Exodus 32:11-14

Moses InterceedingExodus 32

11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

One of the more interesting and tragic figures in Christian history is Marcion. The 3rd edition of The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church notes that he was a heretic, “the son of a Bishop who excommunicated him on grounds of immorality,” who died around the year AD 160. The ODCC then summarizes his significance and beliefs:

His followers were certainly the chief danger to the Church from dogmatic unorthodoxy in the latter half of the 2nd cent. By the end of the 3rd cent. most of the Marcionite communities had been absorbed in Manichaeism, but they continued to exist in small numbers down to a much later date.

            Marcion’s central thesis was that the Christian Gospel was wholly a Gospel of Love to the absolute exclusion of Law. This doctrine…led him to reject the OT completely. The Creator God or Demiurge, revealed in the OT from Gen. 1 onwards as wholly a God of Law, had nothing in common with the God of Jesus Christ. Study of the OT indicated that this Jewish God constantly involved himself in contradictory courses of action, that he was fickle, capricious, ignorant, despotic, cruel. Utterly different was the Supreme God of Love whom Jesus came to reveal. It was His purpose to overthrow the Demiurge…[Jesus’] Passion and Death were the work of the Creator God.

Of the New Testament, Marcion only accepted “ten of the Epp. of St. Paul (he either rejected or did not know the Pastorals) and an edited recension of the Gospel of St. Luke.”[1]

Marcion was indeed interesting and indeed tragic. Even so, his central idea—that the God of the Old Testament was an evil demiurge to be rejected and that the God of the New Testament whom Jesus revealed is utterly different—is a belief that rears its head (often, admittedly, in subtle and even somewhat muted forms) even today among Christians. I know of no Christian who would say such a thing outright, but I have encountered Christians who almost seem to speak of the Old Testament picture of God as inferior or even foreign to the New Testament picture.

Interestingly, our text might be the kind of text that Marcion, mistakenly, would have pointed to, for it appears to depict God as almost being chastised and argued down by Moses from decisions that might strike us on the surface as beneath Him. But is that what is really happening here? Is God being petulant and temperamental? Most certainly he is not. Rather, in God’s exchange with Moses concerning His anger towards the rebellious Israelites we find a beautiful picture of divine grace and mercy. More than that, what we find in Exodus 31:11-14 are images that will find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

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Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart

41AuoLnO+XL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart has been a very important book in my life for some years now.  While my first reading of it did not wallop me in quite the immediate and spectacular way that Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines did when I read it over twenty years ago, it did occur to me, after first reading Renovation of the Heart, that here was a book with which I needed to grapple and which would be a very important tool in my life and ministry.  Indeed, since that time, I have taught the book to a small group at Central Baptist Church in North Little Rock (using the LifeSprings Church Resources video curriculum of the material), have used it in one-on-one personal counseling with a church member (who now is a big Willard fan because of how this book helped him), and used it as my text for teaching the theory, philosophy, and theology of spiritual formation to the Fall 2017 OBU@NLC freshman class.

In truth, I think that I have never encountered a book that offers such a well-reasoned, biblically-grounded, theologically-sound, and practical approach to the issue of how the soul is formed and what it looks like to follow Jesus.  Willard argues that we live from the inside-out and the spiritual formation does not happen through mere behavior modification (what he calls elsewhere “the gospel of sin management”), though all of us have been and constantly are being formed.  The heart must be changed, must be renovated, for Christian spiritual formation to unfold as it should.

As Willard unpacks what this means and what it looks like, the reader will be challenged to think much more deeply about discipleship and about the Christian life.  Willard does a phenomenal job of discussing the constituent parts of the self and how these varying aspects of the self work.  The reader will encounter helpful and thoughtful explorations of terms that he or she may think he or she knows well, but about which he or she has possibly never given serious and informed thought:  spirit, heart, will, choice, thought, feeling, soul, body, denial, ideas, information, images, pride, disciplines, character, duplicity, surrender, participation, contentment, abandonment, etc.  Willard is a masterful guide through these important terms and concepts.

Willard believes that the reason we are not seeing real and genuine change in the lives of Christians is because we have not thought well about these matters and, as a result, are not taking the steps that are necessary to lead to real change.  We are not, we might say, putting ourselves in a position where actual change is possible.

I suspect the key concept might be Willard’s concept of VIM:  Vision, Intention, Means.  I say I suspect this might be the key concept because there are truly so many revolutionary ideas here that it is hard to settle on one.  Even so, the idea of VIM, when embraced and prayerfully reflected upon, is a very helpful and, in one sense, “simple” way forward.  At the very least, VIM establishes a baseline for genuine change.  We will not change without a vision of what we would like to be, without an actual intention to do so at all costs, and without the employment of Christ-honoring means toward that end.

Willard’s idea of the stages of discipleship is very insightful:

  • surrender
  • abandonment
  • contentment
  • participation

His unpacking of this progression needs to be read, contemplated, and grasped.  It was, I thought, one of the more powerful sections of the book, and as I have shared this particular idea with others they have attested to its great usefulness as a way of thinking about where we are in our walks with Jesus.

Willard’s theology of the body is extremely helpful.  His concept of “assault/withdrawal” is a very effective way to understand the nature of human conflict and the ways that relationships disintegrate.

I could go on and on, but I hope that the above will give you a sense of what you’ll encounter in Renovation of the Heart.  The material is challenging.  This is a book that needs to be read slowly, carefully, and repeatedly.  I find something new each time I teach it.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  It is very near the top of my personal list of books that have had life-changing impact on me.  Yet it is also a continuing challenge for me, as I have certainly not lived out all of its concepts as I should.  I will return to Renovation of the Heart again.  In truth, it’s arguments and truths are never far from me.


Mark 12:35-37

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 12

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ 37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

In December of 2004, Italian police took the image off of the famous “Shroud of Turin” (a burial clothe that some believe contains an image of the face of Jesus) and fed it into their computers in an effort to reconstruct what the face of a twelve-year-old Jesus would have looked like. Here is The New York Times’ explanation.

ROME, Dec. 25 – Using the same technology that adds wrinkles to the drawings of Mafia bosses to identify them after decades on the lam, the Italian police have shaved years, and a beard, off an image taken from the Shroud of Turin to create what newspapers here this week hailed as the very visage of a young Jesus.

“Here it is, the real face of the baby Jesus,” declared the front page of the newspaper Il Giornale. Italy’s largest newspaper, Corriere della Sera, ran a more cautious headline, “Here Is Jesus at Age 12 (According to a Computer).”…

The angelic face is reminiscent of the prayer cards sold in Vatican souvenir shops and of the New Age portraits displayed at Venice Beach. The image shows a 12-year-old boy with fair, smooth skin, glassy blue eyes, fleshy lips and waves of dirty blond hair streaked with just enough purple and pink to suggest a sprinkling of cosmic dust.

The scientific unit of Rome’s police force created the image at the behest of reporters of another investigative report about Jesus to be televised the night after Christmas. For that program, the police took photographs from the Shroud of Turin and subtracted about 20 years of aging.

“It came to us an illumination, maybe it was inspiration, What was his face like?” said Elena Guarnieri, the host of the news special. “If that is the face on the shroud, then this is the face of Jesus as a child.”

The Vatican refused to comment about the face of the 12-year-old Jesus, but Professor Damon expressed bewilderment. “The boy would not be blond,” he said…[1]

No, the boy likely would not have been blond. How interesting. After all of their supposedly objective and scientific work they produced a Jesus that looked just like an Italian twelve year old boy!

It is a desire that is 2,000 years old, this desire to know what Jesus actually looks like. But even before He came in flesh it was a desire of the Jews to know what the Messiah was going to look like. And, like the Italian police, or like us, many Jews, knowing that the Messiah would be a Jew, overemphasized the expected “us-ness” of the coming Messiah, that is, overemphasized the Jewishness of the coming Messiah to the extent that they had narrowed their understanding of what the Messiah would be to the size of their own borders of their own national identity. That is, the Jews, like the modern Italian police, fashioned the Messiah too much in their own image and, as a result, had developed certain misunderstandings about his person and work. For this reason, Jesus decided to address this issue in Mark 12:35-37 in order to stress the very important point that the He, Jesus, the Messiah, was greater than they realized and would accomplish more than they expected.

Jesus’ identity is greater than the religious authorities think it is.

Jesus first makes a point about His own identity. He does so this time not in response to a hostile question. Rather, He raises the issue Himself. It is as if He is saying, “I have answered your questions. Now you guys answer me!”

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?

It is an interesting question. While the exact title “son of David” was not a popular Messianic title among the Jews of the Old Testament, the idea that He was a son of David was pervasive. It was understood that the coming Messiah would be in the lineage of the great King David. By the first century, the title had gained at least some traction as can be seen in examples of people using the title in the gospel accounts. Even so, by raising the question Jesus was clearly suggesting that the Jews had developed certain misunderstandings surrounding the title. He next moves to the heart of the issue:

36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

What Jesus is doing here is quoting Psalm 110, which reads:

1 The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!

There are three characters presented in the first six words of Psalm 110:1. Here is how it should be read: “The Lord [God] says to my [David’s] Lord [the coming Messiah]…” In other words, God calls the coming Messiah “Lord”! This, of course, raises all kinds of interesting questions.

“[N]o father calls his own son ‘lord,’” writes Joel Marcus, “This would be especially true in the hierarchical Greco-Roman world, where ‘lord’ and “son’ were near opposites, the father being, so to speak, the lord of the son…”[2] That is true in our day as well. No parent (except certain very misguided parents who seem to worship their children!) would think of their child much less refer to their child as “Lord.” Yet God calls the Messiah “Lord.” Jesus asks the obvious question:

37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

We need to understand this rightly. Jesus has not rejected the title “son of David.” Rather, He is saying that they have become so comfortable with the title that they have reduced the true character of the Messiah from what He actually is to something that they want Him to be. The title “son of David” is not wrong, then, it is simply insufficient.

One of the things that was happening is that there had been a reductionism in many of the Jews’ understanding of the coming Messiah that was based on a faulty understanding of this title. First, they called Jesus “son of David.” Next, they interpreted it politically to mean that the coming Messiah would restore just government and establish a righteous rule over the Jews and also over the world. Finally, they also imported their prejudices to mean that this just rule would lead to the casting out of the Gentile Romans as well as a rejection of all Gentiles.

I do not say that all Jews did all of this, but this was the mindset of many in that time. In other words, the title “son of David” had come to mean that the coming Messiah would sit on a throne, protect Israel, and cast out the Gentiles. In other words, by “son of David” many had come to mean something like an “uber David.” To some it had come to mean something like an “uber politician and military leader.”

Thus, they had whittled the coming Messiah down into their own image! Jesus is therefore responding against this kind of fallacious view by pointing out that, according to Psalm 110, the coming Messiah was more than just a man, more than just a politician, more than just a military figure. Thus, God refers to Him as “Lord.” What an astonishing idea!

Jesus’ identity was greater than the religious authorities thought it was.

The coming Messiah was to have a righteous rule, it is true, but not in the way that many had come to think. He was greater than they imagined! No mere human gets called “Lord”!

“They did not understand that he was God,” wrote St. Augustine, “and on that ground also the Lord even of David.”[3] That is well said.

A few years ago I read a fascinating book entitled This is Not the End of the Book. The book was simply a conversation between two intellectuals, the late Italian writer Umberto Eco and the French novelist Jean-Claude Carrier. At a certain point in the book they discussed the problem of widespread ignorance concerning things that people should know. Here is the brief exchange:

Umberto Eco: A London study found that a quarter of the people surveyed thought that Winston Churchill and Charles Dickens were imaginary characters, whereas Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes had really existed.

Jean-Claude Carriere: Ignorance is all around us, and often arrogant and proud. Evangelical, even.[4]

This is all pretty depressing. If people think Winston Churchill and Charles Dickens were imaginary but Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes were real then we are in a bad way indeed! Yet lots of people fail to grasp reality when it comes to people. Lots of people fail to grasp the truth about people they claim to know a great deal about. The Jews did this with Jesus, but, in truth, so do a lot of us.

Let me ask you a question: have you whittled Jesus down into your own image? Have you forgotten that He is the great and mighty God who has come to us? Do you realize that when you look on the face of Christ you are looking on the face of God? Has your Jesus become too small? Are you seeking to force him into the cramped space of your own assumptions and prejudices?

Jesus cannot and will not be lessened! He is Lord! Honor Him as Lord!

Jesus’ work accomplishes more than the religious authorities think it will.

With a reduced understanding of His person came a reduced understanding of His work. Hear, again, Jesus’ words:

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ 37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

If we are not careful, we will miss something beautiful that is happening here. As we said, Jesus is quoting Psalm 110 when He says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’” But if you read that carefully you will notice that it is not an exact quotation. For Psalm 110 says:

1 The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!

Did you catch it? Compare:

Mark 12:36 – “until I put your enemies under your feet”

Psalm 110:1 – “until I make your enemies your footstool”

Well that is interesting. Some might say it is inconsequential since “under your feet” and “your footstool” are the same basic idea. It is indeed the same basic idea but it is not the same word. This gets even more interesting when we realize that the phrase Jesus uses is used in Psalm 8:

6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all

things under his feet

So compare once again:

Mark 12:36 – “until I put your enemies under your feet”

Psalm 110:1 – “until I make your enemies your footstool”

Psalm 8:6 – “you have put all things under his feet”

So Jesus pulls a phrase from Psalm 8 and brings it into His quotation of Psalm 110! This gets even more interesting when we realize that Psalm 110 is a Messianic psalm (i.e., it is about the coming Messiah) and Psalm 8 is an Adamic psalm (i.e., it is about the creation of human beings).

Put all of this together and you suddenly realize that Jesus combined the idea of Messiah with the idea of Adam. In doing so, Jesus was saying that His work will go beyond the merely ethnic and national. Rather, what He, Jesus, the Messiah, is going to accomplish affects the entirety of the human race! He is, in other words, Adam come again, the second Adam!

Paul will pick up this image and communicate it powerfully and beautifully in 1 Corinthians 15.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

In Ephesians 1, Paul appears to likewise combine the “sit at my right hand” of Psalm 110 with the “under his feet” of Psalm 8.

20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Thus, the concept of “Messiah” and the concept of “Adam” are joined powerfully in Jesus!

Peter does the same in 1 Peter 3:

23d …Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

How beautiful! In Adam, all die, but through Christ, the second Adam, all can have life! He is not merely going to be a national hero of ethnic Israel. He is going to be the Savior of all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike! William Lane has poignantly written:

The point made is that David himself distinguished between his earthly, political sovereignty and the higher level of sovereignty assigned to the Messiah. The Messiah is not only “son of David”; he is also, and especially, his Lord. His role is not to restore on earth the Davidic kingdom or the sovereignty of Israel. He does not simply extend the work of David, but comes to establish a wholly different Kingdom, the throne of which is situated at God’s right hand. It is thus the question of another kind of fulfillment to the promise than that which contemporary Judaism expected. The political-nationalistic concept of the messianic mission supported by the scribes is simplistic.[5]

Do not reduce Jesus’ person and do not reduce Jesus’ work! He is more than a personal hero to you and He accomplishes more than the rectifying of your personal crises…though He is and does those things as well! He is not a life-coach or a some kind of Oprah for your own perceived felt needs. He does not come merely to patch things up for you. He is, rather, the divine second person of the Trinity who reigns in glory and power and who has come to bring resurrection to a dead world! He has not simply come to help Israel! He has come to lay down His life for the world!

Do not underestimate who Jesus is and what Jesus does! Do not misunderstand His person or His mission. He is the love of God enfleshed. He is the great “I AM!” He is the second Adam who comes to take us back to Eden! He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

He is no mere man, though He was a man. He is no mere “son of David” though it was through David’s lineage that He came. He has not come merely for Israel, though for Israel He did come. He defies the categories, shatters the assumptions, and frustrates the prejudices. He is who He is: Jesus the Christ! And He has done what He has done: lain down His life on the cross and then risen from the dead in victory over sin, death, and hell. And He is doing what He is doing: creating a people who demonstrate what the Kingdom of God is like and will be like!

Let us thank God for Jesus the Lord! Let us bow heart and mind and soul and strength and body and knee before Jesus the Lord!


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/26/world/europe/italian-police-create-a-wanted-image-jesus-as-a-12yearold.html

[2] Joel Marcus, Mark 8-16. The Anchor Bible. Vol.27A (New Haven, CT: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2009), p.847.

[3] Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall, eds. Mark. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, Vol. II (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p.176.

[4] Jean-Claude Carriere and Umberto Eco. This is Not the End of the Book. (London: Harville Secker, 2011), p.311.

[5] William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Gen. Ed., Joel B. Green (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p.437-438.

Exodus 31:12-18

the-sabbathExodus 31

12 And the Lord said to Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” 18 And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

Earlier this year an effort was instigated by something called “the Sabbath Manifesto” that was quite interesting.

The National Day of Unplugging and its guiding project, the Sabbath Manifesto, invites us to join their eighth observance from sundown Friday, March 3 to sundown Saturday, March 4. Sabbath Manifesto’s aim is not just to promote one day of unplugging from technology, but a lifestyle change, explains spokesperson Tanya Schevitz.

“The expectation that you are always reachable, that you will respond immediately to those beeps, buzzes and rings coming from your phone—it’s created a society of people who are on edge, overwhelmed and disconnected from those around them,” says Schevitz. “It’s important that people take control of their technology so that it doesn’t control them.”

The National Day of Unplugging draws from the Jewish tradition of Sabbath rest and has resonated with people around the world. Individuals in more than 200 countries, including remote locations such as Bhutan, the Aaland Islands, and Mongolia, are signing up to unplug.

“Our hope is that by taking the time to pause and reflect on their use of digital devices such as phones and computers, people will be more aware of their impact and find a healthy balance,” says Schevitz. “We hope that with this new-found awareness, people will try to put their digital devices aside more regularly, for an hour, for the length of a family dinner or a romantic walk, for however long it takes to recharge themselves and to reconnect with those around them.”[1]

It is an interesting project and one that I suspect we all likely see the need for. It also has an intriguing name, the Sabbath Manifesto. Here is how they describe themselves:

Way back when, God said, “On the seventh day thou shalt rest.”  The meaning behind it was simple: Take a break. Call a timeout. Find some balance. Recharge.

Somewhere along the line, however, this mantra for living faded from modern consciousness. The idea of unplugging every seventh day now feels tragically close to impossible. Who has time to take time off? We need eight days a week to get tasks accomplished, not six.

The Sabbath Manifesto was developed in the same spirit as the Slow Movement, slow food, slow living, by a small group of artists, writers, filmmakers and media professionals who, while not particularly religious, felt a collective need to fight back against our increasingly fast-paced way of living. The idea is to take time off, deadlines and paperwork be damned.

In the Manifesto, we’ve adapted our ancestors’ rituals by carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and get with loved ones. The ten principles are to be observed one day per week, from sunset to sunset. We invite you to practice, challenge and/or help shape what we’re creating.[2]

While Jewish in origin, the Sabbath Manifesto is apparently enjoying support from both religious and non-religious folks across the spectrum. That is most telling. Apparently many people have come to understand (a) that our lives have become too hectic and (b) that there is wisdom in making intentional efforts to have consistent Sabbath rest.

That, of course, makes sense since God instituted the Sabbath and since He did so knowing it was best for us. We were made to observe Sabbath rest. Put another way, if we consistently avoid observing Sabbath rest we will not live the kinds of lives we are supposed to live.

It is a bit disconcerting, however, that some in the church might actually need nonbelievers to remind them of the wisdom of this. It is disconcerting but also telling, for it speaks of the deeply intuitive nature of the Sabbath and the need we all know we have for some kind of intentional and consistent rest.

However, the Sabbath is more than mere rest. It is an act of worship. So the people of God should understand it more deeply than mere intuition can explain. We should understand its true nature and be able to explain its significance. When we ask why the Sabbath is there, why it is in the original week of creation, we can turn to texts like Exodus 31:12-18 for help and understanding.

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Mark 12:18-27

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 12

18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.” 24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”

It is astonishing what folks can make the Bible say when they really want to make it say something. Consider this article from a few years ago.

Dental Miracle Reports Draw Criticism

By James A. Beverly in Toronto
May 24, 1999

Is God miraculously transforming dental amalgam fillings into gold? John Arnott, senior pastor at the renowned Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, told ct that “God is up to something new.”

Regular participants at TACF, formerly associated with the Vineyard, say attendance has picked up because of miraculous testimonies. TACF is the congregation where in 1994 the controversial Toronto Blessing began, a revival marked by “holy laughter.” Millions of Christians have visited since.

Several months ago, TACF produced a 30-minute video, Go for the Gold, in which Arnott announces to the crowd: “If you want God to touch your teeth, stand up and touch your face.”

The TACF Web site (www.tacf.org) quotes Psalm 81:10 (“Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it”) and declares that “the excitement here is electric.” TACF’s ministry team now carries flashlights in order to inspect for gold or silver.[1]

Well. It is most doubtful that the psalmists words in Psalm 81:10, “Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it,” refers to turning fillings into gold, especially as the context of that psalm is speaking of God providing for Israel’s needs after delivering them out of Egypt. He is going to fill their mouths with food and/or with praise for Him. That is what the psalmist is referring to. But here is the thing: when you really want the Bible to say something or not to say something it really is not that hard to add or remove what you do or do not like in order to make it happen. It has been happening since the beginning of God’s revelation of His word to man and it continues to our day.

In Mark 12:18-27, Jesus encounters a group of men named the Sadducees. It will be important for us to know who the Sadducees were so that we can understand what is happening here. Danny Akin has offered a nice summary of this group.

            A small sect of the priestly families, the Sadducees were wealthy aristocrats with significant political and temple influence. They dominated the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:17). They were sympathetic to Hellenism, the Herods, and Rome. They considered only the books of Moses (the Pentateuch) as authoritative. In a sense this made them theological conservatives. They also had a strong doctrine of human free will and did not believe in angels and demons (Acts 23:8). They did not believe in the immortality of the soul or in a future bodily resurrection. Josephus said, “The doctrine of the Sadducees is this: souls dies with bodies”…Because of their truncated Scriptures, they were not looking for a Messiah King from David’s line. With the total destruction of their center of power—Jerusalem and the temple (AD 70)—their political influence came to an end, and they vanished from history.[2]

Furthermore, David Garland writes of the Sadducees:

The Sadducees considered the Mosaic directives alone as binding and rejected what they perceived to be theological innovations. Consequently, they did not believe in a resurrection since it does not appear in the Pentateuch. Their attitude may be captured in the hymn to honor ancestors in Sirach 44:1-23: The only immortality one can hope for is having posterity and being remembered.[3]

So these men were accustomed to making the Bible say what it did not say and making the Bible not say what it did say. Foolishly, they too decide to take a shot at tripping up Jesus, this time using the Bible. Here is what they did:

18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”

In short, they were trying to attack Jesus with (a) the Old Testament teaching of levirate marriage (which stated that if a man died and his wife had no child the man’s brother was to take her in as his own wife in the hope that she might have a child by him) and (b) Jesus’ own clear belief in life after death, a belief that the Sadducees rejected. It was, we might say, an ill-advised move on their part!

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Exodus 31:1-11

Exodus 31

1 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, 10 and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.”

Christianity Today once published an anonymous poem that I thought made a pretty witty point about service.

There’s a clever young fellow named Somebody Else –

There’s nothing this fellow can’t do.

He’s busy from morning ’til late at night

Just substituting for you.

When asked to do this or asked to do that

So often you’re set to reply:

“Get Somebody Else, Mr. Chairman –

He’ll do it much better than I.”

There’s so much to do in our church;

So much, and the workers are few.

And Somebody Else gets weary and worn

Just substituting for you.

So next time you’re asked to do something worthwhile

Come up with this honest reply:

If Somebody Else can give time and support,

It’s obviously true, so can I.[1]

Whoever wrote this is correct: that “Somebody Else” is a popular fellow indeed! We all know him and we have all, if we are honest, appealed to him to do something that we do not really want to do. But in the Kingdom of God we cannot cross our fingers and hope that “Somebody Else” will somehow magically take care of what needs to be done. The people of God—all of us—are to be a servant and serving people.

Why, then, do many of us not serve? Perhaps sometimes it is for ignoble reasons: laziness, disinterestedness, etc. But I rather think that many times folks do not serve because they do not think they have anything to offer. But on this point we can simply cry, “False!” For the God who calls us to serve not only calls us to do so, He equips us to do so! More than that, he does not call only those who are viewed by people as exceptionally gifted. He calls us all, the extraordinary and the “ordinary.” But here we must recognize a very important truth: in the Kingdom of God, there is no ordinary! The ordinary is extraordinary in the hands of a great God!

Exodus 31 begins with an example of just this point.

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Mark 12:13-17

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 12

13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.

In the US presidential elections of 2008, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops made a comment in their election guide, entitled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” that was really and truly eyebrow-raising. Here is what they said:

[T]he political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation.[1]

When I first read that statement it struck me as manifestly absurd. And, truth be told, in the sense it which it is offered, it is absurd. Just imagine that after you die and stand before the Lord He pulls out a sheet of paper that lists how you voted in every presidential election. In the one hand is your list and in His other hand is His list! And imagine if your list does not match His list that you do not get to enter Heaven!

What a staggering thought!

Fortunately, we are not saved by the quality of our political votes. We are saved by the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ as demonstrated in His life, His death, and His resurrection.

Even so, on a deeper sense (a sense, I hasten to add, that I do not think is intended by this statement) we might say that who we vote to be Lord of our lives does indeed affect our salvation! Who is King to you? Who is Lord to you? Who sits on the throne of your life?

In other words, there is a “political” aspect to salvation in the sense that your King determines your destiny. And, for believers in Christ, that King is Jesus Himself! If the self is King, we are doomed! If any other human being is King, we are doomed! Christ and allegiance to Christ is the way of salvation.

In Mark 12:13-17, a political trap is laid for Jesus. The question, in a nutshell, is this: must the people of God obey earthly kings? Jesus’ answer is brilliant and telling. Furthermore, it reveals fundamental truths about who is and who ought to be Lord of our lives.

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Exodus 30:22-38

burnerExodus 30

22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, 250, and 250 of aromatic cane, 24 and 500 of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. 25 And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. 26 With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, 27 and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, 28 and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand. 29 You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy. 30 You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. 31 And you shall say to the people of Israel, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. 32 It shall not be poured on the body of an ordinary person, and you shall make no other like it in composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33 Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an outsider shall be cut off from his people.’” 34 The Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), 35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. 36 You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. 37 And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the Lord. 38 Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”

I associate one of the most special churches in the world with the smell of skunks. That is a shocking thing to say, I know, but it is true. The first church I ever pastored was a small church in Jimtown, Oklahoma. I loved that church and love it still. I loved those people and love them still! Even so, when I picture that church mentally I immediately smell skunk.

Why? Because there were many, many Sundays when the sanctuary of that church smelled like skunk. A skunk would either get up under the sanctuary or had recently been around it. I do not know. Maybe it was a Baptist skunk. But the evidence of his presence was unmistakable.

Even so, and paradoxically, that church remains one of the sweetest “smelling” churches I have ever known, in a deeper sense. I am referring here to the faith, love, joy, and Christian witness of the people of Jimtown Baptist Church. Skunk or no skunk, the only aroma that really mattered was sweet and beautiful to be sure!

I have been in a few other churches, on the other hand, that smelled just fine…but did not smell right, if you know what I mean. I have been in churches that had beautiful facilities and if there were any skunks around them you sure could not tell. Even so, they did not “smell” right in the only sense that mattered. Something felt wrong. And, oftentimes, I would later discover that there were real problems in the church: infighting, conflict, etc.

In other words, when it comes to church there are things that smell worse than skunks.

Exodus 30 concludes with a fascinating section on the smells of worship. Specifically, the Lord gives instructions for sacred anointing oil and for sacred incense. But are described as having pleasing smells. Yet even here, the issue has less to do with the physical smell than the spiritual.

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**UPDATED** Sermon Outline for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention 2017 Dixie Jackson Offering Emphasis

UPDATE:  The state convention website has now linked to the much fuller outline here.

I was grateful to be asked to write a sermon outline for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention 2017 Dixie Jackson Offering emphasis.  Dixie Jackson is the yearly offering that helps to fund Arkansas ministry and missions efforts.  An abbreviated outline appears in the ABSC planning guide in their “Additional Resources” packet and the fuller version that I initially submitted will apparently be linked at the ABSC website.  Here are screenshots of the abbreviated outline:




Mark 11:22-25

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 11

22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel, Catch-22, is a fascinating, hilarious, and troubling account of a fictional group of American Army bombardiers stationed in Italy in WWII. In one scene, Colonel Cathcart calls the chaplain in to discuss with him the possibility of having prayers before bombing missions. Their discussion reveals the dilemmas we get ourselves into when we don’t think rightly about prayer:

“Now, I want you to give a lot of thought to the kind of prayers we’re going to say. I don’t want anything heavy or sad. I’d like you to keep it light and snappy, something that will send the boys out feeling pretty good. Do you know what I mean? I don’t want any of this Kingdom of God or Valley of Death stuff. That’s all too negative. What are you making such a sour face for?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the chaplain stammered. “I happened to be thinking of the Twenty-third Psalm just as you said that.”

“How does that one go?”

“That’s the one you were just referring to, sir. ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I –‘”

That’s the one I was just referring to. It’s out. What else have you got?”

“Save me, O God; for the waters are coming in unto – “

“No waters,” the colonel decided, blowing ruggedly into his cigarette holder after flipping the butt down into his combed-brass ash tray. “Why don’t we try something musical? How about the harps on the willows?”

“That has the rivers of Babylon in it, sir,” the chaplain replied, “…there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”

“Zion? Let’s forget about that one right now. I’d like to know how that one even got in there. Haven’t you got anything humorous that stays away from waters and valleys and God? I’d like to keep away from the subject of religion altogether if we can.”

The chaplain was apologetic. “I’m sorry, sir, but just about all the prayers I know are rather somber in tone and make at least some passing reference to God.”

“Then let’s get some new ones. The men are already doing enough [complaining] about the missions I send them on without our rubbing it in with any sermons about God or death or Paradise. Why can’t we take a more positive approach? Why can’t we all pray for something too, like a tighter bomb pattern, for example? Couldn’t we pray for a tighter bomb pattern?”

“Well, yes, sir, I suppose so,” the chaplain answered hesitantly. “You wouldn’t even need me if that’s all you wanted to do. You could do that yourself.”

“I know I could,” the colonel responded tartly. “But what do you think you’re here for? I could shop for my own food, too, but that’s Milo’s job…Your job is to lead us in prayers, and from now on you’re going to lead us in a prayer for a tighter bomb pattern before every mission. Is that clear? I think a tighter bomb pattern is something really worth praying for.”[1]

It is a hysterical passage because of the colonel’s obliviousness concerning prayer. It is a chilling passage because we can see in the colonel’s exaggerated misunderstanding a reflection of our own self-centered approach to prayer. We may not be as brazen as the colonel but in essence we do the exact same thing: we too can make prayer all about our own desires and our own agendas.

In the aftermath of the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple Jesus speaks about faith and prayer. What He says serves as a much needed tonic to a great deal of our narcissistic prayer tendencies. We will approach this issue from the perspective of certain common “prayer mistakes” to which many of us are likely prone.

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