heart. And Lydia opened her home. She did not go to seminary. She did not start a ministry. She did not go on a preaching crusade. Not that any of those are bad. But Lydia opened her home. Edith Schaeffer said once, “Every Christian home is meant to have a door that swings open.”
I believe it’s one of the first and finest fruits of the Father’s followers. He opens our hearts. We open our homes. Jesus said to Zaccheus, “Come down, I’m coming over to your house for supper.” When Levi, also called Matthew, the tax collector met Jesus, what was the first thing he did? He had a party and invited all of his tax collector friends over. He opened his home to Jesus and a big pile of lost people who needed to meet the Savior.
There’s the story that is told of a South Carolina judge, Alexander Sanders, whose wife called him home one day because something terrible had happened. Their little girl’s turtle had died, and she was absolutely inconsolable. As a three year old, she just didn’t understand the ways of life and death. The judge offered to buy her another one. “No! It wouldn’t be the same one.” He tried everything, and finally said, “Well, we have to have a funeral for Carl.” She looked puzzled, so the judge told her a funeral is where they invite all of her little friends over, and have ice cream and cake and lemonade and play outside and celebrate the life of her turtle. That did it. She was very excited about that, and so she and her father started to plan the party and who to invite. Then it happened. The turtle stuck his legs out. Then his head. The father was relieved and knew his daughter would be, too. But when he looked at her expecting to see tears of joy, she said, “Daddy, let’s kill it.” What’s the moral to that story? It’s not, “kill turtles.” No. The moral is, “everybody loves a party.” So, have one. Invite doubters, skeptics, and others who don’t know Jesus.
The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind. The answer is written in God’s Word. Don’t celebrate doubt. Investigate the truth. Read the Bible. Talk to someone who knows Jesus. Email me and we will have lunch. I would love to meet you and tell you why I believe.
We love the GOAT question, don’t we? “Greatest of All Time.” Well, some love it. We all know that Michael Jordan is the GOAT when it comes to basketball. Don’t even start with me about LeBron. We can also talk about Tom Brady and Tiger Woods and Wayne Gretzky and Mia Hamm and Pele and Djokovic and Serena. But they all are or were great at playing a game, and the discussions about who was the greatest in their respective sports are mere mortals like you and me.
The encounter Jesus had in Mark 12 is not about a game but has to do with commandments, the laws of God. The arbiter of this discussion is not a mere mortal, a talking head on ESPN. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The one who comes to Jesus is a scribe, and it is the only friendly encounter between Jesus and the scribes in the Gospel. The scribes were considered experts in the law, not the laws of Rome, but the laws of God as found in the Torah. The scribes were the Supreme Court Justices of their day, experts in interpreting the law and rendering binding decisions on their interpretation. This man has just heard Jesus interpret Exodus 6:3 and putting the Sadducees in their place, and he was no doubt impressed. So, he comes to Jesus with a question. It was not uncommon in those days to ask reputable teachers about the law, and to ask them their opinion on the most important of the laws. It was a favorite pastime then to debate the question, of the 613 commandments in the written and oral laws, 248 positive and 365 negative, which is the foremost of all, which laws are heavy and which laws are light? Twenty years before Jesus, the famous Rabbi Hillel summarized the Torah with a twist of the Golden Rule. He wrote, “What you would not want done to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the entire Torah, everything else is interpretation.” Hmmm. That seems to give me permission to never do anything to help my neighbor; all that is required is that I don’t do anything to harm my neighbor. And here’s something else. Hillel was speaking to Jews about Jews and how Jews are supposed to live. But the question this scribe presents to Jesus is bigger than that. The question is not, “of all the commandments, which is the most important for Jews to follow,” or, which is the GOAT? The sense of the question is rather, “Which commandment supersedes everything and is incumbent on all humanity—including Gentiles?” (James Edwards)
Jesus answers, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Then he adds, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The order is important. First, we are commanded to love God. In fact, we cannot truly love our neighbor if we do not love God first. “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:19-20) So, love God and love your neighbor. That’s the order. But how are we to love God? The manner is important.
We are commanded to love God with all four facets of our person and personality, and Jesus lays rightful claim on each one with four “alls”: all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and of our strength. These are not rigid divisions of our lives, but together they make up all of who we are, and each has an effect on the others. The heart is mentioned first, perhaps because it is central in loving God. Solomon wrote, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Heart and soul are different words, but both can refer to the inner part of who we are, the immaterial substance of our lives. “Soul” could be translated “spirit,” the breath of life that God breathes into man or woman to make us living beings. Our mind is our faculty of understanding and as we feed it from the Word, our love for God should grow with it. Our strength is the power we have from God to love him with our will, to act and to speak and to stand for His name’s sake. Jesus says in effect to you and me, “All of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind and all of your strength belong to me. Love me with them, and when you do, you will also love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus lifted these ancient laws out of the mire of tradition and legalism and made them live in the hearts of men and women who know him.