“We Groan”

For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,” (2 Corinthians 5:2, ESV)

The longer we live in this world, the more clear it becomes that there is something wrong with it.  Through life experience, through sadness, through loss and grief, disappointment and despair, we discover that, no matter how good we have it in this world, there is something wrong, something broken.  D. A. Carson sums things up this way: ”

There is no escape from the brute reality that, however wonderful your experiences in this broken world, others suffer experiences far more corrosive, and you yourself cannot ever believe that what you are experiencing is utterly ideal.

It is this realization that Paul is writing about when he says, “in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”  We want permanence.  We want freedom from grief, loss, and disappointment.  We want to escape the brokenness all around us, and we are all this way.  We all have this longing whether we acknowledge it or not. Mark Buchanan eloquently puts it this way:

We hear the groaning in all things. In orphans. In refugees. In housewives. In businessmen. From history professors, from folk musicians. In the sated. In the famished. In the sleek, the sick, the wounded, the pampered. In victims and victors. We hear it in haiku poetry, in country–and–western laments, in street marches, in hunger strikes. We hear it in the rocks beneath the earth’s crust as they tremble and slip, in the wood joists of our houses at night as they shiver and pull, in the bones of our bodies as they shudder and twist. We hear it in our guts. We hear it in our heads. We hear it in our hearts.

Paul will summarize this truth elsewhere in this way: “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23, ESV)

We groan, we await eagerly, for heaven, for immediate presence with God.  This groaning is an instinct inside of us that God himself has put there when he gave us the Holy Spirit. It is a signpost and marker and reminder that we are not home yet.  Here is Mark Buchanan again:

The instinct for heaven is just that: homesickness, ancient as night, urgent as daybreak.  All your longings–for the place you grew up, for the taste of raspberry tarts that your mother once pulled hot from the oven, for that bend in the river where your father took you fishing as a child, where the water was dark and swirling and the caddis flies hovered in the deep shade–all these longings are a homesickness, a wanting in full what all these things only hint at, only prick you with.

When you have those moments, dear reader, when you tell yourself “this isn’t the way the world should be,” or when you see the sky at sunset awash in purple and orange and yellow and red, and then suddenly it’s all gone, embrace it.  This is homesickness and its okay to be homesick, indeed this is exactly what God wants. We are just living in the shadowlands here, home awaits.

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“Swallowed up by Life”

For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:4, ESV)

I love what Paul does here.  He is explaining to the believers in Corinth that what awaited them when Christ returned or they died (whichever came about first), was an eternal body (clothes metaphorically) that God himself had prepared for them.  Then these words “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” 

Do you see what he does there?  He flips everything upside down and topsy-turvy.  He is talking about death as if it were life!  Indeed, if the broader culture had penned these words they would have been written like this, “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by the grave.” What Paul writes is unexpected (from a cultural standpoint) and surprising, and yet Paul seems to really really believe this.  (See “For We Know“)

How is it that Paul can write about death as if it were life?  I’m glad you didn’t asked. Paul is undoubtedly alluding to Isaiah 25.8:

He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.

Paul calls death life because God is going to swallow up death forever, because death, just like everything else in this world is subject to the authority and command of God and when he sums up history in Jesus Christ, he will do away with death.  This is our hope of eternal life and this is why Paul can write “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

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“For We Know”

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV)

I’m  working on a sermon on 2 Cor 5.1-5, which has always been a favorite passage of mine.  The first three words [which are two words in the Greek] are crucial to understanding what Paul is up to in this passage, so it’s worthwhile to rest on them for awhile and dig deeply into why Paul writes “For we know.”

Notice that Paul wrote, “we know,” rather than “we expect,” or “we’re reasonably certain,” or “it’s possible,” or “maybe.”  He wants the Corinthians to understand that he is certain of what he is saying next, because it is going to bear on the situation of those who received his letter (not to mention us).

Consider that at the time that Paul writes, scholars estimate that there were 150,000 free people living in and around the city of Corinth.  There were also an estimated 450,000 slaves.  Just going from the sheer numbers we can guess that the church in Corinth was made up of 60% to 75% slaves.  Now when a slave came to faith in Christ, did that mean they were set free from slavery?  No.  They were still stuck in slavery and while some slaves were able to become free, not all were by any stretch of the imagination.  So a slave in Corinth who came to faith in Christ did not have a lot of hope in this life.  They could look forward to a continued life of slavery with a small chance of becoming free.

Paul wants to give this type of person deep, abiding hope that won’t just last for a week or a month, a year, or even a hope that is sustained throughout life on this earth.  What good was that kind of hope for a slave?  Paul wants to give them eternal hope in eternal life promised and prepared by God himself.  Now that is hope.

Even if a person in Corinth came to faith in Christ and they were free, their life, just like ours, was a struggle with disappointment, disease, and death.  This was a day before antibiotics, so disease and death were common and spread through every age and class.  Even for the free population, they needed a hope that would last longer than what might be a very short life.

This is what Paul is after when he pens the words: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Here was hope, and a hope that the broader culture had no understanding of at all.  John Calvin comments here: “Even the heathens had some idea of the immortality of the soul, but there was not one of them, that had assurance of it–not one of them could boast that he spoke of a thing that was known to him.”

As followers of Christ we have hope that is set into the bedrock of eternity that while we know what we have here is temporary, what awaits us is something eternal and solid. After all, God made it, how could it not last forever?

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The Greatest Disciple

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. (Mark 9.33-34)

We are firmly in the second section of Mark’s gospel which goes from the second part of Mark 8 through Mark 10.  In this section, two main things are happening, first, Jesus and the disciples are heading up to Jerusalem to face what Jesus knows is coming.  The second thing we see again and again in this second section of Mark is the disciples’ inability to comprehend what Jesus message is, and what it means for them.

At the beginning of this very chapter, Peter, James, and John see Christ transfigured before their very eyes in such a way that he reflects the glory of God the Father, surely they should understand Jesus’ ministry and message now, right?  Not so much.  When Jesus explains that he will go to Jerusalem and be killed and rise again, the meaning of his words completely escapes them.

Now we discover that they are arguing about which one of them will be the greatest!  It’s kind of a funny scene on one level.  Jesus asks them what they have been talking about and they all stand around in awkward silence.  Who wants to admit that they’ve been in a deep discussion about which one exactly will be the greatest disciple? To the reader this event takes on even greater meaning because we know that Mark 10.45 is just around the corner.  This is the key verse in the whole gospel and explains what Mark really wants us to understand about Jesus and his purpose.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It’s pretty safe to say that the disciples haven’t quite grasped what Jesus has been trying to teach them yet.

Here is something else to think about. This incident is good evidence of the trustworthiness of Mark’s gospel (and of the gospels in general).  Would you include this incident about your own [or in Mark’s case your acquaintances’] aspirations for grandeur and subsequent embarrassment if it wasn’t a true story?  The disciples write about their inability to understand Jesus and the embarrassment it causes them because it is true.

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Mark – Overview

 

This excellent overview of Mark is put out by The Bible Project.  Sure I should have posted it at the beginning of my study of the book, but hey, I had never even heard of the Bible project before then…

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Being Skeptical of Your Skepticism

And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”” (Mark 9:23–24, ESV)

The desperate father’s reaction to Jesus words, All things are possible for one who believes, is the reason that he is one of my favorite characters in the gospels.  Perhaps I identify with him because he is a lot like me.

The man understands Jesus’ words to him.  He is in a hopeless position with a boy who is under the influence of the demonic which is out to destroy the boy.  Jesus tells him that there is a way forward for him and for the boy, the way of belief.  The man understands in his heart, but his head hasn’t quite caught up with his heart yet.  He believes, he wants to believe, he wants to think that Jesus really can free his son from his bondage to the spiritual forces of darkness, but his head is having a difficult time with what his heart wants, thus his all to human and honest cry, I believe; help my unbelief!

I love this.  I can’t think of a better more honest answer than the one that comes out of the mouth of this father.  He admits his problem, his head simply can’t wrap itself around the fact that Jesus can simply make his life-long, awful, hopeless problem go away with a command.  He also admits his belief.  He does believe in his heart that Jesus can do what he says, even if his head hasn’t quite caught up yet.  At this moment he is doubting his own doubts and this is important to grasp.

It’s inevitable that when someone comes into contact with the message of the gospel that they are skeptical about it.  I heard about a man who came to faith by picking up the Bible and beginning to read it when he was in a difficult life situation.  Afterwards, he began to attend church and even talked his unbelieving wife to attend an Easter service with him.  At the service there was a clear presentation of the gospel and as the pair walked out of the meeting, the wife turned to the husband and asked, “Is that what you believe?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“You’re crazy,” was her response.

She understood in her head the gospel message, but it made no sense.  She was skeptical of it. She did not believe.  She was not convinced.  The way forward for her and for any skeptic is to be as skeptical of one’s skepticism as one is of the gospel message.  Tim Keller explains:

The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts and then ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it. How do you know your belief is true? It would be inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than you do for your own, but that is frequently what happens. In fairness, you must doubt your doubts. My thesis is that if you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs — you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared. [The Reason for God]

The man’s wife couldn’t bring herself to doubt her own doubts and so, at least for the present, her mind was closed off to the message of faith in Jesus.

This father who was willing to do anything to help his son, came to doubt his own doubts as to whether or not Jesus could help his son.  The end result for him:

And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.” (Mark 9:25–27, ESV)

The unclean spirit had to obey the Son of God, and he did obey. The man received back his son in his right mind and completely free.

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The Antidote for a “Faithless Generation”

And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”” (Mark 9:17–19, ESV)

We see mainly three individuals in the story of the boy under the influence of an unclean spirit.  We see:

  • A desperate father
  • A demon-influenced son
  • An apparently impatient and frustrated Jesus.

I want to think about impatient and frustrated Jesus for a minute.  That is how he appears doesn’t he?  There is an argument going on between some of Jesus’ disciples and some scribes and a crowd has gathered and things are hectic and out of control and we eventually discover that all of this is due to the fact that a man brought his son who is influenced by a demon and Jesus’ disciples could not cast out the demon.

Jesus’ reaction seems to demonstrate his frustration with the crowd/disciples/scribes: O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? I wonder if we are reading this situation correctly if all we see is impatience from Jesus.  I think Jesus knows exactly what he is doing and he has this reaction, not first and foremost because of impatience or frustration, but because he wants to teach the crowd/disciples/scribes/this desperate father something.

Look what happens when Jesus calls the boy to himself and deals directly with the father:

 If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us, pleads the father.

Jesus says: ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”

In the Greek the word that is translated “faithless” and the word that is translated “believes,” come from the same Greek root word meaning “to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance” [Louw-Nida].  The “faithless generation” was a generation that did not believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance.  Jesus then turns around and gives the crowd/scribes/disciples/desperate father the antidote to being a “faithless generation.”  The antidote was belief, which is to say complete trust and reliance on Jesus.

Throughout the gospels and whenever Jesus is teaching and wherever he is calling men to faith and belief, it is always in himself.  He isn’t calling them to believe in something like the greater good, or believe that mankind can be a good force, or even believe in belief.  He calls them to belief in a person and that person is himself.

I think that Jesus, as he always did, was using this incident to teach that the problem that virtually every person witnessing this incident had [scribes, disciples, crowd, desperate father, demon-influenced son] was that they had seen or heard of his works, they had heard his teaching, they should have believed, they should have understood that he was the Son of God, but they did not.  They were faithless.  They were unbelieving.

It’s in light of that fact that we get a better understanding of Jesus’ reaction.  How long would he have to bear with this generation who had the privilege of hearing him teach, seeing him heal, watching his life, and they still did not believe in him.  If all of that didn’t produce faith, what would?

 

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