Category Archives: Sermons

Teaching About the Sower

The Text: Mark 4:1-20 – He began again to teach by the seaside; and a great multitude was gathered together with Him, so that He entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.  And He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:

“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow [seed].  And it came to pass, while He sowed, [that] some fell by the roadside, and the birds of the air came and devoured it up.  And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much soil; and immediately it sprang up, because it didn’t have deep soil.  But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.  And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other [seed] fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased.  And [they] brought forth [fruit], some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundred.”

And He said to them, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when He was alone, those who were around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable.  And He said to them, “To you it’s given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God, but to those who are outside, all [these] things are coming in parables.  So that ‘Seeing, they may see and not perceive; and hearing, they might hear and not understand; lest at any time they might be converted, and their sins might be forgiven them.’”

And He said to them, “Do you not perceive this parable?  And how, then, will you know all [these other] parables?

“The sower sows the word.  And these by the roadside are they where the seed is sown, but when they have heard, Satan comes in immediately, and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.  And likewise, these which are sown on stony ground are they who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and have no root in themselves, and so [they] endure only for a time.  Afterwards, when affliction or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they are caused to stumble.  And these which are sown among the thorns are they such as hear the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches and lusts of other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.  And these which are sown on good ground are they such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

Introduction

The parable of the sower is one of the best-known of Jesus’ parables.  I don’t have any idea how many times I’ve heard some part of it referenced (often the “cares of this world” line), but it’s a lot.  It’s mentioned by Matthew (chapter 13), Mark (chapter 4), and Luke (chapter 8).  And though many people refer to it as the “parable of the soils,” Jesus called it “the parable of the sower” (Matthew 13:18).  Therefore, while Jesus spends a lot of time dealing with the different kinds of soils, His main emphasis is on the sower.

The Text, part 1 – The Setting (Mark 4:1-2)

[Jesus] began again to teach by the seaside.  And a great multitude gathered [together around] Him, so that He entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.

Matthew 13:1 tells us that at first, Jesus sat to teach by the seaside (most likely next to the sea of Galilee).  But the crowds gathered, and Jesus stood up, walking to a ship that He could board so that He could teach the crowds without being mobbed.  Then, He sat down on the ship and began to teach the multitude that was on the shore.  This wouldn’t have been like a rowboat, but probably one of the fishing boats.  Jesus must have had a very strong voice to be able to teach this great crowd of people while sitting on this boat.

And He taught them many things by parables.

The word “parable” comes from the Greek parabole, which literally means “to throw beside.”  It’s the idea of putting two things side-by-side for comparison’s sake.  A parable is often described as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” and quite often that is true.  I’d be more specific, and say that a parable is a story dealing with things that are known and understood in order to explain something that is not necessarily known or understood. Every parable that Jesus gave dealt with things that the listeners could identify with and understand, things like planting and harvesting, or losing something valuable and rejoicing when it is found (Luke 15).  And behind all these parables were deeper truths.  Some parables foretold the rejection of the Jews (Matthew 21:33-45), while others taught Godly attributes (like the Good Samaritan).

And in His teaching to them, He said “Listen.”

Jesus didn’t speak to waste His breath.  He expected those people who gathered around to pay attention to the things He was trying to teach them.  As followers of Jesus Christ today, we should respect the Lord enough to listen to Him and listen to His word being proclaimed.

The Text, part 2 – The Parable Given (Mark 4:3-8)

“Behold”

This word means not just to look, but to perceive, to comprehend.  So, as Jesus began to speak, He opens with the words, “Listen.  Perceive.”  In other words, Jesus is telling them that in order to understand His teaching, they would have to pay attention, and do some thinking.  He explains why a little later on.

“A sower went out to sow”

Literally, “the scattering one went to scatter.”  This kind of sowing is done by a person with a large bag, like a large purse, with the handle over his shoulder and neck.  He reaches inside the bag, grabs a handful of seeds, and then scatters them all across the field as he walks.  He knows ahead of time that not all the seeds will take root, but given the sheer number of seeds that he throws out there, he knows that some of them will produce the desired plant.

“Some [seed] fell by the road, and the birds of the air came and devoured it up.”

The road, whether it be rock or dirt, was packed down so hard that no seed could penetrate—so it just sat there, and was free food for the birds who gladly take advantage of it.

“Some [seed] fell on stony ground, where there was not much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil.”

You might imagine soil with lots of gravel or little rocks mixed in with it, but that’s not what Jesus is describing.  He’s describing ground where there is a very small layer of soil, and underneath that is just rock.  That’s why He says “it has no depth of soil [or earth].”  Anyone who has ever tried to plant a garden in this kind of soil knows that it is almost impossible to get much to grow and produce, because there’s simply not enough soil to support the plant.

“But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.”

When Luke records this statement, he says that the plant withered away because it “lacked moisture.”  The thin layer of dirt couldn’t hold on to the necessary moisture to sustain these plants, and the plants died as a result.

“Some [seed] fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.”

These are weeds among which the seed fell.  These weeds, with thorns, stole moisture and nutrients from the soil, and worked to overtake the plant, keeping it from being able to produce any fruit.  This is why anyone who has much experience with gardening knows you’ve got to “weed” (or de-weed) your garden so that your crops can grow and produce.

“Other [seed] fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundred.”

This here is the reason why the sower goes out and scatters the seed: because there is good soil out there, and if he scatters enough seed, some of it will land in that soil.  That seed will then sprout, take root, and produce a good harvest.

The person sowing the seed during those days wasn’t usually the land owner—at least not on the bigger fields.  It was someone working for the person who owned the field.  Usually, there were several working the fields at once, and they would scatter the seed all over the place, covering every possible area.  Some of it would land in bad soil, but some of it would land in good soil.  These workers oftentimes had no way of knowing what kinds of soil were all around them.  Their job was merely to scatter the seed.

The Text, part 3 – Hearing and Understanding (Mark 4:9-13)

He said to them, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.”

This is something that Jesus said on more than one occasion.  He said it after telling His disciples that John the Immerser was the fulfillment of the prophecies about Elijah (Matthew 11:7-15); after asking them whether a candle should be hid under a bushel (Mark 4:21-23); after chastising the Pharisees for elevating their traditions over God’s word (Mark 7:1-16); after explaining the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:36-43); after instructing the multitude on the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-35); and at the conclusion of each of the letters to the seven churches in Asia (Revelation 2-3).

The phrase means that everyone (because they all have ears) is supposed to listen.  In fact, the phrase “let him hear” is the same as the word translated “Hearken” (KJV) or “Listen” that Jesus used back in verse 3.  It is a command to hear the message that is being presented.

But not everyone understood the message…

When He was alone, they that were around Him, with the twelve, asked Him about the parable.

Mark is the only one who gives us this piece of information, that is, that they waited until Jesus was alone to ask this question.  They apparently didn’t want to ask the question in front of the multitude, and they also didn’t want to interrupt Jesus’ teaching.  So, they waited until later.

Mark is also the only one who tells us that it was more than just the apostles asking this question.  Matthew and Luke simply say “the disciples,” which sometimes is a reference to just the twelve.  But this was the entire group of Jesus’ disciples, all the ones who were faithfully following Him—including the apostles.

It appears that none of them understood the deeper meaning behind Jesus’ parable of the sower.

He said to them, “To you, it’s given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God, but to those who are outside, all these things are coming in parables.”

The disciples, including the apostles, were being taught about the Kingdom of God by Jesus.  He told them that it was “at hand,” and showed its power to them by casting out demons and healing the sick.  But there was more to it than just power.  The Kingdom of God included enduring rejection by the very people Jesus came to save.  The disciples needed to understand that the key to understanding Jesus’ parables was knowing about the Kingdom.  The Kingdom would be spread by sowing the word of God (as He will allude to momentarily) in the hearts of people.

But to those who don’t understand, who haven’t opened their eyes to the reality of Jesus spiritual kingdom, these parables would have no meaning—for they didn’t have the key.

The KJV says these things are “done” in parable, but literally, He says they are “coming” in parables.  That is, He’s presenting those things in parables to the masses.

“So that ‘Seeing, they might see, and not perceive; and hearing, they might hear, and not understand”

Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9, and applies it to His own teaching in parables—a definite claim that He is the Messiah.

The parables are spoken, according to Jesus, so that they would have the opportunity to see and perceive, to hear and understand—if they had the right heart and desire.  It isn’t made clear in English, but the verbs are in the subjunctive mood, showing possibility.  So, literally, Jesus is saying “Seeing, they might see, and might not perceive; and hearing, they might hear, and might not understand.  Some people have accused Jesus of intentionally hiding the truth from people so that they couldn’t understand it—but that’s not the case at all.  He’s teaching in a way that helps those who sincerely want to understand to put everything together.  In fact, the word translated “understand” is a compound word in Greek which means “bringing together.”

“‘Lest at any time they might be converted, and their sins might be forgiven them.’”

Again, these are conditional statements.  Some of the people did listen to Jesus, and some of them were converted, and did have their sins forgiven.  But the majority did not.  In Isaiah 6, where this statement came from, the Lord sent Isaiah to proclaim the truth that the people really didn’t want to hear—that their cities were going to be utterly wasted.  And the more they heard that they didn’t like, they more they ignored the prophet.

The same thing happened with Jesus (see John 6:66).  There were hard-hearted people who didn’t want the message of a spiritual kingdom that required godly living and evangelism and obedience.  So, Jesus spoke it to them in parables, keeping the true meaning just under the surface—those who were spiritually-minded would dig and find it, while those who weren’t interested would just think it was a story and shrug it off.

And He said to them, “Do you not perceive this parable?  How then will you perceive all [the other] parables?”

Jesus was kind (because He explains the parable to them), but at the same time, this statement expresses a disappointment in the disciples.  They, the ones who should be best equipped to understand the meaning, didn’t see it.  And you have to know that it stung a bit when Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9, and then immediately afterwards asked them if they were among the ones who fit the description of “not perceiving.”

This parable is a fairly straight-forward one, and when we understand that it is about the kingdom of God, the rest of the pieces fall into place pretty easily.  And Jesus asks them how they could hope to understand His other parables if they didn’t understand this parable.  So many people want to jump headfirst into the deeper matters of the Bible without first having an understanding of some of the simpler parts.  If you can’t grasp the simple parts, you have no hope of understanding the more difficult ones!

The Text, part 4 – The Explanation (Mark 4:13-20)

“The sower sows the word.”

That statement is the key to the entire parable.  Luke records it as “the seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11).  Without this knowledge, the parable is hidden in a mist of confusion.  But when you know that “the seed is the word of God,” everything else makes sense.

“These by the road are they where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.”

The word of God makes no lasting penetration into these hearts.  Just like the birds eating seed off the hard ground, Satan has no trouble removing the word of God from the hearts and minds of this kind of people.  They aren’t really spiritually-minded to begin with, and so they don’t take in the word of God, they don’t treasure it.  It’s just there, ready to be forgotten at the first opportunity.

“Likewise, these which are sown on stony ground are they who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so they endure but for a time.  Afterwards, when affliction or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately, they are caused to stumble.”

These are what you might call “shallow” Christians.  They want the salvation that comes through Christ, but they don’t have any roots, no depth to their faith, and so when things get tough, they simply fall away.

It’s interesting that in the parable, Jesus described the sun as part of the reason the plant died, and then he describes affliction and persecution as what causes a believer to die (spiritually).  But the sun has a very positive effect on plants which are properly planted; and persecution and affliction has a very positive effect on Christians who are properly planted in God (see James 1:2-4, Acts 5:40-41).

The word “offended” (KJV) or “stumble” (NKJV) is the Greek word scandalizo.  It’s where we get the word “scandal.”

“These which are sown among thorns are those, such as hear the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

In contrast to the previous people, these aren’t “shallow” Christians.  These are people who know the truth, believe the truth, and may have even at one time been very fruitful in the truth.  But they are the ones who have gotten caught up with cares of the world (friends, family, work, politics, fun, pleasure) and as a result, they’ve relegated God’s word to second place (or third or fourth or fifth…) in their lives.  These are the ones who have allowed the material things to become the focus of their lives (money, wealth, things).  Jesus adds that it’s also “the lusts of other things.”  It’s basically Jesus saying, “and other things like these.”

When those things become the focus, it chokes out the word of God in your life, and you become unfruitful.  Even if you were at one point in time an active, evangelistic, fruitful Christian, you can still fall—you can still get so tangled up in the cares of this world that you end up forgetting that this world isn’t our home, and we’ve got a better world awaiting us.

“These which are sown on good ground are those, such as hear the word and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

These are active, faithful, working Christians.  These are those who are productive for the Lord.  There’s two different ways we can look at what this “fruit” is:

First, we could use the word “fruit” as John the Immerser did in Matthew 3:8, “Therefore, bring forth fruits suitable for repentance.”  By this, the “fruit” would have a reference to works (in our context, it would be good works).  Paul uses the phrase in a similar way in Romans 7:5-6.

Second, we could look at something God says about “fruit” in the creation account in Genesis 1:11: “And God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed is in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”  Since the fruit has the seed inside it, and the seed is the word of God, then to “bring forth fruit” would be converting people to Christ.  Each person you convert to the Lord now has the word of God (the seed) inside them.

Ultimately, the two options are really two parts of the same thing.

Application

Preparing the Sower

Since Jesus called it the “parable of the sower,” He wanted His disciples to view it from that direction first.  In telling them this parable, He was preparing them for the different kinds of reactions that they would receive when they went about preaching the word.  We need to take the same lesson from it as well, and know ahead of time that there will be people who are so hard-hearted that the word of God won’t take hold in their heart.  We need to realize ahead of time that some people will accept it, but they will be shallow and fall away.  Some will accept it, and stick with it, but they won’t bear fruit because they’re too busy with the things of this life.  These things aren’t our fault—that is on them.  But we also need to know that there are people out there who will gladly receive the word of God and who will bear fruit.  That is the reason we need to keep trying to bring others to Christ, because these kind of people are out there!

Preparing the Soil

The secondary purpose of this parable is from the standpoint of the soils, or the heart.  What kind of heart do you have?  Is it a hard heart?  A shallow heart?  A rocky heart?  Or a good and pure heart?  As most of you are certainly aware, bad soil doesn’t have to stay bad soil.  It can be broken up, tilled, cared for, rocks removed, weeds removed, and it can become productive.  The same thing is true of your heart.  If you honestly look at your heart and discover that you are one of the first three, then you can do something about it!  You can cultivate your heart, be more conscious of where your focus is, on what is most important, and then you can start being fruitful for the Lord!

Invitation

Just possessing he seed isn’t enough.  Just tossing it on the ground isn’t enough.  In order for that seed to produce a plant, there’s something else that has to be present, and that’s water.  The same thing is true with the word of God.  Just having it isn’t enough to save you.  Just believing it isn’t enough to save you (for the demons believe and tremble, James 2:19).  It’s when you make the decision to repent of your rebellion to God, and add water—being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of your sins—that you become a Christian.

Won’t you please become a fruitful follower of the Lord today?

-Bradley S. Cobb

Identifying the True Family

The Text: Mark 3:31-35 – His brothers and His mother then came there, and standing outside, they sent to Him, calling Him.  And the multitude sat around Him, and they said to Him, “Behold, your mother and your brothers outside are looking for you.” 

And He answered them, saying, “Who is my mother or my brothers?”  And He looked around at those who were sitting around Him, and said, “Behold, my mother and my brethren!  For whoever will do the desires of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and my mother.”

Introduction

Jesus gave some difficult commands in His life, but they were always ones that He Himself was ready to follow as well.  He has been preaching and teaching, proclaiming the Kingdom of God in the face of opposition from His associates (who thought He was crazy) and the scribes (who claimed He was possessed by Satan), but He didn’t stop.  And now, Jesus’ family shows up, wanting Him to stop teaching so He can come talk to them.

The Text, part 1 – Earthly Family Calling (Mark 3:31-32).

Satan uses peer pressure and false accusations to try to disrupt God’s work.  That’s what he did against Jesus earlier in this chapter.  Now, he uses another—very potent—device to try to stop Jesus: His own family.

Then, there came His brothers and His mother

Let’s just get this out of the way from the start.  These aren’t Jesus’ cousins.  These are the children of Mary and Joseph, all younger than Jesus, who arrived with their mother, Mary.  Matthew 13:55-56 shows that Jesus was known by the people in His own area as “the carpenter’s son” whose mother was named “Mary,” and “His brethren, James and Joses and Simon and Judas” and who had “sisters.”  It is ridiculous to claim, as the Catholics do, that the people who knew Jesus had to identify Him by His earthly father and mother, and then rattle off the names of four of His cousins, and then add that He’s got female cousins (“sisters”) too.  These are the actual brothers (half-brothers, to be specific) of Jesus who have come with Mary.

Some Greek manuscripts also include “sisters” with this group that was trying to get to Jesus.

This is the family that Jesus has known His whole earthly life.  He certainly had a spot in His heart for them.  Even though John 7 portrays them as non-believers, He visited James after the resurrection, which led to all of the brothers being present in Jerusalem, gathered with the disciples (Acts 1:13-14), and later becoming well-known Christian examples (1 Corinthians 9:5).  So these brothers of Jesus were not beyond reaching with the gospel, and Jesus knew that.  This fact would have made it very tempting for Jesus to go talk to them and try to convince them to believe in Him.

Standing outside, sent to Him, calling Him

Luke tells us that they couldn’t get to Jesus because of the massive crowd of people (Luke 8:19) who were sitting around Jesus, so instead of going to Him, they began calling to Him.  The Greek word is “phoneo,” which means they were using their voices.  So, they were telling people at the edge of the crowd, “Tell Jesus that we’re out here, and that we are looking for Him.”  So, from the edge of the crowd, this message was sent (the Greek word is “apostello”) until it reached Jesus.

The multitude sat around Him

This is something that only Mark mentions. Remember that earlier in the chapter, those close to Jesus thought He was crazy because He was allowing these massive crowds of people to crowd around Him.  But Jesus is in no danger of being crushed.  The multitude is sitting around Him.

They said to Him, “Behold, your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you.”

The message had made its way through who knows how many people to finally get to Jesus.  He’s told that they are “seeking” Him.  The same word is used in Matthew’s account, where it is translated “desiring” to speak to Jesus (Matthew 12:46-47).  In other words, they wanted Jesus to stop what He was doing and come outside to talk to His physical family.

The Text, part 2 – True Family Identified (Mark 3:33-35)

As Jesus’ family stood outside, the crowd looked at Him, probably wondering what He would do.  Would He stop preaching and teaching to go talk to them?  Would He send them a message back through the multitude?  Would He ignore them?

He answered them, saying “Who is my mother or my brothers?”

As literally-minded as some of Jesus’ disciples were, you have to think that some of them were quite confused by this statement.  What?  Jesus, you know…your mother?  Mary?  Don’t you remember her?  And your brothers, the ones you lived with for years?  What do you mean, “Who is my mother or brothers?”  Maybe this statement, for a moment, reinforced the idea that some of them had that Jesus had lost His mind.

But Jesus wasn’t pleading ignorance, nor was He crazy.  He was asking a question to get the people to start thinking.  He wanted them to start thinking about which relationships are most important.  He wanted them to change their focus from the physical to the spiritual.

He looked around at those who sat around Him

This is Jesus pausing for effect, looking at the people who were listening, making sure they are paying attention.  Then Jesus lifts up His hand, and points it towards His disciples (Matthew 12:46-47).

And [He] said, “Behold my mother and brethren!”

The crowd had said “Behold, your mother and brother are outside,” and Jesus’ response is “Behold, my mother and brother” are right here!  Jesus explains what He means by this in the next verse, but I want you to put yourself in the shoes of Mary, or of James, Jude, Simon, or Joses.  The message certainly got back to them, and it probably didn’t make the brothers too happy.  But what about Mary?  Do you think another incident popped into her head?  Perhaps an incident that the Bible says “she kept…in her heart”?

Now His [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover.  When He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.  And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and His mother did not know it.  But they, supposing He was with the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought them among their relatives and acquaintances.  And when they did not find Him, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him [this is the same word as in Mark 3:32].  And it came to pass, that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them and asking them questions.  And all that heard were astonished at His understanding and answers.  And when they saw Him, they were amazed: and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have you dealt this way with us?  Behold, your father and I have sought you, sorrowing.”  And He said to them, “How is it that you sought me?  Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”  And they did not understand the saying which He spoke to them.  And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them: but His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. (Luke 2:41-51).

Even from the time Jesus was 12 years old, He knew the difference between His earthly family and His true family.  The incident from Jesus’ boyhood, along with the incident in Mark 3, shows us without a doubt that Jesus knew which family was most important.

For whoever shall do the desires of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and my mother.

Now, just to make things crystal clear, Jesus isn’t saying that His disciples were somehow His spiritual mother (or sisters).  He is saying that His true family is the spiritual family.  His true family are the people who obey the Father’s will.  Here’s something that you might want to contemplate: your earthly family is only temporary.  Your spiritual family is forever.  But praise God when your earthly family is counted as part of your spiritual family too!

The Peter began to say to Him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed You.  And Jesus answered and said, “Truly I say to you, there is no man that has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive a hundred-fold now in this time, houses and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:28-30).

The ones who have put Jesus ahead of their earthly family will receive a much greater family—brothers and sisters of untold numbers—here, in this life.  A person who obeys the gospel immediately gains a family of brothers and sisters in Christ—and new family members are made every day!

Jesus warned about placing your physical family ahead of Him—being a disciple of Jesus must come first in your life!

[Jesus] said to them, “If any man comes to me, and does not hate his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and even his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26).

Jesus isn’t saying that you have to despise your family, but He is saying that you have to put Him first.  Earthly ties are to be secondary to your ties to Jesus Christ.

Application

Put Your Family First—Your TRUE Family.

I don’t need to tell you that people have fallen away from God, left the family of God (the church, 1 Timothy 3:15), because of their physical family.  Maybe it’s a domineering husband who berates his wife for going to worship with the saints.  Maybe it’s a wife whose religious ties are to a denomination, and she’s nagged or guilted her husband into joining her.  Maybe it’s someone who has children who are living in wickedness, but they can’t bring themselves to admit that they are lost, so they stop worshiping with the saints, lest someone ask about them, or lest they hear a lesson that deals with the sins that their children happen to be guilty of.  I know a man who left the church and tried to split it on his way out because someone dared to tell him that it was wrong for his daughter to be cheating on her husband.

We must be like Jesus, and realize that regardless of our earthly ties, it is our Father’s family, our true family that matters the most.

How Do I Become Part of God’s Family?

We become part of a physical family by being born into it.  Similarly, in order to become part of God’s family, Jesus’ family, the spiritual family, the family that Jesus claimed as His own, we must be born into it as well.  But this birth isn’t something done when you come out of your mother’s womb.  Since this is a spiritual family, it requires a spiritual birth.

“Truly I say to you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to [Jesus], “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a man is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:3-5).

James 1:18 says “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”  The word “begat,” when describing a father’s actions, means that he has provided the seed so that a new creature can be born. In the genealogical lists, it is said “Adam begat Seth” or “Abraham begat Isaac” and so on. The fathers didn’t give birth to them, but they provided the seed so that a birth could follow. When God begat us, He provided the seed so that a birth could follow. But what was that seed?

James tells us that it is “the word of truth”

The seed that God provided so that our new birth could take place is the word of God. The word of God is described as the seed from which Christians come (Luke 8:11). In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), Jesus described the seed (the word of God) as going to people’s hearts. When it took hold of good and honest hearts, Christians came forth.

There is NO CHANCE of being born again without the Scriptures—the word of truth. Some people claim they had some religious “experience” and they could tell by their “feelings” that they were saved. James says quite plainly that the new birth comes by the word of truth. Being born again doesn’t come from feelings, from experiences, or from a direct action of God upon the person. It comes from following the word of God.

Peter reiterates the same idea in saying “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which lives and remains forever” (1 Peter 1:23).  You read the Scriptures (the seed) and plant it in your heart. The birth which follows comes when you obey the commands to believe (John 3:16), repent (Acts 2:38) and be baptized (Acts 22:16).

For you are all children of God by the faith, in Christ Jesus, Because as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27).

Come be a part of God’s family today!

-Bradley S. Cobb

Questioning Jesus’ Sanity and Source (The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit)

The Text: Mark 3:20-30 – The multitude came together again, so that they couldn’t so much as eat bread.  And when those close to Him heard, they went out to restrain Him, for they said, “He is crazy!”

And the scribes which acme down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub, and by the prince of demons He cats out demons.”  And He called them, and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?”

“And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan rises up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.”

“No man can enter into a strong man’s house and take his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then he can rob his house.”

Truly I say to you, ‘All sins shall be forgiven to the sons of men, and blasphemies as many as they shall blaspheme; but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.”

[Jesus said this] because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Introduction

In the last half of Mark chapter three, the writer deals with what people thought about Jesus’ mental state and His allegiance; and that’s followed by Jesus’ words regarding who His true family was.  While Mark records actual, 100% true events, they might not be recorded in chronological order.  Luke, who claimed to write his gospel “in consecutive order” (1:3, NASB), records some of these events in chapter 11, and then the last part seen in Mark 3 is recorded in Luke 8.  This doesn’t affect the inspiration of the Scriptures at all, for Mark never made the claim that he was writing chronologically.  Instead, there’s a logical progression to Mark’s unfolding of events.

The Text, part 1 – The View of His Associates (Mark 3:20-21).

In verses 20-21, the focus is on how certain people close to Jesus viewed His mental state because of His actions here.

And the multitude comes together again

This is the great crowd of people who just about crushed Jesus earlier in the chapter.  Jesus requested a small ship be prepared so that He wouldn’t be “thronged” or crushed like a grape.  But now, the same scenario arises again—except that this time there’s no ship, because Jesus is at a house (see verse 19).

So that they couldn’t so much as eat bread.

Whoever the “they” is (whether it’s Jesus and the apostles, or the crowd), the point is that there was so many of them that having the space and taking the time to eat was an impossibility (literally, they did not have the power even to eat).  The crowd wanted Jesus’ time and attention—it’s all they cared about.  It seems as though this is the same kind of thing that happened when Jesus ended up feeding the 4,000:

Jesus called His disciples and said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way (Matthew 16:32).

Have you ever been so focused on Jesus and wanting to be close to Him that you forget to eat—or don’t think eating is important enough to stop reading His word and going to the Father in prayer?  Jesus said “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6); and He told His disciples, “My [food] is to do the will of Him that sent me” (John 4:34).  When our hunger for spiritual things becomes greater than our hunger for physical things, we have grown greatly in Jesus Christ.

Many of those who followed Jesus (including, certainly, many in this multitude) were not interested in His teachings, but in seeing a miracle or being the recipient of His healing power (Mark 3:10).

And when those near Him heard of it…

There’s debate as to who these people are.  The KJV and ASV say “friends,” the NKJV and NASB say “His people,” while the ESV (and many commentators) says “His family.”  Literally, the text says “the ones beside Him.”  Regardless of who it was (I tend to think it is His newly-appointed apostles whom He said would be “with Him”—Mark 3:14), these were people who cared about His well-being.

They went out to grab hold of Him

They wanted to rescue Him, to save Him from the crowds that put His life in danger before by mobbing Him.  Given the size of the crowd, it took some courage for these people to work their way to Jesus and try to take Him away from the mob.

For they said, “He is beside Himself!”

Literally, they said “He is crazy!”  It’s as though they were questioning Jesus’ sanity in going back out to the mob that all wanted to touch Him and crowd Him.  If indeed it is the apostles under consideration, imagine what they’re thinking.  They were selected that morning, and now, to them, it looks like Jesus is trying to commit suicide by letting the mobs come rush Him again.

But Jesus wasn’t crazy.  What His associates didn’t understand is that Jesus had the power to stop the mob in their tracks if He wanted.  He could have simply walked through the crowd like He did in Luke 4:28-30:

And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, so that they might cast Him down headlong.  But He, passing through the midst of them, went His way.

Mark doesn’t tell us what happened next.  He doesn’t say that the associates of Jesus pulled Him into the house, and doesn’t say they Jesus told them not to worry.  It’s simply left with their thought that Jesus was crazy.

The Text, part 2 – The View of the Scribes (Mark 3:22)

And that leads directly into verse 22, which tells us that the scribes held a somewhat similar view—but with a completely different motive.

The scribes which came down from Jerusalem…

These were some of the religious teachers who were supposed to be well-acquainted with the Law of Moses, having copied much of it by hand.  The fact that they were the scribes in Jerusalem meant that they were the most prestigious scribes in the nation.  Their words held a lot of weight with the people.

They came “down” from Jerusalem, because Jerusalem is situated on a mountain.  They weren’t using “down” to mean “south” like we do when looking at a map.  They walked, and so anywhere out of Jerusalem was “down” to them.

[They] said, “He has Beelzebub”

Beelzebub is a name the Jews used for Satan.  Literally, it means “Lord of the flies,” but it’s also been said that this originated with the idea that the flies buzz around piles of poop.  Thus, according to some who have studied the issue, the name Beelzebub is a derogatory name to describe Satan as “poop lord” or “the poo-poo god.” (and yes, that is a direct quote).

So when the scribes from Jerusalem made this accusation, it wasn’t just that they were questioning Jesus’ power and authority (which, if we are really lenient, we might say they did in ignorance), they were also degrading Jesus.  It wasn’t a scared, fearful, “He serves Satan,” but instead a sneering and mocking, “He has the poo-poo god.”

In the Old Testament (1 Kings 16), the Philistines worshiped “Baalzebub,” which is almost definitely the same name.  Ahaziah, one of the kings of Israel, was sick and injured, and instead of enquiring of God as to whether he would recover, he sent messengers to go enquire of Baalzebub.  Elijah stopped them and sent them back with a message: because the king would rather enquire of Baalzebub than of the God of Israel, he was going to die.  Over a hundred men were killed with fire from heaven in the course of the chapter, all going back to the actions of the king.

“By the prince of demons, He casts out demons.”

There’s not a single good motive behind what these scribes said of Jesus.  They said that He has Beelzebub, as though He’s possessed, not just by any demon, but by Satan himself, the ruler of demons!  He who was casting out demons, they claim, is the most possessed man there is!

Now don’t miss what they’re saying.  They are admitting, without a doubt, that Jesus was casting out demons.  Thus, they are admitting that Jesus possesses supernatural power—miracle-working power.  And they are so opposed to Jesus that they take the ridiculous position that He’s actually working for and with Satan!

Now, for the sake of the argument, we should recognize that in casting out demons, there were only two possibilities—either the power of God was behind it, or the power of Satan (the ruler over demons) was behind it.  The scribes tried to convince the people that Jesus was controlled by Satan, or working with him, in an effort to trick people into following Satan, by casting out the demons.  In effect, their accusation was that Satan was trying to pretend to be an angel of light to draw away followers after himself.

His associates thought He was crazy, but His enemies claimed He was Satan-possessed!

The Text, part 3 – A House Divided (Mark 3:23-27).

Jesus’ response is to show the ludicrousness of their accusation.  Mark doesn’t give us everything Jesus used in response, but he gives us enough to make the point pretty clear.

He called them, and said to them in parables, “How is Satan able to cast out Satan?”

Mark wants to make sure that his readers don’t miss the point of these parabolic statements from Jesus.  They each are given as ways of asking the same question, “How is Satan able to cast out Satan?”  The word translated as “can” in the KJV is the word dunamai, the noun form of which is very frequently used to describe miracle-working power.  When it appears here, the question is “How does Satan have the ability [or power] to cast himself out?”

Jesus, who knew what the scribes were thinking and saying, called them and presented a series of arguments to them.

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”

Imagine a king who tries to undermine the very laws that he uses to govern people.  Or a ruler who bombs his own army.  If Satan is casting out Satan, it’s the same as though a king was banishing himself from his own kingdom, or perhaps banishing all his subjects (since Satan is the ruler of the demons).  Once there are no more subjects, there’s no kingdom.

Jesus’ point is that no one with any sense at all would actively seek to destroy his own kingdom, and Satan isn’t stupid—he isn’t going to actively try to destroy his own power, and therefore himself.

“If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

Jesus goes from the large (the kingdom) to the small (the family) to show that this principle applies all the way around.  A family which does nothing but fight isn’t really a family at all any more, except perhaps in name only, because the people in that family have destroyed it.

“If Satan rises up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.”

Jesus makes it clear that the demons that have been cast out are loyal to Satan; by casting out the demons, it is an attack on Satan himself.  Thus, if this is being done by Satan’s power, then Satan is attacking himself.  And if Satan is attacking himself, neither he nor his kingdom can stand.  If Satan is attacking himself, he has an end—he is committing suicide.

However, Satan isn’t stupid.  Satan isn’t attacking himself.  Satan isn’t committing suicide.

But something is going on… Satan is being attacked… His soldiers are being defeated…  His kingdom is shaking.

No one can enter into a strong man’s house and steal his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then he can rob his house.

The scribes’ accusation was that Jesus was possessed by Satan.  Jesus’ response is to say, in essence, Are you kidding me?  Satan’s kingdom is falling, and he’s not doing it himself.  I’m the one who is doing it, for Satan—as strong as he is—is no match for me.  I’m taking his kingdom.

It is a statement of Jesus’ amazing power.  He, as God in the flesh, has come and beaten Satan at his own game.  Satan went after Him hard and heavy, tempting Him during those forty days (Mark 1:13), but Jesus came out victorious, and began to announce that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  Satan continues to fight back, but his kingdom is losing power every day that Jesus works.  Satan is the “strong man,” but Jesus is even stronger!

The Text, part 4 – The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-30).

Understanding the context is key to understanding what the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit actually is.  Jesus didn’t just spit out these words are a random moment; He thoughtfully said them in response to an actual event.  And it’s rather important that we notice the progression of what’s happened here in His interaction with the scribes.

  1. They make the accusation that He’s doing miracles by the power of Satan.
  2. He shows the ridiculous nature of their accusation.
  3. He declares His superiority in power over Satan (which is actually a claim to be Deity).

And now, Jesus warns them that eternal damnation (which He has in His power to administer) awaits those who make such accusations.

“Truly I say to you, All sins shall be forgiven to the sons of men”

Murder, robbery, hatred, etc., all of the things we think of as sin will be forgiven by God if we repent.  Of course, this is not saying that God will forgive every sin period.  There is no grace for those who sin willfully (Hebrews 10:26), or for those who don’t know God or who reject the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8).  But Jesus is saying that forgiveness is available for all sins…except for one.

“Even blasphemies, as many as they shall blaspheme”

Blasphemies are speaking evil of someone, speaking against them.  Even blasphemies will be forgiven by God.  Saul of Tarsus blasphemed (1 Timothy 1:13), but was forgiven.  Blasphemy itself does not guarantee eternal damnation.  But one kind does…

“But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.”

Jesus brought this up for a reason, which Mark gives in verse 30.  The scribes had seen first-hand the power of Jesus to cast out demons (see Luke 11:14-15), but were so hard-hearted that they’d rather give the glory for this wonderful miracle to Satan than to Jesus, who did it by the power of the Holy Spirit.  They, the teachers of the law, the supposed experts, were calling good “evil.”

Woe to them who call evil “good,” and good “evil”; that put darkness for light and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to them who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! … Therefore as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.  Therefore is the anger of the LORD kindled against His people…(Isaiah 5:20-21, 24-25).

Miracles, which came from the Holy Spirit, were given as absolute confirmation from God Himself that the things spoken were divinely approved, and that the messenger was from God (Mark 16:20, Mark 2:10).  If someone saw the evidence given by God, and still rejected it, and even worse, claimed that it was Satan that was doing it?  That is a full-on attack on God Himself, His nature, His goodness, His power, and His deity.  The person who is that hard-hearted has destroyed his chance at forgiveness.

Some Greek manuscripts read “guilty of eternal sin,” which gets the same basic idea across.  It is a sin that never dies, that never goes away.

People often wonder (and worry) about possibly committing this same sin today.  First, you need to remember what it is: accepting the miracles of the Holy Spirit, but rejecting the message, the messenger, and attributing those miracles to Satan.  So, the only way you could commit this unpardonable, eternal sin today is if you admitted the miracles of Jesus and the apostles took place, but agreed with the scribes that it was done through the power of Jesus.  Or perhaps if you said that the Bible itself (given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) was a product of Satan, and not of God.

The point to remember is that if you’re trying to be right with God, there is ZERO chance that you could commit this sin.  It isn’t a sin that is committed on accident.  The scribes intentionally spoke against the miracles of Jesus.  It wasn’t that they questioned them, or just weren’t certain; they did it on purpose.  That is what made it unforgiveable.  They knew it was a miracle, and they intentionally gave credit to Satan for it instead of God (via the Holy Spirit).

[He said this] because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Jesus has completely turned the tables on them.  They came with what they probably thought was an ingenious argument, and they left exposed and condemned.  Their condemnation came because they had said Jesus Himself had an unclean spirit—specifically Satan—guiding His movements.  How hard-headed and close-minded do you have to be to claim in one breath to believe in God and His word, and in the next denying God’s power, and by implication praising Satan???

Is it any wonder that they left condemned?

Application

You Might Not Know the Whole Story…

The associates of Jesus (regardless of who they were) wanted to help Him, to essentially save Him from Himself.  But they didn’t understand the whole story.  They didn’t fully grasp what was going on, who Jesus was, and what power He had.  There are times in our lives where we make assumptions about other people, and sometimes those assumptions turn out to be completely wrong.  The ones who went to grab Jesus were acting out of concern for His well-being, and that is absolutely commendable.  It’s an example we should follow.  But at the same time, they were acting on an assumption.

When you start to question the motives of others, stop and ask yourself if you’re assuming they have bad motives, or if you know for certain that such is the case.  It might be that you have misunderstood what is happening.  It might be that their motives are pure and they simply made a mistake.  It might be that they just plain don’t have the same level of understanding that you do in some matters.  In all things, instead of making assumptions, we should go to the person and help them, make sure we know the truth about any given situation so that we can be able to act based on facts and not assumptions.

The Other Unforgiveable Sin

Jesus said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was not forgivable; but there is another sin that is unforgiveable.  That sin is the one that you know you’ve done, but don’t repent of.  Hebrews 10:26 says “if we sin willfully, after having received a knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins…”  To sin willfully is to know you’re sinning, to do it on purpose.  1 John 1:9 says “if we confess our sins” (and the idea is not just saying “yep, I did this,” but confessing it to God with a repentant heart), “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  That word “if” means that when you don’t repentantly confess your sins to God, you won’t be forgiven.

Brethren, when you know you’ve sinned, repent and ask God for forgiveness for it, and He will forgive you.

Invitation

Those verses were written to Christians who had already taken hold of the blood of Jesus Christ through humble obedience to His word.  The very first sermon delivered after the resurrection of Jesus is found in Acts 2.  In that sermon, Peter’s goal was to help people be saved.  After getting their attention, Peter said, “hear these words,” and proceeded to tell them about the death and resurrection of Jesus.  He appealed to both Scripture and miracles to prove it to them, so that they would believe it.  When the people realized he was telling them the truth, they were cut to the heart and asked, “What shall we do?”  Peter’s response to these people who were not yet Christians, and who wanted to be forgiven, was this: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins.”

If you have not obeyed the gospel commands, please delay no longer.  Follow those simple God-given directives and enjoy a new life with your old sins all erased!

-Bradley S. Cobb

Choosing Twelve Men

The Text: Mark 3:13-19 – He goes up into a mountain, and calls [those] whom He wanted; and they came to Him.  And He ordained twelve, so that they should be with Him, and so that He might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out demons:  And Simon He surnamed Peter; and James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, He even surnamed them Boanerges, which is “The Sons of Thunder”; and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus, and Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed Him.  And they [all] went into a house.

Introduction

One of the most important decisions Jesus had to make while on earth was in choosing His apostles.  These were the men that would be His representatives, the men who would prepare people for entrance into Heaven’s Empire—the Kingdom of God.  People would look on these twelve men as examples, as spokesmen for Jesus Himself.  And if the wrong men were chosen, then that would reflect badly on Jesus, and people might reject the message—in other words, there were literally souls at stake: that’s how important this choice actually was.

The Text, part 1 – Jesus and the Mountain (Mark 3:13)

Some time after the events recorded earlier in the chapter, Jesus has gotten away from the mob of people and takes some time to be alone.

He goes up into a mountain

Mark, writing to the Roman audience, didn’t deem it necessary to include information supplied by Luke: that Jesus went to the mountain and spent all night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12).  Don’t miss this point: Jesus, even though He is God in the flesh, felt it necessary to get away from people and spend time alone talking to the Father.  The next day, He knew, would be when He chose twelve men to represent Him to others.  This was an extremely important decision to make, and one that He wouldn’t think of doing without prayer first.  Then there is the fact that He prayed all night.  Have you ever been that dedicated in your petitions to God that you prayed for hours straight?  Now, spending hours straight in talking to God is not a requirement for an acceptable prayer, but maybe this example of Jesus will encourage us to spend more time in prayer than we normally do.  Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from this is take time to pray.  Don’t let the pressures of the world take you away from your time alone with God.

He calls [to Himself] those who He wanted

Instead of the massive crowds that were running towards Him earlier in the chapter, Jesus calls a specific group of people.  Luke’s account says that these people were Jesus’ disciples.  He didn’t call everyone, but only a specific group of people.  The word translated “calls” is the same word used in Acts 2:39, and refers to calling for a specific purpose.  There it was a calling for the purpose of miraculous gifts, here is it a calling to select apostles (who would also be given miraculous gifts).

The phrase “whom He would” (KJV) means “who He wanted.”  He would only choose the apostles from among those who were His disciples already.  Thus, those are the only ones He called.

They came to Him

Going back to Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as the King who is announcing His impending reign and overthrow of the Kingdom of Darkness, His authority is displayed here.  Jesus has had men following Him for some time—Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Levi have all been named—and they obey when He calls them.  Jesus has a call for His people today, to go into the human fields and work, bringing in souls to Him.  Do we answer that call?

The Text, part 2 – Jesus Chooses Missionaries (Mark 3:14-15)

He ordained twelve

Literally, Jesus made twelve.  This was His choice to make a new group from among His disciples; a special group with a special role, with special gifts to go along with it.

Why twelve?  Some have asked what the significance of this number twelve is.  One of the first answers that springs to mind is that the Old Testament was given by God to the twelve tribes of Israel, and so the number twelve had a special significance to the Jews.  Also, there’s this answer that goes along with it: In Jewish thought, numbers had certain significances, certain meanings beyond their literal count.  For instance, the number three was representative of God (we can think of this as the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); the number four, it is said by those who have studied numerology, is representative of mankind (perhaps because our four limbs?).  Thus, when you multiply the two together, you have the number 12, which represents the interaction between God and man (the Law given to the twelve tribes, and the gospel given by the twelve apostles).

We could even go into the book of Revelation and see the number of saved as 144,000, which is 12 x 12 x 1,000.  Or, in other words, the saved of the Old Testament, and the saved of the New Testament, a huge number (1,000 means an innumerable amount).

Jesus chose twelve men, because this was to be representative of a new interaction between God and mankind.

That they should be with Him

These twelve men, who would come to be known as “apostles” (a word which, surprisingly, Matthew and Mark only use once, and John doesn’t use at all except in Revelation), were men that were basically giving up their normal lives to be with Jesus.  Their jobs had to be left behind, their families, their friends, their homes.  These men followed Jesus wherever He went, except when…

He might send them forth to preach

These men were going to follow Jesus, but they would also be getting some on-the-job training.  They were expected to preach the same thing that Jesus preached: that the Kingdom of Heaven was “at hand.”  This is a wise move on Jesus’ part for a few reasons:

First, it prepares the ones who would carry on the message after His death on the cross.

Second, it helps spread the load of proclaiming the message; Jesus wouldn’t have to do it all by Himself anymore.

Third, it also may have helped with crowd control.  Mark made it clear that the people came from all over the place to Jesus because of the miracles He had done.  Now, with the addition of twelve more miracle-working men, people wouldn’t always be flocking to Jesus—they might have someone closer to home that they could go to, seeking healing.

But don’t miss that the primary reason given for choosing these men is so that they could preach.

And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out demons

The miracles that drew people to Jesus, the powers that amazed the crowds (and the disciples as well) were passed on to these twelve men.  The miracles were not for show, but as a confirmation of their preaching message, showing that the prophesied Kingdom was truly near.  This is what the Jewish people had been looking forward to, longing for, for generations.  And these miracles would confirm that their hopes were about to be realized in Jesus.

The Text, part 3 – Jesus and the Men (Mark 3:16-19)

Knowing that his readers would naturally want to know who these twelve men were, Mark gives their names, along with a few descriptive phrases.

Simon He surnamed Peter

The readers see the first name, and think, Simon, okay, I remember him.  He’s one of those fishermen, whose mother-in-law was healed by Jesus.  This Simon was one of the first disciples of Jesus (actually the very first one mentioned by Mark), and so his inclusion here is not really surprising.  His name appears first in every list of the apostles, and there is no denying his special place in Jesus’ plan.

Jesus gave Simon a new name, which in Hebrew is Cephas, but which in Greek is Petros, or Peter.  Both Cephas and Peter mean the same thing: a stone or a rock.  This name stuck, because with very few exceptions, he is known by the names “Peter,” “Cephas,” or “Simon Peter” from this point forward.

It is said by many of the ancient writers that Mark’s gospel was written using the information given to him by Peter (with whom he was working, according to 1 Peter 5:13).  But this isn’t the reason why Peter is first-named among the apostles (for he appears there in all the other lists as well).

Peter was told that he specifically would be given the keys to the Kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19).  Jesus also gave Peter a specific commission that applied only to him: When you have returned (from denying Jesus), strengthen the brethren [the rest of the apostles] (Luke 22:31-32).

Though he abandoned the Lord in His hour of trial, and denied Him with an oath, Peter repented; and he went on to stand up with the other apostles on the Day of Pentecost and preach the first gospel sermon.  He is the first person recorded who told a wayward Christian what to do for forgiveness of sins (Acts 8:22).  He was the first to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11, 15).  And he is one of only a handful of men whose writings were included in the New Testament.  Certainly, Peter’s spot at the top of the list is appropriate.

James, the son of Zebedee

The readers would have recognized this name too.  When James and his brother John are mentioned together, James always comes first (except for in Luke 9:28).  It’s interesting to note that James is always mentioned second in the list of the apostles, before his brother, John; but his brother is more well-known and figures more prominently in the book of Acts than James does.

James was one of the three apostles who was permitted to witness the transfiguration.  He preached and baptized on Pentecost.  But sadly, the most well-known event in his life may well have been his murder by Herod in Acts 12.  This was in fulfillment of the prophecy that Jesus gave to James and John that they would both be baptized with the baptism that He was about to be baptized with—that is, the baptism of suffering and martyrdom.

Since he’s almost always mentioned before John, and since John is quite frequently called “the brother of James,” it is logical to conclude that James is the older of the two.

John, the brother of James

Like Peter and James, John was one of the three who were permitted to witness the transfiguration.  Most scholars believe that John is the disciple spoken of in John 18:15 who entered into the high priest’s palace with Jesus for His trial.  He is also the only one of the apostles who was mentioned as being at the cross (John 19:25-27).  John was a prominent member of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2), and wrote a large section of the New Testament (John, the three letters, and Revelation).

Whom he called Boanarges, which is, “The Sons of Thunder”

Perhaps this is due to their fiery attitude, which was displayed in Luke 9:54, where they both wanted to call down fire on the Samaritan villages which rejected Jesus.  It’s a nickname that Jesus gave them that is only mentioned by Mark—none of the other writers ever use it.  But it is worth noting that Jesus gave nicknames to each of these three, Simon, James, and John, who would also form His “inner circle” of the apostles.

Andrew

Mark is the only one of the writers to place Andrew after James and John in the list of the apostles.  But while Andrew didn’t have the prominence of Peter in the biblical writings, he does hold the distinction of bringing Peter to the Lord in the first place (John 1).  Andrew taught, preached, baptized, and performed miracles prior to his death as a faithful saint of Jesus Christ.

Philip

Like Andrew, Philip was anxious to bring others to Jesus.  It is he that brought Nathanael (Bartholomew) to the Lord (John 1).  He (along with Andrew) brought some Greeks who wanted to see Jesus (John 12:21-22).  Philip died as a faithful servant of Jesus Christ.

Bartholomew

This man was also known by the name “Nathanael,” and was among the very first disciples of Jesus (John 1).  He was from Cana in Galilee, and was the first of the disciples to confess that Jesus was “the King of Israel” and “the Son of God” (John 1).

Matthew

Elsewhere called “Levi,” Matthew was a tax collector in Capernaum who left the toll booth by the sea in order to become a disciple of Jesus.  He held a great feast in Jesus’ honor, with a great multitude of tax collectors in attendance (Mark 2, Luke 5).  After preaching on Pentecost, and staying behind in Jerusalem when the persecution broke out under Saul of Tarsus, Matthew took the opportunity to write the gospel account which bears his name in an effort to prove to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.

Thomas

First mentioned as a disciple who was willing to die with Jesus (John 11), Thomas was the last of the apostles to accept that the Savior had risen from the dead.  But after seeing it for himself, Thomas made the great declaration that Jesus is “my Lord and my God” (John 20).  Like most of the other apostles, Thomas died as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

James, the son of Alphaeus

Other than his father’s name, not much is known about this apostle.  He is the brother of Matthew (who Mark said is the “son of Alphaeus” in 2:14), and he might be the same person described in Mark 15:40 as “James the less,” or literally, “little James.”  He was a preacher, a teacher, a baptizer, and a miracle-worker who died in faith.

Thaddaeus

Matthew tells us that this man’s name was Lebbaeus, and that his surname was Thaddaeus (Matthew 10:3).  In Luke’s lists, he is called “Judas, [the brother/son] of James” (Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13).  The best way to understand it is that his father was named James (because the phrase “of James” is identical in form to “of Zebedee” and “of Alphaeus,” and in both of those instances it is translated “son of…”).  It is possible, then, that Thaddeaus was the son of James the Less (who was mentioned immediately before him).  In order to make sure that he was distinguished from the Judas who betrayed Jesus, John called him “Judas…not Iscariot” (John 14:22).

Simon the Canaanite

This man was a political revolutionary, described by Luke as “Simon Zelotes,” or “Simon the Zealot” (Acts 1:13, Luke 6:15).  The Zealots were very much opposed to the removal of Jewish customs, and to the taxation from the Roman government, and desired to overthrow them—oftentimes by murder.  Simon changed his allegiance from Jewish nationalism to the real Kingdom of God, headed by Jesus the Messiah.  And this disciple stayed faithful unto death, and was a partaker of the promised “crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him

Mark doesn’t give any misdirection or mystery when it comes to Judas: he introduces him to his readers as the betrayer, the one not to be trusted.  At the time he was chosen, he was a willing and faithful disciple of Jesus, but he was still human, and gave in to the doubts, temptations, and greed that led to his betrayal of the Lord.  This is why Luke 6:16 says that Judas “became a traitor” (ASV) or “turned traitor.”  The name “Iscariot” is generally thought to mean “of Karioth,” a city in Judah, though some have suggested it means “man of Issachar,” or that it is from a Greek word meaning “Dagger carrier,” describing some of the murderous assassins that whose work eventually brought the Roman army in to destroy Jerusalem.

The Bible tells us plainly that Jesus knew ahead of time that Judas was the one who would betray Him.  John 6:64 says “Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that did not believe, and who should betray Him.”  And just a few verses later, Jesus said, “Have I not chosen you twelve? And out of you, one is a devil!” (John 6:70).

And they went into a house

From the mountain to the house, these newly-chosen men go.  This was a most momentous day for all thirteen men (the twelve chosen, plus Jesus).  It was a day of joy, of satisfaction, of nervousness, and for some who weren’t chosen, it might have been a day of disappointment.  But whether they all realized it or not, Jesus had done something that day that still has effects nearly 2,000 years later!

Application

How Will You be Remembered?

To mankind as a whole, and even to Christians specifically, some of the apostles are nothing more than names.  They are remembered for being apostles, disciples of Jesus, but that’s it.  James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot are all men whose works for God are mostly unknown to us today.  Meanwhile, you’ve got Matthew, who is known more for his writing than anything else he did.  Then there’s John, who is known for both his writings and some of his works as an apostle.  And of course, none of us can forget Peter, who is well-remembered for his actions (both pre- and post-resurrection) in addition to his writings.  But, there’s also Judas Iscariot.  No one remembers him at all as the dedicated disciple he once was—but the traitor who he became.

Of course, how man remembers us isn’t as important as how God remembers us.  For example, the twelve apostles (that includes Matthias as the replacement for Judas) all died in faith, and their names are inscribed on the foundation of the heavenly city of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10-14).  Simon and Thaddaeus are just as important in God’s eyes as Peter and John.  But Judas, by transgression, fell and went to his own place (Acts 1:25).

If we were to ask your friends to describe you, how long—if ever—would it take for the word “Christian” to come up?  Is that what you’re known for?  At all?  If very few (if any) would describe you as a Christian, what does that say about your influence and your example for Jesus Christ?

Now, if God materialized in front of us right now, and began to describe each one of us as HE sees us, would He use the word “saved” or “lost”?

Invitation

On the great day of judgment, there will only be two groups of people: (1) those who are told “Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Lord,” and (2) those who are told, “You wicked and lazy slave!” and who hear the words “cast the unprofitable slave into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The Lord remembers what you do here on this earth, whether you obey Him or decide to do your own thing.  He will bring that up at the judgment.  You will have to give an answer.

If your answer is “I believed in Jesus Christ; I repented of my sins; I confessed His name; I was baptized; and I tried to always live for Him,” then you will hear the words “Well done.”  But if your answer leaves any of those out; if your answer is “I believed in Jesus Christ, but that was it”; or if your answer is “I believed in Jesus Christ; I repented of my sins’ I made that confession; and I was even baptized; but I didn’t really live for Him,” then you will hear the words “depart from me.”

The judgment of God is completely up to you—how you live your life here determines what you will hear from the Lord up there.  Why not make certain of your salvation today?

-Bradley Cobb

An Angry Jesus Doing Good

The Text: Mark 3:1-12 – And He entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.  And they watched Him, whether He would heal on the Sabbath Day; so that they might accuse Him.  And He says to the man which had the withered hand, “Stand forth.”  And He says to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or to do evil?  To save a life, or to kill?”  But they held their peace.

And having looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for their hardness of hearts, He says to the man, “Stretch forth your hand.”  And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

And the Pharisees went forth, and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.  But Jesus withdrew Himself with His disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and from beyond Jordan, and a great multitude of those around Tyre and Sidon, when they had heard what great things He did, came to Him.

And He spoke to His disciples, so that a small ship should wait on Him because of the multitude, lest they should throng Him.  Because He had healed many; insomuch that they pressed on Him in order to touch Him, as many as had plagues.  And unclean spirits, when they saw Him, fell down before Him, and cried, saying “You are the Son of God.”  And He strictly charged them that they should not make Him known.

Introduction

The King who has been announcing His coming Kingdom has already conquered some of the knights of the Kingdom of Darkness.  But lately, as He’s trying to prepare people for His impending rule, a group of religious leaders—spokesmen for the way things are—have been growing bolder and bolder in opposing Him.  The King has been relatively patient with them, all things considered, but that ends today.

The Text, part 1 – Getting Jesus Angry (Mark 3:1-5).

When we consider Jesus and His personality, most often we think of His caring, kindness, and compassion.  We think of His helping the helpless, lifting the fallen, caring for the heartbroken.  We don’t usually think of Him staring down a group of people with anger in His eyes—but that is what Mark paints for us in this passage.

He entered again into the synagogue

We mentioned this several lessons ago, but Jesus made it a point to meet in the synagogue each Sabbath Day.  This serves as an example for us: make the time to meet together each week for worship to God.

There was a man there who had a withered hand.

Luke tells us that it was the man’s right hand that was withered (Luke 6:6).  The Greek indicates that he was not born this way, but that it was withered as the result of something else, either a disease or an injury (Vincent’s Word Studies, and Robertson’s Word Pictures).  The word “withered” means that his hand had shriveled up due to a lack of moisture and nutrients, and became completely unusable.

Think about the horrible situation this man must have been in.  In a time when most people did manual labor to support their family, this man couldn’t.  He couldn’t hold the plow, couldn’t hoe the ground, couldn’t hammer nails (you need a hand to hold the nail in place)—he couldn’t even sweep the floor.  Perhaps he had sons who could help with the work to support the family, but we don’t know that for certain.  It’s just as likely that this man was in dire straits, feeling like a failure because he wasn’t able to do what a man is expected to do—provide for his own.

They [the Pharisees] watched Him, whether He would heal on the Sabbath Day, so that they might accuse Him.

The Pharisees, the ones who have been stirring up trouble, trying to call Jesus into question on seemingly everything He does, sat in the synagogue—not to hear the word of God proclaimed, but because they were trying to find something that they could use against the preacher.  What a horrible attitude to have!

It seems that as irritated with Jesus as the Pharisees were, they knew that they had been beaten in trying to find things to use against Him earlier.  Otherwise, they would have already been satisfied with the evidence they had to accuse Him.  But this, they believed, was the prime opportunity—healing a man must be considered working; therefore it cannot be done on the Sabbath!

Now a quick question: why are you here?  What is it that you are focused on?  Is it on trying to criticize people: the prayer leaders, the song leader, or the preacher?  Or is your focus on worshiping God and trying to be right with Him?  Because the man leading the prayer is going to occasionally mis-speak or stumble over words.  The song leader will sometimes get the song too high or too low or get mixed up on the verses or words.  The preacher, too, will sometimes say the wrong book, chapter, or verse, or will get his words mixed up.  If being critical is what you’re here for, you will find something, because we aren’t perfect.  But by the same token, if you are here to worship God, and have your focus on Him, His will, and on how you can be a better Christian, then you will be blessed by the songs, prayers, and sermons on the Lord’s Day.

He says to the man which had the withered hand, “Stand forth.”

Jesus didn’t do this miracle in a corner, hidden away from everyone else.  He wanted the crowd to see what was about to happen.  Some people might say that this is a contradiction of Jesus’ command to do your alms in secret (Matthew 6:1-4).  But the purpose of Jesus doing this miracle was to cause people to believe in Him and listen to His message.  Whereas, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed His disciples to help people for the sake of helping them, not because it made you look more spiritual, drawing praise from men.

So, He commands the man to stand up.

And He says to them

He’s now turned His attention, for a moment, from the man to the Pharisees, whom He knows are trying to be critical of Him and find something to accuse Him of.

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath Day to do good, or to do evil?”

Jesus isn’t asking them if it’s permissible to do anything on the Sabbath, but presenting to them two options.  All the Pharisees would agree that not everything is forbidden on the Sabbath Day, so that means some things are allowed.  The question to them is: What does the Law allow on the Sabbath—good deeds or evil deeds?  There was nothing they could do to get around this question.  Obviously, the Law never permitted evil to be done, so that wasn’t the answer.

At the same time, as Jesus asks this question, He’s laying some groundwork for what He’s about to do.  He could not perform a miracle, healing this man of his withered hand, except through the power of God.  And if Jesus heals the man, it shows that God approves of doing good on the Sabbath—in other words, it would prove Jesus right and undermine the foundation of the Pharisees’ thinking.

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath Day…to save a life or to kill?”

It was obvious to all that were there, especially when Jesus told the man to stand up, that He planned on healing this poor man.  Jesus began His question to the Pharisees with just a general “is it lawful to do good or to do evil?”  But now He takes His question to the extreme, “Is it lawful to save a life or to kill?”  Most rational people (even among the Pharisees) would admit that it was permissible to save a life (regardless of how much work it would take) on the Sabbath.  The man with the withered hand was a case that certainly fell between simply “doing good” and “saving a life.”  Thus, Jesus proved His point.

But it is also interesting that Jesus proposed to do good on the Sabbath, while the Pharisees were thinking evil, trying to take mental notes so that they could make accusations against Him later.  And after this incident, as we will see momentarily, they started making plans to kill Jesus that very Sabbath.

But they held their peace.

The answer to the question was so clear, so obvious, but they refused to answer because it would incriminate them, their motives, and their teachings.  Just like when Jesus asked them later about the baptism of John, they refused to give an answer because they would look bad either way.

Matthew records Jesus asking another question: “What man will there be among you, that will have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath Day, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  How much then is a man better than sheep?  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath Days” (Matthew 12:11-12).  The Pharisees would absolutely save their sheep on the Sabbath, but they wanted to hold Jesus to a different standard than they were willing to hold themselves.

How often do we see this happen in families, in our jobs, and even in the church?  Look, let’s make this abundantly clear—we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and held to the STANDARD, and that is the Word of God.  If we are faithful to God’s word, then we will be saved, regardless of whether we match up with someone else’s standard or not.  It’s like the preacher who was told by a member, “I don’t have to visit, but you’ll be fired if you don’t.”  And Jesus has some words for people who are like that: “Do not judge [condemn], so that you will not be judged [condemned], for with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged” (Matthew 7:1-2).  When you start making demands of others, yet don’t follow them yourself, you are a hypocrite; and at the judgment, you will be judged by God in the same way that you have judged others.

And having looked around at them…

The word here is a form of periblepo, which means not just looking at them, but looking around at them, making sure he looked at every one of them.  And this word doesn’t just express the fact that He looked at them all, but that He looked at each one of them for Himself.  He looked at their faces, confirming what He already knew.  Some probably stubbornly looked at him without a word, while others probably glanced away or looked down so they didn’t have to meet His eyes.

…with anger

Picture the face of Jesus with the scowl, the angry fire in His eyes as He looks at each of these men who had their own disciples, but weren’t willing to answer a relatively simple and obvious question.  Mark tells us exactly what it was that made Jesus angry.

Being grieved because of their hardness of heart

People who were sincere and honestly wrong, Jesus and the apostles had patience with; but the Pharisees weren’t sincere, nor were they honestly wrong (as in simply mistaken).  They were intentionally stubborn, recognizing the truth of what Jesus said, but unwilling to admit it or live by it.  They were more interested in their position as leaders than they were in doing what was right.  They liked the power and weren’t about to give any of it up, even though they were about as ungodly as one can be.

This attitude of stubbornness angered our Lord and Savior then, and brethren, it still angers Him today.  There are members who have the attitude of criticism toward others.  There are members who stubbornly reject commands of Jesus because they simply don’t feel like following them (mostly attitude ones).  And if anyone dares point that out to them, watch out!  My friends, that is the hardness of heart that made Jesus angry—and you do not want the Judge of the world to be angry with you!

He says to the man, “Stretch forth your hand.”  And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored whole as the other.

After making His point to the Pharisees (and the other people in the room certainly caught it as well), Jesus went ahead and healed the man.  If, as many believe, this man’s hand was withered to the point that his arm was also affected, then Jesus asked him to do something that he hadn’t been able to do in some time, but the man, in faith, tried, and discovered that his hand had been completely healed!  What joy was on that man’s face and in his heart!  What amazement there was among the honest people in that synagogue!  But not everyone was happy…

The Text, part 2 – Getting Angry at Jesus (Mark 3:6)

Jesus got angry with the Pharisees because they were hard-hearted.  The Pharisees, in return, got angry with Jesus.  Why?  Because they couldn’t control His every move.  Because He dared to point out their traditions weren’t Scripture.  Because he wouldn’t cater to their self-centered whims.  And because people were happy with Jesus’ life and work—the Pharisees were losing some of their power over people.

And the Pharisees went forth and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.

Just how angry were the Pharisees?  They were so angry that they immediately contemplated murder.  They were so angry that Luke describes them as “filled with madness” (Luke 6:11), or perhaps more literally, “filled with insanity.”  They were so angry that they went to their political enemies, seeking to work together to destroy Jesus.  The Herodians were a sect of the Jews who were very enthusiastic supporters of the Roman government, specifically of the Herods who had ruled over them (for Rome) for the previous several decades.

But when you dislike someone and you’re trying to get rid of him, it doesn’t really matter to you how you do it, so long as you can actually get it done.

The Text, part 3 – Continuing to Work (Mark 3:7-12)

Even though Jesus knew what was on the minds of the Pharisees, He didn’t let that stop Him from doing the good that He came to do.  Even when we might be persecuted by Satan and his minions (yes, sometimes that even includes members of the church), we can’t let that stop us from doing the work of God—that’s what Satan wants!

But Jesus withdrew Himself with His disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed Him

The Pharisees went out, discussing how to get rid of Jesus.  Meanwhile, Jesus went out, continuing to work for God.  His fame had spread throughout all of Galilee (most of the events in Mark up to this point took place there), and so it’s no surprise that huge numbers came out to see Him and hear Him and ask for healing from Him.

And from Judea

This is the southern portion of the Promised Land, where Jesus had spent some time baptizing people (through His disciples) back in John 3-4.

And from Jerusalem

The people following Jesus were not just the smaller towns and villages of Judea, but some were from the capital city of Jerusalem itself!

And from Idumaea

Idumaea is the land of Edom, descendants of Esau.  About 150-200 years prior to this event, a Jew named John Hyrcanus took over and reigned as king over the Jews.  One of the things he did was force the Edomites to either submit to circumcision and become Jews or die.  So, while these weren’t pure-blooded Jews, they were related, and had been proselytized to Judaism.

And from beyond Jordan

The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh took up residence on the eastern side of the Jordan River when they came to the Promised Land.  Even hundreds of years later, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, there were still Israelites that lived there.

And those around Tyre and Sidon

These cities were to the north-west of the Sea of Galilee.  Tyre was destroyed in part by Nebuchadnezzar, and then the job was finished by Alexander the Great.  But there were still Jews that lived in that general area.

A great multitude

There was a great multitude from Galilee, and a great multitude from these other areas, which covers practically the entire area that God had promised to the Israelites in the Old Testament.  This was an enormous group of people coming to Jesus.

When they heard what great things He did, came to Him

They heard about the great works Jesus was doing, and they wanted to come to Him and see for themselves, and to receive some of the same healings.  To an extent, we can look to this as an evangelistic outreach—when we do things for other people, word spreads.

And He spoke to His disciples, so that a small ship should wait on Him, because of the multitude, lest they should thong Him.

There were so many people coming and crowding around Jesus that He needed a way of escape to keep from being thronged—Thayer says the word means pressed like a grape.  It wasn’t Jesus’ time to die, and being crushed to death by His followers didn’t exactly fit with the prophecies of the Old Testament.

Sometimes, we need to get away for a little while.  Sometimes we’ve got so much going on, so many people wanting part of our time, that we need to have a way to get away from it all, our own “small ship,” so to speak.  Because it we don’t, we could find ourselves crushed, and lose our ability to bear fruit for the Lord.

Because He had healed many; insomuch that they pressed on Him to touch Him, as many as had plagues.

Literally, they were rushing on Him, crowding Him, shoving at each other in an effort to get to Him and touch Him, in the hopes that by doing so, their sicknesses would be removed.  They had seen/heard others that were healed, and they wanted it too!

And unclean spirits, when they saw Him, fell down before Him

Matthew 12:15 says that Jesus healed everyone that came to Him, so Mark is probably talking about the demon-possessed people falling down before Jesus because of the demons inside them recognizing Him.  As James tells us, “the demons also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19).

And they cried, saying, “You are the Son of God.”

These demons must have known that they were about to be cast out, and so they tried to do what they could to hamper Jesus’ work.  If the crowd was close to crushing Jesus to begin with, how much more so do you think it would get if they caught wind that Jesus was not just a man sent by God, but was in fact very the Son of God?

And Jesus strictly charged them that they should not make Him known.

The way it is written in Mark makes it seem like He’s telling the demons not to make Jesus known, but He’s actually talking to the people, the great multitudes that came to Him, whom He healed.  We know this because of Matthew’s account—Jesus healed them all, which would include the demon-possessed people.  Therefore, those demons would have been cast into the abyss (Luke 8:31), and not had the opportunity to make Him known.  Also, in Matthew’s account, the demons aren’t mentioned, and Jesus “charged them [the people who were healed] that they should not make Him known.” (Matthew 12:15-16).

Jesus didn’t want the talk of the miracles to spread even further, because there was already a dangerously-sized crowd mobbing Him.  It was already to the point where everyone was primarily interested in the miracles—not in the message that Jesus had to speak.  Jesus didn’t want that trend to continue and perhaps grow even worse.

It would be, I would think, incredibly difficult to keep it to yourself if you’d been healed, though.  But like some other commands, Jesus still expects us to follow them, even if they are difficult.  That’s why He said the words “Be thou faithful unto death—[even if it means dying]—and I will give you a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

Application

Helping Others Get Back to Work

Jesus had compassion on a man whose physical ailment kept him from being able to work.  It was in His power to fix the problem, to help the man, and so He did.  If we have it within our power to help someone to be able to work, to support themselves and their family, then we ought to also have compassion on them enough to offer that help.  It could be something as simple as giving someone a ride to fill out an application, or making a phone call to a friend who might be looking to hire someone.  But take compassion on those who can’t work.

It’s Okay to be Angry

Jesus was angry, yet He didn’t sin.  His anger stemmed from the sinful attitude of the Pharisees—the religious leaders of the day.  They were continually looking for things to throw at Him—even though those things weren’t sinful.  It made Him angry when their hard-heartedness kept them from admitting the truth.  It made Him angry when they were looking for reasons to criticize Him instead of seeing that God approved of His actions and teachings through the miracles.

As a side note, Jesus also shows that there’s never a wrong time to do good for others.

Invitation

Jesus did a good deed in healing that man, but the greatest thing He ever did was dying on the cross, taking with Him the sins of all of God’s faithful followers.  That sacrifice is meant for me and for you, but only if we come to Jesus in faithful obedience, believing in Him, repenting of our sins, and being baptized.  Then we must continue to grow, staying true to Him, even during the difficult times.  When we mess up as one of God’s children, we come to Him in prayer, seeking forgiveness.  Won’t you come take hold of that precious gift of salvation today?

-Bradley Cobb

Correcting Hypocrites

The Text: Mark 2:23-28 – And it came to pass that he went through the grain fields on the Sabbath Day; and His disciples began to pluck the ears of grain as they went.  And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look!  Why do they do that which is not lawful [to do] on the Sabbath Day?”

And He said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did, when he had need, and was hungry—he and they that were with him?  How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and he also gave [some] to them who were with him?”  He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Introduction

Even Mark’s Roman readers knew about the Jews and their Sabbath Day activities (or lack thereof).  It’s somewhat like Roman Catholicism today, in that there are certain aspects of that religion that are known throughout the whole world (priests, papacy, cathedrals, etc.).  Judaism was the same way, you couldn’t go anywhere in the Roman Empire where the people didn’t at least know about the Jews and some of their seemingly strange Sabbath customs.

But Mark also continues to show the antagonism towards Jesus, building up the tension that would eventually lead to their murder of the Son of God.

The Text, part 1 – Accusing the Disciples on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-24).

There’s a progression of sorts in the way Mark has presented these events in chapter two and the relationship with the scribes and Pharisees.  (1) The scribes think evil of Jesus, (2) the scribes and Pharisees question Jesus disciples about Jesus, (3) the Pharisee’s disciples ask Jesus about His disciples, and now (4) the Pharisees flat-out accuse Jesus’ disciples of breaking the law (and implicitly accuse Jesus of approving of law-breaking).

It happened that He went through the grain fields on the Sabbath Day, and His disciples, as they went, began to pluck the ears of grain.

Literally, the text says that Jesus went alongside the fields.  And as He walked beside these fields of grain, His disciples who were following Him were plucking some grain here and there (KJV says “corn,” though it’s more likely that wheat or barley is under consideration due to how Luke describes their actions in Luke 6:1, rubbing them in their hands).  Normally, this would have given nothing for the antagonists of Jesus to complain about, but today was different, because today was a Sabbath Day.  So, here come the Pharisees…

The Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why are they doing that which is not lawful [to do] on the Sabbath Day?”

First, it might be worth mentioning that the Pharisees seem to be following Jesus around, looking for things to complain about, jealous that people are following Him, and repulsed by His embracing tax collectors and sinners (this is spelled out for us in the beginning of chapter three).  There is nothing in this account to give the impression that the Pharisees were somehow innocent bystanders who just happened to see this, and then ran to Jesus with sincere concern about the spiritual welfare of His disciples.  Nothing of the sort!

The first thing they do is accuse Jesus of not paying attention.  You might ask where that comes from, and it’s them saying, “Behold!” or “Look!” implying that Jesus wasn’t paying attention to those who were following Him.

The second thing they do is accuse the disciples of breaking the Law of Moses.  The Jews had been sent into captivity in Babylon because of idolatry and violating the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were so determined to make sure they didn’t violate the Sabbath that they put up extra rules, and interpreted the laws so strictly that they wouldn’t even come close to breaking the Sabbath commandments.  In and of themselves, those extra rules weren’t bad.  But when the Pharisees started binding those rules on others, accusing them of violating God’s Law because they didn’t follow the man-made Pharisaical rules, it became sinful.

One of those extra rules was that plucking a single head of grain on the Sabbath meant you were violating God’s law by harvesting on the Sabbath.  If you took a single grain of wheat and rubbed it between your fingers to get the outer husk off, that meant you were threshing—thus violating the Sabbath.  One writer said that these Pharisees were so caught up in their rules that if Jesus’ disciples had walked through the field in the morning, when there was still dew on the grass, the Pharisees probably would have tried to accuse them of irrigating on the Sabbath! (Burton Coffman, notes on Mark 2:23).

The third thing they do is accuse Jesus of endorsing Law-breaking.  If Jesus says nothing to His disciples, then He consents to their actions.  And if that’s the case, then the Pharisees could discredit Him before the people.

The Text, part 2 – Answering the Objection (Mark 2:25-26).

The response from Jesus is certainly not what they expected, and is also one that seems to have confused many Christians as well.

He said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did, when he had need, and was hungry, he, and they that were with him?”

There’s a subtle jab at the Pharisees in the first part of Jesus’ response.  They are supposed to be the experts on the Law of Moses, and Jesus asks them, “Haven’t you ever read it?”  Subtly, He’s saying, “Are you sure you’ve read the Scriptures?”

This example of David is found in 1 Samuel 21.  The first parallel is that David and his men were hungry, and Jesus’ disciples were hungry.

How he went into the house of God

David went to the tabernacle (the temple was not yet built), but the same laws applied for the priests and the showbread in both places.

In the days of Abiathar the high priest

Some manuscripts don’t have the phrase “the high priest,” and I Samuel 21 shows Abiathar’s father, Ahimelech, was the priest at that time.  However, the phrase “in the days of” comes from a Greek word (epi) that can also mean “before,” so Jesus might have actually said “before Abiathar was high priest.”

And he ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat, except for the priests, and gave it also to those who were with him?

Some have drawn the conclusion from this example that Jesus was agreeing with the Pharisees, that yes, His disciples were violating the Sabbath.  But that’s not a valid conclusion.

Jesus shows that these are similar situations—similar, but not exact.  What David did was eat the bread that the Scriptures said were only for the priests.  One writer said:

Lit., the loaves of proposition, i.e., the loaves which were set forth before the Lord. The Jews called them the loaves of the face, i.e., of the presence of God. The bread was made of the finest wheaten flour that had been passed through eleven sieves. There were twelve loaves, or cakes, according to the number of tribes, ranged in two piles of six each. Each cake was made of about five pints of wheat. They were anointed in the middle with oil, in the form of a cross. According to tradition, each cake was five hand-breadths broad and ten long, but turned up at either end, two hand-breadths on each side, to resemble in outline the ark of the covenant. The shewbread was prepared on Friday, unless that day happened to be a feast-day that required sabbatical rest; in which case it was prepared on Thursday afternoon. The renewal of the shewbread was the first of the priestly functions on the commencement of the Sabbath. The bread which was taken off was deposited on the golden table in the porch of the sanctuary, and distributed among the outgoing and incoming courses of priests (compare save for the priests). It was eaten during the Sabbath, and in the temple itself, but only by such priests as were Levitically pure. This old bread, removed on the Sabbath morning, was that which David ate. (Vincent’s Word Studies, notes on this verse).

When we read Matthew’s account, we find more detail than Mark gives.  Matthew (12:5-7) shows that Jesus added this:

Or haven’t you read in the Law, how that on the Sabbath Days, the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?

That is, the priests are expected to work on the Sabbath, which (if we’re being legalistic like the Pharisees) is a violation of the Law of Moses.  But because they are doing the work of the temple, they are free from blame.

But I say to you, that in this place is one [who is] greater than the temple!

Thus, even if what the disciples did could technically be seen as a violation of the Law of Moses (and Jesus is not saying that they were violating it), the fact that they are in service of one greater than the temple renders them blameless from the Sabbath restrictions.

But if you had known what this means: “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,” you wouldn’t have condemned the guiltless.

The priest in 1 Samuel 21 had mercy on David and his men, and offered them something that was supposed to be reserved for the priests.  But the point I want you to get from this is that Jesus said very clearly that His disciples had not broken the Law of Moses.  They had not broken it by principle, by precept, or by anything else.  The extra rules of the Pharisees were so strict and unbending that they completely missed the whole idea of mercy and of “thus saith the Lord”!

The Pharisees wouldn’t dare to condemn David for his actions which Jesus said were “not lawful.”  David goes and takes something that has been consecrated to God, something that has been set aside for only the priests, and eats it with his men—and the Pharisees wouldn’t dare condemn their hero for doing that.  Yet they would gladly condemn Jesus and His disciples for picking a few heads of grain out of a field.  Compare the two events, and if you had to pick one to deem sinful, it has to be David’s.  But not with the hypocritical Pharisees.

The Text, part 3 – Man’s Relationship to the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28).

What could the Pharisees possibly say in response to this?  If they continued to insist on condemning Jesus’ disciples, they had no choice but to condemn David for his actions.  They were beaten.  But Jesus didn’t stop there.  He gave a concluding thought for them to chew on.

He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

The entire basis of the Sabbath Day comes from the first week of creation.  God created the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, the plants and animals, the atmosphere, and mankind too, all in six days.  Then, on the seventh day (the Sabbath), God rested (Genesis 1).  When the Law of Moses was given to the Israelites, they were told to remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy, because God created everything in six days and rested on the seventh (Exodus 20:11).  In fact, Jehovah Himself says, “In six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:17).

God didn’t rest because it was the Sabbath and He was forced to do it; He rested because He was done for the week, and wanted to be refreshed.

God gave the commandment regarding the Sabbath, not because the seventh day somehow needed mankind, but because man needs a time to rest and be refreshed.  We need a break.  The commandment to observe the Sabbath was for man’s benefit.  All of this goes together to show that the rules and regulations that the Pharisees added to the Law were completely destroying the spirit of what God intended the Sabbath to do.  God gave it as a required “day off,” whereas the Pharisees made it as a day where you could hardly do anything—turning it from a day of rest to a day of constant worry.

Therefore, the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath

It appears as though Jesus is referring to Himself here, though there are those who think that this is simply a reference to mankind in general.

The point, however, remains the same: Jesus is not a slave to the Sabbath, but is Master over it.  As we will see in the next study, Jesus makes it very clear that the Sabbath was never given to prevent people from doing good deeds to others.  He asks elsewhere whether it is permissible to get your ox out of the ditch (which is an awful lot of work) on the Sabbath.  Since this is the case, then Jesus’ disciples are also not slaves to the Sabbath.  Again, the Sabbath was a day to benefit man, not a day to restrain his every move.

But consider a little bit more that Jesus says He is Lord of the Sabbath.  Some people have taken this statement and assumed that Jesus means He can violate the Sabbath Laws all He wants because He’s God and isn’t bound by them.  Yet if Jesus really violated the Law of Moses, then He sinned, and His sacrifice was completely worthless to save us.  Jesus didn’t ever violate the Law of Moses, but lived perfectly, without sin.  Whatever the Scriptures said specifically regarding the Sabbath, Jesus obeyed.  He didn’t just keep the letter of the Law, but also the spirit of the Law.  That serves as an excellent example for us today.

Application

Don’t be a Pharisee!

We have things that we do, traditions, that are fine in and of themselves, but we can’t become like the Pharisees and condemn other Christians for not doing the same thing.  One example is Sunday evening services.  We have them, and it is a great opportunity to gather together for additional time to read and study God’s word, have fellowship with each other, be strengthened, and sing praises to the God of heaven.  But I know of some brethren who question a congregation’s faithfulness if they only meet once on Sunday.  I remember hearing, as I was growing up, someone insinuating that if you used “Song of the Church” (the songbook we have here) instead of “Sacred Selections for the Church,” you were headed into liberalism.  The person who said it meant well, wanting to make certain there was no way that we might end up singing some of the songs that were “questionable,” but to then seek to bind the choice of songbooks on others is ridiculous!  When I lived in Arkansas, a man who was visiting once told me that we were unscriptural because we didn’t end our services with the Lord’s Supper.

In short, if you can prove from the Bible that it is supposed to be a specific way, then show it, stand by it, and never forsake it.  If it is in the realm of choice, expediency, or opinion, then with grace we should permit others the same liberty that Christ gives us.  Jesus had strong words about the Pharisees in Matthew 23, and I don’t want anything like that to be said of me by our Lord.

God’s Commands are for Our Benefit

It is amazing how many people think that the laws of God are arbitrary, when in truth they actually benefit the ones obeying.  Beyond salvation, there are commands that actually make life much better here on earth.  There are commands about working hard, as though you were working for the Lord Himself—have you noticed that if you are a hard, diligent worker, you generally are able to keep your job?  There are commands about not being a gossip—have you noticed that relationships are better and there is more peace when there is no gossip?  There are commands about how to treat others—have you noticed that when you follow those commands, you have more friends, better friends, better relationships, better marriages?  Just like the Sabbath, we need to remember that those commands were given for our benefit—and remember that God knows best!

Invitation

God knows what is best for us here on this earth, but He also knows best when it comes to attaining that eternal home with Him.  We don’t have to go with any man-made doctrine, because God, in His wondrous mercy, gave us all we need to have eternal life and forgiveness of our sins.  His word, the Scriptures, lay it all out for us.  We must hear about Jesus, the one who was crucified and raised from the dead; we must believe that He is the Christ; we must repent of our sins; We must make that good confession of our belief; and we must be baptized into Him for the remission of sins.  Have you done that?

-Bradley Cobb

 

Who is A.B. Green?

One of our popular features here at The Cobb Six, that we haven’t done for a while, is “Restoration Moments.”  While this isn’t exactly the same, we thought you would enjoy getting to read about this Restoration Movement preacher, and see a sermon from his pen.

This was originally written in 1885.

ABGreen

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF A. B. GREEN.

Almon Beach Green was born in Litchfield, Conn., January 12, 1808. His parents settled in Canfield, Ohio, in the fall of 1810, and after nine years moved to Norton, Summit County, Ohio. He was baptized by Elder O. Newcomb, December 28, 1828. He preached his first sermon April 5, 1832. In the spring of 1833 he received a letter from the church commending him as a faithful and accepted minister of the gospel; and September 10 of the same year started out to make the preaching of the gospel his life-work. He served as evangelist at large, often at his own charges, two thirds of his time for twenty-nine years, when he moved to Ravenna, and took charge of the church five years. Afterward he served the churches at Warren, Collamer, Bedford, Aurora, and Willoughby, closing his pastoral ministry at the last named place after eight years of faithful and efficient service. He is now, at the age of seventy-seven, on the retired list, residing in Cleveland, near his daughter and only living child, Mrs. R. Moffett.

In 1835 he married Mary Bennett, daughter of Henry Bennett, who shared lovingly with him the burdens and joys of a minister’s life, till March 21, 1869, when she fell asleep in Jesus. This was a severe blow to Mr. Green. Few women were better qualified in heart and hand to be a help-meet for a pioneer minister. Truly can we say, in the language of Solomon: “ Strength and honor were her clothing. She opened her mouth with wisdom, and her tongue was the law of kindness. She looked well to the ways of her household, and ate not the bread of idleness. She laid her hands to the spindle, and stretched out her hand to the poor.” Indeed, but for the faith and courage and diligence of this excellent woman, Mr. Green would many a time have despaired in his work.

In 1871 he married Mrs. Amanda M. Baldwin, widow of the late Henry Baldwin, of Solon, Ohio, who now shares his comfortable home, and ministers as a faithful wife.

  1. B. Green is not what the world calls an educated man. He says he was far more familiar with the howling of wolves and hooting of owls than with schools or school books. His only library when he began to preach was his pocket Bible and “Robbin’s History of all Religions and Ceremonies.” He was, however, a great student of the Bible. He can even now, at his advanced age, quote entire chapters without prompting. It was to him the one sword of the Spirit which could vanquish all opposers of its truth; and many an adversary has felt its keen edge when wielded by his hand. Six times in his ministry he has met successfully the champions of Universalism; five times the champions of sprinkling and infant baptism, and once an apostle of Mormonism. He is preeminently a preacher of the Word. Although unacquainted with classic lore, and untrained even in the things of common grammar, he has so learned the Scriptures, and is so skilled in interpreting Scripture by the Scriptures themselves, that his judgment as to the meaning of any passage may be safely set over against that of the recognized theologian. His style is plain, clear, logical, and full of force. He survives among the last of the grand men to whom the Disciples of Christ owe a lasting debt of gratitude for self-sacrificing devotion to the restoration of primitive Christianity. The sermon here presented is one of the olden time.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND THE CHANGES NECESSARY TO CITIZENSHIP.

A SERMON.

By Almon B. Green.

“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood can not inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”—I Corinthians 15:50-51.

The phrase, “The kingdom of God,” is sometimes used for the reign of God by Christ in the hearts and lives of his people in this world. Hence the language, “The kingdom of God is within you.” There was a time when it was said, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” so near that Jesus said, “There are some standing here that shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” And so it was that Jesus, the promised King, ascended into heaven, and God, the Father, said to him, “Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool;” then turned and gave command, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” Possessing all power in heaven and in earth, angels and authorities being subject to him, he shall reign until the last enemy man has to encounter, Death, shall be destroyed. “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, and God shall be all in all.” Here we are introduced to the kingdom of God spoken of in the text. In his kingdom among men, he reigns in the hearts and lives of the sanctified in Christ Jesus. In the world to come he will reign over the glorified by Christ Jesus.

When we consider the heart of man, and his condition by sin, his character before God, and his bodily infirmities, we shall not wonder that the transition from this world to that of glory should call for several changes, to fit man for the enjoyment of eternal life in the world to come. There is a wide difference between man as he was, and as he is; but a still wider difference between man as he is, and as he is yet to be, if he ever enters the Paradise of God. Man as he was, knew no guilt, and was a stranger to remorse. In the image of God “he could stand and worship him in all the joy of perfect innocence.” But, oh, how different now! Carnal in his desires, the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life rule him in all his actions here. The language of his heart is, “What is the Almighty that we should serve him? and what profit should we have if we pray unto him?” It is a sad thought that sin is universal, and that nowhere upon this green earth is a sinless man to be found! An alien from God, in heart, in life, and separated from God by sin, he is without hope, and without God in the world. To prepare man for the life to come, four changes are essential:

  1. A change of heart.
  2. A change of state or relation to God.
  3.  A change of character.
  4. A change of his mortal to an immortal body.

1. A change of Heart.—By this I do not mean an exchange of one heart for another, for the Lord does not propose to annihilate any part of man, and create something else in the place of it; but to purify and cleanse that which is, and so prepare it for his service. The reason why the Lord begins with the heart is seen in the fact that the heart is the fountain of all our thoughts, words, and actions. The tongue, that world of iniquity, is moved by the heart to speak, as out of the abundance of heart the mouth speaketh. The whole history of man proves the language of the prophet true, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” To change the evil heart of unbelief, to a heart of faith, a heart of hatred to a heart of love, is no small undertaking. It is the changing of an enemy to a friend. But how can it be done? It can be done only by proving to that enemy that you are his friend. Gain his confidence; let him see that your goodness should lead him to repentance. If you gain his confidence, you have gained his heart; if you gain his heart, you have gained his love; and like David and Jonathan your hearts are knit together in love. Hence Peter says of the Gentiles, “God purified their hearts by faith.” Again, the Lord says of the sons of Jacob, “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.” Jesus came to give demonstration to the world that God is love, and that he “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish but have everlasting life.”

This gospel of the Son of God has made mighty changes in the world. It is well named the “gospel of peace.” Take Paul, for an example of its power; take the three thousand mocking men on the day of Pentecost, and see them bowing in submission to Jesus as Lord of all. What has changed their hearts but faith in Him whom they had crucified in anger? This change of heart prepared them to change their state, or relative position toward God, which is essential to perfection of character.

2. A Change of State—is more than a change of mind, or of purpose. Man must be made to feel that he is not his, but belongs to another. This change of state, or relation to God, is illustrated by many figures. Jesus says, Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me. How differently the ox acts when turned into the field to roam, from his acts when the yoke is put upon his neck? In the one case he acts out his own will, in the other the will of his master. The word “yoke” is therefore evidently used by the Saviour as a symbol of government. The man of the world feels and acts out his own pleasure; but when he places himself under Christ as his teacher, takes His yoke or authority upon him, he feels that he belongs to another, and that his new relation calls for a new life. How to the point the language of Paul, “Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey?”

This change of relation is taught by another figure, to Nicodemus. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter the kingdom of God.” When Jesus comes claiming our attention as a leader, or teacher, he says take my yoke upon you and learn of me. When as a king, he speaks of his kingdom, he says, you must be born again to enter it. If men are spoken of as aliens from God, then the transaction is spoken of thus: “He hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.”

If Jesus is called the vine and his disciples the branches, then the transaction is represented by another figure, “taken from the wild olive tree and grafted into the tame.” If Jesus is called the bridegroom and his church the bride, then we are said to be married to Christ.

These figures all refer, not to a change of heart, but to that which follows it,—a change of state, or of our relation to God. It is well expressed by an apostle of Christ (Gal. 3:26-27), “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This language is too plain to allow of a serious mistake as to the way this change of relation to God is effected. “Born again,” “grafted,” and “married to Christ” are all figures of speech, easily understood by their connection. So also, to “put on Christ,” as you would assume the character of another to act for him. Jesus expressed a deliverance from a state of sin to a saved state thus: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” It will be seen that salvation is not a feeling, not an emotion, but a condition. The Lord saved Israel out of Egypt; that is, he delivered them out of bondage into a state of freedom.

When a man’s heart is by faith purified from the love of sin, and he takes the yoke of Christ upon him to learn of Him who is meek and lowly in heart, he feels that he is a new creature; old things have passed away, and all things have become new. He has new desires, new aspirations, a new teacher, new society, new prospects, and a new home among the people of God. He realizes that though in the world, he is not of the world; that though once a child of the wicked one, he is now a child of God and an heir of eternal life. He now seeks not his own will, but the will of Him who has called him out of darkness into His marvelous light. ’Tis now the study of his life to please his Master, and to gain that character before God that will gain the plaudit, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” As a change of heart was essential to lead us to take the yoke of Christ upon us, and thus change our relation to Him, so that change of state was necessary to aid us effectually to change our character before God. While of the world, we loved the character of the world, and studied to please the world. But entering the kingdom of God, we seek to imitate the redeemed and sanctified in Christ Jesus.

3.  A change of Character.—We must not mistake reputation for character. Reputation is what men think and say of us; but character is what we are in the eyes of Him who sees and knows the motives by which we are actuated. Jesus said of the scribes and pharisees, “Ye outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” But men not only often deceive others, but deceive themselves also. Alas, how many preachers are deceiving themselves, thinking how well they take among the people, and that they have a talent to sway people as they please, and are accomplishing wonders in the world, who in the great day that shall reveal the secrets of all hearts will see themselves in another light. “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Then will those egotistical preachers see themselves in their true character. Even Paul was once in great danger of being overcome by this sin, and to save him the Lord gave him a thorn in the flesh, lest he should be exalted above measure, through the abundance of the revelations given to him.

“Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” is a caution worthy of being borne in mind by all. The world has to judge from outward appearances, while the Lord looks on the heart. Hence a good reputation among men can not be a safe passport to the judgment bar of God, who sees things as they are. And those self-righteous persons who plead for the letter of the gospel, but are actuated by selfish motives instead of the glory of God, will then see the difference between the letter and the spirit worshipers.

Hence the great question, What is character? The answer is easy, It is what we are before God.

It will be seen then that character is not made by a single act in life, but by our general conduct through life. David, the man after God’s own heart, was guilty of a great sin. But it was from a sudden impulse of the mind, and foreign to the general tenor of his life. His penitence was equal to his sin, and lasting as his life. The best of men have been overcome by temptation; hence the exhortation, “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” Again, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

It is not the number of years we live that makes character, but faithfulness in our calling. “He that endures to the end shall be saved.” Paul beautifully expresses it of himself thus, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

What, then, is the course of life called for to gain that character before God that will be acceptable to Him? “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” The moral man may glory in the thought that he is honest, and seeks to deal justly with his fellow-men; and that he has a heart to feel for, and show mercy to, an offender. But does he walk humbly with God? Does he seek to cooperate with God in saving men from sin and turning them to righteousness? Or does he stand aloof from religion and from all efforts with the people of God to reclaim the world from sin? He lives upon God’s footstool, breathes His air, and lives upon the bounties of His providence, but never gives God thanks for any of his mercies! He proves himself to be unthankful and unholy, and without natural affection. When a favor is conferred on him by another, he thanks him for his kindness, and teaches his children to say, “I thank you,” when a favor is shown them. But he is totally destitute of gratitude to God for his favors. Whatever may be his reputation among men, he must be set down as an alien from God in heart and life, and therefore without hope and without God in the world. The damaging sin of ingratitude rests upon his head, and he must answer for it at the bar of God.

“Who,” then, “shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart, who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob” (Ps. 24).

4. The change from Mortality to Immortality.—This great and last change is essential to the perfection of the children of God. “Flesh and blood can not inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” Our bodies are represented as the tabernacles in which the soul resides in this world. But they are mortal, dying bodies, that we lay aside in death. In them we groan, desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven. Sin has not only defiled the heart and conscience, but it has brought upon us death and all our woe. “Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return,” was the stem decree of heaven when man sinned. The whole man, body, soul, and spirit, is defiled by sin; and the body, without change, would be no more fit for the bliss of heaven, than the unchanged heart and character would be. We need a heart and character and a body suited to the new state of being we enter into.

That state, the apostle Peter informs us, is “incorruptible and undefiled, and fades not away.” It is evident then that we must have new bodies, or else have our old bodies changed, to enjoy that new inheritance, the future home of the saints of God. God purposed to change and purify the old heart, and renovate the old character; and why not change the old body, for the new home? That this is what he purposes is evident from many passages of Scripture. Paul, to the Philippians, says, “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.” To this agrees the language of the apostle John, who says, “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” Even the Psalmist had a glimpse of it in his day, and said, “I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness.” The Lord purposes to quicken into life our mortal bodies, and change them from flesh and blood to immortal, spiritual bodies. Here our bodies go to decay, and waste away in rottenness and corruption. But the promise is, “It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

We are not justified in allowing philosophy to supplant our faith, by asking, How can God raise the dead and give life to our wasted bodies? From a human stand point this seems impossible. But why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead? That the dust of the earth should be fashioned into a man of flesh, blood, and bones, is no less a mystery than that this corruptible body should be changed to incorruptibility. We are not called upon to comprehend, but to believe. Creation is a mystery, but we are compelled to believe the world was made; and it is no dishonor to a man to believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And then, what a comfort to poor, dying man to believe that though he die, yet shall he live again. With a heart full of joy he listens to the language of the apostle as he affirms,

“Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” Then, child of God, shout for joy and bury your fears, and sing, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Death, thou mighty conquering foe, Christ has robbed thee of thy sting! Grave, thou mighty vanquisher of mortals, Jesus leads thee captive in everlasting chains since He burst thy bars and triumphed o’er thy power! Then “thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Once we were enemies to God by wicked works, but now by his grace we have been changed in heart to love and revere him; we have been delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son, “in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.”

We have been brought under his discipline and trained in character for a home in heaven. But the flesh weighs us down and our partnership will be dissolved in death; but at last deliverance will come when the angel of the Mighty One shall have blown his last blast into the ear of time,—then shall we come forth equipped for the world of light, where sin and sorrow shall be felt and feared no more. Then God’s finishing touch shall have been given and man stand complete in his sight. Amen and amen.

Fasting and Not Fasting

The Text: Mark 2:18-22 – The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting: and they came and said to Him, “Why are the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fasting, but Your disciples are not fasting?”

And Jesus said to them, “Can the sons of the bridechamber fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.  But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast in those days.

“Also, no one sews a piece of new cloth on an old garment: otherwise the new piece that filled it up takes away from the old, and the tear is made worse.

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins: otherwise the new wine does burst the skins, and the wine is spilled, and the skins will be ruined: but new wine must be put into new skins.”

Introduction

One of the most neglected items of Christianity and religious devotion to God is fasting.  Think about it for a moment: Jesus fasted; Jesus taught about how to fast; the early church fasted; the apostle Paul fasted.  We have more examples of fasting in the New Testament than we do of meeting on the first day of the week, yet for many Christians, fasting is completely ignored.  Is this the way it should be?  Keep that question in your head as we look at this event in the life of Jesus.

The Text, part 1 – Question About Fasting (Mark 2:18)

Jesus is still sitting at Matthew’s house, eating with the tax collectors and sinners, when this incident takes place.

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting.

Fasting, according to the Bible, is giving up food for a certain period of time, and is always connected with one’s relationship to God.  Sometimes it was a portion of a day, other times it was a full day, sometimes it was a week or even more.  But the purpose of the fasting in the Bible wasn’t for weight-loss (though that isn’t a bad side-effect); it was for focusing your attention on God and showing your dedication to Him.  It’s connected with prayer, with worship, with mourning, with repentance, with rededication, and with “laying up treasures in heaven.”

The King James Version says “used to fast,” but literally, Mark says that the disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting.  That is, they were fasting at that moment.  The Pharisees fasted each Monday and Thursday, and bound that on their disciples, so this took place on one of those two days.  The disciples of John held fasting in high regard as well, especially since their teacher (John the Baptizer) had a diet (locusts and wild honey) that was almost continual fasting.

There were hypocritical fasters who twisted their faces up in pain, letting everyone know that they were fasting.  The Pharisees are probably the ones that Jesus was talking about when he said that during His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:16).

In the Old Testament, there was only one day where fasting was commanded, and that was on the Day of Atonement, the day that Jews now call “Yom Kippur.”  God used the phrase “afflict your souls.”

And this shall be a statute forever to you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all…for on that day the priest shall make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you might be clean from all your sins before the Lord.  It shall be a Sabbath of rest to you, and you shall afflict your souls, by a statute forever. (Leviticus 16:29-31).

The same thing is mentioned in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 29.

The first time that fasting is mentioned in the Bible outside of the Day of Atonement was in connection with mourning and worshiping God, seeking His guidance (Judges 20:25-28).  The Israelites fasted for a day when they were mourning over their sin (1 Samuel 7:6), the valiant men fasted for seven days when mourning the death of King Saul (1 Samuel 31:12-13), David fasted for seven days while praying for his infant son to live (2 Samuel 12:15-20), Ahab fasted after hearing Elijah’s prophecy against him (1 Kings 21:20-29), all of Israel fasted when they prayed to God for protection from their enemies (2 Chronicles 20:3-15).  Ezra proclaimed a fast for the people to follow (Ezra 8:21-23).  Nehemiah records that the Israelites fasted and re-dedicated themselves to Jehovah (Nehemiah 9:1-3).  But Isaiah also records that even in the Old Testament, some were doing it for wrong reasons:

[They said:] We have fasted, and You don’t see it!  We have afflicted our soul, and You take no knowledge!

[God replies:] Behold, in the day of your fast, you find pleasure, and exact all your labors.  Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness.  You shall not fast as you do today to make your voice heard on high.  Is it this kind of fast that I have chosen?  A day for a man to afflict his soul?  Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?  Will you call this a fast and an acceptable day to Jehovah? (Isaiah 58:3-5).

Thus, we can see that fasting was not inherently righteous nor inherently wicked—it all depended on the attitude of the ones fasting.  So keep that in mind when we see the question that the disciples of John and the Pharisees asked Jesus.

They came to Him and said, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples don’t fast?”

The disciples of John were, if they paid attention to John’s teachings, honest souls who were seeking to please God and prepare themselves for the coming Kingdom of God.  Thus, we shouldn’t assume they had any ill intentions when asking this question.  They were probably asking an honest question.  The disciples of the Pharisees were quite possibly in the same situation, being taught that they’re supposed to fast twice a week, but confused as to why Jesus—a clear religious leader who could work miracles—wasn’t making His disciples fast.

We should stop here for a moment and note that when you do things differently, people tend to notice.  “You don’t use instruments; why not?” or “Why don’t you have big fancy buildings?”  Don’t be ashamed, but use it as an opportunity to teach people something about the church of the Bible.

The Text, part 2 – Jesus’ Answer (Mark 2:19-20)

Jesus didn’t have anything against fasting, if done for the right purposes.  After all, Matthew tells us that He fasted for 40 days after His baptism when He went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-2).  Later on, Jesus gave instructions for how His disciples were supposed to fast: not making a show of it (Matthew 6:16-18).  And in His answer that He gives on this occasion, He foretells that His disciples will fast—just not while He was on earth.

Can the sons of the bridechamber fast while the bridegroom is with them?

In ancient wedding ceremonies, a group of men would accompany the groom to the bride’s house and when the bride came out, they escorted the two of them back to the groom’s house.  This was followed by a celebratory feast that usually lasted seven days.  It was a time of joy and celebration.  It would have been inappropriate and rude to fast during such an event.

In fact, the words Jesus chose in His response show that beyond being rude, it isn’t possible for them to fast during such a time.  The word “Can” is actually the Greek word dunamai, which means power or ability.  Literally, then, Jesus’ response is: “Do the sons of the bridechamber have the ability to fast while the bridegroom is with them?”

The use of the bridegroom illustration might seem strange, but remember that John the Immerser had already described Jesus to his disciples as the bridegroom (John 1:28-30).  John’s disciples, therefore, should have caught the reference.

As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.

Literally, Jesus says, “As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they do not have the ability to fast.”  They are to be celebrating, not fasting.  To fast would be an insult to the groom, the bride, and the family.

But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them.

Wedding celebrations do not last forever; there comes a time when they end.  Here, Jesus makes it clear that He’s not going to be on earth forever; there will come a time when He will not just be gone, but He will have been taken away.  This is a hint, a prophecy of His death, but also to His ascension, when He was taken away into the heavens (Acts 1).

Then they shall fast in those days.

The conclusion of Jesus’ initial answer to the disciples of John and of the Pharisees is that His disciples will fast, but that it would be inappropriate to fast while they’ve got Him with them.  The fasting of disciples of Jesus would take place after He ascended into heaven.

The Bible bears this out, showing that His disciples—Christians—did fast.

Now there were, at the church in Antioch, certain prophets and teachers; Barnabas, Simeon that was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen which had been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch, and Saul.  As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”  And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they send them away (Acts 13:1-3).

And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord on whom they believed (Acts 14:23).

Do not defraud one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer…(1 Corinthians 7:5).

…do not receive the grace of God in vain…giving no offense in anything, that the ministry be not blamed: but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings… (2 Corinthians 6:1, 3-5).

Brethren, Jesus is still gone; we are still living in those days—the days in which Jesus said His followers would fast.  Jesus gave instructions on fasting:

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, so that they might appear to men to fast.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face; so that you do not appear to me to fast, but to your Father which is in secret: and your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you openly.  Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupts, and where thieves do not break in and steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:16-21).

Fasting with a purpose to focus on God is laying up treasure in heaven!

The Text, part 3 – Two Parables (Mark 2:21-22)

After showing by his first illustration that it would be inappropriate for His disciples to fast while He was there, Jesus gave two parables which illustrate the point from a different angle.

No one sews a piece of new clothing on an old garment: otherwise the new piece that filled it up takes away from the old, and the tear is made worse.

Jesus is bringing the new Kingdom of God.  He’s not bringing a reform of Judaism, not trying to add something new to the Old Testament.  He’s coming to fulfill the Law, bringing it to its conclusion.  You wouldn’t take a brand-new piece of fabric and sew it over a hole in some old clothes, because when you wash it, the new fabric is going to start to shrink, and it will rip the hole even larger.  You can’t mix the old and new fabrics.  Similarly, you can’t mix fasting and celebrating—they don’t go together.

Without coming out and saying it, Jesus was announcing the end of the Old Testament system, the end of the Law of Moses, which would be replaced by the New Testament.  He did this by “nailing [the Old Testament] to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).

No one puts new win in old wineskins: otherwise the new wine bursts the skins and the wine is spilled and the wineskins will be ruined.  But new wine must be put into new wineskins.

No one with any knowledge of wine and the leather pouches they stored them in would consider putting new wine in an old, stretched skin, because it would waste the wine and destroy the skin in the process.  Instead, it was to be put in a new skin pouch so that it could stretch and expand as the wine fermented.  This was a common process that most people were at least familiar with.

Jesus is teaching about a coming kingdom, and the illustration here is basically saying that you can’t force His teachings into the rites and rituals of the Old Testament (and especially of the traditions of the Pharisees) regarding fasting.

Some have suggested that the disciples of John and the Pharisees are to be viewed as the “old wineskins” and the “old garment” that were unable to accept the new teaching of Jesus; and that perhaps Jesus is teaching them they have to destroy their old ways of thinking before they can accept the new truth that He is bringing them.  Obviously some of John’s disciples could accept the teaching, for some of them became apostles, but Luke’s account adds these words of Jesus: “Also, no man having drunk old wine immediately desires the new, for he says ‘The old is better’” (Luke 5:39).  If this is seen as more of a general statement instead of a hard and fast rule, then this interpretation is something worth considering.

But overall, remember that the question Jesus is answering is about why His disciples don’t fast.  His answers show that He was pointing toward something New, and that trying to mix the old and the new would only end up with disaster.  It’s reminiscent of what Paul says in Galatians 5:4 about New Testament saints who were trying to mix their religion with Old Testament commands—they have “fallen from grace.”

Application

How should Christians Fast Today?

Probably the biggest questions people have regarding fasting are (1) should Christians do it, and (2) if they should, how should they do it?  Since fasting is often coupled with prayer, think about it.  We aren’t given the specifics for every single time we are to pray, and how long to pray, exactly what words to use, but that doesn’t change the fact that we know we’re supposed to do it.

Jesus gave commands on how to fast, which we read earlier, and He didn’t give commands that were irrelevant to His people—therefore, Jesus expects us to fast.  But the details about how long and when aren’t given specifically to us, and are therefore up to our own judgment.  I used to tell people that I fasted four times a day, only taking breaks for meals.  Maybe choose a day where you’re going to skip just a meal in order to spend time studying God’s word or spending a long time in prayer.  One congregation I know of fasts from Tuesday evening until Wednesday evening when they all come together to share a meal before Bible study.

Whatever you decide to do, however you decide to do it, make it a time to grow closer to God and show your dedication to Him.

Don’t Mix the Covenants!

The Old Testament was nailed to the cross, but there are a lot of people who want to drag parts of it down.  Some groups demand keeping the Sabbath (which was only ever given to the Jews).  Others say that Sunday is the “Christian Sabbath,” but when you realize that Sunday is the “first day of the week” and “Sabbath” is the Hebrew word for “seventh,” you’ve got problems—seventh is not the first, and vice versa.  We’ve got friends who insist that we have to stand with Israel because they’re God’s people.  No, Christians are God’s people, the Jews were rejected because they rejected Jesus.  If you want to say we should stand with Israel because they are our friends and allies, then that’s a different discussion (a political one), but in no way, shape, or form are the Jews still God’s people today unless they have become Christians.

Invitation

They can become Christians the same way that you can become a Christian.  There is just one gospel, the power of God to save souls, both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 1:16).  That gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross on our behalf.  You believe that good news, let that belief cause you to repent and confess Him, and then be buried with Him in baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-5).  After so doing, live faithfully to the best of your ability and you will have a home awaiting you with God and Jesus forever!

Contradictions in the Bible?

Introduction

All Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16).  If God is as the Bible presents Him, as an all-knowing, infinite Being who cannot lie, then when we read the word of God, we should be able to find no contradictions, no mistakes in the Scriptures.

Atheists and others who want to tear down the credibility of the Bible will scour its pages looking for passages that seem to disagree with each other, and will proudly pronounce, “Here is a contradiction!”  And when they present these potential problems, they proclaim the Bible to be a fraud, uninspired, and worthless.  By doing so, they have actually overturned the faith of some, causing them to deny the Lord who bought them with His own blood.

It’s easy to understand an atheist or someone like him trying to take things out of context to try to show supposed contradictions in God’s word.  But there are times when an honest, sincere Christian will read passages of Scripture and honestly has a difficult time reconciling perhaps two different records of the same event which don’t seem to agree with each other, or worse yet, some which seem to completely oppose each other.

What is a Christian to do when faced with what looks like a contradiction in the Bible?

What is a Contradiction?

It’s extremely important that we understand what a contradiction is and what it is not.  When we grasp the true meaning of what a contradiction is, and what it is not, most of the so-called “contradictions” of the Bible disappear.

A contradiction only exists when two (or more) statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same manner.  For example: (1) My only pets are two cats. (2) I own a dog.  These two statements are a contradiction, for if my only pets are cats, then I cannot own a dog.

The Manner

It is not a contradiction if two statements, which might seem contradictory, are true in a different manner.  For example: (1) I am a father. (2) I am a son.  These are referring to two different relationships, and so they are both true at the same time.  If I were to say (pointing to a man), “I am his son,” and then (pointing to the same man) say, “I am his father,” it would be a contradiction if it was speaking of only physical relationship, for both statements could not be true at the same time and in the same manner.  But I have heard of a man who converted his father to Christ.  So, in that instance, his dad could point to him and say, “I am his father, but I am his son in the faith.”

There are examples of Jesus using language that would seem contradictory until you understand that He is describing physical things in one place and spiritual things in another.  For example, Jesus says “He that lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26), but then tells Peter, “Verily, verily I say to you, When you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked wherever you wanted; but when you are old, you will stretch forth your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you do not want to go.”  He spoke this signifying by what death [Peter] should glorify God (John 21:18-19).  Jesus said the faithful would never die spiritually, and that Peter would die physically.

The Time

It is not a contradiction if two statements, which might seem contradictory, are true at different times.  According to George DeHoff, some skeptics of the Bible use Genesis 1:31, “God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good,” and 6:6, “It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.”  They claim that these two statements are contradictory, but there are over a thousand years of history that have passed between the two statements.  Each of them was true when it was spoken, but after the fall of man and the continual thoughts of evil that gripped all of mankind—except for Noah—it was no longer “very good.”

For the one who believes in God, we must never just accept someone’s word on something being a contradiction without a thorough investigation.  We must remember some principles as well that, when put into practice, answer most—if not all—of the allegations of contradiction.

The Translation Issue

Some supposed contradictions are a result of the translation(s) one uses.  If you use the King James Version, Galatians 6:2 and 5 seem to be a contradiction: “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ,” vs. “For every man shall bear his own burden.”  Well which one is it?  Are we to bear one another’s burdens or are they supposed to bear their own burdens?  The answer is that there are two different Greek words translated “burden” in those passages.  One of them is personal responsibility, while the other one is struggles, trials, difficulties that come upon someone.

The same thing could be said for Galatians 1:1:6-7: “I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ into another gospel which is not another…”  Is it another gospel or is it not?  Again, the problem here is eliminated by knowing that there are two different words translated “another” in that passage.  Paul says, literally, “into a different gospel [one of a different type], which is not another [one of the same type].”

The solution when you come some apparent contradictions is to consult some other translations and see how they translated it.  It is possible that the contradiction is one created by the word choice of the translators, and not in the text itself.

The Audience Issue

Some people have alleged that the Bible contains contradictions because in answer to the same question, different responses are given.  For example, when the question “What must I do to be saved?” or one that means the same thing is asked, there are different answers given.  The people on the Day of Pentecost were told “repent and be baptized,” but the Philippian Jailor was told, “only believe” (no mention of repentance of baptism in their answer), and Saul of Tarsus was told, “Go into the city…” where Ananias told him, “arise and be baptized” (but there was no mention of belief or repentance.

The answer to this allegation and others like it is that there is a difference in the audience.  Each of the ones being spoken to were at different levels of understanding, and at different points in their journey towards salvation.  The Philippian jailor in Acts 16 was not willing to believe in Jesus Christ until after the earthquake that opened all the prison doors, yet none of the prisoners fled.  He realized that Paul and Silas were sent by the most powerful God, and he wanted to be right with them and with the Lord.  So the response that Paul gave him was the first thing he needed to do: believe.  They then taught him what he needed to believe (which, incidentally, included the urgency of baptism), and went from there.

The people on the Day of Pentecost already believed in God, and by the time they asked their question, “What shall we do?” they believed that Jesus was the Christ.  So Peter had no need to tell them to “believe,” since they were already at that point.  He gave them what they needed for where they were in their journey: repent and be baptized.

Saul of Tarsus believed in Jesus by the time Ananias got to him; and Saul had been fasting for three days and prayed—showing he had already repented.  So Ananias told him what he needed to do next: arise and be baptized, wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.  There was no need to tell Saul to believe or to repent, because those had already been done.

Some call it a contradiction, but it isn’t, because these statements were made to different people at different stages in their journey to salvation.

The Covenant Issue

Closely connected with the difference in audience is the statements made to people under different covenants.  The most famous one is the thief on the cross vs. the Jews on the day of Pentecost.  It is alleged that the example of the thief trumps (i.e., contradicts) the commands given on Pentecost.  But that ignores that the people lived under two totally different covenants.

The thief on the cross lived and died under the Old Testament.  Baptism was never a part of the Old Testament commands for salvation or forgiveness.  Baptism into Christ was something that was ordained by the Lord after His death, burial, and resurrection—that is, under the New Testament (see Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:19).  Since the thief on the cross never lived under the New Testament, he was never answerable to the command to “repent and be baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”  He, like David, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and literally millions of other Jews before him, lived and died under the Old Testament, and were never under the command to be baptized into Christ.

As a side note, we can also add to this example that when Jesus was on earth, He could do whatever He wanted regarding the forgiveness of sins.  But since He has ascended, His written covenant is what we have to guide us.  And His written covenant—His will—says “repent and be baptized.”

The Author Issue

Some skeptics have claimed that since the Gospel writers place events in different orders, they can’t be inspired.  The problem here is one that arises from the author and the author’s purpose.  Only one of the gospel writers makes the claim that he was giving events in chronological order, and that is Luke, who wrote as a detailed historian (see Luke 1:3).  Matthew’s purpose was not to give a strictly chronological sequence of events, but to show that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.  As such, he often groups similar events (miracles, parables) together.  We do the same thing today on occasion, telling people things we remember which remind us of other similar stories.  Then we might go on to some other things that took place between the stories, or even before.  In short, Matthew wasn’t concerned with strict chronology.  Mark was the same way, grouping some events together because there were similarities (see Mark 3:20-35, whereas they appear in Luke three chapters apart, and in different order).  John’s account was written to show the deity of Christ and to cause people to believe.

One of the examples of a supposed contradiction in chronology comes from the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.  Matthew 4 records them in this order: (1) turn the stones to bread, (2) jump off the temple, (3) bow down and worship me.  Luke’s record switches the second and third ones.  It’s not a contradiction, for both writers agree the same things happened, and Matthew made no claim that he was giving everything in a strictly chronological order.

The Complementary Issue

Most of the alleged contradictions come from incidents where one writer gives details that others don’t.  One of the best illustrations of this is found in Jesus’ speaking to Peter about his impending denial of the Lord.

Matthew, Luke, and John all record Jesus saying, in essence, “Before the cock crows, you shall deny me thrice.”  But Mark 14:30 adds a detail, “Before the cock crows twice, you shall deny me thrice.”  And in case someone wondered if the inclusion of that word was a mistake, verse 72 repeats it.  It’s not a contradiction, for Mark just gives Jesus’ statement in a bit fuller detail than the other writers did.  Matthew, Luke, and John each gave a slightly more summarized version.

Another example of this kind of supposed contradiction is found in the number of women at the cross.  Matthew 27:56 mentions only three specific women, Mark mentions three, Luke mentions none specifically, and John mentions four.  John just goes into more detail than the other writers at this point.

The Same Words, Different Meanings Issue

Just like in English, there are Greek words that have different meanings, depending on how the writer or speaker was using them.  The word “spirit” is a prime example, for it can mean “breath,” “attitude,” “the Holy Spirit,” “the human spirit,” or even “wind.”

I read a debate (read it free HERE) between a preacher of the gospel and a Mormon (one of the “seventy”), and in order to cast doubt on the validity of the Bible, the Mormon said that Acts 9:7 and 22:9 showed that there were contradictions in the Bible.  In the first passage, Luke tells us “the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.”  In the second passage, Paul (relating the same event) says, “they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid, but they heard not the voice of Him that spoke with me.”

In this instance, it’s not the fault of the translators.  It’s not being said differently because of a different audience, a different covenant, or because the accounts are complementary to each other.  Luke uses the words “hearing (ἀκούω) a voice (φωνή),” and Paul uses the same words, “they heard (ἀκούω) not the voice (φωνή) of Him who spoke to me.”

The word φωνή “voice” can also be translated “sound,” and is indeed translated that way several times in the New Testament.  It is possible, then, that Luke meant that the men heard a sound when he used the word in Acts 9, but not necessarily the voice of Jesus.

In the same way, the word ἀκούω, “hearing,” can also carry the meaning of “understanding” or “comprehending,” like when Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Jesus doesn’t mean just recognize that there is a sound, but to understand the words.  So it is legitimate to have Paul, in chapter 22, saying that the men didn’t understand the voice of Jesus.  Certainly they heard something, according to chapter nine, but that doesn’t mean they understood it.

There is an incident elsewhere in the Bible which sheds some light on this as well: John 12:20-29.  Some Greeks wanted to see Jesus, and Philip and Andrew went to Jesus to let Him know.  Then Jesus prayed a prayer which ended with the words, “Father, glorify thy name.”  Then there came a voice from heaven, saying “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”  Then John says, “the people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said an angel spoke to Him.”

These people “heard” (ἀκούω) the “voice” (φωνή) from heaven, but to some, it was a sound, a noise like thunder, and not an actual understandable voice.

So back to the supposed contradiction in Acts 9 and 22.  In chapter nine, Luke said they heard a sound, but in chapter twenty-two, Paul is saying that they didn’t understand the voice of Jesus.  Both Paul and Luke used the same words, but they had slightly different meanings when they used them.

Conclusion

There are many other places that atheists and others like them point to as contradictions in the Bible, and if there is interest in looking at these, showing how they can be easily explained, we will do more lessons like this in the future.

The main point to remember throughout all of this, however, is that the Bible is trustworthy.  If just one mistake, one contradiction was made in the original writings of the apostles and prophets, then the Bible isn’t inspired by God.  It’s that simple.  But my friends, there are no contradictions in the word of God.  Not one.  This book is given by the inspiration of God and is able to make us “perfect” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), because He has given us everything regarding “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

He’s given us the answer to the most important question we could possibly ask: what must I do to be saved?  The Philippian jailor, one who was not a believer and who had not heard the gospel before, was told to “believe” and then the gospel was preached to him, which resulted in his being baptized that very night!  The people on the day of Pentecost believed the gospel, so when they asked “men and brethren, what shall we do?” the answer was “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”

You have to believe in Jesus Christ, repent of your rebellion against God, acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, and submit to His command to be baptized in order to be forgiven of your sins.  We ask that you would please make the decision to do that today if you haven’t already.

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Replacement Apostle (Part 2)

Matthias in Tradition

Almost all the early writers who deal with the topic say that Matthias was one of the seventy men chosen by Jesus in Luke 10 to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God, and heal sicknesses.1 These men were “sent”2 by Jesus Christ with a mission very similar to the apostles in their “limited commission.”3  Some believe that it is this group of people that Paul was referencing when he said that Jesus appeared to all the apostles (after already mentioning “the twelve”) in 1 Corinthians 15:7.4

It is said by some that the selection of Matthias was a mistake, a “blunder” made by the apostles, and that the real heir to Judas’ spot was Saul of Tarsus.5 In the face of the biblical evidence, however, it’s impossible to take such a view seriously.  (1) Peter properly applied biblical prophecy to say Judas needed to be replaced.  (2) They prayed for the Lord to make the selection, and there is no indication that the Lord ignored the prayer.  (3) God approved of the choice, for Peter stood up “with the eleven” (which would include Matthias) as ones who were speaking in tongues by the power of God.6 (4) Paul never once classed himself as one of the twelve—in fact, he showed that he was not one of them in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.

After Matthias disappears from the biblical stage, there are traditions that say he spent time evangelizing Ethiopia with Rufus and Alexander, the sons of Simon of Cyrene, who bore the cross of Jesus in Mark 15:21.7  A work entitled “The Acts of Andrew and Matthew” is, in a significant number of manuscripts, titled “The Acts of Andrew and Matthias.”8  Because of the similarity in their names, the traditions tend to overlap, with no real certainty about which apostle is supposed to be under consideration.9  In one version of this work, Matthias, Rufus, and Alexander all go to Ethiopia to a city of cannibals, where Matthias is captured, blinded, and thrown into prison before he is healed by God and rescued by Andrew.  After they were both captured and thrown back into prison, they caused a flood to come on the inhabitants of the city, and then as they walked out of the prison, the waters divided in front of them like the Red Sea.  Though many died in the flood, the apostles prayed and all those who died were raised up.  Afterwards, many were baptized.10

The Preaching of Thomas in India claims that Matthias was taken by Peter to Persia.11

The Martyrdom of Matthias12 says that he preached in Damascus, where the people rose up against him, fastened him to a bedstead of iron, and tried to burn him alive on it for 24 days straight, but like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the flames didn’t harm him.  Thus, the people in Damascus began to follow Christ.  After some more time working among the people, he moved to Judea and there died.13

Though it is now lost to time, a heretical gospel account was written by someone who attached Matthias’ name to it.  Meanwhile, a second-century Gnostic sect falsely claimed that they got all of their doctrines from Matthias.  Some traditions say he worked in Jerusalem and died there,14 while others say he was martyred in Ethiopia,15 and still others believe he was martyred in Colchis.16

People have been tempted to identify Matthias as someone else in the biblical narrative.   At least one writer has suggested that Matthias is the same as Nathanael.17 Clement of Alexandria was of the opinion that Matthias was another name for Zacchaeus, the tax collector mentioned in Luke 19.18

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, chapter 12.

2 The Greek word for “sent” in Luke 10:1 is the verb form of “apostle.”  Thus, Jesus “apostled” these men, and they were, in a very real sense, apostles of Jesus Christ—just not counted among “the twelve.”

3 Compare the words of Jesus in Luke 10:1-16 with Matthew 10:1-16.

4 See the commentaries of Adam Clarke; Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown; Henrich Meyer; and John Wesley.  If this is the case, then it fits together with the requirement that the nominees for Judas’ vacant spot was to be one who had seen the risen Lord.

5 See David Smith’s article in James Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, “Matthias.”

6 See Acts 2:1-14.

7 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 163-164.

8 Unfortunately, there is confusion on whether it is Matthias or Matthew that is under consideration in some of ancient Apocryphal Acts.  In the stories about the cannibals, some manuscripts say Matthew, while others say Matthias.  As such, many of the traditions about Matthias are also said to be traditions about Matthew, simply because no one knows for certain which one is under consideration.  See the section “Matthew, According to Tradition” in the chapter on that apostle for more details.

9 The Ethiopian traditions, which were translated by Budge in Contendings of the Apostles say that it was Matthias who went to the city of cannibals, which is what is described in “The Acts of Andrew and Matthew/Matthias.”

10 This version of the story is contained in Budge’s Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 267-288.  Pages 370-403 give a fuller version of the story, called The Preaching of Matthias.

11 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 320.  This work appears to be a slightly enlarged edition of the Acts of Thomas, at least of the opening sequence.

12 The title for this work is rather ironic, considering that it records Matthias dying a natural death.

13 Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 289-294.

14 See the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Matthias.”

15 See Smith’s Bible Dictionary, “Matthias.”

16 See Richard Watson’s Biblical and Theological Dictionary.

17 See the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Matthias.”

18 This according to John Gill, in his notes on Acts 1:23.