Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More Thoughts on Jesus' Triumphal Entry

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church by the title "The Beginning of the End". Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey marks the beginning of the end of His earthly ministry. He purposely declares Himself to be the Messiah through His method of entrance, and He receives the honor due to the Messiah through cloaks, branches, and cries of God's salvation. He comes at Passover to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All this is clear as we look back on this popular event from Jesus' life.

However, it was not as clear to those who were there. In John 12, we read the reaction of the disciples and the crowds to Jesus' coming. "His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him." The gospel of Mark has continually made note of the disciples' inability to understand everything about Jesus and His mission, and John's words confirm that. For example...though Peter had proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ (Mk. 8:29), Jesus' intentional fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 still left him lacking understanding.

It was no better for the crowds. I pointed to a little of this in my sermon from Sunday. The laying down of cloaks and branches was a way to show honor, but the crowds were not necessarily honoring a man they thought of as a king. They would not immediately have the incident with Jehu in their mind (2 Kings 9:13). Also, the words they spoke had become very familiar phrases used in worship. For example, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' had lost some of its original meaning through its repetitive use. The phrase about David's kingdom was a familiar prayer to Jews. Familiarity sometimes breeds forgetfulness, and this quote of Psalm 118 had become something like that.

Also, IF they truly understood what Jesus was proclaiming here, then there would have been quite an uproar. If they realized that He was declaring that He was the Messiah...the King who was to come...then there would be no stopping such information. Jerusalem would have been buzzing with the news: "Jesus is claiming to be God's King." However, Jesus is not immediately taken into custody for such a claim. It would have been treason in the eyes of the Romans, who controlled Jerusalem at the time. No, Mark 11:11 has the day ending quietly, with Jesus freely leaving Jerusalem to get some rest at Bethany. No traitor to the Roman authorities would be allowed the freedom to move and act and speak that Jesus has in the coming chapters of Mark.

One more thought on why I think the crowds weren't fully engaged in this activity...on why they didn't fully understand who Jesus was. Here...they are shouting what appears to be praise for God's King and Messiah. Yet, only a few chapters later, they will be shouting words of condemnation at the same man. They will no longer be honoring Him as a king but condemning Him as a criminal. Cloaks will not be laid at His feet...rather, His clothes will be torn off Him so that He might be beaten and mocked and killed. The apparent love of this crowd will turn into obvious hatred. Those truly committed to Jesus' identity do not rejoice in Him at the beginning of the week and then change their tune by the end of it. [By the way, that's a helpful reminder to all of us who proclaim allegiance to the Lord Jesus each Sunday as we worship Him in song and in word. Is our tune different in our words and lives through the rest of the week?]

So, here is a public pronouncement of Jesus' identity and mission, but the disciples don't get it...the crowds don't get it. Why is that? Why would their eyes be so blind to Jesus at this crucial point in His life? This is a good question, and I think we find our answer in remembering the purpose of Mark's gospel. Mark's gospel is not a story about how people respond to Jesus, though we see a lot of responses along the way. Mark's gospel is about how God has responded to sinful mankind...by sending Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). The gospel of Mark is about the fact that God has acted definitively to bring salvation to clueless, helpless, hopeless mankind through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son...Jesus. Those are the lenses through which we must see this book of the Bible.

One closing thought...while it is beneficial to consider the responses of different groups and individuals to Jesus, we should not simply get caught up in evaluating others. The real question is the one Pilate asked in Matthew 27:22, "...what shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?" Is my response to Jesus the repentance and faith which His gospel demands (1:14-15)?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Check My Blind Spot!

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church, titled "The Blind and the Blind". Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

Throughout the book of Mark, we see the blind. We see blind crowds, blind religious leaders, and blind disciples. Oh, these people can see their surroundings just fine, but they are blind to the person and work of Jesus. The Bible says that one of the evidences of our depravity as humans is that we are spiritually blind (2 Cor. 4:4). In order to see life, death, God, ourselves, sin, and salvation correctly, something has to happen to cure this condition. What we need is for "God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,'" to shine "in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). Just as Jesus was the only One who could give sight to blind Bartimaeus, He is the only One who can open the eyes of the spiritually blind.

Yet, even once our eyes have been opened, we see the beauty and glory of the Lord Jesus, and we embrace Him as our Savior and Lord, we are still prone to blindness. We are prone to think ourselves holier or more mature than we actually are. We are prone to think ourselves better than our brother or sister in Christ. We are all prone, dear friend, to blind spots. You know what blind spots are, right? When driving, there are places where peripheral vision and even rear view mirrors fail to give us the whole picture. We might choose to ignore such blind spots, but that can lead to a disastrous outcome. If we are to be responsible, mature drivers, we must check our blind spots often. Likewise, if we are to be spiritually mature, we must be constantly checking our spiritual blind spots...those places where we assume things are fine, all is clear, and there's nothing to worry about.

Peter writes about this tendency to blindness in his second letter. He writes, "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins" (2 Pt. 1:5-9).

In other words, there are two options. One is an effective and fruitful life in knowing Christ, and the other is an ineffective and unfruitful life. Those who are ineffective and unfruitful are those who are not pursuing these qualities. I say 'pursuing' because Peter says "if these qualities are yours and are increasing" (v. 8). Perfection is not what makes us spiritually effective...making it our business to grow in these qualities does. If we refuse to grow in these areas, thinking that we can be effective and fruitful without the kind of character God requires, then Peter says we are blind...blind to the one thing we should always see clearly: the gospel.

If we say we have faith but think nothing of growing in virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, then we are blind to what it means to have faith in the one who cleansed us from our former sins (v. 9). If we say we have faith but do not see the fruit of the Spirit blossoming in our hearts and lives, then we are blind to what it means to belong to Christ Jesus by faith and crucify our passions and desires (Gal. 5:23-24). If we say we have faith but do not have any works, can that faith save us (James 2:14)?

Blind spots in our spiritual lives are those places where we are willing to overlook sin or overlook the need for spiritual growth. We may simply walk through life thinking it will either work itself out or it's not really a big deal. My eyes were opened just yesterday to a blind spot while interacting with one of my children. My need to grow in a particular area has been graciously revealed. So, now I will either pursue spiritual maturity and growth in this area, or I will turn a blind eye to it. Peter's words seem to be saying that if I choose to ignore my need to change and grow here, then I am blind to what the gospel means and how the gospel should affect me day by day. If I am willingly choosing to be blind to the gospel, then can I say I have truly believed the gospel and submitted my life to Christ?

We all have blind spots. The real question isn't whether we have them, but what will we do once they are revealed to us? Blind spots are often revealed by others...through a conversation, through a conflict, through seeing a character quality in another that you know you need in your own life, etc. How will we respond when the Lord shows us these opportunities to grow? Will we close our eyes to reality because changing seems too hard, too unrealistic, or just unnecessary? Or, will we glorify God by pursuing our spiritual growth?

May our prayer be that of the psalmist, "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" (Ps. 139:23-24)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Christian Life

[The following entry follows a sermon preached by Steve Smith at Gray Road Baptist Church. The title is "Christian Living: Explained and Exemplified", and you can click on the title to listen to the audio.]

This week's blog entry has been written by my ministry colleague at Gray Road...Steve Smith. He preached in my place and has written the following encouraging words for us to consider.

Hello Church...as I was considering our text from this past Sunday, I wanted to discuss one question. What happened to the disciples?

Throughout the Gospels, the disciples are proved to be selfish, self-centered, self-ambitious men who don’t seem to understand anything that Jesus is telling them. Our text in Mark 10 is just one of many examples. Clearly, this is the norm in the realm of fallen humanity. We are all born in Adam and have inherited a nature that craves the things of worldliness. 1 John 2:16, as far as I know, is the best Biblical definition - “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions.”

This is the state of humanity in its fallenness, living everyday to fulfill the desires of the flesh, acquire the desires of the eyes and taking pride in possessions. In Mark 10, we see that the disciples of Jesus were caught in this very same snare. They were vying for power, prestige and importance over others. Honesty requires that we admit that we all struggle with these types of issues in our lives in one way or another. Nevertheless, something happened in the lives of the disciples that changed everything. This is what I want to discuss for just a moment.

The moment of transformation came on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The disciples continued to prove their self-centeredness throughout the rest of the Gospels all the way up to the Crucifixion. Out of fear for their own lives, they deserted Jesus Christ as he was arrested and left him to face the Jews and Romans alone. Yet, in Acts 2 everything changes. In Acts 1:8, Jesus told the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This promise is fulfilled in the next chapter. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” Acts 2:1-2. Everything has changed now. Men have received the power of the Holy Spirit. God has now made the bodies of believers His temple.

It is incredible to see effect of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples. The man who had just denied Christ 3 times weeks earlier stands up and boldly preaches the Gospel to the very same people. Acts 2:42-45 says, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Awe came upon every soul…had all things in common…And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” This is the effect of the Holy Spirit on men. Selfishness, greed, pride and vain conceit have now vanished because of His presence.

Simply stated, if we are going to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, it is going to be the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. This is not a natural exercise, it is a supernatural one. By the power of the Holy Spirit we have been set free from the chains of the law and sin. James, only a few short years after making this request, fell at the sword of Herod because of His powerful witness for Christ. What changed in him? He now possessed the Spirit of God. Apart from the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing. Let us be a people who seek and obey the Holy Spirit. Only then can we follow after Jesus.

Monday, August 02, 2010

This is the End of the Innocence

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church, titled "Jesus and Children". Click on the title to listen to or download the audio.]

No, this is not a blog entry centered around Don Henley's politically-driven song from 1989. I'm not going to spend time analyzing the lyrics or speaking to his reversal of the wording of Isaiah 2:4. I'll leave that to you, especially since you may be curious enough now to go find out what that's all about. This entry, however, is not about the song...it's about the end of innocence when it comes to parenting our children. Specifically, this entry is meant to emphasize the fact that our children are sinners in need of a Savior.

In recent months, I was given the 1972 book by psychiatrist Karl Menninger, titled Whatever Became of Sin? Let me preface my reference with the truth that I have not read all of this book (unfortunately, I have several books on my shelf that fall into that category). That being said, let me quote something relevant to my entry today:

"In all of the laments and reproaches made by our seers and prophets, one misses any mention of 'sin,' a word which used to be a veritable watchword of prophets. It was a word once in everyone's mind, but now rarely if ever heard. Does that mean that no sin is involved in all our troubles - sin with an 'I' in the middle? Is no one any longer guilty of anything? Guilty perhaps of a sin that could be repented and repaired or atoned for? Is it only that someone may be stupid or sick or criminal - or asleep? Wrong things are being done, we know; tares are being sown in the wheat field at night. But is no one responsible, no one answerable for these acts? Anxiety and depression we all acknowledge, and even vague guilt feelings; but has no one committed any sins? // Where, indeed, did sin go? What became of it?" (p. 13)

This is a worthwhile subject on its own, but as I reflected on my studies in Mark 10 and the reminder that children need Jesus, this quote struck me in a new way. It is true that the concept of sin has, in large part, disappeared from our society. Most wrong acts are explained away as justifiable due to stress, a temporary mental break from reality, or the result of a bad childhood. While we should understand what might influence our behavior, we must not retreat from acknowledging sin as sin. This is true in society as a whole, but it is also true in our families.

When we talk about children being sinful and needing Jesus, we're not talking simply about childlike behavior that will most likely disappear as the child matures. As Menninger writes, "Standing on one's head is nonconforming, and it is neither aesthetic nor congenial behavior nor expressive of a moral ideal, but it is not likely to be considered sinful. Sin has a willful, defiant, or disloyal quality..." (p. 19). When would a child standing on his head become sinful? When it has been prohibited by his mother or father or any delegated authority that may have charge over him (e.g.- a teacher). 'Kids will be kids' is true about many things, but we must not explain away sinful behavior with such a phrase. Their sin is just as real as ours, and if we teach them to explain it away, we will be creating a harmful pattern.

DISCLAIMER: The following is not meant to portray parental perfection in the author...far from it. It is quite simple to write about the right things we ought to do as parents, and it is a different story once the laptop is shut and the screams of sibling rivalry descend the stairs. So, read on with that in mind.

Imagine this. Sally is 6 years old, Katie is 4 years old, and these two girls are sisters. Both girls are quietly reading books in their room. Sally is working through a book about Clifford the big red dog, and Katie has a pop-up book about dinosaurs in her lap. Because Katie can't really read, she's finished with her book before Sally is. Katie looks at the Clifford book and thinks, "I want to read that one next." So, she stands up, walks over to Sally, grabs the book, and begins a session of tug-of-war until she finally has what she wants. Sally wasn't through with the book, but that didn't matter...Katie wanted it, and she wanted it now. Sally immediately gets angry, lets out a blood-curdling scream, and says, "Give that back. You are the meanest sister ever! MOM!!!!" Mom comes into the room and begins the work of trying to understand what exactly happened so she can respond appropriately.

Let's say that Katie admits she wanted the book so badly that she decided to go take it from her sister. And...let's say that Sally admits to her angry words toward Katie. How do you deal with it? Do you just say "kids will be kids"? Do you laugh it off and quickly update your Facebook status with a smiley face? Would your main concern be getting the book back to Sally, since she had it first? Then, would you just try to get Katie interested in something else so another 'border skirmish' doesn't break out?

I want to suggest that in order to respond correctly, we have to diagnose the problem correctly. Now, look underneath the behavior. We'll deal with behavior, but simply changing behavior is not the goal. Our target is their hearts. So, what's underneath the girls' behavior? (1) Katie eagerly wanted the book that her sister had...she coveted her sister's book. Katie disregarded the fact that her sister was happy and regarded her own happiness as more important...she was prideful and selfish. Katie stole the book from her sister. (2) When wronged by her sister, Sally immediately felt anger, wrath, and malice toward her sister. She apparently expected to be left alone with her book, and when her expectations weren't met, she blew up like a volcano. Sally also spoke to Katie in a way that revealed that her "tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness" (James 3:6).

When you look beyond behavior to motive and heart attitudes, then we can see and properly diagnose the sin. We can't just laugh it off or say 'kids will be kids.' Of course, one may immediately object, "The girls don't know they did all that! Their just 6 and 4." Well, that's why we need to teach them and correct them and discipline them. It seems to me that if we are going to evangelize and disciple our children, then they must see their sin and their need of a Savior. Teaching our children the principle that all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) is truly important. However, principle meets reality when we say, "Sally, you did this, but the Bible says that. Sally, you sinned against God when you did that to your sister."

Where do we go from this diagnosis? From here, it is important to emphasize that our sin makes God angry. He is not simply sad that we chose to disobey...He is angry. It is our sin that makes God our enemy. He hates sin. However, God is so merciful and gracious that He sent Jesus Christ. Jesus was the only person who ever made God happy in the way He lived. Mommy can't do it, Daddy can't do it, and you can't do it. Even though we may try as hard as we can to be good, we just can't please God by ourselves. When Jesus died on the cross, God's anger against sin was satisfied, and sin was fully punished. So, whoever turns away from their sin and hates their sin and trusts in Jesus and His death, that person won't be punished for our sin. Don't let that be the end, though...make sure to tell Sally or Katie or [insert child's name here] that they must turn from their sin and trust in Jesus, or else they will be punished for their sin by God.

Someone once mentioned to me that they didn't think a 6-year-old could really understand salvation because they really didn't have anything for which they needed forgiveness. If we, as parents, are consistently pointing to sinful behaviors and attitudes in our children as 'sin,' then this may be remedied. By God's grace, our children will begin to feel the weight of their own sinfulness as we continue to help them see their sin. By God's grace, they will begin to feel their need for a Savior. By God's grace, they will turn from their sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. By God's grace, the gospel will permeate and be at the center of all our parenting.