“Coins, Questions, and Christ” March 26, 2006 Mark 12:13-44
Jesus is in Jerusalem on the week in which He is going to be crucified, Passion Week.
Jesus has predicted that the Jewish Religious Leaders will arrest Him, condemn Him, hand Him over to the Romans, who will mock Him, spit on Him, flog Him, and kill Him [Mark 10:32-34]. And that is just days away.
On this day, Jesus enters into a feisty debate with the Jewish Religious Leaders. What I’m going to call: “Coins, Questions, and Christ.”
There were three main parts to the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Religious Council)–the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Scribes (or Teachers of the Law). In Mark 12, each of those parties (the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Teachers of the Law) approach Jesus and engage Jesus with a tricky question. And He takes on “all comers.”
Today, we’re going to listen to Jesus’ answers to their questions as well as the question and teaching that He has for them. And we’re going to draw five applications for our lives today.
Let’s begin with prayer.
Mark chapter 12, verse 13.
“Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, ‘Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. [Are you buttered up yet?] Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn't we?’” Stop there for a second.
First, you need to know that the Pharisees and the Herodians were not natural allies. The Pharisees were very concerned about holiness, and you know what kind of a guy Herod was. But they were united in their common fear of Jesus.
So, they are sent together to try to trap Jesus in His own words.
They try to butter Him up by saying that they know that He can’t be buttered up and then they try to impale Him on the horns of a dilemma.
No one likes paying taxes. And the Jews under the oppressive hand of the Romans especially hated paying taxes. Here they were in their own homeland, given to them by God, and they were having to pay taxes to these foreign devils.
So if Jesus says to pay Roman poll-taxes, He might fall out of favor with the crowds who love Him so much. But if He says to not pay the Roman poll-tax, He’ll get in trouble with the Roman authorities. Either way, the Pharisees and the Herodians win.
But Jesus doesn’t fall for it. V.15
“But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. ‘Why are you trying to trap me?’ he asked. ‘Bring me a denarius [a days wage and the normal currency to pay the poll-tax] and let me look at it.’ They brought the coin, and he asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this [literally, who’s image]? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar's,’ they replied. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.’ And they were amazed at him.”
#1. GIVE TO CAESAR WHAT IS CAESAR’S, BUT TO GOD WHAT IS GOD’S.
Now, Jesus isn’t saying that Caesar (or the government) owns all the money and God doesn’t. We know that.
Jesus is saying that it is possible to submit to the government without compromising your submission to God. In fact, Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 say that it is part of our submission to God to submit to the ruling authorities.
And Jesus is forging His own third way between the horns of the dilemma.
Yes, the Romans are in power, so give them what they ask for.
But give God what He asks for!
Did you ever think about that last phrase in Jesus saying? I think it’s important.
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
What is God’s?
Whose image is stamped on the coin? Caesars.
Whose image is stamped on you? God’s.
What does God want? He wants you.
April 15th is coming, and it’s time to get your taxes prepared. Often this passage is seen as a biblical call to be honest and prompt in paying your taxes. And it is.
But it is also, deeper, a call to give yourself to God.
And I think that’s what amazed the crowd when Jesus answered like this.
Not only did He give a straight, unpopular answer to the question, but He took the answer in a direction that forced people to consider whether or not they were giving themselves to God as He deserved.
Do you think of yourself as devoted to God? Belonging to God? God’s rightful possession?
I think that one of the major mistakes in our thinking is that we often think of ourselves as own possession.
“It’s my body.” “It’s my bank account.” “It’s my bonus.” “It’s my car.” “It’s my relationship.” “It’s my life.” “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.”
But that’s not true. All humans (even nonChristians) are stamped with the image of God. “Give to God what is God’s.”
And Christians are double-stamped!
We belong to God through redemption. We’ve been bought back with a heavy price.
“Give to God what is God’s.”
Question. What have you been holding back? ....
So the Pharisees and the Herodians have lost round #1.
The Sadducees step up for round #2. V.18
“Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.” Stop there for a sec.
The Sadducees were a powerful, wealthy religious party during the days of Jesus’ ministry. They only believed in the first 5 books of the Bible. And they didn’t think that the Book of Moses, the Torah, taught that there would be a resurrection from the dead. [That’s why they were “Sad, you see.” Ha, ha.]
Well, the Sadducees are going to try to trip up Jesus on this doctrine–the doctrine of the resurrection. They are going to do it by offering a case study that takes the Mosaic law of levirate marriages to its extreme.
A levirate marriage was a social institution created in the Mosaic law-code to keep inheritances in the family lines and keep the Jews from intermarrying with Gentiles. “If a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.”
It sounds strange to us, but it worked. The firstborn from that marriage was considered the firstborn of the deceased first husband.
But the Sadducees are going to try to make fun of resurrection using it. V.20
“Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. [Levirate marriage enters in.] The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. [Levirate marriage.] It was the same with the third. [Levirate marriage.] In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection [ha, ha] whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?’” In other words, “Resurrection is ludicrous!”
They think they’ve got Him. What a dumb thing to believe that God is going to raise the dead! Ha, ha. Do you know anyone who thinks the same way? V.24
“Jesus replied, ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? [You don’t know squat!] When the dead rise [there’s going to be a new state of things], they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”
You don’t know what you’re talking about! You think that resurrection means simply life going on as it is. But the resurrection that is on the way is going to change a whole lot of things. V.26
“Now about the dead rising–have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!’”
You don’t know squat!
Notice how Jesus uses their own books against them! He appeals to Exodus 3 and the burning bush. God says that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And that means to Jesus that they are alive or at least will be alive again so that God can keep His promises to them.
The “power of God” is going to raise Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob one day so that they can enjoy the fulfillment of all of God’s I AM promises to them. Guaranteed. Because God always keeps His promises!
Jesus is saying that resurrection is real.
Application #2. GET READY TO LIVE FOREVER.
Resurrection is real.
The Sadducees may not understand it. The Sadducees may make fun of it. The Sadducees may not believe in it.
But Sadducees don’t know what they’re talking about.
Resurrection is real. Get ready to live forever.
Remember our FOREVER series of messages this last Fall?
Forever is coming. And it won’t be in a disembodied, floating spirit state.
Forever means new resurrection bodies.
Are you ready?
Resurrection Sunday is just 3 weeks away.
We will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection to come.
If you don’t believe that, you don’t know squat.
Strike One, Pharisees. Strike Two, Sadducees.
The Teachers of the Law are up to bat. This time, the questioner isn’t so antagonistic. V.28
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ [Which is the greatest? Which one is the Head of the Commandments that all of the other 612 flow from? V.29] ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these.’”
Application #3. From the mouth of Jesus: LOVE GOD WITH YOUR ALL AND LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.
After the word “love,” the key word in v.30 is ALL. A-L-L. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
He’s saying God wants all of you.
He is worthy of your all. He deserves you all. He is desirous of your all.
Love God with your all.
And right along with that (can’t be divorced from it, in many ways it’s how we do it!) is love your neighbor like you love yourself.
None of us have kept these Great Commandments.
So, right here we are forced to see and are helpfully reminded of our need of a Savior.
Only One has ever loved God with His All. And He died on the Cross to pay for all of the times we have not.
Only One has ever loved His neighbor perfectly. And He died on the Cross to pay for all of the times we have not.
The first thing that this commandment does for us is drive us to recognize our need of a Savior.
Have you trusted the Savior? Are you thankful for the Savior’s perfect love of God and others? Are you trusting in the Savior’s redeeming sacrifice for your unloving heart?
Your Blood Has Washed Away My Sin Jesus, Thank You! The Father’s Wrath [For Not Loving Him With My All] Completely Satisfied Jesus, Thank You! Once Your Enemy [Not Loving You At All], Now Seated At Your Table Jesus, Thank You! (Jesus, Thank You, Pat Sczebel, 2003)
The first thing that this commandment does is drive us to recognize our need of a Savior. The second thing this commandment does for us is to inform our behavior.
This is how we are to live.
Love God with Your All and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.
Everything flows out of that.
When I have a hard choice to make, I like to ask myself this question, “What does love do in this situation?” “What does love look like in this situation?”
And when I get my best answer to that, I know what I need to do.
Love God, Love People, and [most of the time] you know what to do in any given situation.
Everything flows from that. Not that it’s easy, but it’s simple.
Love God with Your All and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.
This begs the question again. What are you holding back?
This particular teacher of the law turned out to not be an enemy. V.32
“‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”
Notice that these people come to Jesus to question Him, but in the end, He stands in judgment over them!
This man brought the toughest question the scribes have ever asked, and not only did Jesus answer it, but from a lordly position told this man that he was close to the kingdom.
And “from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”
In other words, Jesus the won hands down. 1, 2, 3.
And then, He asks His own question. V.35
“While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, ‘How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: ‘'The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’' David himself calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?’ The large crowd listened to him with delight.”
In case anyone disputes Jesus’ authority and mastery over the Scriptures, Jesus asks a question of His own to put the Teachers of the Law to shame.
Apparently, they were teaching that the Messiah (the Christ) was the Son of David. And of course, He is.
But they must have seemed to have the implication by that, that the Christ was merely the Son of David. But Jesus shows from Psalm 110 that the Christ is much more than that.
David, writing Psalm 110 says, “The Lord [YHWH, God] said to my Lord [David’s Lord]: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’' David himself calls [the Christ] 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?’”
He must not only be Great David’s Son, but Great David’s Greater Son–God’s own Son!
The Christ is God’s Son!
Application #4. HUMBLE YOURSELF BEFORE GOD’S SON.
The Teachers of the Law thought they had the Christ neatly in a box.
But the Christ doesn’t fit in their box.
He is Lord.
Humble Yourself Before God’s Son.
If you have never humbled yourself, take note of what God is going to do in v.36. He is going to put all of Christ’s enemies under His feet.
Humble yourself now and you won’t have to face that destruction.
If you are a Christian, you are called to humble yourself before Christ, as well.
He is the master. And we are His servants.
He is God’s Son.
The Teachers of the Law were not humble. And Jesus condemned them for it. V.38
“As he taught, Jesus said, ‘Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.’”
Jesus hates pride in all of its forms. But religious pride is especially distasteful to Him.
Remember two weeks ago? True greatness comes not from being served, but by humbling yourself and serving others.
These Teachers of the Law had no Love of God and love of others.
All they had was love of themselves.
And Jesus says that they “will be punished most severely.”
Humble Yourself Before God’s Son.
And #5. TRUST GOD WITH YOUR ALL.
There was a widow who did just that. V.41
“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. [And the crowd loved it! God must love those rich people!] But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. [1/64 of a denarius, 1/64 of a day’s wage, the smallest coins in circulation. But Jesus noticed. V.43] Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.’”
She trusted God with her all.
At this point, she loved God with all her heart, all her soul, all her mind, all her strength, and all her money.
She trusted God to take care of her needs.
My friend Russell writes, “She could have put just one [coin] in the receptacle and saved the other for herself and still she would have given more than the rich people in front of her. She would have given 50% while many of them were giving only 10 or 20%.
But she didn't do that. She put them both in. Jesus says in verse 44, ‘She, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.’ More than the money, I would say, she was giving her very life. In a statement of faith and trust in God's ability to provide, she put all her money in the collection box, saying–in essence–‘Here is all that I am Father, I place it in your hands’” [Russell Muilenberg, “Sold Out Devotion” An Unpublished Sermon].
Now, I don’t think that this is teaching that we are all to immediately empty our bank accounts and give them to some ministry (though I don’t want to under-emphasize the example and call to give generously and sacrificially that is present here).
But I think the key thing to get here is that she trusted God with her all.
It was a trust thing. Not an amount thing.
Again, anyone can be great in God’s eyes, it’s not the amount. It’s the faith.
God wants us all.
He wants us to trust Him with our all.
I’m going to ask the question a third time this morning: What are you holding back?
God’s stamp is on you. Give to God what is God’s. You’re going to live forever. Get ready. Love God with your ALL. And love your neighbor as yourself. Humble yourself before God’s Son. And trust God with your all.
We are beginning the last major section of the Gospel of Mark–which takes place in and around the holy city of Jerusalem. According to the other gospels, Jesus has been to Jerusalem before, but Mark has not recorded any of those other visits. This is THE visit to Jerusalem as far as Mark is concerned. Jesus has been “on the way” to Jerusalem for several chapters, and now He has arrived.
And He confronts His fate head on.
One third of the entire Gospel of Mark is devoted to this last week of Jesus’ ministry. Many have remarked rightly that “the gospels are ‘passion stories’ with long introductions.” Everything has been leading up to this.
The last 10 chapters have been leading up to the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem and the confrontation He is going to have with the Jewish Religious Leaders.
This confrontation is not an accident. This confrontation is a deliberate choice of Jesus. Jesus has been deliberately heading for Jerusalem. He has deliberately set His face towards His fate.
And now, on what we call “Palm Sunday”, Jesus deliberately makes His entrance in a dramatic fashion.
Now, Jesus is no longer concerned with keeping His identity a secret. No longer is He telling people “shhhh.”
Now, Jesus is staging a dramatic entrance that signals that He is the King. “King Jesus.” Mark chapter 11, verse 1.
But first, let’s pray. [prayer]
“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.”
King Jesus sends two of His followers on a mission. He has requisitioned a donkey colt. He knows exactly where it will be. We don’t know how. Probably this is meant to show His sovereign knowledge. And He has an answer in case there are any questions about this kingly requisition. V.3
“If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'’” The “Lord” needs it. Another nod towards his Kingship. V.4
“They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, [just like He said] some people standing there asked, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.”
“When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. [The first and only time in the gospels we are shown Jesus riding.] Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, ‘Hosanna!’ [Save!] ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest!’”
What is Jesus saying by riding in like this?
According to the other gospels, Zechariah 9:9 predicted this very moment.
“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Jesus is presenting Himself to Jerusalem as the Messiah.
This is King Jesus! The King of Israel has come.
And some recognize Him as King–probably not many Jerusalemites, more likely Galileans who were pilgrims coming into the city for the big Passover festival. But some did recognize Him as King Jesus. Jesus Messiah. Jesus the Christ.
And where did King Jesus go when He came into Jerusalem?
He went straight for the temple. V.11
“Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”
That was anticlimactic, wasn’t it? Here Jesus rides into town fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. He is hailed as the Messiah by some of the common people.
He goes to the temple, looks around, and then goes back to Bethany.
Sometimes we call this event, “The Triumphal Entry.”
But it sure didn’t end with a triumphant bang!
The key to understanding this, I think, is to think a little about how Jesus looked around at the temple.
Do you think that Jesus looked around like a tourist? Being wowed by Herod’s big architecture? Probably not.
Do you think that Jesus looked around like a spy? Scouting out the territory before starting the invasion? That’s probably a little more like it, but not quite right.
I think that Jesus in v.11 “looked around at everything” like a King! Like the owner of the temple, not just a visitor.
He was surveying what was happening on His property.
The Heavenly King has just marched into town and is now inspecting what should be His earthly headquarters. Which should have been being carefully managed by His dutiful followers.
But the King has found something drastically different. A temple that is all corrupt.
And King Jesus intends to do something about it the next day. V.12
“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. [Now, don’t think that the subject has changed. Jesus is heading into town on Monday to do something dramatic about the state of the temple that He saw Sunday night. And this part of the story is a symbolic demonstration of what Jesus is planning to do. V.13] Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.”
Now, remember, this is not a random story. Jesus is going somewhere with this. And you need to know that the fig tree was a regular symbol in the Old Testament for the people of Israel. Jesus saw that a fig tree was in full leaf (a little ahead of its season), and where there are leaves there should be figs (even if these would have been a little premature and chewy).
But this fig tree was deceptive. It looked healthy and fruitful ahead of its time, but it was really barren. It was really worthless.
It looked lively, but it was actually full of death.
Now, remember where King Jesus is headed. V.15
“On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: ‘'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'’ The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.”
Does this temple look like a healthy fig tree in full leaf?
Sure! It’s bustling with people. There are all kinds of people everywhere. The Court of the Gentiles (the outer court) had become something of a sacrificial shopping center and financial exchange. And the merchants of Jerusalem had begun to use it as a short-cut for getting merchandise from one end of town to the other.
This place was hopping. And the Jewish leaders were making a bundle for themselves and for the temple business along the way. It was a “win-win” for everyone.
And it was a total perversion of God’s intent for the temple!
What should have been a house of prayer for all nations (Isa 56:7) had become a den of robbers (Jer 7:11). The court of Gentiles should have been a quiet place of devotion to God for those who are being attracted to God by the covenant community.
Instead, it had become a commercial nightmare that had corrupted God’s holy intention for the temple.
And King Jesus was now here to say so.
He was fulfilling Malachi chapter 3, verses 1-3.
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. [John the Baptist] Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.”
He caused quite a stir, didn’t He?
Some scholars estimate that the Court of the Gentiles in Jesus’ time could have accommodated about 75,000 people on a busy day.
Jesus brought all of that to a halt on Monday of Passion Week.
And while He did, He taught the crowds, and they were amazed at His teachings.
And this scared the Jewish Religious Leaders stiff. V.18 again.
“The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.”
They have not recognized and received their King. Instead, they hope to kill Him. V.19 “When evening came, they went out of the city.”
Now, remember the fig tree? That story isn’t over yet. What do you think Mark is saying that Jesus was symbolizing by cursing the fig tree?
He is predicting the judgment due Israel for the sinful mismanagement of her leaders.
V.20 “In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!’”
Just like He said. The fig tree looked healthy like the temple did. But it was deceptive and was barren and unfruitful. And basically dead.
And Jesus brought judgment upon it, as He will upon the temple and the leaders of Israel.
This is the last miracle in the Gospel of Mark except for the Resurrection.
And it is a miracle, not of healing, but of destruction and judgment.
Failure to receive Jesus as rightful King will result in destruction.
Total destruction: “Withered from the roots.”
But that does not have to be our fate. Jesus calls us to believe. V.22
“‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’”
Jesus answers Peter’s comment about the fig tree with a call to faith: “Have faith in God.”
Don’t trust yourself. Don’t trust the temple thieves. Don’t put your trust where it will be disappointed.
Put your trust in God.
Point #1 this morning. KING JESUS TEACHES US TO TRUST IN PRAYER.
I don’t mean trust in your prayer. I mean while praying TRUST.
King Jesus calls us to believe.
He says something really exaggerated to make His point.
“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.”
Now, I don’t think that we are to literally command mountains to fly into the sea. I can’t see how that would be praying along the lines of God’s will as we’re told elsewhere to pray.
But Jesus uses the tossing of “this mountain” which might be the towering Mount of Olives as an illustration of how powerful our prayer answering God is.
But He answers prayers of faith not prayers of unbelief.
King Jesus teaches us to trust while praying. V.24
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Now, this can be taken out of its New Testament context and made into a kind of twisting God’s arm to do something for us if we can muster up enough faith.
But that’s presumption and idolatry, not faith.
However, we can’t explain away this passage so that it loses its prophetic force.
Jesus is saying that when we pray in faith, we need to be thankful in advance for God’s powerful, wise, and good answer in His perfect timing.
We need to pray in faith that God is going to answer our prayers.
You can fall into a ditch on either side of this teaching.
One ditch is the ditch of unbelief. “Oh, I don’t think that Jesus really means that we should believe that we have received it.” That’s just presumption.
But it’s what He said. And it’s what John says in 1 John 5.
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.”
We need to be serious about believing when we pray.
Do you pray with faith?
But the opposite ditch is possible, too. That’s the ditch of presumption. Thinking that if we just work up enough faith then God will have to do what we have asked.
But that makes God a “genie in a bottle” and not the Sovereign Lord of the universe (who loves to answer prayer).
So we must learn to pray according “to God’s will” and put our full faith and trust in Him as we do.
Do you pray with faith? What are you praying for right now with faith?
King Jesus teaches us to trust while praying.
#2. KING JESUS EXPECTS US TO FORGIVE OTHERS.
While praying. V.25
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Forgiveness is tied to effectiveness in prayer.
Our forgiveness is tied to our being forgiving.
It is tied that way at the end of the “Lord’s Prayer” as well.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12-15)
Our forgiveness is tied to our being forgiving.
I think that’s because, fundamentally, our forgiveness is supposed to change us and make us forgiving people.
Paul says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
And relationally, we can’t consider ourselves forgiven unless we have been released enough to release others in forgiveness.
My prayer class last week went into this, as well. My professor says this, “We are commanded to forgive. Harboring an unforgiving spirit is sin. And God does not hear those who cherish sin (Ps 66:18). It all goes back to the relationship between prayer and obedience. If we obey, we grow to know the mind of God and we will begin to pray according to his will. Such prayers are answered. But if we do not forgive, we do not obey and we grow distant from God. We will thus have trouble knowing his will and praying according to it” (The God Who Hears by W. Bingham Hunter, pg.148).
Is there someone you are bitter towards?
Someone you haven’t forgiven?
Someone who has sinned against you and you are harboring animosity towards them?
King Jesus expects you to forgive.
That doesn’t always mean that the relationship can go back to being what it was.
It sometimes doesn’t even mean that the relationship can be reconciled, if the other person isn’t repentant.
But it does mean that you can release bitterness in your heart and release the debt that person owes you in your heart. It means that you can forgive them and be ready to reconcile.
And your prayers will be answered.
King Jesus expects us to forgive others. Because He has forgiven us!
And because He is King.
The Jewish Religious Leaders weren’t so sure that He was the King. They were not convinced of His authority. V.27
“They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts [He’s back again, looking for trouble], the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him [These folks make up the Sanhedrin, the guys in charge and they come looking for trouble, too. V.28] ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?’ [That was quite a demonstration you did yesterday in the temple. Where is your authorization? Remember, the authority of Jesus has been a big issue throughout the Gospel of Mark. And Jesus, as usual, answers a question with a question. V.29] Jesus replied, ‘I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John's baptism–was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!’”
Jesus is both answering and refusing to answer the question.
If they say John’s baptism was from God, then Jesus’ authority is from God because that’s what God said when John baptized Him. But if they won’t acknowledge that, then they won’t get an answer.
Of course, all they’re concerned about is their power. V.31
“They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?' But if we say, 'From men'....’ (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, ‘We don't know.’ Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’”
Notice again how the fear of man will control you. Three times in these two chapters the leaders are shown to be scared of the people. Jesus never is.
And then Jesus teaches a parable that explicitly makes the point that this entire passage so far has been making. Chapter 12, verse 1.
“He then began to speak to them in parables: ‘A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. [Can you guess who the man is? Can you guess who the farmers are? V.2] At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.”
“‘He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, 'They will respect my son.' ‘But the tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. ‘What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
“Haven't you read this scripture: ‘'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?’ Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.”
God has a vineyard called “Israel” that was blessed with the Law. And He had put the Jews in charge of Israel like the tenants in Jesus’ story. “One would have expected that [they] would be extremely grateful and loyal to the one who has set them up in this way. But that isn’t the case.” (From “The King Comes Home” by Russell Muilenburg, unpublished sermon)
God sent prophets to call Israel to account. But they were mistreated: Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Amos, John the Baptist.
So, God sent His only Son to the vineyard.
To the holy city. To the leafy fig tree. To the busy temple.
But the tenants, Jesus predicts, said, “Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.”
The Cross of Friday is predicted on Tuesday right in the face of the Jewish Leaders.
And the result of the Cross?
‘What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
Judgement is coming. A storm is brewing.
The temple will be torn down. The fig tree will be withered from the roots. Destruction will come for those who do not recognize Jesus as the Rightful King.
And King Jesus will be the capstone.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
#3 (and last). KING JESUS REQUIRES US TO SUBMIT TO HIS AUTHORITY.
He is King Jesus!
He is the Son of the Vineyard Owner.
He is the Messiah riding on the donkey.
He is the Lord of the Temple.
He is the One with Authority from Heaven.
He is King Jesus.
And we need to recognize that.
If you have not recognized Jesus as your King, you are in danger.
The Jewish Leaders thought they were in charge, but they were only stewards, only managers of Israel. And they had sinfully mismanaged Israel.
And when God sent His Son to collect the rent, they killed Him.
And there was Hell to pay.
If you have not recognized Jesus as your King, you are in danger.
He is inviting you right now to enjoy total amnesty.
He is inviting you right now to lay down your weapons and come out with your hands up before Him.
He is inviting you right now to surrender your life to His Lordship.
He invites you to submit to His Kingship.
King Jesus requires you to submit to His authority.
The most amazing thing in the world is that He laid down His life for you to surrender yours to Him.
The Cross is not just the last straw that brought judgment on those who rejected the Messiah.
The Cross is also the way that Messiah-killing people like you and me can be forgiven and reconciled to the Owner of the Vineyard and included in His people!
King Jesus requires you to submit to His authority.
But you get to do it by grace!
If you have not recognized Jesus as your King, you are in danger.
He is inviting you to surrender yourself today.
If you have recognized Jesus as your King, you need to live like it.
John the Baptist called that “produc[ing] fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
We need to live as if Jesus was our King (because He is).
So many Christians by name do not live as Christians by life-style.
There is a lack of Lordship of in their lives.
But King Jesus requires us to submit to His authority.
What He says goes. What He wants is what we do. What He puts in His Bible is what we believe.
If Jesus is really is our King, what changes need to be made to the way we live our lives?
We are very rapidly approaching Passion Week. Counting today, there are only six more weeks until Resurrection Sunday. And as we near “Passion Week” together, in Mark’s introduction to Jesus, Jesus is nearing His passion week. Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem. Deliberately.
Jesus has set Himself on a crash course with the religious leaders in Jerusalem. And He knows how it is going to end.
In our passage for today, Jesus tells them for the third time (in so many chapters) what is about to happen to Him. And, again, they don’t get it. They don’t yet understand the Cross. They don’t yet understand discipleship. So, Jesus, gently but firmly, instructs them in what He has come to do and sets for them (and for us) a perfect model of what it means to be a servant.
This morning, I want to carefully read from verse 32 to the end of the chapter explaining things as we go along. And then, I have 2 points that I want to draw from this passage and apply to our lives. Two points about “Servants.”
Mark chapter 10, verse 32.
“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.” Stop there.
Notice that Jesus was “leading the way.” Jesus is a man on a mission. Nothing is going to stop him from reaching His destination.
His disciples and the others in the crowd know that something is up because they are “astonished” and “afraid.” They know that Jesus is heading into “enemy territory,” but they don’t really get what is going to happen to Him. So, He tells them. V.33
“Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’”
Jesus knows that His death is just around the corner. He is going into it intentionally. His eyes are wide open about His fate. There is no surprise here.
He knows what is coming: Betrayal. Condemnation. Ridicule. Persecution. Agony. And Crucifixion. And then three days later–Resurrection! He told them in advance.
However, the disciples still don’t get it. They must have thought he was talking in riddles or exaggerating because they just did not get it.
They believed that He was the promised Messiah, yes, but they obviously didn’t believe that He was going to suffer like He said He would. They didn’t have any categories for that.
James and John were confused enough to come to Him with big requests based upon their misunderstanding of Jesus’ words. V.35
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’”
Uh oh. “Lord, please write us a blank check!” V.36
“‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’”
This is the height of arrogance. Remember two weeks ago, when we read that the disciples were arguing over which of them were the greatest? Well, the sons of Zebedee have it all figured out. They are!
Jesus, when you come into your kingdom–you just said that you are going to be rising soon! (Didn’t get the rest, but caught that!)–when you come into your glory, let James and I share it at the highest places in the Kingdom–the right and left hand of the King! Glorify us when you glorify yourself!
V.38 “‘You don't know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’”
The answer to that question should be an obvious, “NO!”
He has just said what His cup and baptism are going to be like in vv.33 and 34. Are you ready for that, James and John? You should answer, “NO.”
You don’t know what you are asking. [There’s a lesson there about unanswered prayer, isn’t there?]
You don’t know what you are asking. If you want to share in my glory, you must share in my suffering!
Suffering is my path to glory.
And Jesus’ suffering was unique. The cup He drank to the bottom was the cup of the wrath of God against the sins of His people. Jesus’ cup was the Cross. His baptism was His crucifixion. And they could not follow Him there.
But they didn’t understand that or believe that. V.39
“‘We can!’ they answered.” They aren’t called the Sons of Thunder for nothing! (Edwards, pg. 323) “We can!”
Now, catch what Jesus says next. “Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’”
“James, John, in one sense, NO you don’t know what you are talking about. You cannot drink my cup or be baptized with my baptism of suffering. But in another sense, I know that you will drink my cup and you will be baptized with my baptism. You, too, if you follow me, will suffer. You will experience hardship and persecution and difficulty and pain on the Gospel Road.”
Discipleship is not easy. It is painful. It’s difficult. Remember, being a Christ-follower means taking up our crosses, too.
If we belong to Him, we, too, will experience hardship in following Him. We, too, will drink from His cup and be baptized with His baptism.
“But James and John, I don’t decide who sits on my left or my right. The Father does. And I am always submissive to His will. And it’s already been decided. So don’t go fighting for it. And don’t go thinking that you can get to it without the path of suffering!”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just James and John who misunderstood. The rest are no better. V.41.
“When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. [Probably jealous that they thought of this first! Probably Peter was the most indignant because he was, with James and John, part of Jesus’ inner circle. So, v.42...] Jesus called them together [It’s time for a lesson.] and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them [dominance]. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, [here’s where the servant language begins] and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 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.’”
Now, this is an important teaching. Jesus turns the whole world upside-down!
In the world we live in, your rank and position determines your greatness.
But Jesus turns that upside-down. “Not so with you!” He says! “Not so with you!”
In Jesus’ Kingdom, greatness comes from humility and loving service. Greatness comes from suffering and laying down your life for the needs of others.
Not from position or rank or authority or role or power or prestige or status or standing!
In Jesus’ Kingdom, greatness comes from humility and loving service.
Notice, Jesus does not say that pursuing greatness is a bad thing.
No. Instead, He redirects our understanding of how to become truly great.
That’s exactly right. And it’s exactly the opposite of the world.
You will not find the Most Humble Person of Year on the cover of Time, Newsweek, People, or Sports Illustrated.
Humility is not the world’s idea of true greatness (though it has a power that is not always unnoticed).
But humility and servanthood do attract the gaze of God.
Listen to Isaiah 66:2, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”
C.J. writes, “Humility draws the gaze of our Sovereign God.”
‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
True greatness comes from being a humble servant.
Who would know this better than the Greatest Servant Ever? V.45 again.
“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.”
“For even.” That means, if even the Son of Man did not enter the world to be served, then how much more should we not expect to be served?
He deserved it!
If anyone ever deserves service it is the Lord Jesus Christ!
He is God! He deserves all worship and obedience to flow to Him. He is the Creator! All things were made by Him and FOR HIM! Right?!
But the Bible says that He did not consider His rights as God to be something to be grasped onto at all times, at all costs, but instead He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:7&8)
That’s what Jesus is talking about here.
Instead of coming to be served, He came to serve in a sacrificial way. A cross-centered way.
“To give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus came to roll up His sleeves and go to work.
He came NOT TO GET something from us, but to GIVE SOMETHING TO US.
He became our servant.
Now, don’t misunderstand. Yes, we are supposed to be His servants in the sense that we submit to Him as King and do whatever pleases Him.
And He is not our servant in the sense that we get to order Him around. (If he was then James’ and John’s request in v.35 wouldn’t have been so misguided.) No. He remains our King.
But in our relationship with Him, the One who WORKS for the benefit of the other–strangely enough–is Jesus!
We are the served. He is the servant.
And that is great news for needy people like you and me! That’s the Gospel!
Jesus Christ does not want us to serve Him as though He needed anything. That would be a business transaction of works.
Instead, He wants us to trust Him. To exercise faith. And to let Him do the work in our lives.
That’s the gospel.
And here’s how He did it. V.45 once more:
He gave “his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus served us by giving His life as a substitutionary atoning ransom payment that sets His followers free from the penalty and power (and someday presence) of sin!
A ransom was the price paid to free a slave, a prisoner of war, or a condemned person.
You know what? That describes you and me, all of us, before we came to Christ.
And if you have never put your faith in Jesus Christ, that is you right now–a slave, a prisoner of war, a condemned person.
Someone had to pay a ransom for us to be saved. Look back up at v.33.
“‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him.”
He gave “his life as a ransom for many.”
Your Blood Has Washed Away My Sin Jesus, Thank You The Father’s Wrath Completely Satisfied [by the Ransom of the Son of Man!] Jesus, Thank You Once Your Enemy, Now Seated At Your Table Jesus, Thank You (Jesus, Thank You, Pat Sczebel, 2003)
Jesus was the Greatest Servant Ever.
And that is the Greatest News ever for needy people like you and me.
And it calls for our faith.
That’s what Jesus looks for. Not for our working for Him. But for our trusting in Him to work for us.
That’s what Bartimaeus did. Verse 46.
“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. [Here’s a needy man who can have nothing to offer Jesus. He’s blind. He has no eyesight. But he has plenty of insight into Who Jesus is. (Edwards, pg.320) V.47] When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”
Blind Bart knows Who Jesus is. He gets it. More than the disciples who have seen Jesus do miracles with their open eyes! V.49
“Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him.”
Notice that that is the very same question that Jesus asked James and John! James and John had said “The glory and greatness that we deserve, please!” But poor Blind Bart asks for what he needs. “The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’”
“‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”
Bartimaeus was “poor in spirit.” Bartimaeus had faith. He trusted in what Jesus would do for him instead of trying to offer to do for Jesus.
And then he did follow Jesus. Notice that?
Bartimaeus became a disciple by faith. He “followed Jesus along the road.”
I’m sure that he became a servant of Jesus.
But not before he had allowed Jesus to serve him.
Two points of application this morning.
#1. BE SERVED BY JESUS.
Allow yourself to be served by Jesus.
Does that sound heretical?
That’s why Jesus came! V.45
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
If you don’t allow Jesus to serve you, you are denying what Jesus came to do.
He has given His life as a ransom for many.
Are you a part of that “many?”
You are if you put your trust in His service.
You are if you place your faith in His grace.
You are if you are trusting alone in His ransom payment for you.
But you are not if you insist on doing it yourself!
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus took off his cloak and started washing His disciples’ dirty feet.
It was obvious that He was acting like a servant. (John 13)
When he got around the table to Peter, Peter said “No, you shall never wash my feet.”
[By the way, “No” is a bad thing to say to Jesus. “Never” is a worse one! Peter got them both in one sentence!]
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
He was saying, “Peter, you must let me serve you. It’s the only way for you to have any part of me.”
Be Served by Jesus!
Allow Christ to work in your life. Trust in His and not your own. Embrace His work in your life.
Let me ask you a question:
Who are you trusting?
What does your life say about who you are trusting?
I talked with a man once who said, “I have trust-issues.” Meaning, it is really difficult for me to put myself in someone else’s hands. I’d rather take my chances with my own hands.
Do you have “trust issues” with Jesus?
Are you trying to go it alone? You will not succeed.
You’ll have about as much success as if Bartimaeus had tried to heal his own eyes!
You will not succeed at being righteous enough to enter heaven. Only His ransom is sufficient.
You will not succeed in living a satisfying, God-pleasing life, either. Only His power and grace in your life is sufficient. Don’t go it alone.
Be Served By Jesus.
He’s the Greatest Servant Ever.
And #2. BE A SERVANT OF OTHERS.
Jesus has set the standard.
He has not only set us free by His ransom paying Cross, but He has set before us an example to live by.
‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
Be A Servant of All. Be a Servant of Others.
Pour yourself out in love for others. Meet needs. Give. Stretch yourself and prefer others above yourself. Treat others as more important.
It’s what the Bible often means by loving others. We often take that to mean just having a warm fuzzy feeling about someone else. But the Bible says that true love is not just an attitude and an affection but also an action of sacrificing for someone else’s good.
Be a Servant of Others.
That sounds good and all, but it is painful when you actually do it, isn’t it!
Being a servant sounds good, but it hurts.
Our world is built on “looking out for number one.” And just try to go out in the world and be a servant, and you’ll get kicked in the teeth before you know it.
That’s part of our cup and baptism in identifying with Jesus. Don’t let it stop you from being a servant.
You and I are tempted to do one or another thing with people. We are tempted to either FEAR them or TRUST in them. But we are supposed to do neither.
We are supposed to love them and serve them.
Be a servant to others.
Giving up your agenda in your personal relationships–at first, that won’t feel good! But it will bring glory to God and show Him to be the Treasure of your life.
Be a Servant to Others.
That does not mean be a doormat and let everyone walk all over you. Jesus was not a doormat, and He is our greatest example of servanthood ever.
But it does mean laying down your life. It does mean surrendering your desires to meet the real needs of those around you.
It is not easy. You will fail. But there is a Ransom that has paid for every failure. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain by being a servant to all.
On that fateful night after Jesus had washed Peter’s and everyone’s feet, He said, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example so that you should do as I have done for you....You’ll be blessed if you do [it].” (John 13:12-17)
Whose feet are you being called to wash?
Your husband? Your wife? Your whiney children? Your demanding parents? Your difficult room-mate? Your domineering co-workers? Your weird neighbor? Your enemy?
You will be truly great if you serve.
I’ve come to love that word “serve” in the last year.
“How can I serve you?” “I think that Mommy has really served us, Kids!” “I want to serve you in this.” “She is a real Servant.” “He is a real Servant.”
Many of you here are such good examples of servanthood–exhibiting true greatness.
Anyone can be great because anyone can serve.
Want to be a great husband? Want to be a great wife? Want to be a great dad? Want to be a great mom? Want to be a great kid? Want to be a great boss? Want to be a great staff member? Want to be a great neighbor? Want to be a great Christian?
I'm in Chicago right now attending my class on the Theology and Ministry of Prayer. Yesterday, we talked about our reponses to the reading. This is my report:
Insights & Lessons from the Reading
The readings for this course were challenging–both personally and theologically. There were many helpful insights, ideas, and concepts to be gleaned for (1) personal/family prayer, (2) leadership prayer, and (3) church-family prayer. Some of the books lent themselves well to all three categories, others were more helpful for one or two. There were also a number of points at which I disagreed with the authors or was disappointed by the lack of theological anchoring in the text of Scripture. This paper is a survey of the insights and lessons gathered from the reading in the order in which I read the books (as well as a few comments of a more critical nature).
The strength of this book comes from the obvious personal connection of its author (A.W. Tozer) to God. This man has drunk deeply from the well that he is commending to us, and it shows.
Personal & Family Prayer Life I think this book would be most helpful on an individual basis. At heart, it’s about encouraging a deep personal prayer life–“There are some, I rejoice to acknowledge who will...hunt some lonely place and pray, ‘O God, show me thy glory.’ They want to taste, to touch with their hearts, to see with their inner eyes the wonder that is God. I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God” (pg 17).
I have (like many others before me) read this book before. The most helpful chapter for me this time around was chapter 9, “Meekness and Rest,” where Tozer commends the nurturing of meekness in the Christian. One of my personal goals in 2006 has been to root out pride and cultivate humility in my heart and life. This chapter offered motivation for that pursuit (including a description of the burdens of pride, pretense, and artificiality that meekness lifts from the believer), as well as a short prescription of the answer: rest on the person and work of Christ. This must inform my prayer life in prayers of confession and supplication.
Leadership Prayer Ministry One of my good church-leadership friends loves Tozer, and I assumed that I would want to give this book to elders and others leaders to read for their personal prayer lives. I was surprised this time around, however, to see how much Tozer didn’t ground his arguments in specific texts of Scripture. Instead, he mainly uses Scripture for illustrative purposes. I think Tozer has lots of truth to offer, but I’m not sure I’d use him for development with my leaders. There are probably better books for that now.
Church Family Prayer Ministry I’ll definitely quote this book in my preaching–Tozer has a way with words. Among the more “mystically-inclined” of my flock, I might recommend it for a discussion group, though I would be much more inclined to suggest The God Who Hears or A Hunger for God.
The strength of this book was the idea of categorizing–thinking of different things that could be called prayer. The author (Richard Foster) has delineated twenty-one different forms of prayer in as many chapters. My prayer life can often fall into ruts becoming nothing more than some adoration and intercession (with a little confession thrown in). This book helped me to think about prayer in more polyphonic tones.
Personal & Family Prayer Life The most powerful lessons I learned from this book were actually in the opening pages. In the Preface, Foster explains his qualifications to write the book, “The years have come and gone, and while I am still a novice in the ways of prayer (who can ever master something in which the main object is to be mastered?), I somehow sense the divine nod of approval” (pg. xi). I don’t know if he had the “divine nod” to write or not, but his parenthetical description of prayer was really striking to me. Prayer is about being mastered.
He continues this thought in the first chapter: “Our problem is that we assume prayer is something to master the way we master algebra or auto mechanics. That puts us in the ‘on-top’ position, where we are competent and in control. But when praying, we come ‘underneath,’ where we calmly and deliberately surrender control and become incompetent” (pgs. 7-8). This accurately described my inner wrestlings with prayer and was a great relief to me.
That first chapter describes what Foster calls “Simple Prayer” or “The Prayer of Beginning Again.” When I am frustrated by my prayerlessness or lack of faith (because of needing to surrender control), the answer is to simply begin again.
Leadership Prayer Ministry This was, by far, the most difficult book to read for this class. While the author may be an expert in the spiritual disciplines, he is not an exegete!
Church Family Prayer Ministry I would not recommend this book for anyone to read who is not already very strong in the Scriptures. It is drifted loose from biblical moorings and has made it onto my “dangerous books” list.
The strength of this book was the author’s (Clinton Arnold) strong grasp of New Testament teaching. His three questions were given a thoroughgoing biblical work-up. Even when I disagreed with some of his conclusions, I was helped by Arnold’s application of Scripture to each item.
Personal & Family Prayer Life Personally, it was very helpful to be reminded once again of the reality of the supernatural and the spiritual arsenal I am called to use in the daily war. Arnold’s first chapter “What Is Spiritual Warfare?” was the best of the three and a great, balanced introduction and overview to the Christian life seen through the lens of spiritual warfare–“Spiritual warfare is a way of characterizing our common struggle as Christians” (pg. 27). I will return to it again–especially to teach on the subject.
Leadership Prayer Ministry Arnold’s answers to the second and third questions were not as persuasive to me. In the second, “Can A Christian be demon-possessed?” Arnold writes, “A Christian cannot be owned and controlled by a demon” (pg. 79) but then says, “Christians can be inhabited and controlled by demons” (pg 88). He nuances his statements quite a bit, but they still seem basically contradictory to me. He also seems to misunderstand David Powlison’s book Power Encounters on page 114, and I have been persuaded by Powlison’s arguments for what he calls “classic mode” spiritual warfare in cases of morality (though perhaps “ekballistic” warfare is appropriate for cases of demonically induced suffering and disease).
These concerns lead me to not be able to recommend this book very highly to other leaders in my church (though I might if they were wrestling with these questions already for some reason).
Church Family Prayer Ministry Arnold’s answer to the third question, “Are we called to engage territorial spirits?” is a very nuanced “No.” I agree with him, and think that he has tried to be very irenic and conciliatory to fellow believers with different viewpoints (perhaps too sympathetically?).
I have no plans to lead our church in “strategic level warfare” as described in this chapter.
The strength of this book was its variety–430 pages of assembled assorted ideas for intensifying prayer in the local church. No need to get stuck in the “same old, same old” patterns. There is an idea here for every church (though some of the ideas seemed “cheesy” to me).
Personal & Family Prayer Life Our family will be using some of the “Prayer Formats” and “Small Group Prayer Ideas.” I’m looking forward to leading my daughter (5½) and my oldest son (4) in the “Alphabet Prayer” (pg 41) and the “Hand of Prayer” (pg. 64).
Leadership Prayer Ministry The ideas in the section on “The Leader’s Prayer Life” would be helpful for our elders for study. The article “Praying with Your Leaders” (pg 135) was very good–“Extended time for prayer must be scheduled into meetings; placing prayer at the beginning of a meeting underscores its priority, reminds us that Christ is the head of the church, sets the proper atmosphere for discussion, and prevents running out of time for prayer in the end.”
Church Family Prayer Ministry I’ve already begun to use this book in church-wide ministry. For example, I have begun to use “bidding” prayer prompts (pgs 300, 306) in our worship celebrations.
It was from this book that I had the idea of asking my church family for prayer requests from each family unit for me to take on my Personal Prayer Retreat for this course. That idea bore immediate fruit in my relationship with my flock. They felt cared for by me, I got to know some more specifics of their concerns, and I was very encouraged to hear some of their requests couched in phrases directly from my preaching. I’ll be doing that again!
Our church has been targeting a nearby town for a possible church-plant. We’ve not done anything like that before and have had some trouble figuring out what to do next. The section in Douglas Kamstra’s book on “Harvest Prayer Ideas” gave me an idea for taking our church-planting plan to the next level. We are going to schedule a prayer meeting in the tallest building in this city where there is a ballroom and a commanding view of Philipsburg and the surrounding area. This will help us to pray for the lost of Philipsburg and get a vision for church planting at the same time.
The Praying Church Idea Book will be going in our church library in a conspicuous spot. And when God surfaces a Prayer Ministry Coordinator for us, this will be an early resource to put in their hands.
The strength of this book is the “truth on fire” of John Piper. Piper consistently blends careful exegesis with white-hot passion (what I like to call “Hot Orthodoxy”) and somehow winsomely communicates it on the written page. A Hunger for God is one of his best books. [Read it online here.]
Personal & Family Prayer Life Piper says that fasting is like an exclamation mark on our prayer lives that proclaims our desire for God. My heart needed these words–“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast, ‘This much, O God, I want you.’” (pg 23).
Leadership Prayer Ministry This book served to awaken my appetite for God (and does every time I read it). It also clears up a lot of the fog that exists about this form of Christian devotion (answering the tough questions). I think the way it ties together Christian activism with Christian devotion is a particular strength that I need to figure out how to capitalize on with my leadership. What other book has chapter titles like this: “Fasting and The Course of History” (chapter 5), “Finding God in the Garden of Pain” (chapter 6), “Fasting for the Little Ones” (chapter 7)?
Church Family Prayer Ministry This book is not a how-to book, but it is one of Piper’s easier books to read. I would recommend it to our entire church family, maybe for our Summer Book Club some year. Whenever I preach on fasting, I always return to this book to graze on its spiritual grass and quote from it (especially the quote section in the appendix (pgs. 183-210). I am currently preaching from the Gospel of Mark and re-read chapter 1 “New Fasting for the New Wine” again to prepare for preaching Mark 2:18-22.
The strength of this book was its God-centeredness. The author (Bingham Hunter) surely has the right approach to a theology and practice of prayer–start with God. Who God is determines what prayer is, what prayer means, and how we should pray. We need to extrapolate our theology and practice of prayer from the character of God.
Personal & Family Prayer Life I was helped by this book’s definition of prayer, “Prayer is a means God uses to give us what he wants” (pg. 12). That may not be the only possible definition of prayer, but it is a helpful way of conceiving it. This idea appears again in the book’s conclusion, “And that is the point of this book. Who does God hear? He hears those who pray and live to glorify Him. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (pg. 198, emphasis his). If I get this right, then all the rest will follow from it. If I miss this, I’ve missed it all.
I’ve read this book before (about eight years ago), but I was much more helped by it this time. I think that’s because I’ve grown in my appreciation for good theology and my desperation for good answers to the tough questions about prayer. For example, I was really helped by Hunter’s observation on page 42, “What can you tell God if he knows everything? And notice the opposite conclusions: Western logic: Nothing. Jesus: Anything. The point is that since God already knows everything about you and still loves you, then there is nothing you can tell him that will change his feelings for you” (emphasis his). That motivates me to bare my soul to God. He certainly isn’t fooled by my spiritual facade.
Leadership Prayer Ministry I’ve already begun using the ideas in this book in leadership development. And I’ve found myself using “Theology Proper” to pastorally answer questions about prayer. There were a few weaknesses, I thought, in the chapter on God’s goodness (especially the discussion about God’s turning evil into good, which I thought missed the biblical balance that was present in Grudem’s discussion of providence), but the balancing chapter on God’s sovereignty definitely made up for it.
Church Family Prayer Ministry We’re already using this book in church-wide ministry. My small group is using it as our text for our bi-monthly discussion groups. We’ve only had three or four meetings, but the discussion has been rich, rewarding, and God-centered.
The strength of this reading assignment is the careful, comprehensive, and yet, accessible systematic thought of the author (Wayne Grudem). And I think he is right in nearly all of his conclusions in these three chapters (Providence (16), Miracles (17), and Prayer (18)).
Personal & Family Prayer Life I was motivated to pray by reading this good theology. I was also motivated to do good thinking about prayer myself. Grudem’s model of careful, readable, biblical, systematic theology incites me to follow.
I love the application questions at the end of each chapter. “Can you name five good things that have happened to you so far today? Were you thankful to God for any of them?” (pg. 351). That’s good theology!
Leadership Prayer Ministry I have used Grudem in leadership training before. I’m always visiting the copier machine with my copy of Systematic Theology. As leaders, we need our orthopraxy to come out of our orthodoxy.
Church Family Prayer Ministry I would recommend that every Christian home own a copy of Grudem’s Systematic Theology and couples and families work their way through the chapters one at a time (in whatever order meets their needs) making sure to pause and consider the application questions. For some families, a copy of the condensation Bible Doctrine (475 pages instead of 1000, edited by Jeff Purswell) might be better, and the chapters on providence and prayer cover most of the same ground as the big one (with no footnotes, though the helpful miracles discussion is mostly missing). I’m presently working through his latest abridgment, Christian Beliefs, with the Junior High Youth Boys class at church on Wednesday Nights.
As an addendum to this paper, I want to mention the reading (unassigned) that has made the biggest impact on me during this pre-course period: Charles Spurgeon’s classic lectures: “The Minister’s Self Watch” and “The Preacher’s Private Prayer.” I’ve made it a minor goal in 2006 to work all the way through Spurgeon’s lectures to his students (my first time). I think it was providential that I would be doing that at the same time as preparing for this class, because the thoughts of Spurgeon [especially (1) the preacher always praying, (2) praying while your discourses are yet upon the anvil (3) prayer will singularly assist you in the delivery of your sermon, (4) prayer after the sermon, (5) preaching with unction, and (6) getting alone to pray] were very convicting and motivating at the same time. Just the words I needed to hear. Praise God!
I'm the happy husband of Heather (a Proverbs 31 mega-woman!), the glad father of the Fab Four (Robin, Andrew, Peter, and Isaac), the joyful pastor of Lanse Evangelical Free Church, a district leader in the awesome Allegheny District of the EFCA, book review coordinator of EFCA Today, and the author of a book on Resisting Gossip (CLC Publications, September 2013).
Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed on Hot Orthodoxy are my own and not that of Lanse Free Church or anyone else. I am accountable to the elders and congregation of LEFC, but they don't necessarily agree with every single thing I think (and that's a healthy thing). I always say, "I have a million opinions, and they are free to the public!"
Many of the books reviewed on Hot Orthodoxy have been given to me by publishers and authors. I've never been asked to produce a favorable review in exchange for the book, and if they did, I wouldn't publish a review.