Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity for Greatness

Think of someone who is currently living who you consider great. Each person reading this might think of a different answer, but if they were shared, others would probably be in agreement on many of the names. However, the problem is my request is very ambiguous – it left you to determine what constituted as great.

Therefore, some may have chosen a great orator, or author, or actor, or singer, or artist, or ballplayer because greatness could be considered by what someone does and how well they do it. On the other hand, some might consider a friend or family member great because of who they are, not because of what they do.

And, of course, if we expanded this thought beyond the living, we might think of people who have been great in history in any number of ways as well. But, again, if we leave the definition of greatness to our own understanding, might we miss something important.

Such was the case for the disciples of Jesus day, and such is the case for most of us today as well. At some level, simply because we are human, we allow a faulty, or at least misdirected understanding of greatness to influence our thinking. We are often reminded of what true greatness is when we hear of some sort of heroic act, but we quickly revert into our own thinking until another hero emerges.

In our passage today, this contrast of perceived greatness versus true greatness could not be any more distinct. Let us look at the next several verses as we continue to march our way through Mark.

True greatness includes sharing with others. (Mark 10.32-34)

The disciples have been journeying toward Jerusalem, but now they are getting close because Mark mentions they are going up. Next week, we will see they make it to Jericho, and to then get to Jerusalem they will go up some 3300 feet. Jericho is only about 10 miles from the Dead Sea which is the lowest place on earth at about 1400 feet below sea level. So although they will be travelling southwest towards Jerusalem, they will be going UP!

As they travel, some with Jesus are amazed and others are afraid. In the English this is difficult to know if this is one mixed group or two distinct groups. The Greek makes it a little more clear and the idea is that the disciples seem to be amazed and others are in fear. This may have to do with what Jesus had just taught on the Kingdom (Mark 10.1-31 on divorce, family, and possessions), but it certainly would apply to what Jesus was about to teach again.

In verse 33, Jesus pulls aside the disciples to explain one more time why they are going to Jerusalem. It is His destiny. And they can accept that because He is Messiah. But they keep missing the truth of what He is saying.  He is not going to conquer the Romans or overthrow the religious elite, He is going to be killed by them. Next week, we will come back and review this part of the passage in more detail as we look at the response of Bartimaeus.

For now, let us understand that as Jesus shares what His followers can expect, we can surmise that people would have received this information differently – just as we do with various topics today. Some will ignore, some will embrace, some will argue, etc.  Again, the preceding verse reveals that the Twelve and the others following had a different response to the teaching which had just occurred (amazed verses afraid), so their reaction to Jesus’ reminder of what was to come would cause different reactions as well.

Everything that Jesus preached and taught was foreign to everyone who heard it. What He was preaching was – CHANGE, and we all know much that word is appreciated. And it was the changes He preached which would get Him killed. But Jesus wanted His followers to know the truth – to not be caught off guard. And so, this is the third time He has made a similar statement as to what was coming. Next week, we will compare these statements. For now, we move to the next portion of today’s passage.

Perceived greatness inspires schemes against others. (35-41)

Have you every plotted or planned for your advantage? Sure. The truth is we learn to do this in elementary school if not before. Sometimes the schemes can be relatively harmless, but other times, they can be extremely harmful – to others, and even to ourselves.

The story in these verses is one I preached a few years ago from Matthew’s version which reveals it is the mother of James and John who comes. But as I have said before, Peter is likely the one giving Mark details and he may remember it merely as James and John. This doesn’t mean the Bible contradicts itself, it simply means that the perspective is slightly different. What is important here is the request itself. Whomever may have made it – again according to Mark it was James and John, the request is what is outlandish. (Read verse 35.) Basically, before they ask a question, they scheme for the result. “Jesus, we want you to give us whatever we want.”

Do we do the same? “God, please do such and such. Please help so and so.” And just to make sure to get His attention we add, “In Jesus name. Amen.” The writer of Hebrews says that we can (and should) boldly approach the throne of grace. But Paul wrote in Romans that we should not dishonor grace, and continually praying for our desires – not God’s – can quickly approach, if not cross, that threshold.

Think of it this way. James and John are asking for a blank check. So, consider the following. What if:
  • I gave you a blank check, what would you do? You might write it for a little bit, but would be concerned that a higher amount might bounce. (Good thinking, by the way.)
  • Bill Gates or Warren Buffet gave you a blank check? You would probably be more bold in the amount, but you might still be a little cautious so as not to make them think you are greedy.
  • God gave you a blank check? Would you show any restraint? Or simply ask for the world?

Asking God for a blank check is exactly what James and John are doing – but that is part of the problem, they are asking for what they understand from the perspective of the world. Their motives are wrong here, but thankfully, for their sake (and even for ours), they did come around!

Their request is really a sort of prayer. But what a foolish prayer. I am sure they would learn over time how foolish the request was, just as we sometimes become thankful that God does not answer us in our foolishness. However, in what might be the most astonishing part of the story, Jesus does not say, “No.” He asks them what they want Him to do. Jesus can ask this in full assurance because we cannot thwart God’s plans with our schemes.
  • If our desires are God’s desires it will happen. (See Psalm 37.4; John 14.13-14)
  • If not, it won’t happen.

In fact, in this case the request cannot be granted because Jesus says it is not under His purview to grant this request. How must James and John felt at this point? They had just cashed in all of their chips, and the result was nothing. They thought entering into Jerusalem meant Jesus would be king and they would be in positions of power. But Jesus had already revealed His true purpose for going. Instead of power they would face persecution, which is the essence of Jesus question: “You are asking to be great when everything appears favorable, but will you stand beside me when the persecutions come?” (paraphrased).

The answer comes back with a, “Yes.” But they both fled when Jesus was arrested in the garden. Thankfully, in the long term both were great leaders in the early church. And they did prove themselves worthy through persecutions (with James being killed as recorded in Acts 11).

One more thought before we move to our third point. Remember in Mark 9.34, the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest. This argument took place just after James, John, and Peter came down from the mountain with Jesus to a demon-possessed boy that the other disciples were unable to heal. I would guess that the argument at that time was probably the three disciples against the other nine. But last week we saw Peter stand up to make sure Jesus didn’t forget about him and what he had given up to follow, and now we see James and John making their appeal for supremacy among the group. And when the other disciples, including Peter, discovered this little scheme, they were mad (v. 41)! I just wonder if their anger was at James and John or at themselves probably thinking to themselves, “Why didn’t we think of that first?”

True greatness involves serving others. (42-45)

We now come to Jesus’ clarification on what James and John and the rest thought they wanted. Jesus compares the way greatness is considered in the world to what true greatness is. The world views greatness through the lens of power, money, the number of fans, the number of likes or follows on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But, in that day, greatness was often defined by power, and the disciples thought they were going to have power with Jesus. The problem was the rulers of that day were brutal, tyrannical, and oppressive. Jesus sternly says that His disciples will not be like that (v. 43). Rather than the typical ruler, they would be kind, loving, and empowering. How? By being a slave to others. That is, serving others, just as Jesus had come to serve. Jesus example was far different than what James & John observed as greatness in the world – power, money, etc.

Honestly, we can sympathize with the disciples because was Jesus on His way to Jerusalem. He admitted that He was the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi, and the Messianic expectations were for God’s anointed one to sit on the throne in Jerusalem when He came. Well, the Messiah was there – in that moment, heading to Jerusalem, so NOW is the time – or so they thought. But the disciples based their request on what they knew to be true. Jesus based His response on what is actually true.

This passage closes with one more verse. Jesus just shared what was about happen to Him – and now He shares the reason why in verse 45 – to serve others and to pay the ransom for others. This verse has led to an entire theory on why Jesus had to come. It is called The Ransom Theory which basically states that Satan set the price for the people to be set free from bondage, and that price was Jesus.

If that is true it is not found in Scripture. Furthermore, I would show that in Genesis 3.15, God reveals that the seed of the woman (that is, Jesus) will crush the serpent’s head (i.e. Satan). So, it was God’s plan all along that Satan would be destroyed. Thus, Satan cannot make these demands of an Almighty God. Jesus did ransom us, paying a price we could not pay for ourselves. That is His greatest service to us, and that is why we must choose to serve Him – in giving thanks for what He has done for us.


Think back to your answer to my opening question of someone who is great. Now, let me add a little to that question. Who is the greatest servant you know? Or knew? For some of you the answer could be the same, but for most all of us, the greatest servant is more fondly remembered than whomever else was in our mind. Why? Mainly because it is personal. I realize someone might say Mother Teresa or someone like that, but our first thought is probably someone that has served us or someone that we have served alongside at some point.

This idea of servanthood, like we have just seen, is what makes Jesus so great.  Again, He not only asked people to serve, He invites them to serve. He equips them to serve. And He does so, having set the example of what it truly means to be a servant.


That’s why our JOURNEY letter for today is: J – Jesus.

If we want what Jesus offers, we should follow Jesus’ example – in the church, for the church, and ultimately for the Kingdom.

OPPORTUNITY: Give God a/another blank check on your life, and watch how you grow as you serve Him.

Let me encourage you by being brutally honest. It is hard to give a blank check. It is hard because we do not trust. But should that be true about God? I have given God a blank check before. But sometimes I pull it back or ask Him to hold on a little bit longer fearing that if He seeks to cash it in, I might not be able to cover what He wants. Again, that is not trusting God. God made me. God knows me. God wants what is best for me. Why? Because He loves me. He is not going to cash in a check for more than I can handle. He might write it for more than I have right now, but that is how He stretches me and helps me to grow. But He won’t take the check to the bank with that amount on it until I have made it that far. And then, He will ask for another blank check. And another. And another. But again, everything I am is because of Him and it is only when I lose sight of that fact, that I am hesitant to give over a blank check.

And the truth is, if we are unwilling to give God a blank check, then we don't trust Him, which is actually a reflection on our faith. After all, faith is trust.


Learn how you might best serve Him (in this church, in the Kingdom).
Live expecting God to use your service for His glory.
Love for others, for yourself, and especially for God grows when we serve without false motives.
Lead others by inviting them to serve alongside you (just as Jesus did).

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"Am I a Servant?", A Closer Look by Rick Sons

If you knew in great detail that you were going to be taken against your will, tortured, beaten beyond recognition, and then killed, what would you be doing? Would you be concerned with yourself or others? Jesus knew in detail exactly what would happen and still His concern was not for himself but for others, (us, you and me). Jesus says in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus came to serve, to be a servant.

What images come to your mind when you hear the word “servant?” Perhaps you envision the waiter or waitress at your favorite restaurant. Maybe you think of the mechanic that you’ve built a relationship with through years of broken cars. Some may even think of their mother who worked tirelessly to care for her family.

When I hear the word “servant,” I think of myself in Law Enforcement. I am here to serve the public and to do what is best for them without regard for my safety or my opinion. (To Serve and Protect.) These are not just words but an unbendable set of rules to live by. Countless times I have had to tolerate a thorough chewing-out over the actions I have taken. Countless times I have had to bite my tongue and not speak. Countless times I have had to give in when I knew I was in the right. I know this is hard to believe for those of you who know me. Many of you think I live by the motto, “I have the right to remain silent, just not the ability.”

Another image that comes to mind by the title “servant” is “minister.” The word is derived from a Latin term meaning “servant” or “minor.” The Bible talks candidly about the minister’s primary role of serving others. Again the question comes up, how do we know a true servant from a false one? Is it by their actions, the way they speak, their title, or the expectations we have of them?

So what is a servant? A servant is one who surrenders what’s best for himself.

Jesus had once again told his disciples that he was going to die and in a most gruesome way. Hearing this, James and John try to place themselves in a good position. They were anticipating all of Jerusalem bowing before Jesus and paying Him honor; instead they bowed before Him mockingly and spit upon Him. They were anticipating a crown of gold; instead He received a crown of thorns. They were anticipating a throne; instead He received a cross. They were anticipating sitting at his right and left; instead criminals were hung there. James and John did not know what it meant to be a servant.

Jesus was choosing to suffer unjustly for the sake of the Gospel. A servant will allow others to treat him unfairly for the sake of Christ (1 Peter 4:12-19). He will not instinctively defend himself but will serve others without expectation of reward. So why would a servant relinquish what’s best for himself? It’s not that a servant seeks last place by bowing down but that he wishes others to receive first place and promotes them over himself.

What does the Bible say about being a servant?

The Bible has a great deal to say about servanthood because the central theme of the Bible is the Servant of all—Jesus Christ. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

1.  When we give Jesus Christ His rightful place as Lord of our lives, His lordship will be expressed in the way we serve others (Mark 9:35; 1 Peter 4:10; John 15:12-13).

2.  How do we demonstrate love for God? Our love for God will be expressed in our love for others.

3.  “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

True leadership is servanthood and the greatest leader of all time is Jesus.

Being a servant is an attitude exemplified by Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7).

The five words in the New Testament translated “ministry” generally refer to servanthood or service given in love. Serving others is the very essence of ministry. All believers are called to ministry (Matthew 28:18-20); therefore, we are all called to be servants for the glory of God. To do this we need the heart of a servant.

The Heart of a Servant

Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The apostle Paul added to this focus when he wrote, “Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but the interests of others as well” (Philippians 2:4). Pointing to the Savior as our great example, he quickly added, “You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had.”

Do you have a servant’s heart? Has God blessed you with the insight to see the needs of others and reach out in compassion and understanding even when they cannot reach out and ask for help?

If so, you must first humble yourself before the Lord and let His will take precedence over your circumstances, your emotions, your finances, and your actions. It doesn’t matter what you own, how much money you have in the bank, how talented or educated you are, or how many people you know. If God calls you to have a servant’s heart, He will make a way for you to accomplish what He has put on your heart to do.

A servant’s heart has more to do with your relationship with God than it has to do with your desire to be recognized for your good deeds. It’s showing your love to another human being by simply being who God intended you to be. It’s about making yourself uncomfortable so that someone else could be comfortable.

So how do you become a servant?


This is the first step in becoming a successful servant. You must have a mentality that says, “My purpose on this earth is to serve God.” You must realize that God is in charge. You must realize your position in life. You must change your way of thinking from “me-centered” thinking to “Him-centered” thinking. This world does not revolve around you. Everything that happens in the world is not about you. You are here to serve God – not the other way around. 

2.  Have a DETERMINATION to serve.

It is not enough just to have a servant’s mentality – you must be determined to serve. You must be determined to help. If you want to be a successful servant of God you must develop a determination to be of help. Give of your time. Give of your energy. Give of your resources. Give of yourself. The scripture says, “God loves a cheerful giver.”

Types of givers:

a.  Those who give because they can. They have abundance and they give out of their abundance.

b.  Those who are able to give, but don’t. They have the enough to give yet for whatever reason they don’t give. Perhaps it is because they have not taken the first step of a servant. They still have a “me-centered” mentality – rather than a Christ-centered mentality.

c.  Those givers who have very little but give of what they have. They give sacrificially.

3.  Commit to FOLLOWING GOD.

Every one of us is following someone or something. Some of us listen to friends’ advice. Other’s listen to the opinions of the so-called “experts.” Some of us follow family customs or perhaps the accepted social norm. All of us follow something. We need to commit to following God.

4.  Start serving WHERE YOU ARE.

Many people are waiting for the right time and the right place to start serving. Let me tell you, the right time to serve is now. The right place to serve is where you are. The minute you start meeting the needs around you, you become a servant.

Real servants think like stewards, not owners. They remember God owns it all. In the Bible, a steward was a servant entrusted to manage an estate. We all need to be servants, caring and being good stewards of all God has entrusted us with. Change your thinking from me to Him.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity for Eternal Blessing

Some who read this post will be familiar with the game show Let’s Make a Deal. The premise of the game is that you have something – and you know the value. And you have the choice to keep what you have or trade it for what is unknown. What is unknown may be of great value or it may be worthy virtually nothing. That is the point of the game. But one important aspect is that what you trade was never really yours. It is given to you by the host, and you may keep the original gift or trade it for more. Ultimately, you win either way – it is just a matter of perspective.

In our message today, we see the same thing. In fact, we see the same thing this week that we have been reviewing for the last couple of months, and in some ways, since we started this series in April. The key to understanding Jesus is to change our perspective – from what the world thinks and believes to what God has revealed to us.

In this passage the focus is on eternal life. Jesus teaching reflects a different understanding to those who were listening that day. I hope at the end of this message, His teaching will make a difference to those here on this day.

Eternal life requires a distinct sacrifice.  vv. 17-22. My sacrifice not be the same as yours.

The first part of today’s passage is headlined in your Bible by the words The Rich Young Man or something like that. Verse 17 reveals that this is a man. Verse 22 indicates he had great wealth. It is from Matthew’s account that we learn he was young (Matthew 19.22). From Luke we learn this man is a ruler (Luke 18.18).

As Jesus resumes His journey toward Jerusalem, this man runs up and kneels before Jesus, calling Him a good teacher. A great deal of debate exists if the man was trying to flatter Jesus (which would require a return of flattery) or truly respected Jesus. This story seems to indicate that this was true respect because Jesus did not rebuke the man (as He often did the Pharisees or others who were hypocrites). Instead of rebuke, notice what Jesus does do.

1) He focuses on the man’s understanding of “good.” In Judaism, it is believed that one could be good in relation to another, but no one would call a man of God good (like a rabbi) because that could be considered heresy – Only God is good. So Jesus’ question in verse 18 is basically this: “You believe God is good, and you call me good, therefore do you believe that I am God – or, at least, that I have been sent by Him?”

2) Jesus listed the commandments from Tablet 2. These commandments are how we are to relate to others, but in essence wealth was this man’s idol, so Jesus covers all but the Sabbath in this list. And these commandments are not just any commandments, but they are given by the God who is “good.”

A close look reveals one commandment that is not in the Decalogue – “do not defraud.” Why would Jesus say this? Well, this man is wealthy, so he may not covet as we consider coveting, and Matthew’s mention that he is young means he may never have had to covet. However, and this is where Luke’s mention of being a ruler is important, a ruler might defraud people. And committing fraud is, in essence, coveting.

We should also note that the man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus answers by giving the man a list of dos and do nots. This is not because we must earn our faith. Rather, these commands are because we have faith. In God’s Kingdom, such behavior is expected. Those who have God as King will live by these laws; those that follow the enemy will not.

One further point to make this clear. What must you do to inherit something from someone? Nothing, right? You simply must be included as an heir which means you know the person, and are likely related. The same is true for eternal life. Children of God inherit this life, not by what we do, but by Who we know!

3) Jesus said this man lacked one thing. The man had great wealth, but what He lacked was the willingness to trust in God. This man’s trust – his idol – was his wealth. The only way this man could find the eternal life he sought, was to abandon the temporal security he thought he had.

This man did not just have wealth, he had great wealth (v. 22). The wording here relates to property (real estate). So Jesus said to sell it, give to the poor, and follow Me.” By doing this, the man would have treasure in heaven.

Before we look at the man’s reaction, let us make sure we understand that God does not ask everyone to give up everything. He does ask that we be willing to do so. Like the birds of the air and flowers in the field in Matthew 6, we need to trust in God’s provision. From some people, God may require everything. For instance, in Acts 4, Barnabas sold a field and gave the money to the disciples (though we do not know if he owned other property). In the following verses of Acts 5 a married couple sell their property and withhold some of the money for themselves. Both the husband and wife are killed by the Holy Spirit – not because they didn’t give all of the money, but because they lied saying they had (which is clear in the story).

The point is that Jesus will ask us to sacrifice anything that we will put between us and Him. The request is distinctive to each person. But what He offers is not hidden from us like on Let’s Make a Deal. It is only not fully revealed. The difference is that if we can trust God in this life and know He is good, what stops us from thinking that His promises in the age to come will not be just as good, or better (moth will not destroy and thief will not steal).

The sad reality is that this man would not make the deal. He called Jesus a good teacher, but did not trust Him enough to believe that the offer before Him was better than what he currently had. He believed God’s commandments were good enough to keep, but not that God was good enough to fulfill even better promises. This verse has been called the saddest verse in the Bible. Many people may not follow Jesus, but this man desired what God offered – just not enough to make the necessary changes.

Eternal life requires a divine solution.  vv. 23-27. But God. Only God can make the impossible possible.

Reggie covered the majority of this section. So, let me just clarify a couple of thoughts.

Again, Jesus does not say that a rich person cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Nor does Jesus say that all poor people will enter the Kingdom of God. He is simply talking about the contrast between trusting in riches for Kingdom entry to what is truly needed.

The people of Israel at that time understood that God provided material blessings to those who are faithful. Thus, if someone had wealth, they were faithful to God, and thus were a part of God’s Kingdom. But Jesus says that isn’t so – and uses a metaphor of the largest animal in Palestine (the camel) with the small opening of a needle. (Click here for more thoughts about this metaphor.) All attempts to reduce the magnitude of the difference in sizes completely misses the point. The point is that a camel cannot go through a needle. Nor can a rich person enter the Kingdom because they are rich.

Now we begin to justify ourselves by saying well, I am not rich. But that misses the point too. For we are rich. Compared to others around the world? Yes. How about compared to those who lived in Jesus’ day? Yes. But again, arguing over the definition of rich is distracting to the issue at hand. What Jesus is saying – truly about anyone, but especially those who trust in their money – is that eternal life is only possible from God. This is a true “But God” thought. It is God who makes the impossible possible. God is the one who truly works miracles. Jesus is essentially telling the disciples, “You have seen God work miracles to heal the sick, cast out demons, feed the people, etc. Well, the greatest miracle is providing eternal life to those who cannot bring it about themselves.” Eternal life is not achieved by humanity, it is received from Divinity.

And, in this moment, we see Peter jump up to make sure that Jesus knows they (he and his comrades) gave up everything to follow Jesus. But did they (or he)?
  • Peter’s mother-in-law’s house may have been Peter’s primary residence in Capernaum.
  • It is likely that Peter (or another disciple) still had a boat. (Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee on someone’s boat.)
  • Peter returned to fishing after Jesus’ death (John 21).

My point here is not what Peter didn’t give up, other than to note that we all tend to think we give up more for Jesus than we really do!

However, we must admit that Peter and the others did give up some, if not a lot, if not everything. But again, Jesus shows that giving up things on earth leads to something better if we have a Kingdom-perspective.

Eternal life requires a different structure.  vv. 28-31. Specifically, family structure.

Our world revolves around certain systems and structures. One structure that has been evident since almost the very beginning of time is that of family. God revealed His design for family in Genesis 2, which I referenced last week. But Jesus brought about a different understanding of family, and we saw evidence of this in Mark 3.35.  In the last verses for this message today, He unpacks His understanding a little more. I want to focus on three main ideas here. The relationships, the purpose, and the timing. I will begin with purpose, then timing, before concluding with the relational aspect.

The Purpose. Notice the context of Jesus explanation contains a few key words at the end of verse 29. Those words are “for my sake and for the gospel.” The implication is straight forward. Many people give up many things for many reasons. In the context of Kingdom-living and eternal life, none of it matters, and this promise does not hold, unless the sacrifices made are for Jesus and the good news of the Kingdom of God made available by God through Christ! Remember the rich man from verses 17-22 wanted this, but was not willing to make the necessary sacrifice. Peter indicates they have made the sacrifice and wants to make sure Jesus has not forgotten. We might ask – Was Peter reminding Jesus to make sure he (Peter) didn’t miss out on God’s promise? If so, then was Peter’s sacrifice of “everything” really about Jesus or about Peter?

The Timing. In verse 30, Jesus says “in this time…and in the age to come…” The certainty of our blessings is not in this life, they are in the age to come. But Jesus says we will receive 100-fold blessings in this life as well. This is not Let’s Make a Deal where we don’t know if the gift will be worth it, this is Jesus promising that the trade you make is certain to be better!

But “better” will be measured by perspective. Too many people in our culture (including Christians) consider blessings in the form of money. First-century Jews may not have considered wealth exclusively as God’s blessing; however, as we saw in the second portion of this week’s passage, the thought that the wealthy already had God’s approval for the Kingdom was the prevalent understanding of the day.

So, Jesus promised blessing in this life – and in the age to come. This is the truth of God’s Kingdom. It is not about this life, it is not about the next life. It is about life with God eternally – now and through the future. But let’s take a moment to focus on what Jesus did promise as a blessing – a different understanding of relationships.

The Relationships. I have just mentioned the timing of the blessings, and that the primary blessings are relational. The key is understanding the relationships in both spheres. So give me a moment to try to clarify this for you.

In verse 29, Jesus lists relationships that may be sacrificed – again for Jesus and the gospel. In verse 30, Jesus shares what will be gained. I know houses and lands are mentioned in both, and that is important, but I want to focus on the relational here. Here is the list:

Obviously, “Fathers” is missing in verse 30. Why? Well, because God is not only the King of the Kingdom, but He is our Father – singular. We call fellow Christians brothers and sisters, and depending upon our ages, we have those who mother us as children, but we all belong to the same Father. We do not get new fathers, we are now children of the one true Father.

One other observation should be noted, the husband nor wife are not listed in either verse. Recall last week, the message was partly on divorce. We have but one husband and wife before God, and according to Jesus teaching, we are not to give that up. (If you missed the message, website or blog). Furthermore, we do not get new husbands or wives in the Kingdom. Just as God is our Father, Jesus is our groom and we, the Church, are the Bride.

Again, a new structure is in place. All believers are children of God. All believers make up the Bride of Christ. And those believers who have been outcasts are now princes and princesses of the King in His Kingdom. Yet, many who think they have everything now, will be left with nothing. Thus, as verse 31 concludes this portion – “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Hopefully, by now, over the course of this study, we all understand how much different Jesus’ mindset is from those in His day. In the last two weeks, we have seen how God views marriage and children and now possessions and family. But notice the prevailing theme in this passage is eternal life and the Kingdom of God.

We must understand that we often have a faulty understanding as well. For instance, most Christians in our day discuss the idea of going to heaven. But, and I have mentioned this before, the Bible talks of the Kingdom coming to us and our entering the Kingdom, not heaven. Notice the question of the young man – it was about eternal life. When he walked away, he was not walking away from eternal life later, he gave it up now. As for Jesus’ focus, He mentions the Kingdom of God three times in verses 23-25. Jesus does meantion heaven in verse 21, but this is the first time He has spoken the word in Mark.(He will use the term many more times, including the statement that heaven will pass away in Mark 13.31).

For Jesus, the idea is never about heaven, it is about God’s Kingdom. In fact, that was the message He preached from the very beginning (Mark 1.15). (I know that Matthew uses “Kingdom of heaven” instead of “of God” but that is because a Jew would not say the word God – see Mark 8.11 for an example in Mark.) The understanding of going to heaven came about in the Middle Ages, it was not Jesus primary thought. So like the people of Jesus time, we need to determine if we are going to follow the devices of man or follow the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus teaches about the Kingdom because wherever God is King, there is His Kingdom – on earth, as it is in heaven. All of those who are waiting to go to heaven are missing what Jesus is offering – in this life, and in the age to come. That is the term Jesus uses – in the age to come. Notice that term in verse 30 – in the age to come – not the place to go (or come). Eternal life is about receiving the blessings of God from this time forth. To wait until later means two things:

1) You miss on what God has for you now.
2) You can’t give to others what God wants to give through you now.

You may not agree with me, but Jesus words are my source. Just like Jesus’ teachings were not accepted because they went against the grain of centuries of teaching in His day, so my words – though I am using the Bible as my source – will not be accepted. Some may even say that I am twisting Scripture, but let me prove my point with one further example – John 3.16.
The promise is to have “everlasting life” or “eternal life” depending on the translation. The verse does not end in “go to heaven.” However, the reality is that many people would rather focus on heaven, than focus on God. That is idolatry. As I have said countless times, I don’t care where I am after this life as long as it is with Jesus. If Jesus said heaven will pass away, then He won’t be there (at least in the current heaven), and I don’t want to be there either.

Again, we have a choice. Do we listen to Jesus even if it goes against what we think is true? The rich man at the beginning of our story did not trust Jesus – He trusted in himself and his possessions. And he walked away sad. We need to listen, to study, and to honor Jesus – not allow our pride to get in the way of finding the truth.

And that leads to our JOURNEY letter for this week.


The JOURNEY letter for today is: R – Revere.

Revering Jesus means putting, and keeping Him, in the proper place. When we are able to do this, we are truly ready to carry out the opportunity that is set before us this week.

OPPORTUNITY: Be thankful for the blessings you have been given. But realize eternal blessings await all who are willing to sacrifice their desires and follow Jesus instead. When we do this, we not only find ourselves being blessed by God, but we find ourselves able to, and desiring to, bless others as well.

Learn to embrace a Kingdom-perspective over a church or a personal one. (Matthew 6.33)
Live with an eternal mind-set rather than being anxious about the day. (Matthew 6.25-32)
Love others because they are a part of God’s blessing to you. (Mark 10.30)
Lead others to change their mind about heaven and to focus instead on God and His Kingdom (Mark 1.15).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"Camel Through the Eye of a Needle", A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

Key Scripture: Mark 10:23-25

“And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” – Mark 10:23-25 (Synoptic parallels in Matthew 19 and Luke 18.)

When one reads Mark 10:17-31, I believe they almost immediately turn their focus to verse 25, overlooking the meaning of the others. Let’s consider the previous verses.

The statement Jesus made in verse 23 was very much in opposition to the Jewish attitude toward riches. Predominately, the Jewish view was that riches were an indication of divine favor and a reward for piety. The rich were highly looked upon, elevated in society in comparison to the poor who were of little value. But it is just the opposite with God.

Getting back to verse 25, one would immediately agree it would impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Let’s look at some thoughts on this phrase:

1. Maybe the Greek is mangled.

There are some differences in the transmitted Greek. The needle in Matthew and Mark is a rafic. In Luke it is a balone. Both are synonyms for needles used in sewing, but Luke’s is more likely to be used by a surgeon than a seamstress.

2. Maybe there is a possibility of a Greek misprint.

The Greek word kamelos (cable or rope) may have been misprinted as kamilos (camel). It would certainly be easier to thread a needle with a rope.

3. Maybe it makes sense in Aramaic.

Another alternative view is that the Aramaic word gamla means rope and camel, possibly because ropes were made from camel hair.

4. A flawed explanation goes like this:

Christ wasn’t referring to the eye of a literal needle, He was talking about a narrow entrance in the city of Jerusalem, a gate known locally as the “Eye of the Needle.” This gate was so small that the camel could only be brought through with great difficulty, squeezed through on its knees, which depicts how we humbly come to the Lord. The flaw is that there is no evidence that such a gate ever existed. Also, a person with common sense would never have attempted to force a camel through a small gate when they could have entered through a larger gate.

The true meaning is that a rich man cannot get to heaven unless he is willing to part with his worldly wealth and humble himself, like a camel kneeling to go through the eye of a needle. If one of the language explanations is true, then a rich man but be loosed and disentangled from his riches, just like a rope must be unraveled to one thread to go through the eye of a needle.

Do not overlook verse 24:

“And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!”

As we saw last week, simply put, children do not have to become adults to be saved; adults have to become like children. Jesus is commending a spirit of humility, dependence, and deference – virtues which are common in children and essential for following Christ.

Don’t miss the opportunity to enter heaven.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"Follow Me"...As a Family

The following post is mostly in outline form. I used the idea of a ballot when I preached what is represented here. Thus, the format (and the font)for this week is a bit different. Because of this site's restrictions on some formatting, the layout is not as reader-friendly as I might have hoped. Hopefully, you find it easy to follow.

This past week America had to choose between various visions for this country. Two particular candidates received much of the attention and presented a contrast on how America should move forward. By nearly all accounts the choice was a surprise to most of the so-called experts. It has been said the people have spoken and they are tired of the same, they want real change. But what we don’t know yet, is whether the change to come will indeed be positive. Furthermore, we do cannot know yet, exactly how, or if, God will be honored by the choice made.

Jesus came to die, but His life presented a contrast to what the people of Israel knew. They, too, wanted change, but they had no rights to vote. Or did they? While the election was of a different nature, the people did have to make a choice (cast a vote, so to speak) for Jesus or for the status quo. What is most interesting about this choice is that Jesus played the part of a major underdog, but for the people of that day, and the people of all days before or since, it was only Jesus being victorious that could truly bring hope.

And rest assured, the contrast Jesus offered was great. It required a very different way of living which would demand a different way of thinking. As we have seen in this study so far, not everyone liked Jesus nor the option He provided, in part, because it undermined their leadership. Today, we look at two more contrasts of following Jesus or following the world. At the end, I will ask you to cast your vote.


ISSUE: Is divorce acceptable? If so, under what conditions?

FACTS (no spin):
1. The Pharisees do not like Jesus.
  a. They believe He is leading people astray.
  b. They offer a test. (Really this is a trap).
    i. A Win-Win Scenario for Pharisees (so they thought) because Jesus answer would either:
      a) Be at odds with other rabbis and they could discredit Him OR (BETTER YET)
      b) Jesus could be arrested.
    ii. Jesus is in Judea near the Jordan. This is where John the Baptizer’s ministry took place. Remember what happened to him (read Mark 6.18)?

2. Divorce was acceptable, only the reasons were debated.
  a. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
    i. Statement
    ii. Reasons
      a) Depended on the rabbi – Shammai (adultery), Hillel (anything)
        1. Failure in household duties – burnt food (actual case)
        2. Not as pleasing to look at as another
      b) Jesus did give a possible reason in Matthew 5.32 (infidelity)
        1. Rabbis demanded divorce in this situation
        2. Jesus allowed for it
    iii. How
      a) Give a certificate (see point 3)
      b) Man could divorce wife, wife divorce husband
        1. Herodias, exception
        2. In rare circumstances and wife could ask the judge to force the husband to divorce

3. Moses Did Allow For Divorce
  a. What did Moses command?
    i. Deuteronomy 24.1-3
    ii. Moses did not command, he allowed
      a) Pharisees admit – they just fell into their own trap
      b) Allowance was due to hardened hearts
        1. Was not permission to divorce, it was to regulate it
        2. Purpose was to protect women in event of divorce
          a. A certificate was to be given
          b. Showed woman was divorced

4. From the beginning (Contrast – God’s design predates Moses and should be honored)
  a. Genesis 1.27 – man and woman are equal
    i. Jews and Christians use the created order to establish hierarchy
    ii. Jesus shows God gives co-dominion to both
  b. Genesis 2.24 – man leaves and the two become one
    i. What God has brought together, let no man separate
    ii. Just as God cannot be separated – 3-in-1
  c. Divorce may legally unbind two people, but it morally unbind two people

CENTRAL IDEA: Man’s Law or God’s Design

Which do you choose? Man’s law or God’s design? Hold that thought because of the fine print.

FINE PRINT: Further teaching in the house: Read Mark 10.11-12. Jesus’ teaching requires great obedience.

Divorce usually leads to adultery. If someone is married and gets divorced and then remarries, then they are committing adultery. This is true for the male or the female. (Women remarrying were rare, but Mark’s audience was Roman where this was more prevalent, and thus the inclusion.)

PLAIN LANGUAGE: Jewish law gave man control over the marriage, Jesus gave God control over the marriage.

How do you cast your vote? Man’s Law or God’s Design?


ISSUE: Do we have time for what Jesus desires?

FACTS (no spin):
1. Jesus is the Messiah.
  a. Peter confessed this in Mark 8.29.
  b. Jesus used this term in Mark 9.41.
  c. The Messiah (God’s chosen One) is likely a very busy person.

2. Jesus and His followers are on the way to Jerusalem.
  a. Map
    i. Northern Israel (Mark 9.2)
    ii. Going through Galilee (Mark 9.30)
    iii. In Capernaum (Mark 9.33)
    iv. Judea near Jordan (Mark 10.1)
  b. Luke’s story line adds a couple of different stories, and adds an important statement.
    i. On the way to Jerusalem
    ii. Read Luke 9.51.  Not just going to Jerusalem. Jesus is going on purpose, with purpose.

3. The disciples are making their own plans for Jerusalem.
  a. Jesus is Messiah and they are His followers (like those in a campaign)
  b. They are jockeying for position.
    i. Fighting among themselves on the inside (Mark 9.34)
    ii. Stopping others from serving who are on the outside (Mark 9.38)

4. The disciples have appointed themselves as campaign managers.
  a. Jesus doesn’t have time for children.
    i. Remember children have no rights and no real place in society.
    ii. However, Jesus just used a child to show how we must receive Him (Mark 9.36-37)
  b. The disciples rebuked others.
    i. Them is ambiguous, but likely means the people bringing the children.
    ii. If people stopped bothering Jesus, they could all get to Jerusalem faster.

5. Jesus does more than touch children, He blessed them.
  a. Let them come. (Contrast do not hinder.)
  b. The kingdom belongs to these (Contrast – what you are doing is not kingdom minded.)

CENTRAL IDEA: Rebuke Others or Bless Others

Which do you choose? Rebuking others or blessing them? Hold that thought because of the fine print.

FINE PRINT: What did Jesus do? Read Mark 10.16. Jesus’ example requires great sacrifice.

The people wanted Jesus to touch their children. Jesus did more. He took them in his arms and blessed them. Yes, He laid His hands on them. But taking them in His arms goes beyond what they wanted or expected. And doing more than what is expected is one element of grace. This example by Jesus is from people who are seeking Him. Maybe their reasons are misguided, but Jesus gives a little extra because He knows it is worth it. Likewise, for those who are seeking Jesus, we should be willing to give a little extra. People may have misguided reasons, but if they are coming to Jesus and we give a little extra of ourselves, maybe they will find Him.

We can’t overlook that this story follows last week’s account of causing people to fall away from Jesus or next week’s story of one who turns away of his own accord. Thus, I think this story relates not only that the Kingdom of God must be received in faith, but helping others do the same may take a little more than we might first be willing to give.

PLAIN LANGUAGE: The Kingdom is a gift which should be received as a child receives a gift.

How do you vote? Disciples’ Rebuke or Jesus’ Blessing?

Before we cast our vote, we must recognize that each of these issues (and most any issue) has complexities. Even as I attempted to provide a no-spin look at this passage, questions arose in your mind. I understand, but that is why I am teaching this exactly as Scripture shows. Certainly, many interpret passages differently, but I believe what I have presented is a very accurate account of this situation. And the real issue with both of these scenarios, and the one we will see next week is that it comes down to following our heart or God’s.

Jesus said as much in Mark 10.8, it was because of the hardness of heart that Moses provided counsel on divorce. It is because of our hard hearts that we seek excuses to justify our actions when it separates from God’s law. So the fundamental issue…the true vote at hand is:

Do you vote to have: A Hard Heart or God’s Heart?
So what is your vote?

God’s heart says that men and women have an equal standing before Him. God’s heart says that children provide a good understanding of how one can receive the Kingdom.

Jeremiah 17.9 says that the heart is wicked above all things. But God! God offers us a new heart – His heart – and His spirit to live according to His commands. But God says in Ezekiel 36.26-27 that He will give us a new heart and His Spirit to help us live according to His commands. We just need to choose Him to make that happen.

Our JOURNEY letter for this week: O – Observe.

OPPORTUNITY: We need to encourage one another and then help others to choose Jesus each and every day.

Learn what Jesus says, then seek to apply it.
Live according to Jesus commands, and learn to love as you do.
Love: as Jesus loved, and make disciples as you go.
Lead: others to choose Jesus too, teaching them to observe all that He commanded.