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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Mark 10:17-31

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 10

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

I suppose because my child is now in college I did not realize until some time after the movie “Frozen” came out in 2013 just what a big deal it was. I did see the movie because, even though my daughter rarely watches Disney films anymore, my wife will forever. Even so, I just did not get what a big deal it was. But a year or two after that movie I kept hearing the song, “Let It Go.” That song was everywhere. I started hearing that song so much that it occurred to me that the film “Frozen” and that the song “Let It Go” represented a genuine cultural moment.

That song one the Academy Award in 2014 for “Best Original Song” and it won a Grammy in 2015 for “Best Song Written for Visual Media.” “Let It Go” sold 10.9 million copies in 2014.

The song’s Wikipedia page reveals that some people think the song has an almost narcotic effect on children in particular.

By spring 2014, many journalists had observed that after watching Frozen, numerous young children in the United States were becoming unusually obsessed with the film’s music, and with “Let It Go” in particular. Columnist Yvonne Abraham of The Boston Globe called the song “musical crack” which “sends kids into altered states.” A similar phenomenon was described in the United Kingdom, where Lorraine Candy, editor-in-chief of Elle UK, wrote of a “musical epidemic sweeping the nation, relentlessly gathering up every child … in its cult-like grip”.[1]

All of this leads one to the extremely ironic and humorous conclusion that lots of people became so obsessed with “Let It Go” that they could not…wait for it…let it go!

At the end of the day, it is hard to let go of that which has a hold on us. It is hard to let go of that which will not let go of you.

Our text is about a man who likewise could not let go. Jesus calls on Him to let go of one thing, but he cannot. It raises the obvious question: what is the one thing that you need to let go of that you find you just cannot let go of? Take a moment and think of it: what is the one thing you need to let go of in your life?

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An Update on The Collected Writings of James Leo Garrett, Jr., 1950-2015

Screenshot 2017-07-11 20.43.35For many months now I, along with a team of extremely kind volunteers, have been working on an eight volume collection of articles, essays, and book chapters by Southern Baptist theologian James Leo Garrett, Jr. written from 1950 to 2015.  I was thrilled yesterday to receive proofs from the publisher and it led me to think that I should post a bit of an update on the project for those who are interested.

Basically, I will give the manuscript one more reading, make final corrections, then sign off on it a couple of weeks from now.  Next, I will finalize the three indexes for the volume (scripture, subject, and name).  On the publisher’s part, they will do cover design and finalize the volume itself.  I hope it will be available by January or February of next year, but I have my fingers crossed that it might be out before Christmas of this year.  We’ll see!

Mark 10:13-16

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 10

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

On June 17 of the year 1 B.C., a man named Hilarion wrote a letter home from Alexandria, Egypt, to his wife, Alis, in Oxyrhynchos, a city in the middle of Egypt. What is fascinating about this little letter is, first of all, that it reveals what day-to-day life was like two thousand years ago. What is more, we actually have this letter. It has survived all of these years.

In the letter, we learn that Hilarion had apparently traveled to Alexandria for work and was writing back to his pregnant wife to inform her that even though the people he was living with were traveling back to Oxyrhynchos, he was going to stay in Alexandria. He tells her that when he gets paid he will send some money home to her.

Then Hilarion, in the midst of making these innocent enough comments says something truly disturbing. Let me share his letter and see if you can spot what I am talking about.

resolverHilarion to his sister [note: a common term for one’s wife] Alis, many greetings, also to my lady Berous and Apollonarion. Know that I am still in Alexandria; and do not worry if they wholly set out, I am staying in Alexandria. I ask you and entreat you, take care of the child, and if I receive my pay soon, I will send it up to you. Above all, if you bear a child and it is male, let it be; if it is female, cast it out. You have told Aphrodisias, “Do not forget me.” But how can I forget you? Thus I’m asking you not to worry. The 29th year of Caesar, Pauni 23. (verso) Hilarion to Alis, deliver.[1]

Almost as an aside, Hilarion says something that makes our blood run cold: “if you bear a child and it is male, let it be; if it is female, cast it out.” Exposing unwanted infants was legal at this time, though the chilling matter-of-factness of Hilarion’s instructions really does catch us off guard!

I am not suggesting that all children were viewed with such callous indifference two millennia ago, but I am suggesting that the fact that such a sentiment could be communicated in an otherwise loving letter home speaks volumes of the ancient world and how it viewed children. Furthermore, while we can be sure that the Jews of Jesus’ day did not go around callously exposing unwanted children, they nonetheless lived in a cultural milieu that had devalued children to a very real extent. One can see this, for instance, in the words of Rabbi Dosa b. Harkinas who wrote;

Morning sleep and midday wine and children’s talk and sitting in the meeting-houses of the people of the land put a person out of the world.[2]

To say that children were hated is certainly to say too much! Undoubtedly most parents loved their children then as most do now. Even so, their presence was seen as a distraction from the real world, from real life. This can be seen in many ways in the ancient world. One of the most interesting ways is found in Mark 10:13-16. The disciples reflect the dominant view of the world towards children. Jesus’ response reflects something very different indeed!

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Mark 10:1-12

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 10

1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Has there ever been an institution as simultaneously praised and criticized as is marriage? Has there ever been a dynamic of life that is so loved by so many and so abhorred by so many others as marriage? Perhaps an indicative criticism of marriage is that which we find in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. In this novel, Grimes is essentially being forced into marrying the daughter of his employer, a girl named Flossie Fagan. Here is his lament about this fact:

            “You know,” said Grimes, “look at it how you will, marriage is rather a grim thought…My first marriage…didn’t make much odds either way…But there have been moments in the last twenty-four hours, I don’t mind telling you, when I’ve gone cold all over at the thought of what I was in for…Oh, why did nobody warn me?…I should have been told. They should have told me in so many words. They should have warned me about Flossie, not about the fires of hell. I’ve risked them, and I don’t mind risking them again, but they should have told me about marriage. They should have told me that at the end of that…journey and flower-strewn path were the hideous lights of home and the voices of children…There’s a home and family waiting for every one of us…What is this impulse of two people to build their beastly home?…”

            …“It has always been a mystery to me why people marry,” said Mr. Prendergast. “I can’t see the smallest reason for it. Quite happy, normal people…Have you ever thought about marriage—in the abstract, I mean, of course?”

            “Not very much, I’m afraid.” [said Paul]

            “I don’t believe,” said Mr. Prendergast, “that people would ever fall in love or want to be married if they hadn’t been told about it. It’s like abroad: no one would want to go there if they hadn’t been told it existed. Do you agree?”[1]

This is unsettling and, in Waugh’s customary way, it is even humorous, but it is, of course, fundamentally false. Contra the claim of Prendergast, people have been yearning since the beginning of people to be with other people in a loving relationship. In the beginning of Mark 10, Jesus reminds us that this yearning is good, that it is from God, that it is rooted in creation itself, and that it is a blessed and even miraculous union. In our fallen world, marriage has become difficult for nothing calls for the end of our own selfishness and pride quite so much as marriage does. But the current challenge of marriage in a fallen world among us selfish people does not cancel out the beauty of marriage and the joy of marriage, a beauty and joy that we can begin to see and embrace as Christ Jesus has his way in our lives.

I want to offer an apologetic for marriage as a beautiful thing, a miraculous thing, and something that we should strive hard to honor and protect.

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Ian Morgan Cron’s Chasing Francis

41d41DLmZwL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In Chasing Francis, Ian Morgan Cron has written an engaging and interesting consideration of the life of Francis of Assisi in the form of a novel about a successful pastor who undergoes a crisis of faith and then rediscovers his faith in Italy under the mentorship of his Franciscan uncle.  The pastor, Chase Falson, reaches a crisis point when the child of a woman in the church dies and his Evangelical faith has no answers to offer the grieving and angry mother or Chase himself.  But it isn’t just this. This crisis has been coming for some time as Chase increasingly feels that something significant is missing in his walk with Christ.  After a moment of brutal transparency with his congregation about his struggling faith, the church is thrown into turmoil and Chase goes off to see his uncle in Italy.  His uncle Kenny introduces him to numerous fascinating people, most of whom are connected with the Franciscan order.  While Chase begins to learn about Francis of Assisi in Italy, his church back home struggles with confusion, division, and increasingly aggressive maneuvering from one of the staff members who is angling for Chase’s job.  Eventually, the grieving mother flies to Italy, joins Chase in his journey, and, after she experiences the ways of Francis in Italy as well, the two of them return to America where Chase shares with the church his new vision of what he believes they need to become.  To find out the church’s response, you’ll have to read the book!

It is an interesting way to approach the life of Francis.  As far as novelistic approaches to Francis go, the gold standard remains, in my opinion, Nikos Kazantzakis’ beautiful novel, Saint Francis.  Cron’s work is engaging and through excerpts from Chase’s journal the reader will encounter a solid recounting of the details of Francis’ life.  Cron isn’t exactly Cormac McCarthy (who is?), but the story is told well and I suspect that somebody who is unfamiliar with the life of Francis would find this a helpful introduction

It is Chase’s (Cron’s) interpretation and application of the life of Francis to the church that muddles things up a bit.  Cron gets a great deal right:  Francis’ authenticity, his simplicity, his literal, simple, and beautiful biblical hermeneutic, his courage, his love for the poor, his nearness to the poor, his prophetic challenge to empty religiosity, etc.—all of these are spot on.  But there are times, especially in Chase’s words to his church upon returning, when things get murky.  In his final message to his church upon returning to the United States, Chase lays out his vision.  Presumably, Cron believes that the vision he communicates through Chase represents a faithful application of Franciscan principles to today’s church.

In this message, Chase calls the church to reflect the best of the Franciscan values:  transcendence, community, beauty, dignity, serving Jesus completely and unreservedly, and meaning.  These are indeed Franciscan ideals, but one does wonder if Cron has not baptized some of his interpretation of these ideas in the waters of post-modernity in such a way as to untether them from Francis’ original vision.  Take, for instance, this section of Chase’s message:

Francis’s vision of Christian community was pretty revolutionary for the times he lived in. He encouraged women to be in ministry and to follow his way of life. Women like Clare were his closest friends. He defied hundreds of years of church tradition by insisting members of his order live among the people instead of behind monastery walls. They didn’t make artificial distinctions between the sacred and the secular. Instead, they went into the marketplace to minister. (p.198)

Now, a modern church-going person who knows nothing of St. Francis is going to read this and immediately interpret it in terms of today’s conversations about “women in ministry” and make certain assumptions that truly do not fit the facts.  Yes, the relationship between Francis and Clare was beautiful and unique and worthy of pointing out, but it should be noted that once Claire submitted herself to his way of life, Francis immediately had her (and, in time, her followers) cloistered and, in essence, they never saw each other again until she was allowed to see the dying Francis’ in 1226.  This arrangement was not against Clare’s will, I hasten to add, and I am not at all trying to downplay a relationship that was beautiful and powerful in its own right, but the picture of a group of young men and women who lived and ministered together in an early display of gender egalitarianism is a bit misleading.  For instance, I would wager that no serious student of Francis (and Cron is certainly that) would suggest that Francis would have supported women priests (he would not have).  Even so, Chase’s words, read through the lens of the modern American ecclesial milieu would likely lead one to suspect that he did.

Chase also appears to be enamored with the sentiment behind the almost-certainly-apocryphal saying of Francis, “Preach the gospel all the time.  Use words only when necessary.”  I am not saying that Cron does not realize these words are apocryphal.  I am sure he does.  I am suggesting that he gets close to saying something similar when he has Chase say:

First, if Francis were around today, he’d say our church community relies too much on words to tell others about our faith. For Francis, the gathered community was as potent a form of witness as words. He was convinced that how we live together is what attracts people to faith. Rather than loading people up with books and words when they come seeking God, why don’t we just invite them into the community and say, ‘We’re all seeking God together — come join us. See how we relate to each other, to you, to the world. Experience God in our midst, and figure out if you want to be part of his family and what he’s doing in the world.’ It’s all about actions first, words second. (p.199)

In a sense, this is, of course, thoroughly Franciscan.  Francis did indeed believe that proclamation was more than words and there can also be no doubt that there is something endemic to perhaps especially non-liturgical Protestant culture that has hurt itself by not understanding that truth is communicated in many ways other than through verbal propositions.  Even so, I fear that a modern person who does not know the story of Francis’ life would be surprised in light of this statement to know that Francis sent his brothers out on preaching and evangelization missions and that Francis himself sought the conversion of Sultan Malek al-Kamil through verbal proclamation (including, yes, the quality of his own life and possibly even, if one believes all of the reports, miraculous demonstrations of God’s power and presence).

In other words, I suspect that Chase’s words say more than he intends to say.  Francis was a great proponent of preaching and words.  He would, I suspect, call for our lives to undergird our words, and he would be right to do so.  But Francis had deep theological convictions and did not hesitate to proclaim the content of the Christian message.  I have no reason to think that Cron would disagree with this if asked.  Again, my concern is the overall impression that such sentiments suggest to a modern readership who will almost certainly interpret such without the qualifying balance of other aspects of Francis’ life.

Chase rightly calls his congregation to forsake their materialism and to embrace peacemaking.  I think Francis would heartily applaud this statement:

Somewhere along the way we forgot that Jesus intended the Sermon on the Mount to be an actual, concrete program for living. He wanted us to actually live it, not just admire it as a nice but unrealistic ideal. (p.202)

However, near the conclusion of Chase’s message, he says something that I think modern left-leaning Christians would appreciate but Francis would find utterly odd:

For years I thought of the Bible not as a story but as a black-and-white photograph, something you could use in a court of law to prove that our doctrines and propositions were rational and true. Talk about trivializing and holding back the beauty of the Bible! Now I see the Story more like a painting filled with glory, poetry, and even blurry lines. Paintings are trickier than photos. They’re open to a wide variety of interpretation, depending on who’s looking at them and the situations those viewers live in. Seeing the Bible this way could lead to things getting messy from time to time — but the Word is living, not static. Our job is to invite people to inhabit our story, to be part of what God’s doing in history. And we don’t need to feel constant pressure to defend it against its critics. Truth doesn’t need defending. It is its own witness. (p.207)

This is, frankly, so much grist for the mill for the kind of Christian today who has, to borrow a phrase from Vance Havner, “developed the ability of almost saying something.”  Francis’ hermeneutic, as Cron recognizes earlier in his novel (and recognizes five pages earlier when he speaks of Francis’ approach to the Sermon on the Mount), was profoundly simple (without being simplistic), direct, and radical.  Francis did not read the Bible like Rob Bell appears to read the Bible.  He read it as a direct, largely clear, and authoritative word from God that called for immediate action. But that action does not arise out of the postmodern hermeneutic of uncertainty.  It arises from the exact opposite:  a belief that the ideational content of the scriptures on the main is perspicuous, clear, and largely settled.  I can see no other way to explain Francis’ actions arising from Francis’ interpretations.

This novel is a mixed bag.  I am not trying to be unjust to it.  I just wonder if, here and there, Cron has not demonstrated an unfortunate penchant for crafting modernistic non sequiturs that seek to link Francis to aspects of the church today that he would in some cases not understand and would in other cases outright reject.  Even so, on the whole, there is value in this work insofar as it offers (a) a pretty clear explanation of the life and mission of Francis and (b) one person’s attempt to think through the modern day implications of a most amazing life.

 

James Earl Massey’s Stewards of the Story: The Task of Preaching

51RpUquwqaL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_I first met Dr. James Earl Massey while working on the Doctor of Ministry degree at the Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama.  I was struck by Dr. Massey’s wisdom, his godly character, and his pulpit acumen, all of which have endeared Dr. Massey to his colleagues and many students throughout his storied ministry.  I recently had the opportunity to return to Dr. Massey’s ministry when I was asked to lead a preaching cohort for some Arkansas Baptist church plants.  When asked to choose a text I immediately thought of Dr. Massey’s wonderful volume, Stewards of the Story: The Task of Preaching, comprised of lectures Massey delivered in 2004 at Beeson for their William E. Conger Jr. Lectures on Biblical Preaching.  I remember listening to these lectures when first delivered but being able to revisit them and to read them carefully has been a true blessing indeed.  The volume is comprised of five chapters on the task of preaching and six chapters consisting of Dr. Massey’s sermons.

This is a slender volume but it presents the reader with a cogent, compelling, biblical, and powerfully articulated philosophy of preaching.  The overriding image is that of “steward,” which Massey defines as “someone who oversees, administers, [and] manages, under a commissioning trust that authorizes them to do so” (1).  That of which the preacher is a steward is “the story,” by which Massey means the gospel.  Massey argues that the stewardship to which we have been called and commissioned makes certain demands on our lives.

Since this commissioning trust was committed not only to Paul and successive generations of Christian preachers but also to us, our concern should be to live and labor honorably as “good stewards”…Being called a “steward” is not enough; one must be a steward.  It is not enough to be called a preacher; one must be a preacher.  And the true preacher, Paul tells us, honors the commission from God to handle and herald the divine “mysteries,” the startling, saving, sustaining truths of the gospel.  Stewards are highly privileged persons. (7)

Massey next turns to the stewardship of reciting, which Massey defines as “a mode of address that engages hearers through telling about something, calling attention to some event, and interpreting that event so that the telling influences the hearer’s belief and action.” (12)  This act of reciting involves how we present the story and Massey says that this presentation “can be as varied and multiform as the Scriptures themselves.” (15)  Massey interestingly argues that Protestant preaching has become particularly enslaved to logical propositions in its presentations.  Such does not honor the various genres and styles one finds in the Bible itself.  The content of our recital must be the content of scriptures, but particularly the cross of Christ:  “The center of our recital is the event of the cross dying on a cross.” (20)

Massey turns next to the issue of rhetoric.  Even here, Massey’s primary concern is not with style per se but with radical fidelity to the text of scripture.  One might say that the thread that runs throughout Massey’s book is faithfulness to scripture leading to a clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Yet presentation matters.  “The biblical word is given to us,” writes Massey, “but we must structure the sermon by which the textual message can be stated and applied to the lives of those who hear us.” (14)

Chapter 4 is entitled “The Steward and Ritual.”  By “ritual,” a word that has primarily negative connotations among Evangelicals, Massey points to the following:

  • “preaching is an authorized activity”
  • preaching and “sacred texts”
  • preaching and architectural spaces (i.e., sanctuaries) that have “ritualistic import” (35-37)

These are undeniable aspects of preaching, and the ritualistic dynamic of these components needs to be considered, but Massey hastens to add that while “preaching involves ritual” it involves “something more than ritual.” (38)  It involves the power of the story of which we are stewards, a power that must transform the life of the preacher who actually believes it is true and who yields himself to the full implications of its contents.

My favorite chapter was the last, “The Steward and Reality,” in which Massey drives home once again the fact that the preacher must believe the story is real and must reach people in their reality.  Preaching, that is, must be real proclamation of a real story by a real preacher to real people in the midst of real life.  In stressing this, Massey undercuts preaching as mere show or mere rhetoric.  We must preach about God in the exact same way that Jesus did, that is, as “the first of all facts.” (42)  I think I appreciated this chapter so much and found it so very convicting because there is so much posturing in modern ministry and there is a powerful temptation facing all ministers to do so:  to pretend to be more than what we are, to be fake, to be inauthentic.  Massey’s stress on reality is sorely need in our day of ministry in which image is threatening to eclipse content and character.

This is a powerful book.  It is not a meat-and-potatoes “how to” manual.  It is better than that.  It is a book that will leave the reader with a high sense of the great importance of preaching and will remind all who read it that our’s is a sacred stewardship indeed.

Mark 9:42-50

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 9

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. [KJV – 44 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.] 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. [KJV – 46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.] 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Albert Camus’ The Plague is rightly considered a classic. It is the story of a plague that swept through the city of Oran and the various ways that different people responded to, interpreted, and/or sought to combat it. The plague itself is clearly metaphorical and has been interpreted in various ways. As the book appeared in French in 1947 then in English in 1948, it is widely held that the plague was intended, at least to some extent, to represent the Nazism and totalitarianism that had only recently thrown the entire world into such chaos. Even so, it is also believed that the plague represents the human condition itself or perhaps even the absurdity of life as so many see it.

I do not feel that it is at all inappropriate to suggest that the plague might also have been seen as the corruption of human nature, as sin, as that which is wrong and skewed within us. The book can certainly be read in this way. Consider, for instance, these words, spoken by the character Tarrou to Rieux in The Plague:

I know positively – yes, Rieux, I can say I know the world inside out, as you may see – that each of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth is free from it. And I know, too, that we must keep endless watch on ourselves lest in a careless moment we breathe in somebody’s face and fasten the infection on him. What’s natural is the microbe. All the rest – health, integrity, purity (if you like) – is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter. The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention. And it needs tremendous will-power, a never ending tension of the mind, to avoid such lapses. Yes, Rieux, it’s a wearying business, being plague-stricken. But it’s still more wearying to refuse to be it. That’s why everybody in the world today looks so tired; everyone is more or less sick of plague. But that is also why some of us, those who want to get the plague out of their systems, feel such desperate weariness, a weariness from which nothing remains to set us free except death.[1]

At the end of the book, a character says, “But what does it mean, the plague? It’s life, that’s all.”

We might be tempted to discard such as so much pessimism and despair. For Camus, there is not a wholly unjust projection, for Camus saw life as absurd, as having perhaps no ultimate meaning, but as the arena in which we must fight against the plague nonetheless. Christianity disagrees with Camus’ conclusion, but not with Camus’ notion of the plague. Christianity does not deny that something is deeply wrong with the world, that something is deeply wrong with us. Christianity looks that difficult truth square in the eye and calls it what it is: sin and the fall of man. But Christianity says something more. Christianity says that there is a cure for the plague, that there is meaning in life, that the absurd was given meaning by God Himself entering this dark and fallen world in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, and by His self-sacrifice on the cross. Christianity says that the plague was cured by the only uninfected one taking the plague willingly into Himself so as to set free all who will come and accept the new life that He offers us.

This is the gospel. We must see Christ as the cure…but we must also see the plague from which He came to save us.

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