Upending Expectations

In the aftermath of watching Jesus send away the seemingly perfect convert, [He is rich!  He is committed!  He is teachable!  He is a man of influence!] Jesus startles the disciples even more:

“And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words…And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”” (Mark 10:23-24,26 ESV)

The disciples, along with the rest of the Jewish population, along with the wealthy themselves, believed that the rich were first in line for eternal life.  Hadn’t God said in the Scriptures that material blessings would follow those who were committed to God?  Having a lot of money meant that God had blessed the possessor and obviously that was because God was pleased with them.

“No,” Jesus says, “the truth is that it is very difficult for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God,” thus upending virtually everyone’s theology. The disciples respond: “If the wealthy can’t get eternal life, then who can?”  A paraphrase of Jesus’ answer might be: “No one, without the help of God, but fortunately God is willing and able to help.”

The brutal truth was that no one was on the path to eternal life.  If eternal life was up to men, then eternal life would be impossible.  This is exactly how Jesus puts it.
Richard Lenski comments here:

“It is” impossible; the words are like an exclamation. So the last door of hope on that side is shut and sealed forever. Here perishes all Pelagianism, moralism, synergism; man himself can do absolutely nothing toward his salvation by any natural powers of his own.

 

Here is the shocking truth: Only those who follow Jesus inherit eternal life, and the fact that you follow Jesus?  That is a work of God, and only God.

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One Thing

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”” (Mark 10:21 ESV)

The young man who comes to Jesus seems to be the perfect disciple:  He knows that Jesus has something that he lacks in regards to eternal life; he is willing to listen to Jesus to discover what he himself is missing; he has lived his life attempting to do the things that God has commanded.  To be honest, most of us, had we met this man, would have ushered him into the church and declared how much he wanted to follow Jesus and what great potential that he has.

Fortunately/Unfortunately for this man, Jesus knew him intimately.  “You lack one thing,” Jesus says.  “Go. Sell. Come. Follow.”  It seems so easy, doesn’t it?  All this guy needs to do to inherit eternal life is go and sell everything that he has and come and follow Jesus.

The young man’s reaction is translated various ways:

  • he was sad – KJV
  • the man’s face fell – NLT
  • disheartened – ESV
  • he looked gloomy – LEB
  • he was shocked – NRSV

The young inquirer had expected Jesus to tell him to do something, and he was happy to do anything that Jesus commanded in order to obtain eternal life, except for just one thing.  The one thing that stood in between him and Jesus was his wealth.  Jesus tells him to give up that one thing, but he is unwilling and goes away unchanged.

This is one of the saddest stories in the gospels because, as far as we know, this young man lived his whole life with his wealth, but without Jesus, and so he did not obtain eternal life.

Of course, Jesus comes to us today and demands the very same thing.  No, he does not demand that we all go sell everything that we have and follow him.  He demands that we give up the one thing that stands between us and him, and that, dear reader, is going to be painful because we love that one thing.

Jessica Youngblood had to give up one thing to follow Jesus: addiction to sex and meth.  It took her awhile, and it was a rocky road to change, but she did give up that one thing.  Hiding from her drug dealer boyfriend in the bathroom in literal fear for her life, she prayed:

In that bathroom, I cried out to God. As my boyfriend was beating on the door, I said, “God, if you are real, then you will get me out of this situation, but not just out of dying this day, but every day of my life. You will save me from the death that is on the inside of me. God, can I be more than a meth addicted whore?

God reached down in that moment and in the days and months that followed and drew her to faith, and she discovered that she could indeed “be more than a meth addicted whore.”  She writes:

You see, grace is something you don’t deserve or earn, it is what He freely gives to us. So, the picture in my head is of me, laying there in a million broken pieces, and I watch His grace put the pieces back together. It makes something so beautiful out of the things that I had broken or the world had broken.

One thing; that is all that Jesus asks, and he gives us himself and eternal life in return.  I’d say that’s a pretty good trade.

 

 

 

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“Why Do You Call Me Good?”

We are in Mark 10.17-31 and a young man comes up to Jesus and asks him: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers the young man somewhat abruptly and cryptically:“And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18, ESV) One of the difficult things about biblical interpretation is that we sit, not only at a great distance chronologically and culturally, but we also weren’t physically present when Jesus spoke these words to see his expression and hear what he emphasized [not to mention these words are in Greek and Jesus spoke in Aramaic].

We are left to do our best to understand what Jesus meant with the question.  It often becomes apparent that there is a wide range of opinions and interpretations when we come across difficult to interpret passages.  For example, here are some stabs at what Jesus meant by his question:

  1. “Jesus calls him to sober reflection. What does the epithet ‘good’ mean? It belongs to God who is good; and it should not be used unthinkingly or as a flippant gesture of praise”- Martin [quoted in Expositor’s Bible Commentary (EBC)]
  2. John Calvin: “It is “as if he had said, ‘Thou falsely calleth me a good Master, unless thou acknowledgest that I have come from God.’” [quoted in EBC]
  3. Bob Utley: “Jesus is not making a statement about His own goodness, but He wanted to jolt this man’s shallow thinking about God and true goodness”
  4. ESV Study Bible: “It is not proper for the young man to address Jesus as “Good Teacher” until he is ready to acknowledge that Jesus is God.”
  5. NIV Study Bible: “Jesus is not denying his own goodness but wants the man to recognize that since God alone is good and alone gives life (Deut 32:39; 1 Sam 2:6), only God can answer this question.”
  6. Lenski: “Jesus makes no pronouncement whatever about himself but tells this ruler to pause and to think what “good” really means.”

Which is the correct interpretation?  Search me.  These are all good, faithful biblical scholars and as you can see, they do not agree.  The one who interprets these difficult sayings must read what others have written and study the passage and decide for themselves what they think it means.

Fortunately for us, Jesus’ question is not the crucial point of the passage; that point is very clear, but we will leave that for later.

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Jesus and Children

The parents kept bringing their little children to Jesus so that he would lay his hands on them and bless them. But the disciples kept rebuking and scolding the people for doing it. Mark 10:13 (Passion Translation NT)

Directly upon the heels of Jesus’ discussion of marriage and divorce, Mark places this encounter that he has with children (and their parents). Before we are too hard on his disciples, we need to understand that children in the culture at their time held a very low place, unlike our culture where they hold a relatively high place.  Jesus had only a finite amount of time and his work was very important, they were trying to allow him time for the important and essential.

It was not uncommon in the culture of Palestine at the time for parents to bring their children to a rabbi to be blessed.  The people didn’t believe they were bringing them to be “saved,” or that something magic happened.  This was a request for God to give divine favor to the child.  Who wouldn’t want that?

Unbeknownst to his disciples [although they would find out hastily] Jesus has time for these children.  He is indignant that they have been kept from him.  The word is a very strong one and indignant is a good translation. I’m quite sure that Jesus’ disciples got the message quickly.

As he always does in situations like these, Jesus takes the time for a faith lesson.  He says, “listen to the truth I speak: Whoever does not open their arms to receive God’s kingdom like a teachable child will never enter it.” A child has a sense of awe and wonder, a sense of joy about what they are doing; they have simple faith and trust easily and without question or worry.  This is a humbling lesson for we who have outgrown our simple faith and easy trust.  It’s one we need to relearn at Jesus’ feet.

I love the ending to this short encounter.  Jesus takes each child into his arms and blesses them.  I found myself wondering what became of these children whom Jesus blessed.  I’ll bet they have some stories to tell us.

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Jesus on Divorce

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”” (Mark 10:6–9 ESV)

In order to strip this interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees down to it’s essence, let’s look at just the basics.

  1. The Pharisees pose a question, sure they were trying to trap Jesus, but their question is: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” –
  2. The Pharisees give their answer.  Jesus asks them “what did Moses command you?”  Both he and his opponents were intimately familiar with the Torah and most likely had it memorized.  The Pharisees answer is correct on the surface.  They say that Moses commanded the man to give the woman a bill of divorcement.
  3. Jesus’ answer. Jesus refers back to Gen 1.27, points out that God allowed divorce because of the hardness of “your” hearts, and then gives his answer: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Jesus cuts straight through the Pharisees purpose to take this chance to talk, not about divorce per se, but to point out that God created marriage, he gave it to mankind for their good, and when he brings two people together into marriage, they should stay married. The Bible Speaks Today commentary points out here:

What is wrong is neither God’s original purpose nor Moses’ provision. What is wrong is the sinfulness of the human heart which goes contrary to God’s purposes and those ideals associated with them, and wreaks havoc in human life.

 

The Pharisees wanted to talk about divorce, Jesus directs them to God’s design in marriage. 

[Aside:  We could spend a lot of time here discussing when a Christian can get divorced and if they are divorced whether they can, or cannot be remarried.  The issue has been addressed ad infinitum in the broader church, so I will not belabor the point here. The best short exposition of my own position is a sermon by Kevin DeYoung.]

 

 

 

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Jesus, the Pharisees, and Divorce

“And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”” (Mark 10:2 ESV)

Sneaky question, this.  As we will soon find out, the Pharisees new perfectly well that it was “lawful” for a man to divorce his wife.  They refer back to Deuteronomy 24.1-4 without any hesitation.  They didn’t want an answer to their question, they wanted to trap Jesus with it.

There were two schools of thought in Jesus’ day as to why a husband could divorce his wife.  One school–influenced by the rabbi Hillel–claimed that one could divorce one’s wife for virtually any reason at all.  She burnt the meal while preparing it?  That’s a divorce!  The other school–influenced by rabbi Shammai–held that only actual shameful conduct allowed a husband to divorce his wife.

Richard Lenski, in his commentary at Mark, points out that the Pharisees could trap Jesus in three ways with this question:

  1. If he sided with Hillel, they could accuse him of being morally lax.
  2. If he sided with Shammai, they could reproach him with his own friendly treatment of sinners.
  3. If Jesus said that he was against divorce in every case [which no doubt they were REALLY hoping], they could accuse him of being against the Mosaic Law which did allow divorce.

As he always did, Jesus easily sidesteps their perfidy. He points back to a verse before the verse in Deuteronomy (Gen 1.27).  He explains that the Mosaic allowance for divorce was not God’s desire, it was an allowance for the hardness of human hearts. Indeed, it’s quite revealing that Jesus says “the hardness of your hearts.”  No doubt the Pharisees did not appreciate the inference there.

 

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“Where Their Worm does not Die”

“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:47–48 ESV)

What do you suppose that Jesus meant when he described hell to his listeners as a place where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched?

First let’s just point out that Jesus seems to believe that hell is an actual place.  He does not seem to think that hell is a metaphor for getting what we deserve in life, nor does he imply that hell is a state of mind.  Jesus seems to think that hell is a physical place that is not a good place to be [whether the fire is metaphorical, I do not know , but there is a difference between fire as a metaphor and hell as an actual place, Jesus seems to leave room for fire to be a metaphor, he does not appear to leave room for hell as a metaphor]  I’m not exactly sure what he means by where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched, but I’m sure I do not want to go there and find out.

Jesus is verbatim quoting the very last verse in the book of Isaiah here, so it’s important to us to understand what that passage was referring to, in order to understand Jesus’ words here.  Isaiah writes:

“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”” (Isaiah 66:24, ESV)

The one’s who have rebelled against me are the same people who are now in a place where their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched. 

What is sin if not rebellion against God?  God tells me the way that I ought to live, and I refuse to live that way, I choose to live my own way.  This is rebellion against God and God must and shall punish it.

In our passage, Jesus connects sin right back to these people in Isaiah who rebelled against God, the same thing that happened to the people in Isaiah, will happen to those who persist in sin and/or cause others to fall into sin.

Here’s the thing, we are all this way!  Paul describes everyone as slaves to sin:

“What then? Are we better off? Not at all, for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under the power of sin, as it is written, “No one is righteous, not even one; no one is understanding; no one is seeking for God.” (Romans 3:9–11 MOUNCE-NT)

Fortunately for us, Jesus himself made a way for us to escape our slavery to sin:

“It is the righteousness of God available through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and continue to fall short of the glory of God.) They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an atoning sacrifice by his blood, obtainable through faith.” (Romans 3:22–25 MOUNCE-NT)

 

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