A Word from David

jerusalem

How does God expect His people to live? This is an old question, but the answer isn’t any less relevant. King David asked the same thing, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away:

Psalm 15:1 O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?

His opening line is rhetorical. David knows the answer. But, the question itself is worth mulling over for a moment or two. Who can live in God’s tent? Who has a place in His house? Who has, as it were, a seat at His family dinner table? As Israelites and the Gentile proselytes came to Jerusalem three times per year, and began the climb up the “holy hill” to God’s city, who among them had an eternal home with the Lord?

David is not asking for the identity of all the people who belong to God; he wants to know what kind of people belong to God. What do God’s people act like? What motivates their heart and infuses their soul? To quote the great philosopher Jerry McGuire, what “completes” them?

At this point, the reader has to make a decision – is David explaining how a man becomes a child of God, or is he describing how a child of God will want to live? That is, is his answer prescriptive (e.g. do this, and become a child of God) or descriptive (e.g. a child of God will want to do this)?

The Scripture teaches us David is being descriptive. Man cannot earn his way to salvation, or else Christ wouldn’t have had to come in the first place (Galatians 2:21).

Psalm 15:2 He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right,
and speaks truth from his heart;

David locates the desire for righteous and holy behavior in the heart. Outward conformity is meaningless and cheap. We all know people who are frauds. They speak and act one way, but we know it’s an act – because we’ve seen the mask slip.

No; a man who belongs to God will want to walk blamelessly, and he’ll honestly try to do it. He won’t do it to earn salvation or buy favor from God; he’ll do it because he loves the Lord and wants to do what He says (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:28-30). This last bit is critical – an ungodly man can be morally upright. There are plenty of decent, “moral people” who have good manners. David isn’t talking about this.

To borrow a legal phrase, God doesn’t recognize behavior that is the fruit of a poisonous tree. A child of God will love God, and this love produces a real desire for loving obedience. A child of Satan (i.e. somebody who is not a Christian; see Ephesians 2:1-4) has no love for God, and therefore his actions don’t flow from that love. The motivations are different, therefore the moral weights of each action are different, too.

Consider this:

  • A co-worker named Cynthia knows you like Lee Child’s novels featuring Jack Reacher, so she snags an old paperback from a used bookstore and gives it to you for a birthday present.
  • Your wife gives you the same birthday present later that day, when you return home

You received presents from both women; identical presents. Which one carries more weight? The one from your wife, of course. Why? Because the relationship is clearly different. You’re in a covenant relationship with your wife; whereas Cynthia is the nice 65-yr old grandmother from work.

In a similar way, God weighs the believer’s actions differently than the unbeliever’ actions. In fact, in God’s case, the unbeliever’s actions have no moral value whatsoever, because they’re not being done out of loving obedience.

Psalm 15:3 who does not slander with his tongue,
and does no evil to his friend,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;

It’s fascinating how David’s descriptive proofs for a child of God focus so much on action. There is much to be commended about a focus on internal motivation as a check against rote legalism. After all, we don’t want to be hypocrites, going through the external motions while our hearts are harder than stone.

But, David (and God!) don’t let us off so easy. The other side of the ditch is just as treacherous. It’s so easy to excuse external conformity with pious appeals to “the heart,” isn’t it? A man claims to be a Christian, but has lived like a reprobate for years. “Oh,” he says, “I love God! I want to serve Him, honest!” At some point, every Christian needs to be honest with himself – where is the fruit?

David expects there to be fruit. Period. A godly man doesn’t slander, doesn’t betray his friend and doesn’t slander and reproach his neighbor. In other words, he seeks to be holy, because God is holy (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:14-15).

Psalm 15:4 in whose eyes a reprobate is despised,
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

This bit is particularly interesting. A godly man will despise a reprobate (i.e. a vile person, a flagrant sinner). This is somebody who is nominally part of the Old Covenant community, but lives in complete rebellion against God. David says Israelites should despise this person; have contempt for him. In contrast, a godly woman will honor those who reverently fear the Lord.

What’s the purpose? It’s likely about shame. There is something to be said for peer pressure. But, doesn’t this concept go completely against our modern church culture? We prefer to love people to death, even when they deserve contempt, rebuke, or censure. In short, we’re wimps.

To be sure, David isn’t saying we should hate everybody who sins; we’re not on witch hunts for non-conformists. But, if you have somebody who (1) is a professing believer, (2) who is a reprobate; a vile and habitual rebel, and (3) he refuses to try to conform to God’s word, (4) then you need to take action – once all lesser means have failed. The man is hardened in his perversity and his rebellion is deliberate and calculated.

Part of this action is for the rest of the covenant community to have open contempt for the offender, and shower honor on those who honestly love the Lord.

Psalm 15:5 who does not put out his money at interest,
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things shall never be moved.

Isn’t is fascinating how sin so often revolves around money? In my experience in law enforcement and regulatory investigations, people do wrong for three reasons – money, sex and power. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian; these three temptations are universal. Godly people will fight against these urges; thus we have David’s warnings against shady business practices. To be sure, sometimes we’ll lose against these urges. But, the general trajectory of our personal lives should be trending towards more Christlikeness, not less.

This is a short little psalm; five whole verses. Yet, it sums up an entire theology of the Christian life. Who will dwell with the Lord, and dwell in His tent? The one who proves his love for God by concrete action. What kind of action? All kinds; but this psalm gives us a good start.

This isn’t an ethic that an unbeliever can have, because only a believer’s actions flow from his love for the Lord. This was one of Jesus’ points in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s David’s point here, too.

Leviticus . . . and the Burnt Offering

lev 1(4)The Book of Leviticus is a strange place for many Christians. They usually avoid it. It’s strange, they think. Weird. Isn’t all that Old Testament stuff over and done with, anyway? Well, as they say, “it’s complicated.”

I’m starting a short audio teaching series through the Book of Leviticus, chapter by chapter. Every teaching lesson will be stored here.

This is the first installment, on (of course) Chapter 1 – which covers the burnt offering. I know you’re excited to hear all about it. I can tell. Take a listen; hopefully this series will be a help to you – it was to me as I studied for it!

Power Over the Demons (Mark 3:7-19)

jesus boatThis article originally appeared at SharperIron.org. Reprinted by permission.

In this passage, we read that the Pharisees are seeking to kill Jesus, but the demons confess Him as the Son of God. This is a great irony of the Gospels. The leaders who ought to recognize him hate Him. The fallen angels who should hate Him bow before Him. Meanwhile, the people who should gladly receive Him ignore His message.

Power Over the Demons

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed; also from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from about Tyre and Sidon a great multitude, hearing all that he did, came to him (Mk 3:7-8).

After the latest confrontation, Jesus withdraws from Capernaum “to the sea.” We’re not sure where Jesus went, because Capernaum is on the Sea of Galilee. He probably went to a more secluded location along the coast, away from the city.[1] It is clear Jesus doesn’t intend to wage a full-out theological assault against the Pharisees. To borrow a military analogy, His confrontation with the Pharisees in the synagogue (3:1-6) is better seen as a strategic raid than a declaration of all-out war. More direct confrontation will only result in a premature arrest, torture and execution. The Father has a divine timetable (cf. Ecc 3:1-8), and Jesus follows it – thus He beats a tactical retreat.[2]

What a contrast between the Pharisees’ homicidal intent, and the response from the crowds. They come to Him from everywhere; Jews from Jerusalem and Judea, and Gentiles from the south, east and north.[3] They come separately, meet together and form one mass of pilgrims.[4] John the Baptist didn’t draw this many people (Mk 1:5), and only preached to Israelites (cf. Lk 3:1-17).[5] Jesus, on the other hand, indiscriminately preaches to the Gentiles and the Jews. He does not have the racist, exclusivist mindset that is so foreign to the Old Covenant Scriptures, but was so common in His day.[6] He truly was a light for the Gentiles (cf. Isa 49:6). Jesus is Jewish, but many Israelites forgot that their Jewish Messiah came to be a Messiah for all people (cf. Lk 2:29-32, Acts 13:46-48).

And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him; for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him (Mk 3:9-10).

For Jesus, crowds are no indication of success. Then, as now, people often followed Jesus for selfish and unholy reasons. These crowds followed Jesus because they wanted divine healing.

Jesus, always a practical fellow, orders a boat prepared so He can flee, if necessary.[7] He’s in danger of being crushed and trampled. In a modern context, Jesus would be preaching on a street-corner in front of the open, sliding door of a minivan, the engine running, a disciple at the wheel!

Mark describes a nearly out of control mob. The scene is at once frightening and exhilarating. Jesus fears being crushed because His healing miracles have incited a frenzy. The mass of people, Jew and Gentile alike, press forward relentlessly, fighting and clamoring to get near. This is very different from the silly stereotype of gentle Jesus, meek mild, teaching the adoring masses from a landscaped hillside while He cradles a lamb in His lap.

These people don’t care what He preaches, what He says, or who He is. They’re pressing forward to touch Him, so they might be healed. He’s a rabbit’s foot, a talisman – somebody who can give them what they want.[8] Yet, it is remarkable that Jesus did not angrily send them away. He evidently healed many of them.[9]

Little has changed. Many people do not seek Christ because they want forgiveness and justification. They seek Jesus because of what He can do for Him. He’s a Cosmic Butler, who lives to serve us.

I recently listened to a sermon from a pseudo-megachurch near my home. It was blasphemy of the worst kind. The message was, “come to Jesus so He can make your life easier, give you a better job, more money and make you happy.” In this church, Jesus’ actual message, His doctrinal content and ethical commands to repent, believe and deny yourself and follow Him, are meaningless. Christ is just a prop for charlatans to hang blasphemy on.

These crowds in Mark’s Gospel are the same. His message is irrelevant to them; they just want healing.[10] The implications of that healing are lost on them (cf. Lk 7:18-23, Mk 3:22-27).

And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known (Mk 3:11-12).

The Pharisees are plotting to kill Him. The crowds don’t care what He says. Yet, the demons give Him the glory! Many people in this crowd are demon-possessed. Whenever they see Him, they fall down and literally scream and shriek their confession.

Can you imagine the scene? This is an ongoing event. The crowds press forward, anxious to touch Jesus and be healed. In the midst of this mob, demon-possessed men, women, boys and girls alternatively scream and howl, loudly, that Jesus is the Son of God.[11] They do this whenever they catch sight of Him. In the crush of the crowd, they don’t have an unobstructed view. As they catch periodic, fleeting glimpses of the Christ, they scream their confession, despite themselves. They fall down before Him, wherever they are, and confess His identity in the most public way possible.

Demons are fallen angels. Jesus is their creator. He is their ultimate adversary, and His power over the forces of darkness is absolute. Those who have Christ as their King and God as their Lord should respect Satan as a formidable adversary indeed (cf. Jude 9), but they need not wonder how this conflict will end. Satan will lose.

Why does Jesus forbid the fallen angels to make Him known? The text doesn’t say, and a whole lot of ink (and even more kilobytes) have been spilled trying to figure it out. It is clear the true nature of Jesus as Messiah can only be appreciated in light of the Cross, the Resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the inauguration of the New Covenant. This is as good an explanation as any for why Jesus commanded the demons to be silent.[12]

Because He is God and they are not, the unclean spirits obey. What else can they do? This decisive confrontation with the forces of darkness is a prelude to perhaps the key passage about the purpose of His miracles (Mk 3:22-27).

Delegating Authority

And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him (Mk 3:13-19a).

After Jesus demonstrates such complete mastery over the fallen angels, He delegates this authority to His chosen disciples. They did not choose Him; He choose them.[13] This is the church in embryo form; a group of called out believers in Christ, who are sent forth by Christ, bringing His Good News indiscriminately to the wide world beyond.

Jesus appoints twelve:

  • To be with him. You cannot be a follower of Christ unless you have fellowship with Him. You cannot have fellowship with Christ unless you believe what the apostles heard, and saw with their eyes, and looked upon and touched with their hands – the truth about Jesus Christ, the word of life (1 John 1:1-4). You learn about this from the books they and others wrote, which tell you all about it (i.e. the New Testament). This implies a community of believers who learn from Christ.
  • To preach. This is the point of their community, of their training. They will be sent out to preach and proclaim the message He gives them. The kingdom of God is here! Repent, believe, and join this kingdom![14]
  • To have authority to cast out demons. The One who has such complete mastery over Satan and His minions also has the authority to delegate this power to His children. This is clearly a divine power and authority.[15] And, this power is only meant to accredit the preaching – to prove the kingdom of God has broken into this dark and evil world and vanquished that darkness.

Conclusion

Jesus is God. He has clear and obvious power over the unclean spirits (cf. Mk 1:27). He delegates and dispenses this power to His apostles, and will eventually send them forth as His representatives. The demons see and recognize Jesus’ authority. They scream, fall to the ground and confess His identity at the very sight of him. They obey His commands. They are putty in His hands.

In contrast, we see the Pharisees in Capernaum plotting their little plots. We see the crowd as a near mob of half-crazed pilgrims who seek only physical healing. His own disciples are spiritually dull; their training has only begun. Ironically, only the demons truly give Him the glory. Yet, as they do so, they testify to His divinity, and His co-equal and His co-eternal status with the Father.[16] He confirms their testimony in the most appropriate way possible – by silencing them.

We believe that there is one, and only one, living and true God, an infinite, intelligent Spirit, whose name is JEHOVAH, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of Heaven and earth; inexpressibly glorious in holiness, and worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love; that in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; equal in every divine perfection, and executing distinct and harmonious offices in the great work of redemption.[17]

Notes

[1]  See James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 103. Ezra Gould also suggests Jesus sought solitude on another portion of the seashore (The Gospel According to St. Mark, in ICC [Edinburgh, UK: T&T Clark, 1896], 55).

[2] William Hendriksen observed, “We must bear in mind also that the time for the decisive head-on confrontation with the religious authorities had not as yet arrived. According to the Father’s time-clock Calvary is still some distance away. For the present therefore the seashore is better suited to the Master’s purpose than the synagogue,” (The Gospel of Mark, in NTC [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975], 118).

James Brooks, however, suggests “probably it refers to nothing more than Jesus’ desire to extend his ministry beyond the towns and their synagogues,” (Mark, in NAC, vol. 23 [Nashville: B&H, 1991], 69–70).

[3] “Mark seems to have been suggesting that all peoples should seek Jesus and that they may be assured of acceptance. Readers and hearers of his Gospel naturally think about the later Gentile mission,” (Brooks, Mark, 70).

[4] A.B. Bruce, The Synoptic Gospels, in Expositor’s Greek Testament (London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910), 357.

[5] For an argument that the “soldiers” John addressed were Jewish, see Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, in BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), 312-313. One need only read the Baptist’s preaching to realize this is an exclusively Jewish message, and the context of Malachi’s prophecy (3:1) makes this quite clear.

[6] Peter’s comment to Cornelius (Acts 10:27-29) reflect this blasphemous view of Gentiles. Even as a fully-illuminated and Spirit-filled Christian, Peter still struggled for a time to get rid of this baggage. So did the Jerusalem church (Acts 11).

[7] Mark Strauss suggests, “The boat may have been for escape in case the crowd crushed forward, but more likely is meant for crowd control, a kind of platform or podium to keep from being jostled,” (Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 154). I find this explanation unlikely. Jesus ordered the boat to be prepared in order that (ἵνα + subjunctive) they would not press Him (μὴ θλίβωσιν αὐτόν). The reason is to avoid the crush of the crowd.

Matthew Henry suggests this was simply a practical measure, so “that, when he had despatched the necessary business he had to do in one place, he might easily remove to another, where his presence was requisite, without pressing through the crowds of people that followed him for curiosity,” (Commentary on the Whole Bible [Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994], 1782).

[8] See especially Edwards’ discussion of crowds in Mark’s Gospel (Mark, 74-75). Each person will have to come to his own understanding of the crowds. I believe the Gospel of Mark (indeed, all the Gospels) are clear that crowds followed the Christ for unholy and selfish reasons.

[9] Matthew Henry remarked, “What abundance of good he did in his retirement. He did not withdraw to be idle, nor did he send back those who rudely crowded after him when he withdrew, but took it kindly, and gave them what they came for; for he never said to any that sought him diligently, Seek ye me in vain,” (Commentary, 1782).

[10] Again, Strauss has a positive interpretation of the crowd. “It is excitement and enthusiasm for Jesus’ healing power that is motivating the crowds,” (Mark, 154). R. Alan Cole also has a positive interpretation of the crowd (Mark, in TNTC, vol. 2 [Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1989], 135-165). Similarly, Gould writes, “[T]he verb is a strong word . . . and is intended to bring before us vividly the turbulent eagerness and excitement of the crowd,” (St. Mark, 55).

Brooks suggests, “apparently the crowd sought Jesus because of his healings, not to submit themselves to the reign of God,” (Mark, 70). This reflects the wide gulf of opinions about the crowds.

[11] Some commentators suggest the demons are attempting to exercise dominion and authority over Jesus by crying out His name. See, for example, William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 130. Strauss (Mark, 155) and Walter Wessell (Luke, in EBC, vol. 8 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984], 641) also follow this line of interpretation.

[12] Strauss suggests the demons were not the kind of beings Jesus wanted testifying who He was. “[T]he demons are inappropriate heralds of his person and mission (cf. 1: 25). Jesus will reveal his identity in his own time and through his own words and deeds,” (Mark, 155).

This doesn’t go far enough. Jesus tells both demons and healed men to not tell anybody about Him (cf. 1:44, 5:43). The real reason must be deeper than this. One good explanation is that the true nature of the Messiah cannot be fully appreciated until after His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. He comes the first time as the suffering servant; the second time as the conquering king.

[13] “Christ calls whom he will; for he is a free Agent, and his grace is his own,” (Henry, Commentary, 1782).

[14] “The proclamation which they were to make was the coming of the kingdom of God,” (Gould, St. Mark, 57).

[15] “This showed that the power which Christ had to work these miracles was an original power; that he had it not as a Servant, but as a Son in his own house, in that he could confer it upon others, and invest them with it,” (Henry, Commentary, 1783).

[16] This is one of the implications of the title. “As the Son of God, Jesus shares the Father’s glory, power, and authority,” (Strauss, Mark, 155).

[17] 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, Article 2.

Jesus and the Sad, Angry Little Men (Mark 3:1-6)

man with handI originally wrote this article for SharperIron.org. Reprinted with permission.

This is a sad little story, because we see sad little men rejecting their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. They have made void the word of God through their tradition (cf. Mk 7:13). In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ early confrontations with the Pharisees come quickly, one after the other. This particular account is where the water boils over.

Mounting Opposition

First, they questioned why Jesus shares a meal with such “worldly” and “disreputable” people (2:15-17). They don’t ask Jesus; they ask His disciples (Mk 2:16). We’re not sure why the Pharisees don’t approach Jesus directly. But we can guess, knowing ourselves, that they’re a bit tentative and unsure of themselves. Perhaps, they thought, it’ll be better to take the indirect route and cast doubt on His credentials to His followers.

Jesus, ever the polite diplomat, answers immediately with a burst of sarcasm. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners,” (Mk 2:17). This is a warning shot across the bow, and it’s the first direct contact Jesus has with the Pharisees in Mark’s gospel. This is clearly an adversarial relationship from the very beginning. Jesus didn’t mince words when it came to self-righteous and blasphemous legalism. Matthew preserved another bit of the story, in which Christ verbally backhanded the Pharisees (“Go and learn what this means . . .” Mt 9:13) with a quote from Hosea 6:6.

The next episode follows right on the heels of this discussion (2:18-22). The Pharisees[1] demand to know why Jesus’ disciples don’t fast. Jesus responded and prophesied His own death (2:19-20). He then explained the Old Covenant (the old garment) cannot be patched up like an old sweater, or jerry-rigged to accommodate the New Covenant; “new wine is for fresh wineskins,” (2:22). We’re not sure how much of this the Pharisees understood, and Mark didn’t tell us. But, I doubt it was a pleasant conversation.

The final episode is the alleged Sabbath violation (2:23-28). Jesus cited a Scriptural precedent for violating the strict letter of the law under emergency circumstances (2:25-26). He then claimed a divine and Messianic title (“son of man”) and declared He was “lord even of the sabbath,” (2:28).

Mark gives us these incidents one after the other, and the reader is left almost reeling as this freight train of hostility and opposition springs forth from seemingly nowhere. This early enmity comes to a crescendo with the Pharisees storming out of the synagogue and colluding with their enemies to kill Jesus (3:6).

The Confrontation in the Synagogue

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him (Mk 3:1-2).

Again, Mark doesn’t tell us who “they” are, but the context assures us it is the Pharisees.[2] Why is the man there? Is this a coincidence? We know the Pharisees are watching all the time,[3] waiting, their little black notebooks at the ready, cellphone cameras on standby – anxious to gather evidence against Jesus. It is tempting to see the man as a prop, a poor sucker planted there as bait. We don’t know whether that is the case. But, we do know Jesus is being set up. If the Pharisees didn’t plant the poor man there, we can be sure they were at least “pleased” he was there.

Ironically, the Pharisees deny Jesus the right to do good on the Sabbath, while they actively plot to do evil![4]

This little episode is about more than proof for Jesus’ divinity. It is about this single miracle as one of a series of signs and wonders which announced the kingdom of God to those who had ears to hear. The prophets wrote that, when God returned for His people, the blind would receive sight, the deaf would hear, the lame will leap for joy and “the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing,” (Isa 35:5-6, 10). Christ appealed to these texts as proof that He was, indeed, the Messiah who had come to bring His people into the figurative promised land of eternal rest (Lk 4:16-21; 7:18-23; cf. Heb 4:1-11).

Rather than ponder the implications of Jesus’ teaching coupled with these signs and wonders, the Pharisees lie in wait in the synagogue like impotent little spiders, weaving a pathetic web of trickery. The man with the withered hand may have been a plant, or just somebody who happened to be there, but one thing is certain – the Pharisees didn’t care about him at all. He was a prop. He was nothing. They didn’t care if Jesus did heal him; they just wanted the evidence for a trial. Like serial killers who take genuine civic pride in obeying the speed limit, these legalists have it all backward.

And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent (Mk 3:3-4).

Jesus knew everything (cf. Jn 2:24-25; Lk 5:6-7; Lk 6:8, etc.). He knew what the Pharisees were up to. He did not run away to fight another day. He felt discretion was no valor at all. He asked an open and rhetorical question designed to unmask their legalistic and blasphemous tradition about the Sabbath. This is the only time in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus initiates a healing without being approached. Clearly, He decided to make a decisive stand here.[5]

Nobody answered. Nobody said a word. Why not? Jesus had what we now call “command presence.” People listened to Him. He taught with authority (Mk 1:27). I suspect the Pharisees couldn’t have spoken even if they’d wanted to. Mark recorded another, similar incident later in his Gospel (Mk 12:34). They are speechless before this teacher who had such passion, such presence and such intrinsic authority.

What does Jesus mean by asking, “to save life or to kill?” Some commentators believe Jesus was referring to the Pharisees’ own intentions towards Him (cf. 3:6).[6] If that is so, no wonder they dared not answer. “While Jesus is preparing to do good, they are plotting his death! Which is the real Sabbath violation?”[7]

And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored (Mk 3:5).

This is an instantaneous healing, and a true miracle. Jesus does not appeal to God for healing; He simply performs the action Himself. This is very, very different than what the OT prophets did (cf. 1 Kgs 13:6). Jesus is a prophet, but He is as qualitatively different from His Old Covenant counterparts as a glowworm is from a floodlight. He is divine. They were not.

What about the Pharisees’ hearts upset Jesus so much? Their inability to answer His question? Their callousness by using this poor man as a prop for their own wicked ends? Their inability and unwillingness to face the implications of His own teaching and the signs and wonders He performed? Perhaps it was all of this.

The word is usually rendered as “hardness” or “stubbornness” here. Hardness implies they are spiritually insensitive (e.g. Tyndale, “blindness”). Stubbornness gives the sense of stiff-necked inflexibility; they are wilfully rebellious. The NEB translates it as “obstinate stupidity,” which is a delightfully appropriate phrase!

Yes, this miracle is more proof for Jesus’ divinity. But, that is not why Mark wrote it. His didactic purpose is to highlight the scribes’ and Pharisees’ growing opposition in the face of Jesus’ explicit preaching, teaching and divine signs. These miracles are proof that “the kingdom of God is come unto you,” (Mt 12:28). People are healed. Demons are cast out. Jesus, by the Spirit of God, has bound Satan and is plundering his house (Mk 3:27). What must this mean!?

The Pharisees don’t care what it means. They have their evidence. The healed man is irrelevant. He’s served his purpose. Away with him! They ignore him, like some men would ignore a filthy dog (cf. Jn 9:34). Jesus is all that matters; not the implications of His teaching, but the evidence for His alleged “blasphemy.”

Throughout His ministry, Jesus shows a deliberate contempt for the oral tradition which “fenced” the Old Covenant law. The Pharisees feel this is a fundamental betrayal of orthodoxy, and act in fury out of righteous indignation. They are sincere, but they are sincerely wrong. Jesus, however, is not moved by pettiness or or self-righteousness. He is filled with righteous anger.

The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him (Mk 3:6).

The “Herodians” were widely castigated as liberal compromisers.[8] They were not devout. It says something that the Pharisees sought to form an alliance with these men – all in order to kill the Lord of glory. This is their furious response to a whole host of escalating confrontations.[9] Their blood is up. Jesus is a blasphemer who despises the traditions of the fathers. He has now violated the Sabbath twice, and they have the evidence to prove it! Jesus must be destroyed – the law demands it (Ex 31:14-17)! Surely, they reason, God agrees with their zeal . . .

They Did Not Recognize Him . . .

So, off they go, in a huff. Jesus has righteous anger, these Pharisees have self-righteous resentment.[10] The Kingdom of God has broken into human history. The proof is here – behold the signs and wonders! The Messiah is here – behold His teaching! The legalistic externalism of the Pharisees is condemned. True worship flows from the heart and is proven by devoted action (cf. 1 Sam 15:22-23).

This little miracle proves Jesus’ deity, but it is a sad account. Confronted with their Savior, the Pharisees plot His death. The Apostle Paul was right:

For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning him (Acts 13:27).

Notes

[1] The Greek doesn’t specify who came to Jesus; it is simply a third-person plural verb (ἔρχονται). The closest antecedent are the scribes of the Pharisees (2:17). It is reasonable to conclude the Pharisees asked Jesus this question.

[2] See Walter W. Wessel (Mark, in EBC, vol. 8 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984], 639) and Mark Strauss (Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 147).

[3] The verb here is imperfect (παρετήρουν αὐτὸν), which gives the general sense of an unfolding, continual action in the past. I think the NASB did well to render it as a descriptive imperfect (“they were watching Him . . .”).

[4] Mark Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 98.

[5] Strauss (Mark, 147).

[6] Edwards (Mark, 100) and William Hendriksen, Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975), 116.

[7] Strauss (Mark, 148).

[8] For more on the Herodians, see H. W. Hoehner, “Herodian Dynasty,” 5, in Dictionary of the New Testament: Backgrounds, ed. Craig Evans and Stanley Porter (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 493-494.

[9] See William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 121-122.

[10] Hendriksen (Mark, 117).

Jesus and the Paralytic

jesus-and-paralyticWhy did the paralyzed man want to come to Jesus? This account is in each of the synoptic Gospels (Mt 9:1-8; Mk 2:1-12, Lk 5:17-26). It is a famous story. Many people assume the man came simply to be healed. This is what I believed, too. I remember preaching it this way in teen Sunday School, years ago. But, I was never very comfortable with this interpretation. Like Cinderella’s glass slipper on the ugly step-sister, it really didn’t fit.

I am working through the Gospel of Luke for our family devotions, and I came across this passage again last night. As I read it, the thought occurred to me. The man didn’t come to be healed per se – he came because he wanted to hear the Good News from the Messiah.

Matthew does not cover the passage in great detail, but Mark and Luke do. Here is the first portion of the passage:

Mark 2:1-5

Luke 5:17-20

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them.

And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

On one of those days, as he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was with him to heal.

And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.

And when he saw their faith he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

Notice what Jesus is doing in Capernaum. He “is teaching.” He is “preaching the word to them.” The article is important. Jesus didn’t preach “a word,” He preached “the word” (τὸν λόγον).

Jesus is preaching the word or message of the Good News of the coming Messianic Kingdom, and commanding people to repent and believe (cf. Mk 1:14-15 ). He is preaching about liberation from spiritual bondage, and recovery of sight to the spiritually blind through repentance and faith in Himself (cf. Lk 4:16-21; Isa 61:1-2). The immediate context in both Mark and Luke’s account is the coming Messianic Kingdom. In Luke, Jesus explicitly identified Himself as the agent who will accomplish this, in God’s stead.

If this is what Jesus is doing (and it is), and if this is the focus of both Gospel accounts (and it is), then perhaps we ought to re-consider why the paralytic asked his friends to bring him to see Christ.

Here are some observations:

  • There is no room to hear Jesus teach – not even at the door. Luke tells us why; “there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem.” The focus is on the teaching, not the miracles.
  • People often assume the paralytic wanted to be near Jesus so he could be healed. Why not assume the man simply wanted to hear Jesus preach “the word?”
  • Jesus sees the corporate faith of all five men (τὴν πίστιν αὐτῶν), and tells the paralyzed fellow, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” Mark records something a bit more personal (“Son”), which is likely an addition from Peter, who was there.
  • If the man simply came to be healed, then (1) what, exactly, was the content of the man’s faith, and (2) what about this faith warranted forgiveness of his sins?

Only Luke observes that “the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” This doesn’t mean the man wasn’t interested in healing, of course. But, it should give us a hint that he doesn’t see Jesus as simply a miracle-man. It is safe to assume the man had two motivations:

  1. He wanted to hear the Good News of the coming Messianic Kingdom, and
  2. He believed Jesus was the Messiah, and was thus capable of healing him, if He chose to do so

Therefore:

  1. Jesus saw the man’s faith, and pronounced his sins forgiven on that basis
  2. This suggests the man believed Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus recognized his desperate struggle to come hear the message of the Messianic Kingdom

The entire focus of the rest of this story is on the charge of blasphemy against Christ, something which will become the key charge against Him throughout His ministry and at His trial. The focus was never on the healing. The healing was incidental, done to prove a point.

I think the man came for the message, not the healing.

Commentary on Romans 8:1-4

This is a short commentary I wrote after doing some exegetical work on Romans 8:1-4. That detailed work can be found on my “Bible & Creed Translations” page. This is not a terse, exegetical commentary. It has been deliberately written for normal people, but it is based on some thorough exegetical work.

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1

Therefore, [there is] now no punishment to those in union with Christ Jesus,

Paul begins the passage by drawing an overarching conclusion (“therefore”) from everything which has come before. In light of:

  1. the fact that “since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Rom 5:1),
  2. the fact that through Jesus “we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand,” (Rom 5:2),
  3. the fact that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us,” (Rom 5:5),
  4. the fact that “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom 5:8),
  5. God reconciled sinners to Himself despite the fact “we were enemies,” (Rom 5:10),
  6. the fact that those who have repented and believed the Gospel have been reconciled to God (Rom 5:11),
  7. the fact that, just as sin entered the world by one single transgression, “so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people, for just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous,” (Rom 5:18-19),
  8. the fact that those in union with Christ have been freed from slavery to sin, and have been made slaves for righteousness (Rom 6:17-18),
  9. and despite the fact that every single Christian who has ever lived still struggles with sin every day of his life (Rom 7),

something fundamental has forever changed in a person’s life once they become an adopted son or daughter of God. Maybe the best way to understand “therefore” here is to understand Paul writing something like, “therefore, the conclusion of the whole matter is this!”

This is the sum of the matter – “there is now no punishment to those in union with Christ Jesus.” Something has changed. There used to be punishment in store for you, but now there is not. There used to be the promise from the Lord that He would mete out flaming fire upon you, who refused to obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Thess 1:8), but now there is not.

If you are a Christian, it means your name was written in the Lamb’s book of life from before the foundation of the world. You were elected, selected and chosen by God, for reasons only He knows, to be a recipient of His great mercy, love, grace and kindness.  You have been united to Him by repentance and faith in Christ. You are in union with Christ, and therefore there is now no punishment for you.

Why not?

2

Because the law of the life-giving Spirit, in union with Christ Jesus, has liberated you from the law of sin and death.

This “law of the life-giving Spirit” is a rule of life which governs your heart and mind. It is the divine influence and help from on high, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, who rules in a Christian’s heart and mind now that the kingdom of darkness has been banished from within you (cf. 2 Cor 4:3-4).

This is in complete contrast to the “law of sin and death” which used to rule and war in your body, controlling your thoughts and actions, motivating and impelling you to do nothing but seek after your own lusts and desires. You used to present your body to sin as an instrument to be used for unrighteousness (Rom 6:13); now that has all been changed and flipped on its head.

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (Rom 6:19).

Your entire being has changed. You have changed. You have been given spiritual life. You have God’s Holy Spirit within you, and your heart of unyielding stone has been replaced by a soft heart of flesh (Eze 36:24ff); a heart sensitive to the things of God, motivated and impelled by His holiness and driven by a thirst for righteousness. You love God, and therefore seek to keep His commandments (Jn 14:15).

This rule of life comes from the “life-giving Spirit.” It is He who brings life to the spiritually dead. But, He does not do it alone. He does it “in union with Christ Jesus.” All three Divine Persons of the Trinity work together to accomplish a sinner’s salvation, sanctification and eternal glorification. It is the Apostle Peter who proclaimed to the crowds on Pentecost that Christ dispenses the Spirit to His brethren;

 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear (Acts 2:32-33).

Think about the word “liberation.” It implies that you were enslaved to someone or something. You were powerless to fight against it. It dominated you. It controlled you. It consumed you. It exercised unrelenting control and mastery over your heart, soul and mind. Now, Paul is not speaking about actual slavery in a worldly sense. But, if you go one step further to the spiritual sphere, things are suddenly very clear.

People are born enslaved to their lusts, desires and wickedness impulses. People are, by nature, children of wrath (Eph 2:3). People belong to the kingdom of darkness, and must be transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col 1:13). When a sinner repents and believes the Gospel, he does so only because the life-giving Spirit, in union with Christ Jesus, has liberated him from the law or rule of sin and death in his life.

The Spirit is the One who performed the action here. He liberated you. You did nothing. It is an act which was accomplished at a specific point in time, and as a result, you entered into a new state. There is now no punishment for you. You have been liberated from the law of sin and death. The Spirit did this, dispensed by the Son, according to the good pleasure of the Father’s will. The Spirit and the Son did it all, because it was predestined by the Father. Salvation is liberation from the domain of darkness.

How have Christians been set free?

3

For [God did what] the law could not ever do, because it was weakened by the flesh. God sent His own Son as like a sinful man and, regarding sin, He imposed judgment against the sin while He was in the flesh,

Because God acted while we were helpless. Because God had determined to act in eternity past, despite knowing every wicked and sinful thing you have done, are doing, or ever will do.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:4-7).

In short, “[God did what] the law could not ever do, because it was weakened by the flesh.” The law could never perfect anybody; it could only prove our own weakness. The law could never atone for sins; it could only forgive, as it were, on credit in light of the coming Messiah who would taste death for every man (Heb 2:9). As Paul wrote elsewhere,

 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing! (Gal 2:21).

The law, while inherently holy and good, was weakened by our sinful flesh. Therefore, God acted. He sent His own Son in the state or condition of being like a sinful man. Christ was not a sinful man, but He was made in the form or likeness of one. He was conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit specifically so He would not be contaminated by the curse of sin.

As the chief angel Gabriel told Mary, “Therefore [that is, in light of Jesus’ miraculous conception] the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God,” (Lk 1:35). Jesus is holy precisely because He is not tainted by sin, yet the Scriptures still affirm “for we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin,” (Heb 4:15).

It should also go without saying that, if God sent Jesus in the form or likeness of sinful flesh, to be as like sinful flesh and identify with all the frailties and limitations of wicked men, that the Son was pre-existent. He did not spring into being at His birth in Bethlehem.

What did Jesus do? Simple. “[R]egarding sin, He imposed judgment against the sin while He was in the flesh.” While He was in the flesh; that is, while Jesus was incarnate on this earth as the God-Man, He imposed judgment against “the sin.” He defeated sin. He conquered sin. “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God,” (2 Cor 5:21).

What is “the sin”? Many English translations do not translate the article “the,” because many times it is not necessary to do so. In this case, however, it is important. In this case, “the sin” is basically a synonym for “the curse.” Jesus imposed judgment against “the curse” of sin and death, against the penalty of the fall, against the sentence which God imposed on all humanity in the Garden of Eden so long ago. That curse has been broken, rent in two, and shattered into thousands of pieces. Jesus imposed judgment against the very curse, against the very “sin” which has bound men, women, boys and girls from all over the globe into slavery to the law of sin and death since the events from Genesis 3.

Jesus did this. You did nothing, you do nothing and you cannot do anything. He performed the action of this verb, and He did it at a particular point in time in the past. He did it during the incarnation, through His perfect and holy obedience to the law and His voluntary and willing torture and death for His people’s sake. This is what theologians call the active and passive obedience of Christ. He actively obeyed the law and fulfilled God’s perfect standards of righteousness and holiness for His elect. He also passively allowed Himself to be arrested, tried, tortured and then executed for His children’s crimes, in their place, as their true substitute.

Jesus did this. He imposed judgment against “the sin” while He was in the flesh. Praise the Lord for the Son’s faithfulness! But, why did He do it? What was the purpose?

4

so that the requirement of the law would be fulfilled among us who are not living according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Jesus did this for a very specific reason; “so that the requirement would be fulfilled . . .” What requirement is Paul talking about? He’s talking about the requirement that Christ be perfect and holy in our place, as our substitute. Remember, if righteousness could come by the law, then Christ died for nothing. Paul also wrote:

 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified (Gal 2:16).

So, Jesus, the Son of God, fulfilled the requirement of the law perfectly, and He did it for all the ones whom God has given to Him. If you are a Christian, then Jesus did this for you. If you are not a Christian, but you repent of your sins and believe the Good News He suffered and bled and died to bring to you, then He did it for you, too.

This requirement is not fulfilled among everybody. It is only “fulfilled among us who are not living according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Paul is not saying that we fulfill the requirement by living our lives according to the Spirit, as if this was a statement about a Christian’s obligation.[1] He is stating a fact, not a condition. Here is what Paul is saying:

  1. if you have repented of your sins and believed the Gospel,
  2. then there is now no punishment in your future, because you are in union with Christ Jesus
  3. this is because the law of the life-giving Spirit, together with Christ Jesus, has liberated you from the law or rule of sin and death in your heart, soul and mind. How is this possible?
  4. It is possible because God did what the law could never do, because its usefulness was weakened by the flesh. Therefore, God sent His own Son in the very likeness of sinful man and, concerning sin, His Son imposed judgment against the curse of sin and death while He was in the flesh!
  5. Jesus did this so the requirement of the law would be fulfilled among those who live according to the Spirit – but what does it mean to be living according to the Spirit?
  6. It means to be controlled, governed by, ruled over by and influenced by God Almighty, who sent Jesus to live a perfect life, die a sacrificial death, and rise again to defeat and impose judgment on the curses of sin and death, and who then sent the Spirit to give you new life.

In short, Paul is saying Jesus fulfilled the requirement of the law for those who are controlled and governed by the Spirit, who are Christians. This is a statement about status; “those who are living according to the Spirit” = those who are saved. Jesus did this for the elect; for those whom God has given to Him.[2]

The verb is passive here, which in this instance means the action is done to the recipient. The recipient does nothing at all. The recipients of this grace are “us . . . who are living according to the Spirit.”

Notes

[1] For example, William Hendrickson wrote, “The purpose and result of Christ’s work of redemption was that His people, by means of the operation of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and lives, should strive, are striving, to fulfill the law’s righteous requirement. Out of gratitude for and in response to, the outpouring of God’s love, they now love God and their neighbor,” (Romans 1-8 [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980], 248).

See also Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 303-304. Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 404-405 also seems to take this view.

[2] John Calvin observed, “They who understand that the renewed, by the Spirit of Christ, fulfil the law, introduce a gloss wholly alien to the meaning of Paul; for the faithful, while they sojourn in this world, never make such a proficiency, as that the justification of the law becomes in them full or complete. This then must be applied to forgiveness; for when the obedience of Christ is accepted for us, the law is satisfied, so that we are counted just,” (Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans [Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010], 283).