The NT365 Experiment: Romans 1:1-17

What do you say about Romans in a brief format like this? Some of the greatest minds in Christian history have spent years studying and writing on the Epistle. John Murray wrote two immense volumes on it. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote fourteen! And, Sinclair Ferguson once said, after preaching for eighteen months on the book, that eighteen months wasn’t nearly long enough to properly grasp its breadth and depth. Romans is a big book! 

The Christian Manifesto

One biblical commentator (John Stott maybe) once called Romans the Christian manifesto. Here’s why: In Romans, Paul, more than anywhere else, explains the theological realities of the Christian gospel and its implications for the living a Christ-honoring life. Verses 1:16-17 set the stage and illustrate this point perfectly.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”

Here, we see three theological realities and their corresponding implications for living the Christian life. I’ll briefly explain by pointing out the reality and its implication.

The Gospel is the power of salvation to everyone who believes.

We are saved by God according to his grace in his power through faith. Now, I know that is a lot to keep straight. Let me try to help you. First, God saves us by his grace. That means that we didn’t do anything to earn our salvation. God freely decided to give it to us. He was not forced to do so, nor did we merit it in anyway. It is a gift that comes to us through the gospel, which is through Jesus Christ himself. Second, it is God’s power that saves us, not our own. He is the one who gives life to the dead, who reconciles his enemies to himself. We are powerless to save ourselves (stay tuned to tomorrow to see why), but God isn’t powerless to save us. And third, we receive our salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is for everyone who believes because faith serves the vehicle through which God communicates and delivers his grace to us.

The Gospel not only unites God with his enemies, it also unites us with our enemies.

Christian salvation is for both the Jews and the Gentiles. These two groups of people were ethnic enemies. But, they had one thing in common: they were sinners before a holy and just God. It’s the gospel that reconciles them to Him. And, it’s the gospel that reconciles them to one another because it tears down the wall of hostility that was built because of religious reasons. If God has reconciled the Jews to himself through Jesus and the Gentiles as well, there is no need to remain separate in order to maintain cleanliness before God. They are all made clean in Christ through faith. Therefore, they are united as children of God.

Faith in the gospel leads to the living of a righteous life. 

The righteous shall live by faith. All the days of their lives, they shall trust their God who has cleansed them and reconciled them unto himself and sealed them with His Spirit in the heavenly places. The faithful Christians’ righteousness before God is that of Christ which is credited to them by God through faith. And, it is expressed in a life lived in faith in the Son of God. Therefore, they shall walk in faithful obedience to him and humbly trust his grace-filled promises, not the least of which is found in Romans 8:28 — “For all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”

Believe, Love, and Live

Believe the gospel today — God does love you and he sent his Son to reconcile you to himself. Receive it in faith.

Love your fellow Christians — God reconciled you to himself, but he also reconciled you to other Christians. Don’t let worldly divisions, selfish priorities, and deep wounds keep from living in fellowship with other Christians.

Live a faithful life — God saved you in faith. He empowers you to live to his glory in faith. Walk in the ways of truth today as you faithfully follow him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The NT365 Experiment: Mark 15-16

This morning our attention is drawn to the greatest and most glorious act in all of human history — the resurrection of Jesus. After chronicling the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, Mark succinctly tells the story of what the three ladies saw when they arrived at the tomb in which Jesus had been placed.  They didn’t find the Lord’s body. Instead, they found an angel in the tomb who said to them, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.” Jesus had risen from the grave. He was not there! And, the women were terrified (as any of us can imagine).

This is a history-changing story. Here’s why.

The resurrection of Jesus validates all that Jesus had previously claimed about himself and God.

Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus made some bold claims about himself and about God the Father. Three of them are: Jesus claimed that he was God; he claimed God loved his people and was providing a way for them to be reconciled to him; and, he claimed that he would be crucified, dead, buried, and rise again on the third day. When Jesus rose, he validated all of these claims, not just the last one. Reason demands that if one of Jesus’ claims about himself is true, then all of them must be as well. Therefore, Jesus is indeed God, and God does love his people whom he reconciled unto himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus proves that God is bigger than death and makes life after death certain. 

Every person that has ever walked on earth has tasted death. Everybody dies, and everybody born in the future will die. It’s a fact of life. It’s certain. There is no getting around it, and you can’t prevent it. You and I will die. Death is the great equalizer between men. No matter how powerful, intelligent, rich, influential, and gifted as a person may be, he will still die because all of those gifts, resources, and abilities he possesses are powerless when it comes to preventing his death.

There is only one who has the power over death, and his name is Jesus. He has overcome death. He has done the impossible. He lives after death. And, his life guarantees that those who live in him by faith will live after death as well. The only way that you and I can “prevent” eternal death is by hiding our life in Jesus by faith, all the while knowing that we will live forever with him though our present life will end.

The resurrection of Jesus means that Jesus really is the only one worthy of your life and devotion. 

Jesus is the only one to overcome death. No one else has. And, since this is true, then he is the only one worthy of you life and devotion. No one else to whom you can give yourself and your devotion is worthy of it. They will all let you down, and that includes you. You will let yourself down faster than others will let you down. But, Jesus will not. Placing your life in his hands for safe keeping is a certain investment because he has conquered death. He cannot be destroyed, and he cannot be taken away from you. He is bigger and more powerful than anyone or anything in your life. And, he loves you more than anyone else. Not only was Jesus raised from the grave, he was also crucified for you. He sacrificed himself in order to save you from yourself. Therefore, he will never leave you or forsake you; it’s simply not in his character to do that. He died for you, and he rose for you.

Concluding Thoughts 

Let me challenge you this morning to give your life and devotion to Jesus. He is worthy of it. Also, hold fast to the claims and promises that Jesus makes about himself. His resurrection proves that they are true. And finally, fall into the arms of the Lord Jesus Christ who is bigger and more powerful than death. He will never let you down.

The NT365 Experiment: Mark 14

Last night a lady shared with me a story about how God had answered a life-long prayer in her life. It was a great story about God’s grace, providence, and timing, but it was an even greater story of the intimate, lasting relationship that God had established with her in the midst of some of the most difficult challenges of her life. As she shared with me, she was moved to tears. And, I wasn’t far behind her as she said, “You know God is a sovereign and great God, but he is also our loving Father and best friend who is there when we need him the most. I will give my whole life to him because I know it is safe and secure.”

This story was on the forefront of my mind as I read Mark 14 this morning. I couldn’t help but think about the intimate relationships that Jesus lovingly forms with those in his inner circle. His friends have full access to him while experiencing and enjoying the warmth of his heart as it is given fully to them. Mark illustrates this reality beautifully with the story of Mary’s worship of Jesus.

The Story

While Jesus reclined at the table with his disciples after a banquet thrown in his honor by Simon the leper, Mary (John 12:3) walked in with a small alabaster jar filled of costly perfume, broke the jar, and poured its contents on Jesus head. Some of the disciples reacted angrily as the aroma of the perfumed filled the room. Most likely Judas, speaking for the group (John 12:4), said, “Why was this ointment wasted…it could have been sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor.” But Jesus rebuked him and them saying, “Leave her alone.”

Bold Worship and Devotion

Mary took bold action. She entered a room full of men, and she broke an incredibly expensive jar of perfume so she could poor it on the head of Jesus. I have long admired this act as an act of sacrificial worship. Mary had no regard for herself nor her possessions in this instance. She brought it all before Jesus and gave it to him! This is an expression of her heart before her Savior. She gave her most expensive and prized possession to him in worship because she had already given him her entire being. Giving the perfume to honor him was a natural consequence of her heart’s devotion. Everyone present was touched by her worship.

Jesus’ Intimate Love 

When Mary engaged in this extravagant worship, Jesus warmly and lovingly accepted her, an acceptance that is proven by the promise he made about her — “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (14:9). As I’ve already stated, Mary offered this worship to Jesus because she had given herself fully to him. But, the opportunity to give herself fully to him would not have been possible had Jesus not, first, lovingly given himself to her and entered into an intimate relationship with her by his own will and pleasure. Jesus gave himself to her; therefore, she could give herself to him. John says it in this way, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

Three Questions

  1. Do you know the love of God in Jesus and are you currently experiencing and enjoying that love through an intimate relationship with him?
  2. How do you express your intimate and loving relationship with him in a life of self-sacrificing worship?
  3. How do you demonstrate your love for him and the reality of your relationship with him daily to those with whom you live, work, and play?

 

 

The NT365 Experiment: Mark 13

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have a section in which they tell of Jesus’ prediction of the “signs of the close of the age” (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). And, though these are some of the most difficult passages to interpret in the Gospels, they are perhaps the most quoted and discussed among Christians and non-Christians alike. People seem to be preoccupied with the end of the world.

Much ink has been spilled and much time has been spent trying to figure out when and where the Lord should return and what his return will be like. Yet, none of the Gospel writers give us a definitive answer on either of those questions. I believe that this is because Jesus’ purpose in teaching his disciples about the end of time was to prepare them to live faithfully, expectantly, and missionally (Daniel Wells should be proud) in the time between his ascension and his return.

Preparation and Promise

Matthew and Luke agree with Mark that Jesus taught these things during his “Olivet Discourse” just prior to his deliverance into the hands of the authorities for his crucifixion; therefore, these are some of the last words that Jesus taught his disciples. This point is significant. Jesus knew that his time with them was limited — He knew that he was to be handed over to the authorities, that he was to be crucified, that he was to die and be buried, that he was to be resurrected, and that he was to ascend into heaven. They would soon be left on this earth without him. So, he prepared them for this coming time by warning them of the struggle that lies ahead and by giving them the hope-filled promise of future certainty and glory.

Faithful, Expectant, and Missional

If we rightly apply the sum total of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13 to our lives, then our Christian lives could be easily summarized with three adjectives — faithful, expectant, and missional. And, this is why.

We are faithful because of our refusal to be led astray by the circumstances and distractions of our lives that are a reality of the age in which we live, the age between Christ’s ascension and his return. Though we do not presently see everything in subjection to him (Hebrews 2:8), we, as those who have responded to his call in faith and have been sealed by his Spirit and have received the grace of adoption as sons of God, are called to endure faithfully until the day in which we rest in the presence of our everlasting God.

We are expectant because we would be ready for his return at any moment. Jesus said that no one knew the time or the place of his return. Therefore, we are to be ready for it in a moment’s notice. As expectant disciples, we are to be always “expecting” Christ’s return and our lives are reflect that “expectation.” We do not want to be caught off guard; so, our lives are lived in such a way as to always be prepared.

We are missional because we want to hasten Christ’s return and because we want to se his glory revealed throughout the world. Jesus gave one definitive sign that will precede his return — “And gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations” (13:10). If we wish to hasten the return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom, we should get busy proclaiming to gospel to all peoples throughout the world. We should be focused on testifying to the greatness of the king who is to return. We should also be about the business of preparing folks for his return. This is the essence of missional living.

I pray that our reading of Mark 13 encourages us to be more faithful, expectant, and missional disciples of Christ. How can you practically realize these qualities in your life today? How can you be more faithful? Expectant? Missional?

 

The NT365 Experiment: Mark 12

When I was in the 10th grade (it may have been 11th), my English teacher assigned the Elie Weisel’s classic book, Night, for us to read. (If you’ve never read it, you should!) As I read the tragic story of Weisel’s firsthand account of the atrocities of Nazi imprisonment at Auschwitz, I was deeply moved. I was inspired by humans’ ability to overcome the most dire circumstances and to survive in the midst of death, but I was deeply convicted, saddened, and challenged by the reality of humans’ other side. We are capable of great things and doing great good; we are also capable of horrific things and doing great evil.

Though not nearly as emotionally extreme, I had a similar experience while reading Mark 12. The story of the widow’s offering (vv. 41-44), the Parable of the Tenants (vv. 1-12), and Jesus’ teaching on the greatest commandment (vv. 28-34) both inspired and encouraged me. Here’s why.

First, in the parable, the owner promised judgement to the wicked tenants who have rebuffed his oversight while plotting against him and beating and killing his servants and his son. The wicked will receive their due punishment. This is a grace of God and a wonderfully encouraging promise to the faithful people of God. Presently, it may not always appear that the wicked will be judged. In fact, it may even seem as if they are the ones who receive blessing. But, we can rest assured that eternal judgement will come their way by the hand of a righteous and faithful God. And, if this is the case, then eternal reward will be given to those who remain faithful to God and his calling upon their lives in Christ Jesus.

Second, the teaching on the greatest commandments communicates the simplicity of the Christian life. It is really as simple as loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves. We (at least I do) have a tendency to make the Christian life a lot more difficult than it really is. But, it is simple: Love God in faith and love others as we love ourselves. Get rid of all the other stuff and just start living a life of love for God and for other people. What an encouragement!

Third, the story of the widow’s offering inspires me to live a life of simple devotion to God. The woman had nothing more than two little coins to give to God, and she gave them. According to worldly standards, that’s not a big gift. It wouldn’t have accomplished much, but in the eyes of God it was precious. Why? Because she gave all she had for the sake of the glory and kingdom of God. Her gift demonstrated her heart’s devotion to God and her heart’s commitment to his purposes and kingdom. She gave her all, and she would be rewarded. It’s not about how much we have to give; it’s about giving all we have to the glory of God.

These same stories and the others contained in the chapter, however, brought deep conviction to my soul. As I finished reading this morning, I had some burning questions on my mind. They were:

  1. Do I try to trap Jesus like the religious leaders did? Do I think of myself as more intelligent than him?
  2. Do I live the simple Christian life of love for God and love for others? Or, do I try to add to Jesus’ simple commandments?
  3. Is my life characterized by Christian integrity — consistency between my confession of faith and the life I live? Or, am I a glaring hypocrite?
  4. Am I willing to give my all to Jesus? Have I given my all to him?

I pray that you have been or will be both inspired and convicted when reading Mark 12. And, I pray that the Holy Spirit will minister to your soul through his word and bring you closer to Christ.

The NT365 Experiment: Mark 11

Throughout my life and ministry I have heard many Christians talk about the importance of prayer in their daily lives. They tell me that prayer is an essential component to their daily routine, that it gives them perspective for the day, that it gives them strength and comfort, that it encourages their soul to know that the sovereign God of Heaven is listening to them when they speak to him. I couldn’t agree with them more, and I imagine you couldn’t either. There is something special about being able to interact with the sovereign, covenanting God while he sits on his everlasting throne and know that he has promised to act according our faith-filled requests. It is a beautiful thing!

Prayer is an act of faith in a powerful God (Mark 11:12-14, 20-26). 

After the disciples (at Peter’s leading) noticed the withered fig tree and remarked on it (11:20), the first thing Jesus said to them was, “Have faith in God.” In this short statement, Jesus emphasized the work and power of God above everything else in prayer. The disciples were amazed at the sight of the withered fig tree because the curse Jesus had placed upon it had come true (8:14). It was withered. It was done producing fruit. (I can only imagine what my response would have been.) How could this possibly be? God did it, that’s how! He does the impossible. When we come to him in prayer, we come to the one who has the power to do whatever he chooses, even power to pick up mountains and throw them into the heart of the sea.

Also, by emphasizing the power of God to accomplish great and amazing things, Jesus deemphasized the work or the “measure” of the faith of the prayer. Many people would argue that effective prayer is directly tied to the “measure” of faith the prayer possesses. In other words, the more faith a prayer has, the more faithful God is going to be to answer those prayers in big and powerful ways. Perhaps you’ve heard it said like this, “If you would just have MORE faith, then God would hear your prayers MORE and answer them accordingly.” That’s not what Jesus teaches here or anywhere else. The faithfulness of God to answer the prayers of his people depends upon his grace, goodness, and will. Our encouragement to pray, then, is found in the fact that God has promised these things to us and in our faith in him to do what he has promised. The amount of faith is not the key because it is not the cause of great and awesome things. The cause of those things is the power of God. Therefore, the faith of a mustard seed can uproot and replant a mulberry tree in the sea (Luke 17:6).

Prayer and You

Is your prayer life empowered by this kind of faith — faith in the sovereign, powerful God to do awesome and impossible things according to his grace, goodness, and will? This kind of faith is dependent faith. It is faith that rests in the power and work of God. It is not faith that places the effectiveness of prayer in its own strength. It is faith that recognizes its inability and weakness and trusts in the powerful God of Heaven to do the impossible. This kind of prayer changes lives and will change the world. E.M. Bounds said it this way:

“Men and women are needed whose prayers will give to the world the utmost power of God; who will make His promises to blossom with rich and full results. God is waiting to hear us and challenges us to bring Him to do this thing by our praying.”

 

The NT365 Experiment: Mark 9-10

The second half of chapter 8 (beginning in verse 27) through chapter 10 are a turning point for Mark as he shifts from a narrative that illustrates and proves Jesus’ ultimate authority to his passion narrative (his final week before his resurrection). In these chapters, Mark clearly explains Jesus’ expectations of discipleship — that is, what he expects from his followers who have answered his call to follow him in faith.

Three Predictions and Instruction

The way he does this is interesting to me. He tells us of three instances in which Jesus predicts his death and resurrection and follows those predictions with Jesus’ instruction about the cost of following him. Accordingly, these chapters can be united under one common theme: Jesus’ disciples are to humbly trust him and live lives in which they put him and others before themselves. I’ll explain briefly.

  1. Jesus’ first prediction is found in 8:31 — “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” He follows this prediction with the most familiar call to self-denial and self-sacrifice — “If any one would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (8:34).
  2. Jesus’ second prediction comes in 9:31 — “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” It is followed by a teaching on the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. The one who is to be considered great in Christ’s kingdom is the one who serves, the one who receives a child with grace and humility. He is also one who willingly trusts and submits to Christ in childlike faith. Examples of this humility are: protection of others from sin (9:42-50), honor of one’s marriage covenant by humbly working to keep the covenant intact (10:1-12), welcoming children and shepherding them in grace (10:13-16), giving up of one’s possession for the glory of Christ (10:17-31).
  3. Jesus’ third prediction comes in 10:33-34 — “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” This request is followed immediately by James’ and John’s request to have positions of authority and power when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Jesus’ answer to their request is both a rebuke and an instruction. It is a rebuke because they have completely missed the point of the instruction they had received over a three year span. Humble servanthood is the goal, not powerful or authoritative rule. It is a gracious instruction because Jesus again teaches them what is the nature of his kingdom, and then he demonstrates in the healing of blind Bartimaeus. His kingdom is spiritual in the present though it plays out in physical ways. In the future it will be fully realized physically.

Demonstrated in the Life of Jesus

These chapters are a microcosm of Mark’s Gospel. For the first 8 chapters Mark tells of Jesus’ authority and power, and in the last 5 chapters he tells of Christ’s willing self-sacrifice on our behalf and his triumphant establishment of his kingdom in his resurrection. Jesus lives these chapters of transition. He is the one who willingly and humbly gives himself for the glory of God; he is the one who trusts his father in heaven completely; he is the one who welcomes the children; he is the one who lives a life in which he puts others before himself. He did it because he loves his father, and he did it because he loves us.

Now, you go and do likewise. Do it because you love him. Do it because he has told you to do it. Do it because he is glorified when you do it. Do it because people see his love for them in your love of him and them.

The NT 365 Experiment: Mark 8

Mark 8 is strikingly similar to Matthew 16. Actually, the two chapters are basically identical. Mark, however, includes the story of “the feeding of the 4000” and further warning from Jesus to his disciples regarding the Pharisees’ teaching. Since these two chapters are so similar, I decided to reblog my thoughts on Matthew 16. This series of stories of central to the unfolding story of Jesus’ life with his disciples and his call to discipleship. We cannot think on them enough.

The NT365 Experiment: Matthew 16

When I started thinking about “The NT365 Experiment” my goal was to make one observation, one interpretation, and one point of application of each chapter in the New Testament. I have found that to be extremely difficult. Some chapters simply don’t lend themselves to such a simple cyclical format. Matthew 16 is a prime example. It is not possible to think on the text in one cycle of observation, interpretation, and application. It takes three cycles.

Pharisees and The Demand for a Sign (Matt. 16:1-4; Mark 8:11-13)

Observation: The Pharisees and scribes demanded that Jesus give them a sign from heaven in order to trick (test) him. Jesus would give them a sign, the sign of Jonah.

Interpretation: People often demand signs from God in order to test his faithfulness and his goodness. Their goal is not to seek validation of God’s kingdom, but to find a place to trap God, and thus give themselves a way out of submitting to him. God has given us his sign — the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Application: Don’t demand signs from God. Trust the one he has already given you. There is no greater and secure sign of God’s faithfulness than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

A Rock Solid Confession (Matt. 16:13-20; Mark 27-30)

Observation: Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you think that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said, “Blessed are you Simon… I tell you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

Interpretation: Every person who follows Jesus must answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” The only proper answer to that question is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is upon this confession of faith that Jesus has built his church. Only those who rightly confess, “You are the Christ.” will be allowed in his kingdom.

Application: You have to answer the question for yourself. Can you say in faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? Have you made that confession of faith?

Costly Discipleship (Matt. 16:21-28; Mark 8:34-9:1)

Observation: Jesus knew that he must suffer many things at the hand of the Pharisees and scribes. He informed his disciples that these sufferings would lead to his eventual death. And, he told them that to be his disciples they would have to be willing to suffer the same thing.

Interpretation: Jesus had to die in order to purchase our salvation. He had to give his life up, and he came to do just that. Our salvation is free to us because he made the costly sacrifice. It isn’t cheap. It cost Jesus his life. And, those who seek to be his disciples must be willing to offer themselves as a sacrifice for his glory. We must be willing to “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.”

Application: Are we willing to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him? Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of his glory out of love for him and others? In a demonstration of self-sacrifice today, take $10-20 (at least) and give it to someone in need or to a gospel-focused charity as an intentional act of Christ-following discipleship.

 

The NT365 Experiment: Mark 7

Jeremiah 17:9 is one of the most familiar prophecies of Jeremiah. There Jeremiah prophesies, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…” These words are a part of a larger prophecy against Judah and her sin in which Jeremiah differentiates between a man and his life that trusts in the Lord and one who doesn’t. The preceding verses read, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. he is like a tee planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah’s point is simple: The man who trusts in the Lord has life and bears fruit while living that life even in drought; the man who doesn’t trust the Lord has a deceitful heart and withers away while bearing no good fruit. Jesus takes this same image and applies it to the Scribes and Pharisees (the Religious Leaders) in Mark 7.

Hypocrites and Their Traditions

The Scribes and Pharisees noticed that some of his disciples did not follow the Jewish ceremonial and ritual traditions regarding the washing of hands, utensils, and furniture (7:2-4). They had a problem with this. So, they asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” That was a mistake! Jesus seized this opportunity to rebuke and correct them and to defend his disciples (7:6-23).

The long and short of Jesus’ response is that the scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites, and they were “hypocrites for two reasons: (1) their actions are merely external and do not come from their hearts, which are far from God; and (2) their teachings are not from God but reflect the tradition of men” (ESV Study Bible). Let me briefly explain.

Mere External Actions

Jesus applied Isaiah’s prophetic words about hypocrisy to the scribes and Pharisees of his day (7:6-7). In doing this, he claimed that the scribes and Pharisees were concerned with drawing near to God through external action rather than heart humility. They wanted to please men and God with their external actions, but they were full of deceit and pride. They were not interested in humbly relying upon God. Behavior modification was their way “to get” to God. But, behavior modification without heart change will not work. The real problem is the nature of our hearts before God, not our behaviors. Behavior flows from the heart.

Teachings of Men not God

Because the scribes and Pharisees were so concerned with behavior modification and ensuring that they stood right before God in their actions, they had a tendency to elevate the teachings and traditions of their forefathers to the same place as the teachings of God. What were supposed to be interpretations, applications, and traditions derived from God’s law had become equal to God’s law itself. They had allowed the teachings and traditions of man to usurp those of God.

A Dangerous Position

This is a very dangerous position to be in and to hold. Not only are the traditions of men not the same as God’s Word and therefore useless in cleansing our hearts, they also lead to a disregard of God’s Word. As they replace God’s Word in our hearts and lives, they lead us away from it all together. This is a REAL danger! Confusion abounds in our lives about what is actually required of God and what is not, about what is God’s Word and what is not. We must be careful that we do not follow in the footsteps of the Scribes and Pharisees by confusing the Word of God and the traditions of men and that we do not buy into the notion that external religion is the same as “heart-changing” Christianity.

The NT 365 Experiment: Mark 6

God reveals himself fully to us in Jesus Christ. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,” and the one through whom God has “spoken” to us “in these last days” (Hebrews 1:1-5). This is true not just of Jesus’ words (revealing to us the will of God for salvation) but also of his heart, his character, and his actions. He is the perfect representation of God to us because he is God.

When we read the Gospels, we see this revelation of God in Christ clearly. The stories, the teachings, the interactions, the miracles of Jesus all combine to give us a clear understanding of who God is and the nature of his kingdom. As I read Mark 6, I thought of this revelatory purpose of Jesus and his kingdom as he commissions disciples to go on his behalf, is rejected in Nazareth, feeds the hungry people, walks on water, and heals the sick. But, I took particular interest in the feeding of the 5,000 (6:30-44). I want to make two observations.

Compassion

“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd…” (6:34).

Jesus and his disciples had traveled by boat to a desolate place in order to rest, eat leisurely, and decompress after a tumultuous experience taking the gospel into the villages of the region. They wanted to get away. They wanted to spend a little time together. They wanted to get their bearings straight. But, the hordes of people who followed Jesus — who desperately desired something from him — would not allow it. They ran ahead and met Jesus and his disciples as they disembarked on the shore. When Jesus saw them he had compassion on them. He did not turn them away. He gave them what they needed. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd. He ministered grace to them. Though he was tired, though he wanted to spend time alone with his disciples, he took time to care for the people and did not turn them away. He treats you and me the same way.

The Kingdom Illustrated

“And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people…And they all ate and were satisfied” (6:41-42).

In 4:30-32, Mark records a parable that Jesus taught about a mustard seed. He says that they kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds; yet, it grows to be the largest plant in all the garden, so large that it has room enough for all the nests of the birds of the air. The point of the parable is to illustrate the exponential growth of the kingdom of God in the lives of men and women. When Jesus feeds the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish, he illustrates this parable. These few and simple loaves and fish, barely enough for one person after a long day’s journey, became enough to feed 5,000 men and their families with the miraculous touch of Jesus. Jesus uses the smallest and most ordinary things to accomplish his great and extraordinary kingdom purposes.

Compassion and Kingdom Today

The takeaways from this story are simple — Jesus has compassion on all those who come to him, and Jesus does the extraordinary with ordinary things that are dedicated to his kingdom in faith. Seek to find ways to apply these two truths to your life today. Run to and press into the one who is full of compassion and grace. Look for the extraordinary and exponential growth of Christ’s kingdom in your life. Praise God for his work.