The Bridegroom’s Return and the Newness of the Kingdom

Sermon Pic 7.214 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. 15 And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. 16 And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. 18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.

Hosea 2:14-20

Mark’s Gospel announces the best good news that this world has ever heard. God’s saving rule has arrived in the ministry, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. In Jesus, Mark presents to us a life that is more than just compelling and inspiring. It is a life, a person, and a message that demands our souls, our lives, and our all. And, what I want us to see from this passage is that the Kingdom of God that arrived in Jesus and that continues to exist as a reality in this world today was a new movement, a new deal unlike any of the kingdoms of this world.

Unlike opposing world systems and religions, including Old Covenant Judaism, Christ’s kingdom and movement reached out and offered real hope to those suffering beneath the shadow of death.[1]And, the good news is that the same is true today. The world’s systems and religions, governments and programs, even at their best, are not designed to meet humankind’s deepest needs—redemption from enslaving powers, reconciliation with God, and freedom from the fear of death. Only Christ and his saving rule can meet these needs and can restore to people their purpose as God’s image bearers. That is what I want us to continue to see from Mark 2.

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

Mark 2:13-22

I want us to see three truths from these verses. I want us to see that (1) in Jesus, Israel’s God visited and displayed his kindness to the world, (2) that Jesus’ kingdom was a new movement that cannot be safely mixed with or contained by this world’s systems or traditions, and (3) that unlike this world’s leaders, systems, and religions, Jesus and his kingdom are uniquely fit to meet humankind’s deepest needs. In fact, I want to make it clear that he offers forgiveness and new life to all those who will turn to him for rest, especially those who have been marginalized, excluded, and let down by the broken systems of this world.

IN JESUS, ISRAEL’S BRIDEGROOM HAD COME TO RESTORE HIS BRIDE

First, I want us to see that, in Jesus, the God of Israel had returned to his people as a bridegroom to a bride. In verses 18-20, we are reminded that one of the great hopes of the last days as proclaimed by the Prophets had come in Jesus. To observe this in this back and forth concerning fasting, we need to understand the Old Testament background behind what Mark and Jesus are doing here.

In the Old Testament, there came a point in the history of Israel in which the LORD God had had enough. He tolerated Israel’s idolatry and flagrant acts of injustice and ungodliness for centuries. He was patient, merciful, longsuffering, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness; however, Israel was habitually unmoved and unfaithful. As a result, the LORD God left them in judgment. He had dwelled with his people since he had rescued them from Egypt and first appeared to them at Sinai. However, at last, he exited the Temple of God and the Land of Promise, and he left them to be attacked and exiled among the nations.

They wanted to be like the nations. They worshipped the gods of the nations, and they practiced the ungodliness that characterized the nations, so God gave them over to their desires and exile resulted. However, the judgment of exile was not God’s final word to his people. Rather, he spoke through the Prophets words of comfort and good news. He promised them that, in the last days, he would return and restore them, forgive and heal them.

One of the images that the prophets used for this reality—the return of the LORD to his people—was that of a bridegroom coming out to meet his bride. Isaiah uses this image in several places. And, as we saw in our Scripture reading, Hosea uses this image as well. In the last days, the LORD, the God of Israel, would return to his people once again as a bridegroom to his bride and would restore her to himself.

With that background in mind, I want you to think with me about verses 18-20. People had noticed that, while John the Baptist’s disciples and the Pharisees fasted as a regular part of their religious observance, Jesus’ disciples did not. As a result, some curious inquirers asked Jesus why his disciples did not fast. Fasting was a regular part of the religious observance for renewal movements within the tent of first century Judaism, so why did Jesus and his disciples not fast?

Jesus answered that for the disciples to fast would be to go against the very purpose of fasting. People fast as a sign of mourning, great sorrow, or penitence. But, while Jesus was with his disciples, it was a time for great festivity. When he was taken away through his approaching death, then they would mourn, but now was a time for celebration. That was essentially Jesus’ answer. However, he didn’t just come out and say it the way I just did. Rather, he said it by identifying himself as Israel’s bridegroom, as the LORD God who had returned in these last days to restore his people.

Think about that for a few moments. Mark, Jesus, Jesus’ most scripturally sensitive listeners, and many of Mark’s original readers would have recognized the background to the bridegroom image and would have recognized the significance of Jesus’ claims. Jesus essentially answered that the disciples had no reason to fast because, in himself, the LORD God had returned to them and was beginning his saving rule among them. What a profound and daring claim!

This reminds us that with the coming of Jesus something extraordinary had happened. The time had been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God was at hand. The good news that Isaiah spoke concerning the restoration of Israel and the salvation of the nations had arrived. Mark and Jesus both are reminding us here that, in Jesus, the LORD—the God of Israel, the Maker of heaven and earth—had returned to his people.

This reminds us of one of the great mysteries and truths of the Gospels. In the face of Jesus, we see the glory and the face of the LORD himself. When Jesus had compassion on the leper and tax collectors and sinners, people who had been cast away from respectable Jewish society, we see the compassion of God himself for such people. When we see Jesus’ anger at the enslaving powers of sin and death, we see the anger of God himself against those things which dehumanize his image-bearers and wreck his world. When we see Jesus’ grief at the tomb of his friend,0 Lazarus, we see the tears of God. When we see Jesus welcoming little children and rebuking the disciples for turning them away, we see the very heart of God.

When we see and hear Jesus calling out to the weary and heavy laden to come to him for rest, we see and we hear the cry of our God inviting the world to be reconciled to himself in Christ Jesus. And perhaps most profoundly of all, when we see Jesus hanging on the cross—the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many—we see the self-giving love and faithfulness of a God who always keeps his promises and fulfills his purposes for his people and for his world.

In Jesus, the LORD, Israel’s God, had returned to his people as a bridegroom to his bride. That’s why it was not a time for sorrow but for exceeding joy.

CHRIST’S KINGDOM WAS A NEW, DISTINCT MOVEMENT

Second, I want us to see that Christ’s kingdom was a new, distinct movement within the tent of first-century Judaism that could not be mixed with or contained by this world’s systems and religions, governments and programs. We see this in verses 21-22.

Behind the question about fasting lay a larger question that Jesus answers in verses 21-22. That question was this: What was the relationship between Jesus’ teaching and movement to the other renewal groups within first-century Judaism? Jesus, after all, was unlike the Pharisees. The Pharisees kept their distance from those who were unclean—lepers, tax collectors, and sinners. The Pharisees also fasted and carefully observed even oral traditions that governed the Sabbath and other areas of daily life. Jesus did not seem all that interested in such things. Jesus went into the desolate places; he ventured outside the camp and mingled with the unclean and forbidden. He called tax collectors to be his disciples and socialized with known sinners. He said things that seemed to undermine food laws and reinterpreted Sabbath regulations.

All of this was surely weighing on the minds of certain people, so Jesus not only answered the question about fasting in verses 19-20, but he answered the larger question behind it as well in verses 21-22. What exactly was the relationship between Jesus and his movement and other renewal movements within the Judaism of the time?

The answer that Jesus gave was this: He had not come to start another renewal movement within Old Covenant Judaism. Rather, he was ushering in the kingdom of God, the fulfillment and the goal of the Old Covenant and the end of all the false religions and broken systems of this world. Old Covenant Judaism had paradoxically failed to bring lasting hope to people, while at the same time achieving its divinely-intended goal. The place of the Jewish Law in the story of Scripture is complex, but essentially what it did was this.

It successfully diagnosed Israel’s (and, by extension, humanity’s) deepest problems and identified their greatest needs, but it did not offer lasting hope or solutions beyond pointing people to the better covenant that would come when the bridegroom himself returned to restore his people. We catch a glimpse of this in Mark’s gospel. The movements of the Pharisees, the scribes, and even that of John the Baptist and his disciples accurately diagnosed man’s deepest problems.

They pointed out, in their own ways, that each person east of Eden is under the tyranny of sin, has the stain of death upon them, and are unfit for fellowship with God and service in his kingdom. However, instead of offering people redemption from the enslaving powers of sin and death and restoration into the family of God, they excluded and marginalized. They correctly identified lepers and tax collectors and sinners as unfit for the presence of the Holy One of Israel and unfit for his service, but instead of offering them lasting solutions they pushed them to the margins.

The leper was pushed to the desolate places, outside the camp of God’s covenant people. Tax collectors and other notorious sinners were shunned and disassociated from the community and from the practices that the religious elite claimed gave life. To be fair, the Pharisees would have welcomed tax collectors and sinners if they had rejected their pasts and adopted Pharisaic lifestyles, but they didn’t offer the new life that was needed to live genuinely holy lives. Like the false religions of this world that kept God at a distance from his creatures, renewal movements among first-century Jews also became religions of death and tears that could not offer lasting hope and change.[2]

For this reason, Jesus made it clear in verses 21-22 that he had not come to patch up old systems, but he had come as the cornerstone of God’s promised kingdom. He hadn’t come to reform the wheel, but to break it. This is what he meant by the two short parables in verses 21-22. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth onto an old garment, because when the unshrunk piece shrinks away from the old a worse tear results.

Likewise, no puts new wine into old wineskins. Old wineskins had been stretched to the limit and became brittle with age. The purpose of placing new wine in wineskins was to allow it to continue to expand and ferment. But, old wineskins could not continue or contain this process and would burst. That was what it would be like if one tried to mix Jesus’ new movement with the constraints of Old Covenant Judaism. Old Covenant Judaism could not contain it and to mix the two would be to jeopardize them both. Jesus brought an end to the Old Covenant and ushered in the New. The Old Covenant prescribed man’s deepest problems and needs, and the New met them with real hope and solutions.

Before we move on to the final point, I want to point out that what was true concerning the kingdom of God and Old Covenant Judaism is also true concerning the kingdom of God and today’s systems. We should not equate Christ’s kingdom with governments and political parties or with our programs and religious traditions. Christ’s kingdom is something different, and if we try to fit Christ’s kingdom within them we will ruin them both. This doesn’t mean that we should not be concerned with politics and political parties or that we should not respect and follow traditions to a degree.

As Christians, we should rally for just laws and policies and oppose those laws and policies that oppress and deface God’s image-bearers and the creation. But, we must realize that, even at its best, governments and political parties, politicians and policy makers cannot solve humankind’s deepest problems and meet their most pressing needs. They are not designed or equipped for it. Only Christ and the message of the kingdom can do that. Only the tools of the kingdom—self-sacrificial love, service, and the message of the cross—are suited to meet those needs. We need to remember this truth and to be about the fundamental tasks that Christ has called us to as his people. Christ’s kingdom was a new, distinct movement that could not be mixed with or contained by this world’s systems and religions, governments and programs.

CHRIST OFFERS REAL HOPE TO THE MARGINALIZED

Finally, the last truth that I want us to see is this. Christ offers forgiveness and new life to all those who will turn to him for rest, especially those who have been marginalized, excluded, and let down by the broken systems of this world. We see this in verses 13-17 in the call of Levi and in the dinner that Jesus attended filled to capacity with tax collectors and other “sinners”.

In these verses, we see illustrated for us the differences between the movement of the Pharisees and the kingdom of King Jesus. First, we need to think about how the scribes of the Pharisees dealt with tax collectors and sinners. And, the reality is that they treated them with the same contempt and disregard as they did lepers. Just as lepers were unclean and would contaminate those who came into contact with them, so morally bankrupt tax collectors and sinners were also unclean and would contaminate those who associated with them. Therefore, such people were shunned by the pious. The scribes of the Pharisees rightly diagnosed the problem. The morally bankrupt who use and take advantage of the poor are unfit for fellowship with God and service in his kingdom.

That was true of the tax collectors and it was true of other law breakers; however, that is as far as the Pharisees went. They diagnosed their problems, but gave them no lasting solutions other than to warn them to become like them or else be shunned and pushed to the margins of respected society.

That, however, was not the approach of Jesus. He demonstrated this through two shocking actions. First, he actually called a tax collector to leave behind his corrupt business practices to come and follow him. For Jesus to invite a tax collector to follow him was for Jesus to invite contempt from those within the respected ranks of the community. Then, Jesus went even further and had table fellowship with Levi’s tax collector friends and others who were known to be morally ruined. And, this was apparently not the first time Jesus had done something like this. The implication in verse 16 is that associating with sinners was a regular practice of his ministry.

Indeed, when the scribes of the Pharisees grumbled about this, Jesus answered that the very reason he came was to go to the sin-sick and needy and to offer them forgiveness and restoration. Now, it was a big deal to have table fellowship with someone in the first century. And yet, Jesus had table fellowship with sinners. The reason is not that he tolerates or condones sin. The reason is that he brought hope and the possibility for real change to those in desolate places.

While the religion of the Pharisees and even John the Baptist could diagnose their sin problem from a distance, Jesus had the tools and the power to go to them, interact with them, and rather than become unclean himself make them clean and restore them to the family of God. Jesus went to the outcast and marginalized and offered them forgiveness, healing, and restoration into the family and the service of God, if they would find their rest in him.

My friend, if you are here and you are down and out, know that Jesus offers you the same hope. He offers you hope beyond the grave and hope to persevere through life’s trials. He can restore to you the purpose for which he created you! Jesus’ death secured forgiveness and provides cleansing and new life for those who turn to him. He can free you from the enslaving powers of sin to live for him and to make a real, lasting difference in the lives of those you love.

Jesus was raised from the dead, exalted to the right hand of God, and has all authority over heaven and earth. He will return to transform our mortal bodies and to give us a share in his inheritance—the world. My friend, if you would find your life and your rest in Jesus, then you would have no reason to fear death or any other earthly or heavenly power that threatens your life or future.

Don’t think that because you have a sketchy past or go unnoticed by others in the community that you are unnoticed by God. The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost! He came for and pursues the sick and sinful. God cares, and he is kind. That is who he is. He will gladly rescue you from sin and the fear of death, if you would turn from the path you’re on and believe the good news about Jesus!

Jesus came to those who were sick and to those who were poor because, unlike the kingdoms and religions, programs and politicians of this world, he offers solutions to humanity’s deepest problems. He grants forgiveness of sins, redemption from enslaving powers, and fellowship with God. He gives the Spirit and the power to serve in his kingdom. Find your life in his today.

Finally, for those of us who already claim the name of Jesus, we must ask ourselves if we have traded the revolutionary message of the good news for rules and traditions through which we exclude and keep at a distance those in most need of Christ’s compassion. Jesus was willing to risk his reputation among the religious and the powerful to go to those most in need of the good news. May we be willing to do the same! Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do. We can’t apply the medicine of the gospel, if we refuse to see the patients who most need it. Let us be willing to reach out to those who—just like us—are in great need of the hope of Christ.

[1]This is the theme of “The Cross and the Abolition of Religion,” an inspiring chapter in Peter G. Bolt’s The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel in NSBT, Vol. 18 (InterVarsity: Downers Grove: 2004), 18-47.

[2]Ibid., 26. Bolt writes: “Jesus has not come to be absorbed by this religion of tears. He is the bridegroom, bringing the great time of last days’ feasting when the shroud of death is finally cast away once and for all.”

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

Where God is King, New Creation Comes

Sermon Pic 24.jpg31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Genesis 1:31

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. . . . They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. . . . Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

Isaiah 35:1-2, 4-6a

What would it look like for God’s will to be done and for God’s kingdom to come in our families, churches, and communities? We know what things look like now, don’t we? Far too many marriages end in divorce. Even where both parents are involved, many children grow up in homes where violence and abuse affect them from an early age. And, what about our churches? Rather than colonies of heaven, seasoning with salt and providing light in broken communities, our churches are largely just reflections of the surrounding culture. And, our communities, at least here in rural West Kentucky, are run through with poverty and its cruel companion, addiction. We know what things look like now, but what would they look like if God were to step in? We know what it looks like when we are in charge, but what would it look like for Him to have a go at it?

In a sense, that is exactly what Mark’s gospel is about. Mark’s gospel announces the good news that in Jesus, Israel’s God has become Lord and King of this world. As Creator, Israel’s God has always been King in the sense that he sustains the world, sets limits on the harm that we do to one another, and is guiding history toward a fitting conclusion. That has always been true. However, the good news of Mark’s gospel is that, in Jesus, Israel’s God is working in a more intimate way, not just to restrain evil but also to accomplish his good will and establish his gracious reign on earth as it is in heaven! To put it another way, the good news—just as relevant today as it was nearly 2000 years ago—is that in Jesus, God has indeed become King so that, if we would turn to him and allow him to have his way in our homes, churches, and communities, lives would be restored and new creation would result.

That is what this passage and this message are all about. Last week, we saw that, when God ascends as King, racial barriers come down.[1] Today, we see that, when God becomes King, new creation comes and restoration results.[2]

 31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Mark 7:31-37

WHEN GOD BECOMES KING, NEW CREATION COMES AND RESTORATION RESULTS

The first truth that I want us to see is that, when God becomes King, new creation comes and restoration is the result. Now the key to understanding what Mark wants us to see in this passage is in the two allusions to Old Testament scriptures and episodes that Mark records in verse 37. As I’ve said before, Mark and all the gospel writers make allusions to OT scriptures and events all the time. They throw them at us one after another. It is the stuff out of which the gospels are made. With a word, phrase, or picture, these allusions are meant to remind us of a past scriptural passage or event and to bring all the meaning of that past scripture to bear on the current story that’s being told. Mark does this again twice in this passage.

First, as he records the people saying about Jesus, “He has done all things well,” Mark reminds us of a time when God did reign as king, when his will was being done on earth as it is in heaven, and when it was said of the Creator that all that he had done was very good (Gen. 1:31). That time, of course, was Genesis 1, before humankind fell into sin.

Think about that moment in history for a few moments. In Genesis 1, the Creator’s place overlapped with humankind’s. They walked together and talked together. All was as it should’ve been. All was as it should’ve been with humankind’s relationship with God and Adam’s relationship with Eve. The earth itself served the Creator’s and humankind’s purposes without the frustration of human disease and death. And, the conclusion that the inspired writer comes to in verse 31 of the opening chapter of the Bible is that the Creator had done all things well. It was all very good!

That is what it looks like when the Father’s will is being doing and his saving rule is at work in the world. God ordered things, placed Adam and Eve in charge with him, and as long as they worshipped him and followed his rule—it all went well indeed! Of course, we all know what happened next, don’t we? Adam and Eve decided to go their own way. They decided that they wanted their will to be done rather than God’s will. They chose to follow their own rule and to learn wisdom on their own. The result is that God handed them over to those desires and removed them from the Garden of Eden. They wanted a go at ruling the world on their own, so God placed them outside the garden that surrounded his place and let them have a go at it on their own. And, the result was de-creation—the undoing of the good that God had accomplished for them in Genesis 1.

At that point, things did not turn out well or good at all, did it? Rather, the story after Genesis 3 is a sad one. Apart from God—our source of light and life—we become enslaved to lessor powers and an undoing of creation results. This can be observed in the narrative that follows in Genesis 4-11. But we don’t have to look there to see it, do we? The effects can be observed still today by an honest look at our own families and communities or a glance at the evening news.

De-creation—the undoing of God’s good creation—can be seen in homes where power struggles and manipulation become the norm between husbands and wives who once promised to love one another forever. It can be seen in communities where the powerful prey upon the vulnerable, and where the vulnerable steal in a desperate attempt at survival. The end result of life apart from God and under the powers of darkness is the deformation of human life, the forfeiture of human flourishing, and ultimately death.

In the beginning, the Creator did all things well. The verdict is that it was all very good. But, an undoing of God’s good creation takes place when we go our own ways and demand our own wills be done. Mark intends for us to recall these things as we read this passage about Jesus. Jesus intentionally travelled through Sidon and the region of the Decapolis. The significance of all this is that it was Gentile or non-Jewish territory. Galilee was dark, but at least it was Jewish. This, however, was Gentile country—the very heart of enemy territory, the thick of the darkness and of de-creation.

There Jesus encountered a poor man who was both deaf and suffering from a severe speech impediment. Like the paralytic from chapter 2, this man was so bad off that he had to rely upon others to bring him to Jesus. He couldn’t get there by his own power. Life was terrible for this disabled man. Life is hard for most people in this dark world, but it was especially troublesome for this particular man. However, as he encountered Jesus the King, the Son of God, he encountered someone in whom God was at work once again in the world doing all things well. This is what Mark wants us to see as well!

Just as in the beginning when the Creator spoke out against the void of the deep, disordered darkness and commanded that there be light, and separation, and waters, and vegetation, and animal life, and human life, so now he was speaking out against the darkness of deafness and broken speech and against demonic powers and, as they heeded his command, he was making all things well again. God was becoming King in Jesus, and Mark wants us to see that, when God becomes King, new creation comes and restoration is the result. De-creation—the undoing of the good of God’s original creation—is put right again. That’s what it looks like when God becomes King.

Mark records another allusion to an Old Testament scripture and episode when he records the people saying in verse 37, “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” This is an allusion to Isaiah 35:5-6, and it is meant to remind us of a certain episode in Israel’s history and of the promises made there to God’s people. God’s answer to the terrible results—the de-creation—of the Fall was Israel. He chose Israel and gave them a place. His plan was for his will to be done and his kingdom to come on the earth in them and through them. His plan was that in this one place and in this one people, the world would once again get a glimpse of what it looks like when God is King, when his will is being done and his kingdom has come.

They were to show the world what it looks like when God becomes King. But they failed to worship God and to live faithfully to him and their calling. As a result, God gave them what he gave to Adam and Eve. He gave them what they wanted. They wanted to be like the nations. They wanted to go their own way and wanted their own wills to be done, so God handed them over and they were swallowed up by the nations. Once again de-creation—the undoing of all the good that God had done for them—resulted. Their city was destroyed, their Temple ruined, and their children were taken away as captives.

It’s the same story told again and again. A family goes their own way apart from God, a church wants their own will to be done rather than the Father’s, and a community forges its own path to wisdom—and what is the result? The result is de-creation—an undoing of the good God intends. Disaster, dissatisfaction, and disappointment—those are the results. However, in Israel’s scriptures, God promised that de-creation, undoing, and disaster wouldn’t be the way the story would end for them. Rather, in Isaiah 35, God promised that one day He would return to them; he would restore them; he would become their King again. He would begin to accomplish his will in them and among them, and his kingdom would come around them and in them on earth as it is in heaven. And, as a result, salvation—new creation and restoration—would flow from them into all the nations.

And, most significantly, in the poem of Isaiah 35, what it would look like when God had returned and his kingdom was coming and his will was being done is this: Isaiah said that the deaf would hear again, and the mute would speak again. Where an undoing of the good life God originally intended had resulted in God’s absence, new creation would come. Where human lives had been ruined and broken, restoration would be the result.

What Mark wants us to see in this passage is that these ancient promises had all come together in Jesus. When Jesus went about the Decapolis, the world got a glimpse of the returning King, of the Maker putting his world to right again. They got a glimpse of Eden and what it looks like when the Father’s will is done and his kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. They saw that where the King is present and is at work, new creation comes and restoration results!

Isn’t that the conclusion that the people came to in verse 37? “He has done all things well! He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak!” When God becomes King, as he did in Jesus, new creation comes and restoration results. That was true for a deaf mute east of Galilee 2000 years ago, and it’s true for families, churches, and communities today. It’s true for you and your life! Where God is at work accomplishing his will and bringing in his kingdom, new creation comes and restoration is the result.

IF JESUS IS MY KING, WHY DO I STILL SUFFER?

I want to close today by talking about what all this might look like in individual families, churches, and communities, but first I want to address a question that you may have when it comes to physical and psychological suffering. If physical and psychological suffering are results of the Fall and a picture of de-creation—the undoing of the good that God intends for us—and if de-creation is a picture of Satan’s tyranny and of what the world looks like when we are in charge, then does the fact that I still suffer physically and psychologically mean that Jesus is not my King or that Jesus is not at work in my life?

I need to answer that question, because it is a natural question that results from what this passage teaches, and it is a question that is answered wrongly by many today. Some would say if you suffer physically or psychologically—from depression or other such things, some would say that if things aren’t going well and if you are not healthy and prosperous, then that must mean that God isn’t at work in your life. However, I want you to know that is not at all what the Bible teaches.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There will come a day when Jesus will appear again from heaven and shout, “Peace, be still!” and, at that moment, just as the storm obeyed and was calmed, so all our sufferings—cancer, depression, broken hearts, etc.—will cease at once. However, at the present time between the inauguration or beginning of Jesus’ rule as King and the completion of that rule when he appears again, God has called us to share in Christ’s sufferings. In fact, we learn through the New Testament writings that it is often not through our prosperity but through our sufferings that God’s new creation and restorative work in our hearts and in our lives becomes the most obvious to those around us.

There’s much more I could say to this point, and I would love to say more if you ask me later, but for now I’ll just leave you with this. Remember that two of the godliest men in Scripture asked for their suffering to be removed and, for purposes only he knows fully, the Father declined to answer the way they wanted. Jesus himself prayed if it were possible that his coming execution be stayed, but he was not answered in the way that he desired in that moment. Three times the apostle Paul begged God to remove his suffering, but God never did. Instead, he answered that his new creation power at work in Paul was most evident through Paul’s weakness.

So, it is not the case that if Jesus is our Savior and King and if we are following the Father’s will and his kingdom is coming in our hearts and lives we will be healed and spared of all suffering. Rather, it is the case that God is working through it and is working for us an eternal weight of glory that will far outshine our momentary suffering when all is said and done.

GOD’S KINGDOM IS TO CONTINUE TO BE SEEN AND FELT TODAY THROUGH HIS PEOPLE

Finally, I want us to think about what this passage means today. When God becomes King, as he has in Jesus, new creation comes and restoration results. What does that mean for us? Well, what God is doing through us should be a picture to this world of what new creation and restoration looks like.

And, as a church—as the body of Christ, as the people in whom Jesus is working and reigning as King—we should be a people and a community that restores life to the broken and that brings light to the darkness. Just as those in the Decapolis got a glimpse of new creation in the darkness east of Galilee when they saw Jesus at work, so people should see in us a glimpse of new creation through the way that Christ is at work in us.

So, what does it look like then when Jesus becomes King and the Father’s will is done in our homes, churches, and communities? I don’t have time to go into detail with all three of these, but I will share with you what it has looked like for me and in my home for Jesus to be King.

In my life, there are two ways that I can go and two wills that I can follow as a father and a husband. I can go my own way and follow my own will as Adam did and as Israel did. That, after all, is what comes most natural to me. As a husband, doing what comes naturally to me and following my own will and being my own king looks like this. When I’m hurt or am offended I hurt back, even when Jessica doesn’t intend to hurt or offend me in the first place. When I’m in charge, I quickly see Jessica’s faults and justify and excuse my own. I put a microscope on the ways that she can be self-serving, and I bury my own ways where I can never see them, but where they are still glaringly obvious to everyone else, including my six-year-old son, Will. When I go my own way and seek my own will, I crave power and control. I want to know where Jessica is going, who she will be with, and what she’s doing. I want to know what’s in it for me, and I think of my own needs as most important.

As a father, when I follow my own will and do what is natural, I am quick to yell and hurt when I am annoyed because Will and Jase won’t listen, because they are being, well, little boys. When I follow my own will and my own wisdom, I think of myself first and am offended when they disobey. How dare they disobey me, I think. I am their father and have authority! I crave my precious authority and the honor that I think I deserve and am willing to say harsh words to keep it. I pay no mind to the fact that those I love most may be crushed in the process.

That is what it can look like when I follow my own will and my own way. It’s ugly. It’s a gross form of de-creation—the undoing of all the flourishing that God desires for creatures that he created as his image. And, I’m nothing special. That road is followed by countless husbands and fathers, and it is played out over and over again in our rural culture here in West Kentucky. But, I’ve learned that I don’t have to live that way. Jesus loved me and gave his life for me—to forgive and cleanse me of my sins. He rose from the dead to give me life. He gave me the Holy Spirit free of charge.

His new creation and restoration project is at work in me, not because of any good in me or anything that I have done, but because I have trusted wholly in him to do what I could never do for myself. I’ve learned that I should no longer think of myself as a husband and a father who has to follow his own will and way, but I think of myself in light of who I am in the King. And, through Jesus, the Father’s will is being done and his reign is at work in our home, not perfectly or completely just yet, but enough that it matters, enough that it makes a visible difference in our world.

So, what it has looked like for me and my home for Jesus to be King, for his will to be done, and for his kingdom to come is this. I no longer hurt back as often when I am offended, but I pursue reconciliation and peace. I no longer or at least not as often think of myself and my needs first, but I try to think of where Jessica is coming from and what she needs. More often than before, I think of ways that I can serve her and relieve her stress rather than ways that I think she can be serving me. Instead of craving power, I attempt to sacrifice for her, to show her that I love her and care for her and want what’s best for her rather than attempt to manipulate or control her for what I can receive in return.

As a father, what it has looked like for me to submit to the Father’s will rather than my own is this. I don’t lose my patience as often or yell in hurtful and demeaning ways when my children don’t listen or respond to my directions. I no longer think as much about my own honor or authority, but about what is best for them and about their well-being and how I can best teach them the importance of following directions and learning discipline. I’m more focused now on the goal that they come to flourish as little images of God. Instead of ignoring them and their needs to spend time on my own thing, I take the time to tell them the stories about how God made them and the world and is working to make it all right again through Jesus and through us. I tell them that Jesus loved them and gave his life for them. I don’t always get it right. Often, I get it wrong. It’s easier to go my own way and follow what comes naturally to me as a selfish person. However, I have to remind myself of who I am in the King and that where he is at work new creation comes and restoration results. That is what it has looked like for me for Jesus to be King and for his will to be done in our home.

What if more families did that—turned their lives over to Jesus and his will and his gracious reign? What if more churches and communities did that? What does it look like when Jesus becomes King and the Father’s will is done in a church body? I don’t have time to go into it in as much detail, but surely it would mean that we treat one another with the kind of brotherly love, mutual respect, and forgiveness that Paul outlines in his letters. Surely it would mean less fighting and less seeing the church as a place that meets individual felt needs and desires and more of a place that exists as a flash of new creation in a dark and broken world. Surely it would mean coming together as the people of Jesus to bring restoration to the lost and the broken of this world.

What would it look like for those outside the church to be confronted with the King’s saving rule at work through us as the people of Jesus? Surely it would mean that we would treat every person with dignity and respect as someone created as God’s image, no matter the color of their skin or their economic status, no matter whether they have their lives together or not. Surely it would mean taking a chance on people and opening ourselves up to be vulnerable as we get to know them and open our doors and our lives to them. Surely it would mean learning how we can help others who need it rather than using or receiving from others something in return. Surely, for us as new creation people, it would mean attempting to repair or replace old systems that perpetuate brokenness and helping to restore hurting individuals in whatever ways they’ve been crushed by de-creation.

Jesus came to this world and he purchased a people by his blood, not just so that we could go and be with him when we die but so that right now new creation might come and restoration might result wherever he is at work through us in the world. May we submit to his will and saving reign, and dare to see what it looks like when God is truly King!

[1]The sermon I’m referring to about God’s reign and the problem of racism will be posted in a month or two.

[2]I got the idea to frame the discussion this way (When God becomes King. . .) from N. T. Wright’s outstanding book on Jesus, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. Chapter 6 is all about the fact that God is now in charge in Jesus of Nazareth. There, he asks and answers the question of what it looks like now that God’s in charge (57-66).

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

Looking Back and Looking Forward: A Psalm about Our Place and Purpose

Psalm 8 Pic.jpgHave you ever wondered where or if you belonged, or where your place was? Have you ever wondered what your purpose is in this world? If so, this is the psalm for you. This psalm—Psalm 8—is all about our place and our purpose as people created as God’s image. It’s a psalm positioned in the middle of scripture, but its themes reach back to the very beginning and look forward to the very end.

The Bible starts as God orders a world that serves as both a canvas for his glory and a home for human beings. It tells us about our place and our purpose in the created order. In this psalm, the psalmist looks back at that creation account to consider humanity’s place and purpose in light of God’s greatness. And, in spite of many years of setbacks from the events in Genesis 1 to his day, he also looks forward with hope concerning the future of humanity’s place and purpose.

With that said, I hope that you will see the enduring significance of this great psalm and are encouraged by it. I hope that you discover where you belong and what your purpose is in this life.

LOOKING BACK: A MEDITATION OF THE CREATOR’S GLORY AND MAN’S EXALTED PLACE AND PURPOSE IN CREATION

The first thing I want to do is walk you through the majority of this psalm as the psalmist looks back. He looks back and praises the LORD—Israel’s God—for his greatness as the Creator, and he comments in amazement at the exalted place and purpose that this great God has granted humans in the created order.

However, as the psalmist looks back and thinks upon the creation account, the first thing that he does is step outside and gaze up into the heavens. There, he sees the moon and the stars that have been intimately crafted by the fingers of the LORD God. And, upon seeing his handiwork, he praises the LORD. In verse 1 and verse 9, the beginning and the end of this psalm, the psalmist declares:

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

And, in the last part of verse 1, he adds to this the words:

You have set your glory above the heavens.

One of the things that the psalmist does for us here is that he shows us how Genesis 1 ought to be read. Christians and non-Christians today often read Genesis 1—11 in an attempt to figure out what it says about the material origins of this universe. They want to know how old the earth is, exactly how God made the earth, and what all of this means and how or if it correlates with today’s science.

However, what we should do first, when we read Genesis 1 and when we step outside at night to gaze at the heavens, is what the psalmist does here. We should declare, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens!” We should be astounded and stand in amazement of the being who has the power to craft the moon and the stars and set them in place with his fingers.

That is the first thing the psalmist did when he thought about Genesis 1 and looked up into the starry heavens. The second thing that the psalmist did, after standing amazed at God’s greatness and praising God for his glory, is that he comments in astonishment at God’s great care for people. Look with me at vv. 3-4.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

As the psalmist looked at the night’s sky and thought about the greatness of God, he wondered why God cared so greatly for human beings. Who are we compared to the LORD, the one who created the heavens and the earth? And, who are we compared with the heavens that declare God’s glory? The heavens are an infinite display of God’s greatness, and we are tiny specks of dust on one tiny planet in one particular solar system. Yet, the assumption here is that this great God does indeed care for us!

In verves 5-8, the psalmist goes on to talk more about the exalted place and purpose that God has given to humanity in this world. However, before we look at those verses, I first want to take a stab at the question that the psalmist raises in verves 3-4: What is man that God is mindful of him and cares for him?

Now, I realize that this question is a rhetorical question—that it is not intended to be answered. But, I want us to think about it a little more deeply anyway. Why does God care for us in light of his greatness and in light of the vast expanse that is the heavens?

We are like a blade of grass, here one day and gone the next. We are like a vapor that vanishes almost as soon as it appears. There are turtles and trees that live longer than we do! Yet, God cares for us. God cares for you. Did you know that? He does! And, he cares for me. Why? It’s one of the most confounding questions that can be asked or thought, isn’t it?

Well, I think the most that we can say when it comes to answering this question is that he cares because he cares. He loves because he loves. That is who he is. When the LORD revealed his glory to Moses at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 34, he revealed some of the most intimate details about himself in all the Bible, and what he said was this:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.

Exodus 34:6-7a

For whatever reason, the LORD created humans as his image and entered into a covenant, an agreement, with us to be our God. And, when the LORD is your God, he is faithful to you and he cares for you. That is just who God is. Merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He is just in punishing the guilty, but he also makes provision to acquit those who cry out to him for help. God cares because he cares. He loves because he loves. And, there is really not much more that can be said about it than that.

Now, as we turn back to this psalm, we see that when the psalmist thought about Genesis 1 and looked up at the night sky, he also marveled at humankind’s exalted place and purpose in the created order. Look with me at verses 5-8.

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

At this point, the psalmist is reflecting upon Genesis 1:26-28. In those verses, we discover that the LORD God created humankind as his image-bearers and gave his people dominion over the work of his hands. The LORD put everything in the created order under the rule and authority of human beings—all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, and the one who passes along the paths of the seas. I will talk more about the one who “passes along the paths of the seas” in a few moments, but first let us think about what all this means.

God made the earth our place, and he gave us a purpose as people created as his image. The earth is our home. It is God’s place, but it is also our place. God crafted it for the benefit of all his creatures, but he crafted it primarily for our benefit. Why? Again, all we can say is that he cares because cares. He loves because he loves. He created people as his image and has chosen to share dominion of this earth with his people.

The earth is our place; it is our home. You belong here. And, our purpose—every single one of us as people created as God’s image—is to serve as co-rulers with God over the created order. Our purpose is to have dominion—to share in bringing order to this earth—and it is to reflect God’s gracious character throughout the earth through our own action and attitudes and relationships and dealings with other people.

As we work, live, and build toward a better and more peaceful community, we are to reflect the compassion, mercy, steadfast love, and faithfulness of the LORD God. That is who he defined himself as to Moses, and that is who he has proven himself to be as our faithful and loving Creator and Redeemer.

I don’t know if you saw the movie Jupiter Ascending or not. Probably not. It didn’t receive great reviews or buzz in the media. But, Jessica and I saw it, and it reminds me a little of these verses.

At the beginning of Jupiter Ascending, we meet this young woman named Jupiter played by Mila Kunis. She is poor and spends her life cleaning toilets for her rich neighbors. However, while Jupiter cleans toilets, she dreams about the stars and cannot get past the fact that she feels as if she were born for something more. What Jupiter soon discovers is that she was right. She discovers that she was really royalty and that the rights to planet earth really belonged to her.

From that point, she and an alien played by Channing Tatum team up in a battle against other aliens to save her birthright! If you are not sold on that plotline, I don’t blame you. It was a silly movie, but the basic idea concerning Jupiter should ring true to you today if you believe God’s word.

If you ever wonder where your place is in this world, if you ever wonder where or if you belong, if you ever wonder what your purpose is, Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 tell us that we were created as God’s image-bearers, that the earth is our place, and that we were created to serve him as earth’s royalty. We were created in rank just below the heavenly beings and our purpose is to share in bringing order to the earth and to reflect God’s gracious character throughout the earth.

Our purpose is to have authority over all—all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, and over the one who passes along the sea. “And the one who passes along the sea,” I want us to think about that for a moment. Now, when you and I think about what passes along the depths of the sea, we may have in mind a shark, a dolphin, or some kind of large whale—none of which strike any particular fear in us as those who spend the majority of our time on land. However, when the ancients thought about the one who passes along the paths of the sea, they envisioned a terrible monster. Such a creature left the ancients spellbound.

The reason is that, for them, the sea monster ultimately didn’t symbolize a sea-dwelling creature at all, but what we would call a supernatural being that brought about great disorder in the universe. We meet a creature like that in Genesis 3 as a crafty serpent. He resurfaces again in Job, the Psalms, and Isaiah as Leviathan, the fiery serpent. In the New Testament, this ancient serpent is called the great dragon, the adversary, and the devil.

Amazingly, the psalmist remarks in verse 8 that even this great one who passes over the paths of the sea is meant be subject to us in the dust beneath our feet. God is glorious. He is eternal. He created the heavens and the earth. His fingers set the moon and the stars in place. And, yet, for some reason, he created us to populate the earth and to serve as his co-rulers with all things beneath our feet. That is what the psalmist saw when he looked back. He thought about our place and our purpose in light of God’s greatness, and he marveled and praised the LORD.

HOPE AMIDST DISORDER AND CHAOS: HUMANITY’S CHAOTIC PLACE AND UNFILLED PURPOSE

From here, I want to move to a second point. The last point will be what the psalmist looked forward to. But, right now I want to address an obvious fact. All things on this earth are not subject to us, are they? Do we have the dominion that we were created to have? Of course not! How can we be said to have dominion over the dust of this earth when we return to the dust ourselves? What kind of authority do we have—what kind of dominion—when we are subject to heart disease, cancer, aging, strokes, heart attacks, and death? What kind of dominion do we have over this earth when the earth can wreck our lives in a matter of moments through thunderstorms and floods? What kind of authority do we possess to order this earth, when we can’t even get our own lives in order? What kind of power do we have over the devil, when he is able to sift us as wheat?

The obvious answer is that we don’t. We are like Jupiter. We may have been born royalty, but right now we spend our lives on lessor things! I assure you that reality was not lost on the psalmist. For instance, the previous five psalms before this one (Psalms 3—7) all address the fact that God’s enemies, wicked peoples, and distorted justice are what marks this present world. In other words, the world does not appear to be ruled over by God’s obedient people at all, but by their enemies. This world doesn’t appear to be our Father’s world at all, but it appears to belong to the enemy. The world, our place, is not as it should be. It is not subject beneath our feet. And, we are all simultaneously culprits and victims.

The psalmist realizes that our place is not currently as it should be. It has been subjected to the futility of enduring disaster, disease, and death rather than the freedom of the children of God. Our purpose is not being carried out either, is it? Left to ourselves, we are slaves to sin and death, we do not reflect God’s glory on the earth, and we certainly do not exercise dominion as kings. We don’t bring order but are part of earth’s disorder.

Again, these realities were not lost on the Psalmist. However, in the midst of the disorder and chaos of this evil age, the Psalmist could still see the glorious hand of God evident in creation, and he looked forward with great hope to what God would do in the future through the Messiah. And, we see this in this text. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it or not, but there is one verse that we have not looked at and that is verse 2.

Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

The psalmist recognized our current predicament as fallen creatures subject to sin and death. He recognized that we have foes, enemies, and avengers. He recognized that the devil wishes to destroy us all and that on this earth is not his equal. However, he believed God’s promise: that one day a human child from the line of Eve would crush the head of the ancient serpent and restore to us our place and our purpose on this earth. He recognized that through the veiled cries of infants came a profound truth. The human race continues, and the promised child is coming!

I don’t know what you hear when you hear babies cry. You probably have never thought about it before and if you had, you would have probably concluded with most people that they are not saying anything at all. But, the psalmist tells us that they are uttering something profound. When he heard their cries, he was reminded of the promise of Gen. 3:15—that one day a particular infant would be born from the line of Eve and that that infant would grow up to crush humanity’s enemy and avenger, reverse the curse of sin and death, and restore to us our place and purpose in the created order. That’s what he heard coming out of the mouth of babes and infants—the articulate sounds of a God faithful to his promises.

The suffering and wrongs of this world were not lost on the psalmist, but he could stare at the sky in wonder and praise God because he believed the good news of God’s promise and looked forward to its arrival.

LOOKING FORWARD: PURPOSE AND PLACE RESTORED IN THE MESSIAH’S VICTORY

This brings us to the last thing that I want us to see. Psalm 8 looks back, but it also looked forward to the time in which our place and purpose as God’s servants and image-bearers would be restored through the promised King. And, when we come to the New Testament, we find that our place and our purpose as people created in God’s image have been restored through the Messiah. We see this most clearly in Hebrews 2:5-11b and in the way that the writer uses Psalm 8.

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source.

Hebrews 2:5-11b

I don’t have time to unpack all that’s in these verses for you, but I do want to comment quickly on how our place and purpose are restored through Jesus. Jesus the King is the promised offspring that came from the line of Eve. And, he lived on this earth as our representative. God’s plan from the beginning, as Psalm 8 shows us, has been for this world to be ruled over by his obedient children. Right now that is not the case with us—at least not completely. However, it is so for Jesus, and if we belong to him through faith, then what is his now will be ours when we he stands again on this earth.

Jesus has been crowned with glory and honor as God’s obedient Son. Where we all fail to live in obedience to God’s commands and exercise dominion over the earth, Jesus succeeded. He lived obediently to the Father’s will. He exercised dominion over the winds and the seas. Even demons threw themselves off cliffs at his command. He underwent a showdown with the devil himself for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness and came out on the other side victorious. He took all that the devil and the nations could throw at him at the cross and came through the other side resurrected, vindicated, and glorified. And, for his obedience, the Father exalted him over all powers and has given him all authority over heaven and earth.

He has been given this world as his inheritance. And, when he appears again, he is going to make creation right again. He is going to destroy the devil once and for all, he’s going to remove disease and death, and this world—our place—will finally be all that it was intended to be.

And, the good news is that he shares his victory, he shares his inheritance with all those who belong to him through faith. As it says in verse 10, Jesus underwent suffering not only for himself, but to bring many sons to glory! This means that those of us who trust in Christ are forgiven our sins through Christ’s sacrifice and we are granted eternal life. We were created to have dominion and to share in bringing order to this world. And, Jesus restores to us this purpose and our place by granting us an eternal inheritance.

We were created to serve God through reflecting his character. Jesus restores that purpose to us as well. He frees us from slavery to sin and death. When we come to trust in him, he forgives us, cleanses us, and gives us new life. He gives us the Holy Spirit, so that we can begin to walk in newness of life, so that we can begin to bring order to the world around us, and so that we can live out our divinely-ordained purpose as God’s obedient children and image-bearers. Through Jesus the King, we do have victory over the devil and our place and purpose are being restored!

CLOSING APPLICATONS

I want to leave you with a few applications that you can take with you. I have two for Christians and one for those exploring the claims of Christ.

First, to those of us who hope in Jesus, let us praise God! If we should praise God in astonishment that he is our Creator, which is what Psalm 8 does, then how much more should we exclaim in wonder that he is also our Redeemer? Why does God care for us? Why did he exalt us in place and purpose? Those are the questions that the psalmist asked.

But we have new questions to ask, don’t we! Why did he come to restore us when we never got it right to begin with? Why did the Father give his only son to make a wretch his treasure? Why did Christ the mighty Maker die for man the creature’s sin? Why? He cares because he cares. He loves because he loves. He always keeps his promises to his people. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Second, we should live for God. Christ has redeemed us from the curse to restore to us our purpose. And, our purpose is to be God’s obedient children who reflect his gracious character and who help bring order to this world. God cares because he cares. He loves because he loves. He always keeps his promises. That is what we are to strive for as well. That is what the church is to be in its communities.

Everyone loves their friends. Everyone is kind to those from whom they have much to receive in return. Everyone does what they say they will do when it is convenient. But, we are to reflect the character of God. We are to love those who don’t love us back. We are to care for those who cannot give us anything in return. We are to be honest and loyal in our dealings with people even when it is difficult and may cost us something. All that God is toward us in Jesus the King we are to be toward others in this world. God created us to be his obedient children who reflect his glory. Let us seek to live according to that grand design.

Let us also share right now in bringing order to this world. You may be wondering, “How on earth can I share in bringing order to this earth? I can’t calm the seas as Jesus did!” That’s true. We can’t calm the seas. But, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can help bring order and restoration to human relationships and to our communities. We can help bring order when we are quick to forgive, when we seek to make peace with those who offend us and those whom we’ve offended. We can seek to restore the down and out from the margins of society. We can minister to those in need, find help for the addicted, and open our lives and doors to the forgotten. We can love justice and pursue righteousness by holding elected officials accountable when they cater to the rich and powerful and overlook the needs of the poor. We can seek to foster reconciliation between estranged parties, whether separated racially, economically, or politically. We can seek to come to understand, respect, and love those who are different than we are.

Finally, I want to close with a word to those who have not yet hoped in Christ. My friend, in light of what we have seen today from God’s word, you should hope in Jesus. You will never truly know your place or purpose in this world until you have turned your life over to the King. Even if you have all riches and earthly power, you are still on the bottom rung, if you do not belong to the one who made you.

Our idols and sin separate us from our God and keep us from inheriting our place and living out our purpose. But Jesus died to cleanse us from our sins and rose from the dead to rescue us from our idols. He battled the one who passes along the paths of the sea so that through faith in him we could be forgiven and given new life and so that we could be given a place and a purpose in his new creation.

Look to him today. If you have no place and feel as if you have no purpose or story, then find your life and your story in his.

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

A New Way of Being Human

Sermon Pic 6.jpgAnd when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Mark 2:1-12

Mark’s Gospel announces the good news that in Jesus of Nazareth, the God of heaven has begun his saving reign upon the earth. Through Jesus, the Creator has begun to take back this world and its creatures from the enslaving power of idolatry and sin and the destructive powers of evil. And, what I want us to continue to see from this passage is that, on an individual level, this carries with it great news as well. The good news means that, for people enslaved to idolatrous powers, addictions, greed, selfishness, hopelessness, or whatever, Jesus offers a new way of begin human. That is what I desperately want you to realize as we go through Mark.

I don’t just want you to see and understand the grand story that Mark tells us about Jesus, but I want you to see yourself in this story about Jesus. I what you to find your life in the life of Jesus, your story in his. That is why Mark wrote this Gospel. Jesus was not just another compelling figure in the ancient world whose life he thought was worth telling and would make an interesting and inspiring biography. No! Jesus is the key figure in human history. His life changed the world. Unlike any other person who had ever lived, death was not the end of his story but just the beginning as through it he triumphed over the powers that held humanity in their grasp.

Jesus is the central figure of history and, as Lord and King, is still the central figure of the world today. His life and his story demands our souls, our lives, and our all. And, what I desperately want us to see from this passage is that Jesus offers to each one of us a new way of being human! To put it another way, Jesus offers us a way to be truly human, to live life as God intended and created us. What I want us to see is that, when we come to hope in him, Jesus sets us free from enslaving powers, restores us to God, and empowers us to live out our purpose. He includes us in a new people—a new humanity. Along with all his people, we become his royal priesthood and holy nation whose task it is to change lives and the world through the same self-giving love and faithfulness that Jesus himself demonstrated at the cross. That’s what I want us to begin to see as we look at Mark’s story about Jesus and the paralytic.

THE SON OF MAN’S AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE SINS

The first truths that I what us to see from this story concern Jesus. Mark intends to communicate to us a few things about Jesus through the title, “Son of Man,” which Jesus claims for himself in verse 10, and through the fact that, as Son of Man, Jesus has the authority to forgive sins.

First, it is significant that Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. The background of the title, Son of Man, comes from Daniel 7. In Daniel 7, Daniel sees a vision in the heavenly realm in which the Almighty grants one like a Son of Man authority over the entire earth, including all the beast-like kingdoms of this world under the enslaving powers of evil and responsible for much of the violence upon the earth. As this vision is interpreted for Daniel, we come to find out that it is through this Son of Man that the kingdoms of this world are overtaken and given to the people of God as they come to inherit and reign over God’s creation instead of the beasts.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus identifies himself as this kingdom-conquering, history-altering Son of Man. However, he adds to it a fuller meaning than we are first introduced to in Daniel. For instance, we will come to see that, as the Son of Man, Jesus defeats the enslaving powers of this world and overcomes sin and death through giving his own life for others rather than through some brute show of force or through political calculations. But, since I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves or Mark’s story, I want to focus on what Jesus reveals about himself in this passage. And, in this passage, we see that as the Son of Man Jesus has the authority on earth to forgive sins.

In verse 5, when Jesus saw the faith of the four men who knew no boundaries when it came to getting their paralyzed friend to Jesus—so much so that they dug through the roof of Jesus’ house!—he proclaimed to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now, I want us to think about this for a few moments, because what Jesus did here was extraordinary. I am not sure if the average Joe in the room would have recognized what had just happened when Jesus said, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” But the scribes, who knew the Scriptures well, understood exactly what had just happened. And, what Jesus did was this. He took upon himself a divine prerogative. It was God’s business and God’s alone to forgive sins, and the Jews believed that God had chosen to forgive by means of Temple, sacrifice, and priesthood. Therefore, a priest might be able to inform a person that God had forgiven one’s sins through the proper channels, but that is not what Jesus did here. As one author puts it, “Jesus utters no intercessory prayer to God for forgiveness and healing. He completely bypasses any priestly atonement ritual. . . . He is not speaking on behalf of God as if he had ‘God’s power of attorney.’ Jesus remits sin on his own authority as if he were God.”[1]

Jesus takes upon himself God’s prerogative and forgives this person’s sins, and the scribes immediately recognized the biblical and theological significance of what had just happened. These particular scribes, in this particular instance, were good students of Scripture and good theologians, but in their hardness of heart and refusal to see what was right in front of them, they came to a terrible conclusion. They realized that Jesus’ proclamation about this man’s sins meant one of two things: either Jesus was ushering in God’s kingdom, bringing the history of Israel to its climax, or Jesus was a blasphemer of the grossest kind.

The scribes knew that the Prophets had said that God’s saving reign in the last days would come through forgiveness and healing. Therefore, either God’s saving reign had come at last in Jesus, or Jesus was guilty of the worst kind of blasphemy and deserved to die. Even though Jesus proved to them conclusively in verse 11 that the former was the case rather than the latter, the scribes assumed the worst.[2]

Mark, however, does not want us to make the same mistake. Jesus the King, Son of God, and Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins because he is the very embodiment of the LORD, the God of Israel, and through him God’s saving reign that sets captives free has come to this earth. Jesus is the Son of Man. He has authority over heaven and earth. He is the one through whom God’s people come to possess and rule over God’s creation. Through him, the meek shall inherit the earth! And, for the person who has become enslaved to the powers of sin and death, he has the power to forgive sin and restore life. He has the power to forgive your sin and restore your life, if you would turn to him, today!

JESUS OFFERS A NEW WAY OF BEING HUMAN

This brings us to the second truth that I want us to see from this passage. As the Son of Man, Jesus offers us a new way of being human. I want us to see this in the way that he brought healing and forgiveness to the paralytic, and I want to talk about what this means for each one of us today.

First, it may seem strange to us that when four determined men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus that Jesus forgave him his sins. In our minds, the man’s physical condition and his spiritual condition were two separate things. But, for Jesus’ audience and for Mark’s original readers they were connected. They recognized that the reason that people are subject to disease, death, and decay is that humanity has become enslaved to evil powers through sin. Now, at other points, Jesus brings more clarity to this truth by pointing out that one’s physical ailment may not be the direct result of one’s own sin. However, the reason that death and disease had become the rule for humans on the earth is that as a whole the human race turned against God and became enslaved to evil forces in this world. We desired our own way apart from God and God gave us over to the powers our hearts most desired. And, life apart from God inevitably leads to death.

Life in the shadows apart from the light and author of life inevitably leads to death and darkness. Therefore, in their minds, to be restored to God and to God’s family required not only physical healing, but also a solution to the root problem, sin and alienation from God. And, in this story, Jesus, the Son of Man, who has the authority on earth to forgive sin, restored this man completely by first forgiving him his sins and then healing him of his paralysis.

Humans were not meant to be enslaved to sin, to suffer from debilitating physical conditions, and to live in fear of death. Rather, we were meant to rule over the earth in fellowship with God as his image-bearing servants. Through forgiving this man his sins and restoring to him his physical health, Jesus shows us that he came to restore to people what was lost in the Fall. That is what it meant in Daniel 7 for the Son of Man to be the Son of Man. He took control of the kingdoms of this world in order to give them back to those whom they rightfully belonged, those people who had come to belong to the LORD and to reflect his good character to the world around them.

Now, what does all of this mean for us? Well, it means the same for us that it did for those in the house with Jesus almost two thousand years ago. Jesus, the Son of Man, has the authority on earth to forgive sin, and he offers to each of us a new way of being human. Each one of us was created to worship and to know God. We were created to reflect God’s goodness—his steadfast love, compassion, mercy, and faithfulness—in whatever capacity or roles in which we find ourselves. He created us to have dominion over this earth, not to be dominated by addictions, selfishness, greed, oppressive systems, disease, and death. He created us to enjoy his rest and the blessings of his kingdom forever.

And, Jesus came to redeem us from the curse that has robbed us of that purpose. His own resurrection from the dead is the sign of our resurrection and at the time of his appearing when we too will be transformed no longer to suffer from debilitating diseases or the fear of death. Jesus came to redeem us from the curse of the law by bearing in himself our transgressions and sins. He died so that we could be forgiven, cleansed, changed, and empowered finally to live out our purpose in fellowship to God and service in his kingdom.

Through the good news, God calls people everywhere to turn from their sin and to follow Jesus, the Son of Man, the one who has been given all authority over heaven and earth. He makes people whole again and gives us new life and a purpose. He reconciles us to God and empowers us by his Spirit to live lives that are pleasing to God. Jesus offers us all a new way of being human.

THE NEW WAY OF BEING HUMAN

This brings us to the last thing that I want us to do today. I want us to think about what it means to be truly human, to live out the new life and purpose that Jesus the King has restored to us as people. I want to talk about a few general ways, and also one specific way that we find right here in this passage.

First, having our sins forgiven and becoming empowered by God’s Spirit means that we have been reconciled to God himself. We have been granted peace with God. The sin that separated us from our God and kept us enslaved to lesser powers has been dealt with once and for all, and we can approach God and worship God in freedom and confidence.

Second, having our sins forgiven and having been granted the Spirit, God calls us to live in service to him in his kingdom. In both the Old and the New Testaments, the image that the inspired writers use to describe God’s people is that of a royal priesthood and a holy nation. The Israelites were to be a royal priesthood and a holy nation. They were to bring order to God’s good creation through spreading justice and righteousness and reflecting God’s good character in all that they did. However, in the Old Testament, the Israelites worshipped idols, were enslaved to sin, and fell short of God’s glory.

In the New Testament, the inspired writers declare that something has fundamentally changed so that God’s people can now live out that purpose. Jesus’ death has freed his people from enslaving powers, forgiven their sin, and empowered them through the gift of the Spirit to live lives pleasing to God. Again, Peter borrows the terms royal priesthood and holy nation and applies them to the church—Israelites and non-Israelites who hope in Jesus the King.

Generally speaking, Jesus has made us whole—has forgiven us and empowered us—so that we can live in justice and righteousness and reflect his good character in all our roles and capacities as people who inhabit this world. God has called us to bring order to our families and communities by living as peacemakers and people who help the down and out. He has called, forgiven, and empowered us as spouses to reflect his good character in the way that we love and serve one another. He has called us as parents, employers, employees, neighbors, and business partners to mirror his patience and trustworthiness, compassion and mercy in the way that we conduct ourselves.

Finally, and this is what I want us to see from this passage as we close, he calls us, forgives us, and empowers us to be his witnesses. He invites us to be witnesses to the fact that through his death the world has changed, to be witnesses to the fact that his resurrection is proof that people can live and look forward to a better life, to be witnesses to the fact that Jesus, the Son of Man, has been given the kingdoms of this world and calls everyone everywhere to repent and believe the good news. We are called to be his witnesses, royal priesthood, and holy nation.

We are called to do what these four friends did here in this story. They demonstrated that they believed in Jesus’ authority to forgive sins and heal by means of the way in which they did not give up hope but were doggedly determined to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus. Do we really believe that Jesus offers our lost friends, neighbors, and family members a new way of being human? Do we really believe that he can forgive their sins and break the stranglehold of deep-rooted, paralyzing habits in their lives?

If we really believe that, then let’s be his witnesses. Let us not give up hope but continue to work to bring them to Jesus. If we have to climb up on someone’s roof and dig through to the floor, let us do so in faith that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sin, to restore life, and to set the captives free!

[1]David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 284.

[2]Ibid., 112.

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

 

 

The Compassion of Jesus the King

Sermon Pic 5.jpg

Photo by Will Cooper

The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

 

Leviticus 13:45-46

Mark’s gospel announces the best good news that this world has ever heard. It is the good news that God’s saving promises concerning Israel, the nations, and this world are fulfilled through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the King. We have seen that it is an ancient biography but one that is different from other ancient biographies. This is true because Mark was convinced that his subject, Jesus of Nazareth, is the most important person who has ever lived. Mark believed this and writes in this way because Jesus was not defeated by death as were all other great men but instead defeated death and the evil powers behind death, idolatry, and sin through dying. And, the proof of this truth is that he was raised from the dead.

Finally, on an individual level—and I desperately want you to get and see this as we go through Mark—Mark’s gospel announces the good news that through the work of Christ, primarily at the cross, people who turn to him and believe discover what it means to be truly human and to be truly free to live out one’s purpose on this earth—one’s purpose as a creature made in God’s image. Through Jesus’ sacrificial death, he reconciles people to God. He cleanses their sins, makes them holy, and empowers them by his Spirit. He restores them to fellowship with God and to service in God’s kingdom. That is what the Gospel of Mark is all about.

Now, from this passage, I want us to see an important truth about Jesus. It is that he has compassion for the marginalized. However, he is more than just compassionate. Many people have compassion for the less fortunate, but they do not have the power to do much, if anything, about it. Jesus, however, more than just having compassion, does something about the marginalization of people created in God’s image by restoring them into fellowship in God’s community. That is what I want us to see today as we look at Mark 1:40-45. Jesus demonstrated his great compassion by restoring a person that had been marginalized from Jewish society.

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean. Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Mark 1:40-45

LEPROSY, PHYSICALLY SHAMEFUL AND CULTURALLY DESPISED

There are a few things that I want to note about this story. The first concerns leprosy. Leprosy was physically shameful and culturally despised, so much so that the afflicted person was driven literally to the margins or to the desolate places of Jewish society. Leprosy was a dreadful disease to have in first century Judaism not just because of the disease itself. That was bad enough. It was a disfiguring skin disease that would have certainly caused great embarrassment, shame, and pain to the individual. However, just as bad as the physical toll that it took on an individual was the social damage that leprosy waged upon its victims.

As we saw from our Scripture reading in Leviticus (see above), the person who had a malignant form of leprosy, as this man did, was not allowed to take part in normal communal life among his fellow Israelites. Rather, he had to live outside the camp or outside the community alone in the desolate places. The reason for this, at the time in which the events of Leviticus took place, is that the tabernacle, God’s dwelling place—the place where heaven and earth met—was located in the center of the Israelite camp. And, in order for God’s people to continue to live around the dwelling place of God, nothing unclean could enter or continue in the camp. Leprosy was one of those things that defiled and caused a person to be ritually unclean. In fact, not only was the person with leprosy unclean, but also all those who came into physical contact with such a person became unclean and unfit for Israelite community as well.

That was a tough position to be in. And yet, that is exactly where this man in Mark’s story found himself. He had a depreciating skin disease, shaming and excruciating, and he had been pushed by his circumstances to the detested fringe of the first century Jewish world. He had been exiled to the desolate places.

JESUS GOES TO THE DESOLATE PLACES TO REDEEM HIS PEOPLE

This brings us to the next point that I want us to notice from this story. Jesus had gone to a very sketchy place or else he would have never encountered this leper. In short, what I want us to understand at this point is that Jesus goes to the desolate places to redeem marginalized people. Now, at the end of this passage, Jesus had to spend even more time in the desolate places, outside towns and communities and on the fringe because the man he healed went against Jesus’ command and openly told people about what Jesus did for him.

However, even before that occurred, Jesus himself had entered the desolate place where the marginalized and forgotten lived alone. At this point, I want to stop and note a truth that should be comforting to you. Jesus has compassion on the marginalized. We will see that illustrated in this story in just a moment. But, the very fact that the Son of God took upon human flesh and dwelt among us illustrates for us the compassion that God has, that Christ has, for the marginalized. The leper had been marginalized and exiled from Jewish society, but the fact is that all of us, no matter where we stand on the social ladder, have been exiled from God’s presence and from the kingdom of heaven.

All of us, left to ourselves, are unclean and unfit for fellowship with God and the service to God. All of us are on the outside looking into God’s community, because we have all turned to and lived in the service of idols. Let that sink in. This is not just the story about a first century leper. This is the story of each and every one of us. None of us have leprosy but each one of us has sinned and fallen short of reflecting the good character of the Creator to the world around us. Our sin and idolatry makes us unclean and unfit for fellowship with God and service in God’s family.

And yet, God the Son, the Creator of heaven and earth, took upon flesh and identified with us in the sorrow of this desolate, deformed world. He came to us because he cares about the marginalized. He has compassion on those alone and afraid. He is merciful toward those enslaved to various sins, even though the fault of that slavery is our own. In fact, Jesus’ compassion and mercy is illustrated beautifully for us in the next truth that I want you to notice from this text.

JESUS IS MOVED WITH PITY TOWARD THE MARGINALIZED AND IS ANGERED BY THAT WHICH GRIEVES HIS PEOPLE

When Jesus was approached by this leper and the leper pled with him to be clean, verse 41 says that Jesus was moved with pity and that he stretched out his hand and touched him. What I want you to understand at this point is that Jesus is moved with pity toward the marginalized and is angered by that which grieves the people whom he created in his image. That Jesus was moved with pity and that he actually touched this man are points that we must not miss.

Again, Jesus had pity and compassion when he saw this leprous man. Interestingly, there is scholarly disagreement as to what pity means in this verse. There are textual variants in the available manuscripts so that we are not entirely sure whether Mark intends to say that Jesus was moved with pity or with anger. It doesn’t really matter what Mark intended to say because, on some level, the entire life and ministry of Jesus shows that both were true. Jesus was moved to pity and compassion for the marginalized or else he would not have went to desolate places to minister to lepers and outcasts. Jesus was also angry. We see this as well when Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb. That Jesus wept conveys not just that he was sad, but that he was angry as well. Jesus was angry that there are dehumanizing forces in this world that cause people to suffer and to feel alone.

If you think that God is distant and that he does not care, then realize what this passage and all the gospels are telling us. Realize and understand the uniqueness of the gospel. In Jesus, the Creator himself drew near to us. He approached us in our uncleanliness and brokenness. Heaven and earth touched in an individual, and that individual went into the desolate places. And, one reason that God the Son took upon flesh is that human suffering and a world that reflected something other than his goodness made him angry.

Shootings at airports and night clubs make God angry. Child abuse makes God angry. Death makes God angry. Jesus was angered that we live in a world in which diseases deform his image bearers and in which the people who most need community and compassion are so often driven to the margins and forgotten. Violence, disease, death, dehumanizing sin, and selfishness make God angry, and it made Jesus angry. It should make us angry. In fact, I want you to see that it made Christ angry enough and moved with enough compassion and pity that he did the unthinkable, the unimaginable.

JESUS TOUCHED THE LEPER AND MADE HIM CLEAN

Verse 41 says—it emphases for us so that we will not miss it—that when Jesus was moved with pity, compassion, or anger—that he stretched out his hand and touched the leper. This was strictly forbidden by Jewish law. The reason that this man was driven to live alone in the desolate places was because if someone touched him, they too would become unclean and unfit for Jewish society. You did not touch someone or something that was unclean, or else you would become unclean and unfit for community yourself. And, yet Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper. Please realize and understand that Jesus didn’t have to do this. We learn in the Gospels that Jesus didn’t even have to be in the same town with a person to heal them. We would say that he didn’t even have to be in the same zip code. By the power of his word, Jesus could grant life to the dead from miles away. Jesus most definitely did not have to touch this leper, but he stretched out his hand and touched him anyway.

There are two things that I want us to take away from this. First, when Jesus touched this leper we see a clear picture of the good news that Mark tells in this gospel. As one commentator puts it, “The whole of the gospel is here in a nutshell: Christ redeems us from the curse by becoming under a curse for our sake (Gal. 3:13).”[1] When Jesus went to the cross, the New Testament tells us that he went as a sacrifice for our sins to cleanse us, to make us holy, and to restore us into fellowship with God and his community. This, as we will see, is exactly what Jesus did for this man as well. Our idolatry and sin make us unclean and unfit for fellowship with God. However, by going to the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sins, Jesus makes a way for us to have our sins cancelled and our lives made clean. He makes us fit for fellowship with God and life in God’s family and kingdom. Through faith in Christ and his death for us, we are reconciled to God and we are cleansed of our sin, made holy, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live in service to God. We are empowered to go to the desolate places and to the marginalized just as Jesus did to help restore the broken and forgotten.

Second, and connected to the point that I just made, when Jesus touched the man, it did not cause Jesus to become unclean. Rather, it caused the leper to become clean. For any other person to have touched the leper would have caused that person to be unclean and then they both would have been unfit for first century Jewish society. However, Jesus had the opposite effect of making the man clean with his touch. Again, this is what Jesus does for us as those marginalized and exiled from God and his kingdom. For those who hope in him, Jesus restores them into fellowship with God and into God’s family. His touch makes us clean.

JESUS RESTORED THE CLEANSED MAN TO FULL COMMUNAL LIFE

Finally, I want us to notice that Jesus restored this once marginalized man to full communal life. We see this in verse 44. Jesus healed him of leprosy and told him to go to the priest to make an offering for cleansing. By going to the priest and making an offering for cleansing, this man would have been restored to full communal life and participation in first century Jewish society. Jesus restored this man physically, spiritually, and socially.

Again, we should see ourselves in this story. Not leprosy, but sin separates us from God’s family and kingdom. However, Jesus restores us through his sacrificial death for us. We were all booted from God’s family and kingdom, driven to the desolate places where we became enslaved to false gods and powers, but Jesus took upon himself our transgressions. He went to the desolate places and bore the full weight of that slavery and was crushed beneath the evil powers of this world.

But, he didn’t remain in the grave. He was bruised but not beaten. Rather, he rose from the dead, proving that he had triumphed over disease, death, and the devil, and proving that he had made a way for us to be restored into fellowship with God and into the fellowship of his family. Jesus has compassion on the marginalized of this world, which in one way or another has included every single one of us!

APPLICATIONS

Now, for a few moments, I want us to think about how this applies to us. First, and foremost, if you have never trusted in Christ and are still in a desolate place, without God and without hope in the world, realize that through turning from the path you are on to Jesus, you can be forgiven and restored into fellowship with God. You can join his family. You can be empowered to live in service to God in this world. You can join Christ in helping those who need the good news of restoration. So, if you’ve never hoped in Christ, my prayer is that this would be the day that you find your life in his.

Second, I want us to see in this message the importance of the church and church fellowship. Just as the leper was able to return to first century Jewish society once he was healed and cleansed, so being redeemed through faith in Christ makes us members of Christ’s family. And Christ’s family, his community, is represented on this earth in local churches. It is vitally important that if we belong to Jesus, that we belong to a local church as well. It is vital that we take part in serving together, loving one another, and bearing each other’s burdens. The church is Christ’s new community filled with people who have been restored to fellowship with God and united together in one family. We represent to this world the joys of the world to come. If you have been restored to God by Christ, then you have also been restored to his family and you need to be involved with and in that family in a local church setting.

Finally, for those of us who hope in Jesus the King, we must realize that just as Jesus restored the marginalized, so we have been called to do the same. We have been called to carry the good news and the compassion of Jesus to those who need it. And, we are not just go take the good news and our compassion to our well-off neighbors either. We are to take it even to the desolate, seemingly shady places of this world. People need the good news that Jesus restores sinners to God and to his family. They need to see the compassion that God has for them in our compassion and in our willingness to meet their needs. May we be about that business in our daily lives! Jesus has compassion on the marginalized, and as those who have been restored from the margins ourselves, we should show compassion to those who have been marginalized in our communities.

People aren’t marginalized and pushed to the edge of our communities because of leprosy but they are for other reasons. Some are pushed to the margins due to their socio-economic condition. Others are pushed to the margins either intentionally or unintentionally because they are in the minority racially from the majority of those in the community. Still, some are on the margins because of unpopular choices that they’ve made morally and socially. However, for whatever reason people find themselves on the fringe of our communities, Jesus calls us to go to them, to befriend them, and to attempt to restore them. He calls upon us to share with them and embody for them the good news—the good news that the Creator has compassion, that their lives matter to him, that he offers forgiveness and new life, and that he has redeemed a new people of compassion and restoration who welcome broken people.

[1]R. Alan Cole, Mark in TNTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1989), 119.

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

A Day in the Life of the King

Sermon Pic 4

Photo by Will Cooper

I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King.

 

Isaiah 43:15

 

Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of your favorite celebrity would be like? Or, perhaps what a day would be like in the life of a world leader, like the president of this country or the king of some other great nation or kingdom? Perhaps you wondered what it would be like for someone for whom money is not an issue, or what it would be like for someone who commanded the attention and the respect of all their peers.

Well, in this passage, Mark shows us what a day in the life of Jesus the King looked like during his ministry in the region of Galilee. Remember, Mark’s Gospel is ancient biography similar in style to other ancient biographies but is distinct from other biographies as well. The reason it is different is that Mark was entirely convinced that the subject of his narrative is different from every other person who ever lived. He is different in that he is to be identified in a unique way with the LORD, the god of Israel, and his life demands a response from every single person.

We continue to see the things that were different about Jesus in this portrait of a day in the life of Jesus. In fact, here we see that Jesus has authority, that Jesus is the Holy One of God, and that Jesus must be received on his terms.

With that, I want you to go ahead and look at the verses that make up this passage. And, as you look at it, keep in mind that Mark is telling us about a day in the life of Jesus the Christ. We start out in verses 21-28, early on a Sabbath morning, as Jesus entered a synagogue in Capernaum—a cultural center in the region of Galilee—and began to teach. From there, in verses 29-31, we move immediately from the scene in the synagogue to a meal that Jesus shared with his disciples in a private home. Following on from that, in verses 32-34, we read that many people began to bring their sick and demon-possessed to Jesus. By this point, the Sabbath would have ended, since it only went from sundown to sundown, and people would have no longer been restrained by regulations from approaching Jesus for healing and exorcism. Finally, in verses 35-39 we are back again, 24 hours from where we started, as Jesus rises early on a Sunday morning to pray. Now that we have an idea of the timeline of this day in the life of Jesus, it’s time to look at the passage.

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. and they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everyone throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Mark 1:21-39

According to Mark, this was a day in the life of Jesus the King, and from this day in the life, we see at least three truths.

JESUS HAS AUTHORITY

First, unlike any other person who has ever lived before or since, Jesus had and has authority. Mark stresses this truth throughout this passage. Mark tells us early on in verse 22 that Jesus had authority to teach and that he taught with authority. That apparently set him apart from the scribes. While they taught the traditions and interpretations of men, Jesus taught a new message, the message that God’s word had been fulfilled in his own life. Jesus’ interpretations of Scripture and history were not the mere traditions or opinions of men, but they were the very words and thoughts of God. Jesus taught with authority.

Jesus also demonstrated authority over unclean spirits. In verses 23-26, Jesus rebuked and exorcised an unclean spirit from a man attending the synagogue, and Jesus did it by the power of his word. He commanded and the unclean spirit obeyed. In fact, the unclean spirit recognized Jesus’ authority. In verse 24, the unclean spirit identified Jesus as the Holy One of God, and he feared that Jesus might use that power to destroy him.

To a degree, the people were also aware that Jesus’ power over unclean spirits was a demonstration of great authority. In verse 27, they questioned among themselves, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Power over demonic spirits would have been significant for the people of the first century, and it is significant for us today. Jesus’ authority over demonic powers means that he has authority over the sources of chaos and disorder that still wreak havoc in this fallen world. This is a dark world with devils filled. Peter says that the devil himself roams around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. There are many powers that would love nothing more than to steal and kill and destroy from God’s image bearers. However, Mark assures us that Jesus has authority over them all. They can do nothing without his permission, and they are powerless before him. They can try to wreck and destroy, but Jesus can and will turn their evil into good for his people.

Finally, we see in this day in the life of Jesus that Jesus has authority over all kinds of diseases and ailments. We see this in verses 30-31 as Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever. We also see this in verses 32-34 as Jesus healed many who were sick with various diseases. Mark wants us to see that Jesus has great authority. He spoke the very words of God, he had power over devils, and he has power over disease and, as we will see later, even death. Jesus has authority.

Before we move on, I want us to be encouraged by this reality. We still live in a devil-filled world, don’t we? There is darkness all around us. One glance at the evening news, and it is clear that this world is still a very dangerous place. We also still live in a disease-stricken and death-ridden society. The saying still holds true that the only two things guaranteed in life are death and taxes! We live our daily lives in a dark world, filled with mischievous powers, harmful diseases, and the perils of death at every corner. However, we can be assured that Jesus has authority over it all.

Are you struggling with certain things right now that are bringing a great deal of stress and heartbreak to you? Are you weighed down with health issues? Are you struggling in ways that no one knows about but you and the Lord? If so, then I want you to realize today, that Jesus has all authority. He has authority over everything in this world and over everything that is going on in your life. He has authority over the strained relationships, the ailments, and the threat of death. He has authority over it, and if we belong to him through faith, then he cares for us greatly as well. For that reason, we can trust him. We can trust him that, whether he heals us or whether it’s his will that we continue to battle against what ails us for a while longer, Jesus is in control and he is working through it all for our eventual good. That may be almost impossible to see and understand now but he promises that our sufferings no matter how great are only light and momentary compared to the eternal weight of glory that awaits us when Jesus appears from heaven (2 Corin. 4:17).

Jesus is unlike any other person who has ever lived. He has all power and authority over heaven and earth. And, if we belong to him, we can rest assured and have peace that he has nothing less than our eternal salvation in mind as he exercises his authority over the powers and the troubles in our lives. Jesus has authority!

JESUS IS THE HOLY ONE OF GOD

Second, from this day in the life of Jesus, we also see that Jesus is the Holy One of God. Strangely enough, the ones who recognized Jesus as the Holy One of God were neither the crowds who heard Jesus and saw him heal nor Jesus’ disciples. Rather, it was the demons whom Jesus had come to destroy. Consider, again, verse 24. There the unclean spirit cried out before Jesus, saying, “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.”

Jesus is the Holy One of God. I want us to pause and think for a moment about what this means. That Jesus is the Holy One reflects the idea that I have been talking about for a few sermons. Mark wants us to see that Jesus is different from every other person worthy of a biography in the ancient world. He and his life are set apart; they are holy.

That Jesus is the Holy One also reflects the first point above. Jesus has authority. He is God’s Messiah—the king of heaven and earth. He is distinct and different from all others because he has authority over devils, diseases, winds, seas, and even death.

That Jesus is the Holy One of God also points to the reality that Jesus perfectly reflects the character of the LORD, the god of Israel. In Jesus, we see exactly what it means that the LORD is gracious, compassionate, merciful, slow to anger, forgiving, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex. 34:6-7). Unlike any other person who has ever lived, Jesus reflected the image and the character of God perfectly to the world around him.

Finally, that Jesus is the Holy One of God points us again to the fact that Jesus is to be intimately identified with the LORD, Israel’s God. No other Old Testament book influenced Mark and his gospel like the prophecy of Isaiah. And, in Isaiah, Isaiah’s favorite title, or favorite way to identify the LORD, the god of heaven and earth, is by calling him the Holy One of Israel. This is also how Isaiah described the LORD after he had a vision of him in the Temple. For Isaiah, the LORD is characterized best as someone who is thrice holy (Is. 6). He is the only god, and he alone keeps his promises of salvation to his people and to the world. He plans and carries out those plans without fail.

By pointing out that Jesus is the Holy One of God, Mark is once again identifying Jesus in an intimate way with Israel’s God. He does not spell out for us the distinctions between God the Father and Jesus as the Son of God. He doesn’t give us a systematic explanation of the Trinity, but he does clue us into the fact that Jesus is to be identified intimately with the LORD, and that in Jesus, in some mysterious way, the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth, had come to dwell among his creatures. Mark, in his own way declares as would Isaac Watts many centuries later that in Jesus, the mighty maker died for man the creature’s sin!

Now before we move on to the final point, I also want us to pause and think about how this applies. That Jesus is the Holy One of God means that we, as his people, should be holy as well. This was the LORD’s call to his people in the Old Testament. He called them to be holy as he is holy. The same is true for us as followers of Jesus. Peter tells us that God called us, as the church, to be a royal priesthood and a holy nation. He explains that Jesus made us a people of his own possession so that we would reflect his glory in the world (1 Pet. 2:9). And, we most reflect the glory of Christ when we live holy lives—lives set apart from unbelievers. And, we live lives set apart from others in this world, not necessarily by what we don’t do but by what we do.

Christians sometimes have the idea that holiness means not doing certain things, especially in our culture. For many, holiness means abstaining from alcohol, in spite of the fact that Jesus himself enjoyed wine and even turned water into wine at a marriage celebration. For many, holiness means deleting other actions or refusing to hang out in certain places and with certain people.

However, we will see from the life of Jesus that holiness is largely determined not by what we don’t do but by what we do. Being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect manifests itself most profoundly in the way that we treat other people. Jesus calls us to pursue holiness through treating others graciously, compassionately, and patiently and through forgiving people when they wrong us. We imitate Christ best when we abound in steadfast love and faithfulness toward others, especially to those whom we have made commitments and toward those who’ve been overlooked and discarded by the world. Jesus is the Holy One of God, and as his followers, we are to be his holy people.

JESUS MUST BE RECEIVED ON HIS TERMS

Finally, the last truth I want us to see in this day in the life of Jesus is that Jesus must be received on his terms. We see this in a number of ways. First, we see it in the strange way in which Jesus made the demons remain silent. Unlike the crowds and even Jesus’ own disciples, the demons knew exactly who Jesus was. They knew that he was the Holy One of God, that he had great authority, and that his mission was to bind the evil one. However, when the unclean spirit began to announce this fact in verses 24-25, Jesus rebuked him and commanded him to be silent.

Later, in verse 34, Mark tells us again that Jesus would not permit the demons to speak because they knew who he was. He wouldn’t let them speak because they would announce this truth to the people. As we go through Mark, we will see that this is not unique to demons. Rather, when Jesus healed someone or someone identified him, he would often command them not to tell anyone.

Now, admittedly this seems strange to us. Southern Baptists encourage telling others who Jesus is, but Jesus commanded people to do the opposite. He commanded them to keep his identity as the Messiah a secret. Scholars have called this strange phenomenon the Messianic secret. Why did Jesus do this? Why was there this Messianic secret? The best explanation seems to be that Jesus kept his identity a secret in certain areas and at certain times because he wanted to correct misconceived ideas about what it meant to be the Messiah.

People in the first century had one idea about what the promised King should be, and Jesus had another. Therefore, Jesus wanted to show them who the Messiah was and what he had come to do rather than announce from the beginning that he was the One. He announced that the time had come and that God’s kingdom had drawn near, but then proceeded to show them what that meant rather than allow them to crown him as king. He wanted them to know that he had come to serve rather than to be served. He wanted them to understand that he had come to suffer the cross before he accepted the crown.

Jesus kept his identity as the Messiah a secret, because he demands to be accepted on his terms rather than on our terms. The disciples learned this the hard way in verses 35-39. There, when they searched and found Jesus, they encouraged him to return to the crowds. The disciples also had misconceptions about what the Messiah would be. They had hopes that following Jesus would reward them with fame, power, and honor, and, to a degree, that was finally happening in Capernaum. News about Jesus’ great authority spread. Crowds were coming out to meet him, not necessarily for the right reasons, but they were coming out to him nonetheless. So the disciples got excited and wanted him to return from the privacy of prayer and back into the limelight of his newfound fame. They wanted Jesus to embrace the spotlight, but Jesus had another plan.

Jesus didn’t come for immediate popularity from people who wanted him on their terms rather than on his. Rather, Jesus came to announce the good news of God’s kingdom and to defeat death and the devil by dying. He came to call true worshippers, who would worship him in spirit and in truth. So, he told the disciples that they would not be returning to Capernaum at that moment, but would go on to the next towns in the region of Galilee.

Again, what all this shows us is that Jesus must be received on his terms. Jesus didn’t come to give us health, wealth, and prosperity in this present age. He came to call us to follow him. He calls us to take up our cross and follow him as we seek to do God’s will in this dangerous world. Then, only after we’ve taken up the cross does he promise us a crown. We must come to Jesus on his terms. We don’t come to Jesus and demand our problems fixed or that he give us immediate health and riches.

Rather, we come to Jesus and we surrender our lives to his. We find our stories in his story. And, for those who do that—who take up the cross—he promises a far greater reward in the end than anything else that we could possibly think or imagine right now. We are not to remake Jesus or demand from Jesus. Rather, we are to receive him on his terms and follows his commands. And, what we will find if we do follow him is that his plans for us are much sweeter in the long run than the plans and hopes that we have for ourselves.

What was a day like in the life of the greatest person who ever lived? It was a little bit of what we might expect. He taught with great authority. He exercised great authority over devils and diseases. People were amazed and flocked to him. However, it was a bit different as well. He did not embrace the spotlight or the crown. Rather, he marched forward toward the cross. He lived to serve, to do the Father’s will, and to sacrifice for the people whom he had come to save. May we trust in him and his authority! And, may we seek to follow him in holiness, service, and love!

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

God’s Upside Down Kingdom

Mark Sermon Pic 3.jpgGet you up to a mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young”

Isaiah 40:9-11

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. Break forth into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Isaiah 52:7-10

Have you ever anticipated something for a long time, and then once it finally arrived it proved to be something different than what you had imagined—different, not necessarily in a bad way or a good way, just different. Perhaps it was moving out on your own for the first time, getting married, or visiting a much desired vacation destination. Perhaps it was meeting someone for the first time whom you had admired from a distance, an author or a celebrity of some sort. Perhaps it was retirement or growing old. You had envisioned a certain scenario many times, but when the reality came, for better or for worse, it did not match your expectations.

Something similar is at work in Mark 1:14-20. In this passage, Jesus announces that, with his arrival, the fulfillment of God’s promises had come and God’s saving reign on the earth had begun. However, as we will see, it was not coming in the way that many had expected. It was not coming with great pomp and circumstance, with the beat of drums or the battle cries of great empires and mighty armies, but it was coming in with the awakened affections of transformed hearts and from the lips of street preachers.

The long-expected kingdom was also not coming all at once with great finality but more subtly through the conquering power of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness at work in the hearts and lives of his people. The long desired king and kingdom had indeed come to this earth in Jesus, but they had come in a way that people did not expect, and what I want us to see is that that reality is glorious and wonderful for all those who respond rightly to its message and hope in and begin to follow the king.

GOD’S KING AND GOD’S KINGDOM HAVE COME IN JESUS

This brings us to the first point that I want us to see today. It comes from Mark 1:14-15, and it is that God’s king and God’s kingdom have indeed come to this earth in Jesus.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:14-15

When Jesus started his ministry, he began with preaching. The content of his message was the good news that the long awaited time of prophetic fulfillment had come and God’s saving reign on the earth had, at last, begun. Therefore, people needed to respond appropriately by turning from their own vision for how life ought to be lived and by embracing the vision and the way of life offered by Jesus. In this manner, the people would be rescued and blessed by the promises of God’s reign rather than crushed beneath the kingdoms of this world.

Now, I want us to think again for a few moments about what Jesus’ preaching of the good news would have conjured up in the minds of his hearers because when they thought of the terms gospel or good news and when we think of the terms gospel and good news—well, we have different ideas in our minds to say the least.

So, instead of reading our ideas back into this story, I want us to think about what these concepts meant to those whom Jesus originally preached them. When we think of the terms gospel or good news, we probably have in mind the Roman’s road, the plan of salvation, or the sinner’s prayer. Those all, in our minds at least, have to do with how an individual can come into a saving relationship with God. That is certainly a vital aspect of the gospel or the good news. However, the backdrop or the context for the term gospel when Jesus first proclaimed the good news here in Mark 1 was not Paul’s letter to the Romans or the plan of salvation that we have developed from it. Paul’s letter to the Romans would not be written for a couple more decades. Rather, when Jesus began his ministry and preached the good news to people on the streets and in the synagogues of Galilee, Jesus’ audience had in their minds the prophecy of Isaiah.

Isaiah’s prophecy is the first place in which we read about the good news. The book of Isaiah is all about the fact that our God reigns. Even though the people of God suffered under the Assyrian Empire and were nearly destroyed when exiled by Babylon, Isaiah declared that the LORD, the god of Israel, reigns, and through it all was orchestrating his plan of redemption for his people and for this world. And, the gospel that Isaiah proclaimed, as we read from Isaiah 40 and 52 a few minutes ago, was that God not only reigned from heaven—orchestrating the events of history—but he would come to reign over his people in a more personal way as well by establishing his saving reign on this earth.

In Isaiah 40 and 52, Isaiah proclaimed the good news that the LORD would come to his people tenderly and with salvation and the whole earth would behold his glory. In the larger context of Isaiah, this good news—this coming of the LORD to reign over his people with tenderness and salvation—would ultimately result in salvation for Israel and the nations, judgment for the wicked, an end to all suffering and death and anything accursed, and even a renewed heavens and earth. That was the gospel that Jesus preached had arrived, and that is the good news his hearers would have had in mind as they heard him.

“Our God reigns! And, the time of his saving reign on this earth has come. Therefore, repent and believe—turn from your own vision for how life ought to be lived and believe in and follow me. The road you are on is leading to death, but if you turn and believe you too can be included in this great work that God is doing.” That is what Jesus preached. He preached that everything that the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets promised and prophesied concerning the future had arrived in the present in his own life and his ministry!

That’s a bold message, isn’t it! And, Mark recorded it for us because he wants everyone who reads or listens to these words to respond in some way to Jesus. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Do you believe that? Do you believe that Jesus is the most important person to ever walk upon this earth? Do you believe that in him God was reconciling the world to himself not counting our sins against us? Do you believe that in him all the promises of God from Genesis to Malachi are yes and a resounding amen? Do you believe that Christ defeated death and the devil through his own death and resurrection from the dead? Do you believe that God’s kingdom arrived in Jesus, that he now reigns, and that he will return again to judge the living and the dead? Do you believe the good news? If so, then why would you not turn from the path you’re on and hope in him?

Jesus is the central figure in human history. In him, all the promises and hopes for this world’s people and this world’s future have come and are coming. So, the only appropriate response is for us to surrender our hearts and our lives to him. The only appropriate response is for us to find our lives and our stories in his life and in his story. Unexpectedly but wonderfully, God’s kingdom has come in Jesus.

THE UNANTICIPATED ARRIVAL OF A MUCH ANTICIPATED KINGDOM

God’s king and kingdom have come to this earth in Jesus. That was the first point. Now, for our second and final point, I want us to see that God’s kingdom has come to this earth in a way that was not expected but in a way that is all the more wonderful because of it. This point comes from Mark 1:16-20

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

                                    Mark 1:16-20

These verses are among the most unexpected verses in the Bible. Jesus had just proclaimed the news that the hour had come, that the time to which the Scriptures and all of history had looked forward to had arrived as God’s kingdom has begun on the earth. What we should expect then as we come to verse 16 is something cataclysmic, something earth-shaking, and something that would be immediately heard and felt from one end of the earth to another. Instead, what we read about is the calling of common Galileans to join with Jesus in the construction of God’s kingdom on this earth.

This is not cataclysmic, but it is extraordinary. What if someone were putting together a team to transform this world today? You would expect her to go to the brightest minds and most innovative people in this world. You would expect her to go to Harvard, Princeton, and Yale and recruit its best research professors. You would expect her to go to New York City or Los Angeles and recruit the most innovative minds behind the world’s most cutting edge technological pursuits.

You would most certainly not expect her to swing by Shelby Lake or Little Turner and invite Jim Bob and Leroy to leave their jon boats and crappie beds in order to help change history and to save the world. You would not expect her to go out into the fields of Ragland and invite Farmer John to carry the message to the ends of the earth! And yet, that is essentially what Jesus did. He had just announced that the hour that all history had been waiting for had come, that the kingdom that would outlast Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and all earthly powers had come, and he proceeded to call fishermen to leave their nets and join him in building it.

What we see through this is that “the reign of God was not to be a cataclysmic external triumph in the here and now, . . . but a peaceful rule over the hearts of those who responded to the message.”[1] We see that Jesus, God’s king, refused “to assert his authority by an impressive show of divine pomp and pageantry” and that “the kingdom of God comes not with fanfare but through the gradual gathering of a group of socially insignificant people in an unnoticed corner of provincial Galilee.”[2]

We also see through this that God’s kingdom wasn’t coming all at once but gradually and in different ways. In one sense the kingdom came fully in Jesus. Jesus fulfilled God’s will perfectly and shepherded his people with righteousness and justice. He exercised his authority over seas, winds, demons, diseases, and even death. In another sense, God’s kingdom is “gradually coming in lives surrendered to God.”[3] God’s kingdom comes gradually as more and more people repent and believe the good news, receive the Holy Spirit, begin to live according to Jesus’ commands and bring peace and order to this chaotic, fallen world.

In still another sense, God’s kingdom will come when Jesus returns again, judges the living and the dead, and his people inherit a transformed world free from suffering and death. The kingdom had come in Jesus, but it came in a way that this world did not expect. However, what I want us to see is that the unexpected nature of the coming of God’s kingdom is wonderful and glorious.

When Jesus first came, he dealt with our greatest problem of all, our slavery to sin and death. He came as the reigning king but also as a suffering servant who died for the sins and transgressions of his people. He identified with us in our sorrows and suffered and died in our place. That Jesus came as a suffering servant rather than a conquering emperor dressed in gold and mounted on a warhorse means that we can be forgiven and included in the children of God. The message of a crucified Messiah then is wonderful and glorious news for sinners.

Also, wonderful and glorious for us is the fact that God’s kingdom is coming on this earth through the changed hearts and lives of individuals rather than through the wisdom of this world’s greatest minds. This means that we can be included in the furtherance of God’s kingdom on this earth. My friends, if the kingdom of God were built through the wisdom of men, the fact is that he probably wouldn’t have come to us and invited us to follow him. Again, he would’ve go to the equivalent of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. He would’ve gone to the equivalent of New York City, Los Angeles, Paris, Berlin, and Hong Kong, to the world’s greatest cities where the world’s greatest innovators and artists gather to advance this world’s great kingdoms and pursuits.

But, Christ isn’t building his kingdom through the wisdom of this age, with war horses or chariots, or through human learning and philosophies. Rather, he is building his kingdom through the foolishness of preachers, who still encourage others to hope in a poor carpenter from the hills of Galilee. He is building his kingdom through the foolishness of every day working Dads and Moms, who still pray and sing “Jesus Loves Me” to their children when they tuck them in to bed. He is building his kingdom through the foolishness of day laborers who work as unto the Lord and who put others first. He is building his kingdom through retired men and women, who pray daily for their families to hope in and follow the Lord. He is building his kingdom through the foolishness of those in the community who help their down and out neighbors with steadfast love and faithfulness even though they will get nothing in return. His kingdom comes as broken and bruised individuals entrust themselves to the king and refuse to respond to violence and insults with more violence and insults but instead with forgiveness and peace.

That Christ’s kingdom comes through surrendered hearts, the foolishness of self-giving love, and the message of the cross means that we can be included too if we would respond with repentance toward God and faith in Christ. Whether we are Harvard educated or barely finished middle school, whether we are rich or poor, whether we are movers and shakers in this world’s cultural centers or on the forgotten fringe, we can be included and play a vital part in the greatest and most significant movement in world history through repentance and faith in Jesus the King.

Through surrendering our lives to Jesus and living according to his word, through showing steadfast love and faithfulness toward God and toward our neighbors, through sharing and living the message of cross, we can be included in the one kingdom that will never be shaken. So let us hope in and follow the King!

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

[1]R. Alan Cole, Mark in TNTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1989), 112.

[2]R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark in NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, (2002), 94.

[3]Cole, 112.

Wild Turkey Breast and Spinach over Spaghetti Squash

Wild Turkey and Spinach Spaghetti Squash.jpgBesides the celebration of Easter and the beginning of gardening season, one of my favorite things about spring in rural West Kentucky is hunting, preparing, and eating wild turkeys. However, the start of turkey season also brings with it a little bit of added stress as well. Wild turkey is Jessica’s favorite wild meat and, in Kentucky, we are only allowed two tags. Thus, from opening day forward, the pressure is on for me to fill my two tags and make Momma happy. So far, I’ve filled one tag and have one more remaining, which means that I’m not yet out of the woods in more ways than one!

Now, our favorite way to eat wild turkey has always been battered and deep fried. We still do eat it this way from time to time. However, limiting the amount of deep fried foods that I consume is among the lifestyle changes that I made when I decided to live a healthier life (see here). For this reason, I’ve been exploring newer, healthier ways to prepare my wild turkey. Among the more healthier ways that I’ve cooked wild turkey breast, my favorite so far is to fix it with lemon juice, chicken broth, and spinach and to serve it over spaghetti squash as a low calorie pasta dish. I got the idea for this dish from a recipe for Lemon Chicken and Spaghetti Squash that was floating around Facebook and that originated from Buzzfeed.com. Now, of the recipes I’ve tried off Facebook, a few have been bad and one was inedible. However, the way my Wild Turkey Breast and Spinach Pasta turned out exceeded both mine and Jessica’s expectations. If you are tired of eating your wild turkey battered and fried or want a healthier option, give this a try and see what you think!

Step 1: Cutting and Marinating

The first thing that I do for this dish is cut, marinade, and refrigerate my wild turkey breast. I cut my breast into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces and marinade it in zesty Italian dressing with a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce. After this, I usually let it set in the refrigerator for a few hours before I cook it. I normally cut, vacuum seal, and freeze my turkey breast pieces so that there is a little over 1 pound per bag. This particular breast section was 1 pound 5 ounces. A breast portion anywhere from around 1 to 1 1/2 pounds should work well for this recipe.

Step 2: Preparing and Cooking the Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti Squash Pic.jpg

I love pasta and rice dishes! However, along with cutting back on deep fried foods, I’ve also cut back on the number of starches that I consume. For this reason, I was delighted to discover spaghetti squash last year. Spaghetti squash shreds into thin, noodle-like pieces, and what results looks almost identical to angel hair pasta. Spaghetti squash is a little crunchier than regular spaghetti noodles; however, with a little bit of seasoning, it tastes great and works well as a pasta substitute. It’s also easy to make. All you have to do is cut it down the center; scoop out its seeds; coat it with a little olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper; and bake it at 400 degrees for around ten minutes for every pound the fruit weighs. The particular squashes that I used for this dish were around 4 to 5 pounds, so I baked them for around 45 minutes. After they had finished cooking, I simply scraped the squash’s flesh with a fork, and it easily shred into what looked like pasta.

Step 3: Cooking the Wild Turkey Breast

Ingredients Wild Turkey Pasta.jpg

When my spaghetti squash was midway through the baking process, I began cooking my wild turkey breast and my lemon and spinach sauce. First, I cooked my wild turkey breast with a little olive oil and a little of the marinade at medium heat for around six minutes. Of course, how long it takes yours to cook will be determined by how big you cut your turkey breast chunks. After the turkey is cooked through, I removed it from the pan and start on the sauce.

Step 4: Preparing the Lemon and Spinach Sauce

Wild Turkey and Spinach Spaghetti Sauce.jpg

For the sauce, I sautéed a diced, medium-sized sweet onion for five minutes, 4 minced garlic cloves for an additional minute, and 2 cups of halved cherry tomatoes for 3 more minutes. Following this, I added 1 cup of chicken broth, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Then I allowed the sauce to reduce over medium to medium-low heat for 15 minutes. After this, I added the turkey breast pieces and stirred in the spinach for an additional minute or two. Once the spinach is mixed well into the sauce, it’s ready to serve. All that remains is to put the spaghetti on the plate, cover it with the delicious wild turkey breast and spinach sauce, and top it with some grated parmesan. Once you’ve done this, you will have a wild turkey dish much healthier but just as, or at last almost as, tasty as the more traditional battered and deep fried wild turkey strips.

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

A Resurrection People with a Resurrection Purpose

Early yesterday morning, I had the honor and privilege of preaching at the Sonrise Easter Service at Ohio Valley Baptist Church. This is the audio from that message. I hope that you find it encouraging!

 

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

Good News about Resurrection: New Life

Easter Blog Pic 4So far, we’ve looked at multiple reasons why the bodily resurrection of King Jesus is good news. The resurrection of Jesus is good news because it means that this world has a new sort of king and a new kind of kingdom (here). Resurrection is good news because it means that there is a day of justice approaching, a day when oppressors will be called to account, righteous sufferers will be vindicated, and all wrongs will be made right (here). Resurrection is good news because it is a foretaste in the midst of history of the transformation that will take place in the entire creation at the appearing of the Lord Jesus (here). Finally, resurrection is also good news on a personal level because it offers new life and the prospect of human flourishing for those trapped in dehumanizing patterns.

All people were created as the image bearers of the one true God. Like Israel, whose story we surveyed in Tuesday’s post, we were all created to worship him and to mirror his goodness to the world. We were created to be a source of blessing for the world. For this reason, as humans, we are most happy and flourishing when we relate rightly to God and, in turn, accurately reflect his glory to the rest of creation. That’s our purpose. That’s what why we were made, so, of course, that’s what would most fulfill us as God’s creatures. However, also like Israel, we’ve all fallen short of properly reflecting God’s glory. This is Paul’s point in the first few chapters of his letter to the Romans. All have fallen short of properly reflecting God’s good character to the creation because we have valued other gods more highly than him. As a result, God has delivered us up to those desires. The ancient Israelites worshiped the gods and shared the values of the nations, so God gave them up to those desires, and they were exiled and became captives to the Assyrians, to the Babylonians, and eventually to the Romans. Those who value money as their god are given over to their desires as well, and they become enslaved to their greed. Those who value fame as their god are delivered over to those gods, and they become enslaved to their reputation and to the fear of other people. Those who value sexual pleasure as a god rather than as a good gift from the LORD are delivered up to those pleasures, and they become enslaved to inordinate passions. All people have been broken by and enslaved to lessor gods and are traveling down a road away from the source of our light and life. Such a road inevitably leads to death rather than the life of full human flourishing that we were created for and for which this world longs (see yesterday’s post). But, the good news is that, in the mercy and kindness of God, the Lord Jesus was delivered up as well. However, he wasn’t delivered up for any wrong that he had done. Rather, he was delivered over for our trespasses and raised for our vindication and acceptance back into God’s family (Rom. 4:25). He bore the full weight of the exile that Israel’s rebellion deserved and the death that our idolatry and sin merits as well. And, through faith in him we are forgiven our sins, granted peace with God, and are empowered with new life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, we are restored to fellowship with the true God and are fitted again for his service. We are granted resurrection lives to reign with King Jesus over his new creation. This resurrection life based upon the bodily resurrection of Jesus comes in two states.

First, the good news includes the truth that, for those of us who turn back toward God and swear allegiance to King Jesus, Jesus’ resurrection is a signpost, or the first-fruits, of our own bodily resurrection when Jesus appears again at the culmination of history. Paul writes: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep [died]. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinth. 15:20-23). Jesus himself put it this way. He said, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (Jn. 5:26-29). At the appearing of King Jesus, the Father will do for us who hope in Jesus what he did for Jesus himself. He will raise our mortal bodies and clothe them with immortality (1 Corinth 15:50-58). We will be raised to reign over, to execute judgment in, and to inherit the new creation with King Jesus. The good news about the resurrection of Jesus is that it assures those of us who hope in him of a glorious future as well—the glorious future and purpose for which we were made. However, does this mean that the resurrection of Jesus has no meaning for us in the present? Is life now a mere waiting game? Not at all! This leads to a second reason the resurrection of Jesus is good news for us personally in terms of a new life of freedom and full human flourishing.

The resurrection of Jesus is good news for us right now because through the grace of God shown to us in King Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can begin, in the present, to live a life of full human flourishing. By virtue of the death of Jesus for us, we can receive forgiveness of our sins, a new relationship with the God we were made to worship, rescue from the powers that have enslaved us, and new life in the Holy Spirit. In fact, Paul says that, on the one hand, the gift of the Holy Spirit is the signpost and guarantee that we will receive the inheritance of resurrection life and new creation at the appearing of Jesus (Eph. 1:13-14). On the other hand, the Holy Spirit empowers us in the present to worship the true God and to bear the fruit or the characteristics that mirror the good character of God to the creation. For Paul, that is the essence of true human freedom, true life, and true human-flourishing—the freedom from selfish desire in order to worship the true God and to reflect his glorious character to the world around us (Gal. 5). That, essentially, is what the good news about Jesus, the good news of resurrection, promises to us on a personal level: a new life of full human flourishing, the life we were created to live. This, of course, doesn’t mean that if we follow Jesus we will be rich, healthy, and wealthy and live our best life now in terms of the American dream or that which is promised by the false god of materialism. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the love, joy, peace, and freedom that allows a person to declare with Jesus that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I’m talking about the faithfulness, kindness, goodness, and self-control that allows a person, again, to declare with Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). I’m talking about the fruit of the Spirit that allowed Paul to say and mean it—even as he stared hunger and eventually execution in the face, “I can do all things through [King Jesus] who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Just days before his crucifixion, Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). Jesus was talking about life rescued from the gods of this world, restored into fellowship with the true God, and empowered for purpose through the Holy Spirit. He was talking about the kind of life that would drive us husbands to love our wives even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. He was talking about the kind of life that would cause us parents to sacrifice our own wants for our children. He was talking about the kind of life that would cause us to sacrifice and risk even for our enemies because we’ve been so transformed that for some reason we love them too. That is abundant life, whether we realize it or not. That life is offered to us through faith in the risen King. The resurrection is good news indeed!

In short, the resurrection is good news because it means that this world has a new sort of king and a different kind of kingdom. It means that there is coming a day of justice, when the wrongs of this world will be made right. It means that the creation itself will be renewed to welcome the children of God. It means that those broken and bruised by idolatry and sin can receive the right to be called those children of God so that they may receive the eternal life that is “kept in heaven” and is “ready to be revealed” when the risen King returns (1 Peter 1:4-5). Amen. Come King Jesus!

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.