Mark 12:38-44

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 12

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Adolf Hitler once complained that Germany was an ostensibly Christian nation as opposed to a nation holding to a different religion. Here is what he said:

It’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?[1]

That is telling. Hitler preferred Japan’s exaltation of sacrificing for your country. He even preferred Islam. There was obviously something about it that he appreciated. But Christianity he deplored. Why? Because of its “meekness and flabbiness.” Christianity, you see, exalts the lowly and the weak. Christianity makes much of the unfortunate and those who lack power and strength. But what Hitler wanted was the uberman, the strong man, the man who knew what power was, and the Ubermensch, the master race.

Of course, Hitler was in so many ways simply repeating the mantras of Friedrich Nietzsche who wrote, “Christianity has taken the part of all the weak, the low, the botched; it has made an ideal out of antagonism to all the self preservative instincts of sound life”

Men who like the currency of power, men who like the language of strength, men who act in the theater of the pompous, these men despise Christianity and the teachings of Jesus. In particular, they despise passages like Mark 12:38-44.

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Now for sale: Volume 1, The Collected Writings of James Leo Garrett Jr., 1950-2015

It is a beautiful thing, after this many months of work, to finally see this become available.  I  thank the many people who made this possible in the acknowledgments of the book so I won’t do so here, but I do want to say that without a lot of help from a lot of folks this volume would not be appearing when it has.  My sincere prayer has always been that these volumes will further the great legacy of Dr. James Leo Garrett Jr.  You can order a copy here.

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Mark 12:28-34

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 12

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Many of you will no doubt remember the terrifying reign that Idi Amin held over Uganda throughout the 1970s. It is estimated that 300,000 people were killed in Uganda during that period. Amin made certain Christian communities the object of his wrath because of their support of the ruler who proceeded him. Many Christian leaders were also killed. Ronald Kernaghan passes on a story about one Christian leader’s response to Amin that is particularly powerful.

Festo Kivengere was the archbishop of Uganda during the awful days of Idi Amin. Idi Amin was one of the most savage tyrants in recent history. During a brutal reign from 1971 to 1979 the man who claimed to be “Lord of all the beasts of the earth and fishes of the sea” orchestrated the torture and execution of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom belonged to the Anglican church that Bishop Kivengere led. Before Idi Amin was driven from power, Bishop Kivengere was asked what he would do if he found himself with a loaded gun in the presence of Idi Amin. The bishop replied. “I would hand the gun to the President and say, ‘I think this your weapon. It is not mine. My weapon is love.’”[1]

This is an amazing response and one that stops us in our tracks. In fact, Kivengere went on to publish a book in 1977 entitled I Love Idi Amin. Unbelievable.

What are we to make of this? The unduly and unjustly skeptical might simply accuse Kivengere of grandstanding, but, frankly, that makes no sense. Kivengere almost certainly frustrated some of his own friends by his refusal to blast the trumpet of hatred at Amin. And some might say that this kind of sentiment is actually wrong, that it is wrong to say you love somebody like Idi Amin. Yet there is another possibility and it is one upon which we should give serious reflection. It is this: Festo Kivengere had walked so long with Jesus and had become so filled with the love of Christ that he actually could not help but love his enemies. His life had become so filled with love that it actually spilled the banks and touched all those around him.

I consider this shocking possibility—shocking, because it is so very unusual—and I ask myself whether or not I might come to love like this as well?

In our text, Jesus is approached yet again by a religious leader who wants to ask him a question. Jesus’ answer points to the grand truth that Festo Kivengere actually dared to live out: the essence of life in and with God is radical love, for God first and for our neighbors second, and this is made possible by the fact that we have been loved by God.

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Mark 12:1-12

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 12

1 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” 12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.

One of my favorite novels is Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. There is a very interesting scene in it in which a preacher, Monroe, attempts to win a man he considers to be a heathen, Esco, to faith in Christ.

So Monroe had gone visiting, Ada at his side. They’d sat together in the parlor, Esco humped forward as Monroe tried to engage him in a discussion of faith. But Esco gave up little of himself and his beliefs. Monroe found no evidence of religion other than a worship of animals and trees and rocks and weather. Esco was some old relic Celt was what Monroe concluded; what few thoughts Esco might have would more than likely be in Gaelic.

Seizing such a unique opportunity, Monroe attempted to explain the high points of true religion. When they got to the holy trinity Esco had perked up and said, Three into one. Like a turkey foot.

Then in awhile, convinced that Esco had indeed not yet got report of his culture’s central narrative, Monroe told the story of Christ from divine birth to bloody crucifixion. He included all the famous details and, while keeping it simple, he summoned all the eloquence he could. When he’d finished, he sat back waiting for a reaction.

Esco said, And you say this took place some time ago?

Monroe said, Two thousand years, if you consider that some time ago.

—Oh, I’d call that a stretch all right, Esco said. He looked at his hands where they hung from the wrists. He flexed the fingers and looked at them critically as if trying the fittings of a new implement. He thought on the story awhile and then said, And what this fellow come down for was to save us?

—Yes, Monroe said.

—From our own bad natures and the like?

—Yes.

—And they still done him like they did? Spiked him up and knifed him and all?

—Yes indeed, Monroe said.

—But you say this story’s been passed around some hundred-score years? Esco said.

—Nearly.

—So to say, a long time.

—A very long time.

Esco grinned as if he had solved a puzzle and stood up and slapped Monroe on the shoulder and said, Well, about all we can do is hope it ain’t so.[1]

Frasier goes on to say that Esco was a Baptist all along and was just pretending to be ignorant in order to have some fun with the preacher and his obvious assumption that Esco was ignorant! Even so, Esco’s final response might accurately be viewed as the hidden hope of many people living today: “Well, about all we can do is hope it ain’t so.”

The story that the Bible tells us is a story that many hope is not true for it is a story that threatens our idol of radical autonomy, of isolated self-determination, of ego, of pride, and of greed. Nonetheless, the story the Bible tells is the story of the world and is true whether we “hope it ain’t so” or not!

In our text, Jesus tells the story of the world by telling a story about a vineyard. I hasten to add that, in context, the story Jesus tells is clearly aimed at the religious elites with whom He has just clashed. It is, in the narrow sense that Jesus says it here, a story about how religious powerbrokers end up shutting God out of their lives and “ministries.” Yet, it is not inappropriate to apply this story to the world at large, for in it we find the broad strokes of the entire story of scripture. That is what we will do here. We will see in this story the story not only of the few who rejected Jesus at a particular time, but of the world’s rejection of Christ. The world at large rejected Jesus just as these religious leaders did. The story of the vineyard is therefore not only a story about priests and the temple. It is also a story about the world.

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Exodus 30:17-21

8-3_laverExodus 30

17 The Lord said to Moses, 18 “You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, 19 with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. 20 When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. 21 They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.”

Timothy George and John Woodbridge have written of the low view that many people have of ministers.

Most non-Christians are convinced that Christians are inveterate hypocrites. One cartoon in The New Yorker (January 26, 2004) cleverly exploits this widespread sentiment. The cartoon shows a prisoner in a cell turning to another who is sitting on a cot. The first prisoner has apparently just asked the second man why he is in jail. The second responds cryptically: “I’m between congregations.” With a deft touch, the cartoonist had scored Christians – in this instance, a hypocritical clergy member – for not practicing what they preach. What’s worse, the cartoonist assumed that the readers of The New Yorker, so aware of Christians’ flawed reputations, would not need a lengthy explanation to reveal the cartoon’s barb.[1]

It is indeed a damning indictment, and one that should give the church pause. Of course, we might allege that this is simply anti-Christian bias, and that would work if the history books and newspapers were not filled with enough examples of hypocritical and failed ministers to make us blush until kingdom come. No, in point of fact, ministers have usually not needed much help in discrediting themselves.

It is therefore interesting to note that the scriptures call for holy ministers from the very beginning of such a classification of people. Exodus 30:17-21 gives us one more example of how the need for holy ministers was communicated in the arrangement of the tabernacle.

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Mark 11:27-33

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 11

27 And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Upton Sinclair once wrote one of the most profound and insightful quotes I think I have ever heard. Here it is: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”[1] That is so very very true, is it not?

The term “inconvenient truths” has become popular in our day, but what of “vocation-destroying truths,” “ego-demolishing truths,” “assumption-destroying truths”? Well, in these cases, it is not enough for the threatened to ignore the truth, they must silence these threatening truths altogether as well as those who dare to say them.

As we approach the cross in our journey through the gospel of Mark, keep that in mind. Here, in Mark 11:27-33, we see the first real movements in the final stages of the escalating conflict that will culminate in the cross itself. Jesus is questioned by the bodies that make up the Sanhedrin, the high court of Jewish religious power. This questioning does not happen formally, but what happens is a definite harbinger of things to come.

As we watch this scene unfold, note the radical differences between Christ and the religious establishment, these men who do not want to hear truths that threaten all they have built.

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Mark 11:12-21

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 11

12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. 15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city. 20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 

I have a great dad and a dad who has always been good to me so I hesitate to tell this story for fear that it might embarrass him. It is a story we joke about now but, at the time when it happened, I was terrified. It remains the only time in my life that I was terrified of my dad. There were plenty of times I was scared of my dad and all of those times had to do with well-earned and well-deserved disobedience on my part! But I was only terrified of my dad once in my life.

I was a little boy. I was standing in our front yard at 7 Clinton Street in Sumter, South Carolina. Our family had a large red Oldsmobile at that time. I remember that car well. It seemed like a tank: big and metallic and strong. My dad had the car in the front yard and, while I climbed the branches of a tree, he was there, just a little way away from me, quietly and intensely focusing on getting the passenger side door of that big Oldsmobile back on the car.

He had to take the door off to fix something or other. The door was huge and heavy. It was not plastic like car doors tend to be today. He had some kind of jack on which he was balancing the door as he tried to line the hinges up in order to reattach it. It was one of those things that never…quite…line…up. Perhaps you know what I mean: those jobs that will test your sanity, that seem to be almost sadistically toying with you, that allow you to think that you have got it when you do not have it. He was so focused and so quiet and so intense in his silence that somehow it got my attention. I stopped playing on the tree and watched him.

It was hot out. He was sweating. The sweat was dripping off the tip of his nose while he strained to hold the door upright, to balance the door, and reattach the door. I think it was the silence that first startled me. There was just the sound of metal bumping and scraping and clanging on metal, but, from my dad, silence. He was too quiet. He looked like he was in a death-grip wrestling match with some sort of red metallic beast, his muscles straining against its resistance.

In a moment, I thought he finally had it. The door lined up. The hinges lined up. But then, at the last second, no, it slipped out again like it had slipped out a thousand times during the time in which he was wrestling with it.

Then it happened. The moment that terrified me. My father stopped. His hands still on the door. Then he gripped it, the entire big door, and, screaming, slowly lifted it over his head. While I stood there with my mouth wide open, my father held that big metal door over his head like Atlas except that he was not stooping the way Atlas does under the earth. He held it up and then with all of his mustered might and fury and rage he slammed the door into the ground.

The door was red metal on the outside but white upholstery on the inside. I jolted with shock when the door hit the ground, the white interior now belly-up in the sun, the dust rising in a cloud. Then my father took his big dirty foot and slammed it down on the door, as if he was pinning the neck of some deadly beast, reached down to the white door handle that you would reach out, grab, and use to shut the door when you were sitting inside it, and with a cry of anger ripped the handle off the door, did a shot-putt rotation, and then hurled the door handle like a propeller over the top of our house.

I watched with stunned amazement as that handle propelled over the house: whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. I think it landed in Florida.

Then, seething and sweating and red-faced and fist-clenched and shaking, my father slowly turned to look at me standing there, trembling, horrified, and all of six years old. I will never forget it: my dad, animalistic with fury, the car door still shaking in the aftermath of the assault, the gaping passenger side hole behind him, the interior handle still flying south. And when he looked at me in that instant, I recall as clear as a bell that chills came over me and I physically took a step back.

That transformation from my loving dad to whatever it is that he had become startled me and startles me even now as I think about it! It…was…epic!

Finally he calmed himself and now, many moons later, we laugh about it. But not at the time. It is unnerving to see one who always seems to have it together suddenly act out with destructive force. And while it was not directed towards me—and I hasten to add that my father never treated me like he treated that car door—it made, shall we say, an impression.

There are people who feel the way I felt then about the story in Mark 11:12-21. This is a hard story. Basically, our text has three components, all three of which cause us to step back a bit in shock:

  • Jesus curses a fig tree that is not bearing fruit.
  • Jesus casts the money-changers out of the temple.
  • Jesus and the disciples pass back by the cursed tree and see that it has withered and died.

In a sense, of course, comparing our text to my dad’s great battle with the Oldsmobile door is unjust, for Jesus did not lose control of himself. Jesus was always in perfect control. However, there are some similarities. Jesus shocked the disciples by doing what He did to the fig tree and He shocked everybody by doing what He did in the temple. Jesus did indeed display ferocious anger, though, unlike our anger, the anger of Christ is never contaminated by sin. And He did react with a kind of fury against something that was not doing what it was supposed to do.

What, then, are we to do with this strange and startling tale? The first thing we must do is understand the connection between the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple. Let us recall those three component parts:

  • Jesus curses a fig tree that is not bearing fruit.
  • Jesus cleanses the temple.
  • Jesus and the disciples pass back by the cursed tree and see that it has withered and died.

In order to understand this we need to understand that Mark, by sandwiching the story of the temple cleansing within the story of the fig tree, is using a literary device that he is particularly fond of. Mark is using something that is called inclusio or intercalation or sandwiching. Scott Duvall and Danny Hayes define inclusio as “a literary technique in which a passage (a story or a poem, etc.) has the same or a similar word, statement, event, or theme at the beginning and at the end. This is also called ‘bracketing’ or ‘framing.’”[1] Our text is a perfect example of this. Consider:

Fig Tree

12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

Temple

15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city.

Fig Tree

20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”

What this means, then, is that what happened in the temple is crucial to understanding what Jesus did to the fig tree and what Jesus did to the fig tree can only be understood by what Jesus did in the temple. The two are not only connected, they explain one another.

So the question is this: what was Jesus so angry about? Why did He act the way He acted?

We are going to approach this text from the vantage point of Jesus’ actions in the temple. We will then allow those actions to explain what He did to the fig tree.

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Mark 11:1-11

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 11

1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” 11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Sometimes the best characters in stories are the ones you barely notice. They play their part so well and blend so seamlessly into the story that you only realize afterwards what a truly great character they were. In movies and television these characters are known as “bit” characters because they play “bit” parts. Wikipedia defines “bit” parts like this:

A bit part is a role in which there is direct interaction with the principal actors and no more than five lines of dialogue, often referred to as a five-or-less or under-five in the United States, or under sixes in British television.

A bit part is higher than that of an extra and lower than that of a supporting actor. An actor who regularly performs in bit roles, either as a hobby or to earn a living, is referred to as a bit player, a term also used to describe an aspiring actor who has not yet broken into supporting or leading roles.

Unlike extras, who do not typically interact with principals, actors in bit parts are sometimes listed in the credits.[1]

There is a character in Mark 11:1-11, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, who might be described by some as a bit character. Maybe he is. I do not know. That idea is debatable, in my opinion. His role is, in some respects, small. He does not have any lines to speak of. But he does interact with the main character in a way that is profound. In fact, I would like to suggest that his character is much more significant than it first appears. At the very least, he deserves his name in the credits. But I think this character’s role is even more important than that. I think this character is actually a model for Christians today, though an unlikely one.

I am speaking of the donkey.

True enough! I am! The donkey!

Perhaps I will be accused of allegorizing this text. That accusation means nothing to me in this case for, as we will see, the donkey on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem is actually quite significant and his character is deeply tied to Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. He is, in other words, actually an important character and one that is worthy of our consideration.

Before we begin I would like to make sure we understand that it was, in fact, a donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. The word we find in Mark 11 is “colt” and that normally conjures images of a horse, but, in this case, that is not so. William Lane explains that the Greek word translated as “colt” is polon. The word itself “designates simply a young animal” and can, “when it stands alone” mean “a (young) horse.” Lane goes to explain, however, that in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures in use at this time, the word “is used of the colt of an ass…and on the basis of Zech. 9:9 the ass was understood to be the beast of the Messiah.” He concludes that “it is inconceivable that [polon] should be understood as ‘horse.’”[2]

We are talking, then, about a donkey, a donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem setting into motion the events that would lead to His crucifixion. The object of our study is, of course, always Jesus, but let us consider what the choosing of this donkey tells us about the coming of Christ.

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Mark 10:46-52

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 10

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington has made the interesting observation that “bar-Timaeus turns out to be the best paradigm of a disciple that Mark offers us in this entire part of the Gospel.” Michael Card goes further and says that Bartimaeus “becomes the jewel of Jesus’ ministry.”[1]

These are interesting observations because the story of blind Bartimaeus is, on the surface, just one more healing story among many in the gospels. Yet we are told that there is something in this story that reveals Bartimaeus to be the standard of discipleship and “the jewel of Jesus’ ministry”? Why?

Bartimaeus’ need was greater than the obstacles put before him.

Jesus, you will recall, has just made His third and final passion prediction. He has informed the disciples that He is going to Jerusalem to die and that His death will be painful and violent and difficult. He has set His feet towards the cross and they are struggling not only to understand but to keep up. It is in this context, on the way to Jerusalem, that Jesus passes through Jericho. As a He passes through, a blind beggar hears that He is near.

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Adela Yarbro Collins writes that “it is quite unusual for the suppliant in a miracle story to be named.”[2] That is so, but Bartimaeus is named. This is the first clue that there was something memorable, something perhaps unique even, about this miracle. We are told his name and we are told the name of his father. This is “bar-Timaeus,” the son of Timaeus.

He hears that Jesus is coming and “he began to cry out.” Jesus is moving with intensity, with deliberate forward motion, with laser-like focus. There is a huge crowd around him. We might imagine that the crowd gets bigger the closer that Jesus gets to Jerusalem, especially with this being the season of Passover, a season in which the population of Jerusalem swelled to the point of bursting.

There is a commotion and this blind beggar hears the name buzzing among and throughout the crowd: Jesus! Instinctively, as if he is aware that his only hope is passing by, Bartimaeus cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The response from the crowd is as telling as it is sad.

48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Perhaps something just stirred in your memory. May I propose to you that what we might have in the story of Bartimaeus is a story that contrasts with most things that have preceded it in Mark 10? Consider, for instance, how, earlier in our chapter, parents are bringing their children to Jesus and the disciples try to stop them. And consider that the efforts to stop the children from coming were likely predicated on the same faulty foundation upon which the efforts to stop Bartimaeus from crying out are founded, namely, that Jesus was too busy and too dignified for such an uncouth disruption.

They tried to stop the children.

They tried to stop Bartimaeus.

“But,” Mark tells us, “he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus’ need was greater than the obstacles put before him.

Have you ever needed Jesus like this? Have you come to Jesus like this?

Tragically, for most of us, it is not other people keeping us from coming to Jesus, it is our own wretched selves! The voices within us say, “Not now! Not here! Quiet down!” And this works until that great and necessary moment when our need outweighs our obstacles. At that point, we cry out for mercy simply because we can do no other!

Bartimaeus refused to be deterred! How about you? How about me?

Bartimaeus’ desire for a relationship was greater than customs and formalities.

And it is not just that Bartimaeus cried out, it is also what Bartimaeus cried out!

47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

In many ways this sounds like a typical cry to Jesus. What is unique about it? Michael Card observes that Bartimaeus “is the only person in Mark’s Gospel who calls Jesus by his personal name (Mark 10:47)!”[3]

Many people address Jesus in the gospel of Mark, but only one person calls Him “Jesus.” Here again we find a contrast with what precedes this story in Mark 10. When the rich young ruler approached Jesus he referred to Him as “good teacher.” The rich young ruler calls Jesus “good teacher” and ultimately rejects him. Bartimaeus calls Jesus “Jesus” and will not stop until he is healed.

Why? Why does he do this? It is because Bartimaeus’ desire for a relationship was greater than customs and formalities. At the mention of the name of Jesus, Bartimaeus’ heart outpaces his sense of custom and he calls out the name: Jesus!

Interestingly, Bartimaeus is the only person to address Jesus by His first name, but he is not the only entity to do so in Mark. The demons do so. We find this, for instance, in Mark 1, when the demons speak to Jesus.

24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

Likewise, we find this in Mark 5 when the many demons, Legion, do the same:

7 And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”

The only other time a human being uses the personal name in Mark is the girl who confronts Peter in the midst of his three denials of Jesus in Mark 14.

67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.”

Put another way we might say that the use of Jesus’ personal name in the gospel of Mark is always tied to rebellion and sin…with the radical exception of Bartimaeus’ use of it! Only once in Mark is the personal name used in love and addressed to Jesus…and it is right here!

The demons use it as an offensive maneuver to try to thwart Jesus and exert power over Him by using His personal name. They fail. The girl uses the name of Jesus to capture Peter in a lie and her use of the name leads to a denial of Jesus by the lead disciple.

But Bartimaeus says the name and He cries it out to Jesus because he sees in Jesus his only hope, because he loves Jesus, because he has faith in Jesus! Bartimaeus, then, presents an alternative to the other uses of the name in Mark. Which leads us to this startling conclusion: Bartimaeus’ loving and faithful usage of the name Jesus reveals that he, a blind man, can see better than anybody else in the gospel to this point.

The Pharisees are consistently blind to what is happening, but Bartimaeus sees Jesus clearly.

The disciples are consistently blind to what is happening, but Bartimaeus sees Jesus clearly.

Pretty much everybody keeps missing the point…but Bartimaeus sees Jesus clearly!

Last Sunday night, in our youth led worship service, our youth concluded the service by signing the Hillsong song, “What a Beautiful Name.” It was an especially powerful and beautiful moment. Here are the lyrics:

You were the Word at the beginning
One With God the Lord Most High
Your hidden glory in creation
Now revealed in You our Christ

What a beautiful Name it is
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King

What a beautiful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus, You brought heaven down
My sin was great, Your love was greater
What could separate us now

What a wonderful Name it is
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King

What a wonderful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

How sweet is your name, Lord, how good You are
Love to sing in the name of the Lord, love to sing for you all?
Death could not hold You, the veil tore before You
You silenced the boast, of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring, the praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival, You have no equal
Now and forever, Our God reigns
Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name, above all names

What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King

What a powerful Name it is
Nothing can stand against
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

You have no rival, You have no equal
Now and forever, Our God reigns
Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name, above all names

What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King

What a powerful Name it is
Nothing can stand against
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

Ah yes! Beautiful! Wonderful! Powerful! The name of Jesus!

This is how Bartimaeus saw the name, even if seemingly nobody else could really understand it yet. He saw it and he dared to shout the name!

Bartimaeus’ prize was of more value than his possessions.

Jesus hears his cry and then, beautifully, welcomes him in. What follows is one of the most beautiful scenes in all of scripture.

49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”

Those words, “And Jesus stopped,” contain the gospel. That is our joy and our hope. He is not too busy for you. You are why Jesus came! “And Jesus stopped.”

The people stop rebuking Bartimaeus and say, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” What a scene! Apparently Bartimaeus’ imploring was of such intensity and feeling and desperation that the people had to tell him not to let his heart break, not to despair, because Jesus was not simply going to pass him by.

Bartimaeus’ response to this news is simply awesome.

50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Why is this awesome? It is awesome because in the ancient world it was on the outstretched cloak that beggars received money. Imagine him there, his cloak stretched before him, and on occasion he hears the sound of coins dropping. That cloak contains all that he has. That cloak contains his livelihood. That cloak is his life!

And what does he do when the people tell him he can come? He throws off his cloak! This casting off of the cloak is an awesome sign of total commitment, of absolute discipleship. Adela Yarbro Collins likens Bartimaeus’ throwing of his cloak aside to “the widow who contributed ‘her whole livelihood’ to the service of God in the temple (12:44).”[4]

Here again we see how this story represents a contrast to all that preceded it. I am speaking specifically of the rich young ruler. The rich young ruler comes to Jesus formally and he will not let go of his possessions to follow Him. Blind Bartimaeus comes to Jesus with raw desperation and feeling, and he immediately throws aside everything he has to follow!

Joel Marcus explains that some early interpreters of this story even took it to mean that Bartimaeus was wearing only one cloak and so he basically ripped off his clothes and ran to Jesus naked!

The garment Bartimaeus casts off is his himation, or outer tunic, but he is probably still wearing his chiton, or inner tunic…Nevertheless, some scribes seem to have been concerned by the possible implication of nakedness…The earliest commentary on Mark [Pseudo-Jerome, Expositions on Mark]…[echoes] the baptismal language of Eph 4:22; Col 3:9: “He is said to jump nude out of the old man”…[5]

We do not know this, of course, and it is most likely that this is simply his outer cloak, but we may be sure of this: there was such an intensity about this man’s response to the call of Jesus that if he did not rip off everything it was only because he was in too great a hurry! He cast aside his only means of survival! Why? Because for Bartimaeus his prize was of more value than his possessions. His prize was Jesus.

Marcus has also pointed out something very interesting about Bartimaeus’ name.

Timaeus = Timaios is a common Greek name (cf. the title character in one of Plato’s dialogues) derived from the word for “valuable, honored.” It is ironic that the beggar is the son of a man whose name in Greek means “honored”; Augustine remarks that the man has fallen from prosperity to “the most notorious and remarkable wretchedness”…[6]

“Bar-Timaeus,” writes Witherington, “has become bar-Theos (a son of God).”[7] Indeed he has! The valuable who had become valueless becomes valuable again…because the Valuable set aside His glory and made Himself “invaluable” in the eyes of the world. He, the Valuable Jesus, went to the cross and rose from the dead. In doing so, he makes a way for poor, blind Bartimaeus to be a child of the living God, for the valueless to become valuable.

We are all blind beggars sitting by the side of the road. Jesus is coming by. He still stops for those who call His name.

Call His name!

 

[1] Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), p.298. Michael Card, Mark. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), p.134.

[2] Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark. Hermeneia. Ed., Harold W. Attridge. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007), p.508.

[3] Card, p.134.

[4] Collins, p.511.

[5] Joel Marcus, Mark 8-16. The Anchor Bible. Vol.27A (New Haven, CT: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2009), p.759-760.

[6] Marcus, p.759.

[7] Witherington, p.299.

Mark 10:32-45

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 10

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” 35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

At the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, a resolution was proposed by two Southern Baptist theologians and ultimately approved by the Convention. It reads:

WHEREAS, In recent days numerous voices from the Protestant world have boldly attacked the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement; and

WHEREAS, These voices have publicly labeled penal substitution “monstrous,” “evil,” “a terrible doctrine,” and indicative of “the Father murdering a son”; and

WHEREAS, The “anti-violence” model of the cross of Christ weakens the Bible’s teaching by recasting the atonement as a basis for pacifism (in contradiction of Romans 13:4); and

WHEREAS, God is perfect in His holiness (Isaiah 6:3) and perfect in His justice (Deuteronomy 32:4), as He is also perfect in His love (1 John 4:8); and

WHEREAS, On the cross of Christ Jesus the perfect love of God perfectly applies the perfect justice of God to satisfy the perfect holiness of God in order to redeem sinners (Romans 3:26); and

WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement in effect denies the holy and loving God the exercise of His justice, the overflow of which in a sinful world is the outpouring of His just retributive wrath; and

WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement thus displays in effect the denial of the perfect character of the one true God; and

WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement constitutes false teaching that leads the flock astray (Acts 20:28) and leaves the world without a message of a sin-cleansing Savior (Romans 5:6–11); and

WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement necessarily compromises the biblical and historical doctrines of propitiation, expiation, ransom, satisfaction, Christus Victor, Christus Exemplar, and more; and

WHEREAS, The Lord promised a warrior-savior who would crush the head of the serpent to obliterate the enemy (Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20; Revelation 19:11–16); and

WHEREAS, The sacrificial system of the Old Testament culminated in the blood sacrifice of a spotless lamb on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:11–19); and

WHEREAS, Jesus Himself unveiled the salvific mission that necessitated His incarnation (Hebrews 2:17) when He said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28); and

WHEREAS, The confession of the Scriptures is that Christ is our passive and active righteousness, forgiving all our sin by His death and imputing to us all His righteousness through faith (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9); and

WHEREAS, An apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ called the shed blood of the Savior “precious” (1 Peter 1:19); and

WHEREAS, The Bible teaches that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” of sin (Hebrews 9:22); and

WHEREAS, Baptist pastor-theologians and scholars with differing soteriological convictions have made the preaching of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ the foundation of their ministry, heralding the Good News all over this world; and

WHEREAS, Countless missionaries and martyrs of the Christian faith have laid down their lives in order to tell fellow sinners about the death of Christ for the wicked, thus obeying the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20); and

WHEREAS, Baptists preach the cross of Christ, sing about the cross, cling to the cross, share the cross, love the cross, and take up their own crosses to follow their Lord, even as the world despises His cross and the proclaimers of His cross; and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith & Message was revised in 2000, incorporating for the first time the language of substitution to make plain what evangelical Baptists have long since preached and believed; and

WHEREAS, Around the throne of God into all eternity, the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, ethnicity, and nation will cry out, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain … !” (Revelation 5:12, ESV); now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, reaffirm the truthfulness, efficacy, and beauty of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as the burning core of the Gospel message and the only hope of a fallen race.[1]

What is this “penal substitutionary atonement”? Simply put, we might define the “penal substitutionary atonement” view as the view that, on the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the wrath of God that is justly reserved for our sins and, in so doing, paid the price and the penalty for our rebellion by substituting Himself in our stead. To many, this will sound like standard teaching. What lies behind this resolution, however, is, as the resolution states, an increasingly vigorous opposition to penal substitutionary atonement from those who traditionally would have affirmed it.

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