Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent, the 40 day period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter (not including the 6 Sundays- Days of Resurrection). A period of time in the Christian calendar that prepares us as we travel along with Jesus towards his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Lent is also the time in the Christian year where we focus on repentance, prayer, self-denial, and fasting.
During Lent we have been walking with Jesus through his last week on this earth. The last week starting with his Triumphal Entry and ending with his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
3 weeks ago we started this journey with Jesus on what we call Palm Sunday or the Triumphal Entry. We talked about the fact that this story is all about Jesus and his Kingship and Lordship.
2 weeks ago we covered the story of Jesus cursing the Fig Tree and cleansing the temple. We talked about how the religious leaders got in the way of people finding God. And we asked the question what tables would Jesus flip in our lives in order for us to get out of the way so people can find God.
Last we talked about giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God what is God. We talked about all about our allegiance being to God and to no other.
Today we look at the story found in Mark 14:1-11, a story that we can say is like a three panel painting. In the middle of the painting, which is the largest section, is the main part of the story centering around Mary of Bethany (verses 3-9). The panels on either side of the center section would be the story of the Pharisee’s and their desire to arrest and kill Jesus (verses 1-2) and the story of Judas and his part in handing Jesus over to the religious leaders (verses 10-11) and getting some financial recuperation from it.
So let’s look at the story found in Mark 14:1-11 and see what it might say to us today seeking to walk with Jesus through his last week while here on earth.
Mark 14:1-11 says, “
Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”
Let’s take a look first at the center panel, the main part of the story and see what it might say to us.
We see in this center panel a women from Bethany coming to Jesus in the midst of dinner and anointing him with oil from an alabaster jar. Now we know from John 12:1-8 (John’s account of this story) that the woman who anoints Jesus is Mary of Bethany, who is the sister of Lazarus (who Jesus raised from the dead) and Martha. So Mary anoints Jesus head from oil from this alabaster jar. Now there are a few things that we need to look at historically and culturally to make some sense and draw out meaning behind this act.
First, in the culture of the day, when guests arrived for a meal, as an act of hospitality, it was customary to anoint the guests head with a dab of oil. Now the biggest difference in that custom, and what we see in this story is that Mary didn’t just put a dab of oil on his head, she broke the whole thing open and poured the entire contents on the alabaster jar all over his head. An extravagant act of worship that no doubt made others pretty uncomfortable and even a little ticked off.
Secondly, connecting our story of the Triumphal Entry, when a person became King, part of the coronation process, was for his head to be anointed with oil. Anointing the head was in the Biblical tradition the ceremony for the coronation of a King. So here is Mary anointing Jesus as the true King. As the King of all Kings. This was another of his coronation moments on his way to the cross. In fact the word Messiah itself actually means anointed one.
Thirdly, this act of anointing, as Jesus referenced, was connected to his upcoming death on the cross, and his burial in a tomb. We read in verse 8 these words connecting the anointing of Jesus by Mary and his death and burial, “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.” The type of death that he was expecting, the common criminal death of crucifixion, lended itself to the problem of not preparing the body for burial. The idea being that Jesus was going to be killed in such a way that there may not be a chance for proper anointing of the body at the time. In fact, we will visit this idea again on Easter Sunday, when the women who followed Jesus return to his grave, in order to anoint his body with spices and perfume, as was the traditional custom of what they did to bodies, most of the time before laying them to rest in a tomb. Now Jesus is not implying that Mary somehow knew that what she was doing was for his burial. She was acting upon her love, and gratitude and her worship of Jesus, the King of King and Lord of Lords.
Fourthly, this act was costly (in two very different ways). The first costly way is what we see mentioned in the text. In verse 4 we read these words, “Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.” So we know from other texts that the perfume was called Spikenard and was a very expensive fragrance imported from India. So expensive that it was more than a year’s wages. A denarius, as we talked about last week, was roughly a days wages. And so it the perfume probably cost over 300 denarii. This was no doubt very costly, especially to a family who more than likely wasn’t a wealthy family.
But even more costly, was what the breaking of the alabaster jar, and pouring the perfume on Jesus head, meant for Mary and what it meant culturally at the time. In the days Jesus was on earth, when a young woman reached the age of availability for marriage, her family would purchase an alabaster box for her and fill it with precious ointment. The size of the box and the value of the ointment would parallel her family’s wealth. This alabaster box would be part of her dowry. When a young man came to ask for her in marriage, she would respond by taking the alabaster box and breaking it at his feet. The gesture of anointing his feet showed him honor. So what she was doing was pretty much giving her whole life and whole self to Jesus. Without the alabaster jar and perfume, her future didn’t include marriage. He future was totally wrapped up in Jesus. Without a husband to provide for her, how was she going to live? Without a husband, who was she? But she realized that no man would be better then her Jesus. When she broke that alabaster jar and poured her expensive perfume over Jesus in front of a room of men, she was giving up a portion of her dowry, her reputation, and most importantly her heart.
So on the center panel of this painting we see a beautiful act of love, worship, and devotion. An act that was about coronating Jesus, worshipping him, preparing him for his death and burial. And an act that was super costly not only in the amount of money that the perfume and alabaster jar was worth, but also costly in relation to Mary having a future husband. But an act of worship, giving her life, her self, and her future to Jesus.
If the center panel is all about worship, then the other two panels are about those who should be doing what Mary was doing, but instead were rebuking, scheming, planning, and dreaming about how to arrest Jesus, kill Jesus, or make some money off of Jesus’ arrest.
Their reaction to this beautiful act of worship, devotion, and giving of herself to Jesus was about rebuke and chastisement. People said “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” Now in other accounts of this story we see one of the primary voices speaking these words is Judas, who didn’t care for the poor at all. No he was in it for the money. He was the treasurer if you will of the disciples, the moneybag keeper, and he would help himself to some of the money.
Let’s briefly look at both side panels of this painting. First in verse 1-2 we read, “Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” As we have mentioned before, Passover was the time when Jerusalem swelled in population as many pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem. Also passover was the time every year that the Jewish people were looking for that deliverer, that new Moses, to come and kick the Romans out of their land, take over, and become King of Israel. And the conversation and expectation around Jesus in this Passover season was one filled with Messianic hopes and dreams that finally Rome would be ousted, Israel would have it’s own land back, and they would have their own ruler in charge. So the religious leaders and teachers of the law, who weren’t on Jesus side, were scheming how to get him arrested, but secretly. Because if he was arrested publicly, no doubt those who were hoping for Jesus to be the long awaited Davidic Messiah, Warrior King would revolt and riot.
And that is when Judas comes in. Judas, as a disciple, or an inside guy so to speak, would have inside information on where and when they could arrest Jesus when the public wasn’t around. So Judas would help them find a private time to arrest Jesus. But what was Judas’ motive for being a traitor? Obviously we can only speculate as the text never truly says what his issue or issues were, but here are some thoughts about motive. First, the motive of greed. As I mentioned before Judas loved money, and would help himself to some of the money given to fund the mission of Jesus’ and his disciples. We see that he goes to the Chief Priests and they arrive at an agreed upon price, that we know is 30 silver pieces. So one motivation was most likely money and greed.
And Secondly I believe he also was hoping that Jesus would be that warrior King, that Davidic messiah who would come, kick Roman’s tail, and deliver Israel back to prominence and their own rule and own land. And so maybe their was a level of anger, and disappointment that it wasn’t going to be an violent overthrow of the powers that be that he expected. (Maybe he understood maybe better than other disciples of what Jesus was truly headed for).
So for whatever reason..greed, disappointment, anger, frustration, etc.. Judas agrees to become the traitor and hand Jesus over to the chief priests and teacher of the law to be arrested and eventually killed.
So in our time of discussion let’s two at the two radically different responses to Jesus in this story. Let’s look at what our alabaster jars might be that God is calling us to break and pour out for him. Let’s also look at our own lives and the ways that we have been Judas to Jesus ourselves. These are the two things we are going to unpack together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What alabaster jar is Jesus calling you to break and pour out in worship? What is keeping you from breaking it over his head?
3. In what ways have you and I been Judas? Been a traitor to Jesus and his Kingdom?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
We come now to Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week in our series The Last Week looking at the last week of Jesus’ life while here on earth.
When we kicked off The Last Week two weeks ago we looked at the first day of Holy Week, what we call Palm Sunday or what is called in Mark 11, the Triumphal Entry. We talked about this story and how in it we see two radically visions of Jesus being King. And how anyone from the outside seeing it, especially Rome, would see the connections to a coronation ceremony and get nervous. I mentioned that this was one of the reasons that only a few days later Jesus was executed, because he claimed himself as a King and as royalty.
Last week we talked about Holy Monday, and the cursing of the Fig Tree, and the cleaning of the Temple. We talked about how they were connected and pointed towards judgement of Israel. How the religious leaders got in the way of people actually finding God. How Jesus flipped tables and drove animals out of the temple because the temple was supposed to be a signpost pointing to a deeper reality, that of Jesus and his Kingdom, but instead they thought it was the reality. And how we can also get in the way of people finding Jesus as well as the similar danger of believing that we are the deeper reality, and not the signpost that is supposed to point to Jesus.
Today we are looking at two days, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week. These two days could be probably summarized by saying Conflict and More Conflict. Have you ever had one of those days where it seems like everywhere you went you ran into questions, accusations, conflict, etc..? Jesus had many days like that but especially during Holy Week.
If we look at Mark 11:27-13:37, we see almost every section of these two and half chapter starting with one of the religious leaders of the day coming and either asking him to explain himself, have him justify what he was doing, asking him questions, or as in the case of the section that we’ll be looking at, trapping him and basically putting him between a rock and a hard place, or so they thought.
So let’s turn to Mark 12:13-17 and see what this conflict was all about and what we might learn about following Jesus in our 21st century world.
Mark 12:13-17 says, “Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.”
So in this text we see the Chief Priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders (meaning the religious leaders of Jesus’ day) sending a group of Pharisees and Herodians to trap Jesus with his own words. Now what is really happening here can be best summed up in the saying “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” You see the Pharisees and Herodians weren’t on the same page with most things, except they both didn’t like Jesus. The Pharisees, which means “separated ones”, were the group of people who were extremely accurate and legalistic about the law of Moses. And importantly in this story, the Pharisees weren’t 100 percent in favor of the Roman rule. In fact, they were divided when it came to the question of Roman rule. On the other end of the spectrum were the Herodians. The Herodians favored submitting to the Herods and therefore Roman rule. Support of the Herods compromised Jewish independence in the minds and eyes of the Pharisees. So as you see these two parties were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to a lot of social, religious and political issues. But what they agreed on was that this Jesus character needed to be dealt with.
So they get together and go to Jesus hoping to trap him. To put him between a rock and a hard place. So the first thing they do is butter him up, they seek to flatter him by what they say. Before they get to the question that they are hoping to trap him with, they flatter him by saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” Now I don’t believe that they even truly believed what they were saying. First they called him Teacher or in their world it would be Rabbi, but he wasn’t either of the groups Rabbi, or in other words they weren’t his disciples. Secondly, their theology if you will didn’t agree with Jesus’ theology. The Pharisees especially didn’t believe that Jesus was teaching the way of God in accordance with the truth. They believed they had the truth and anyone who disagreed with them was not following God, and that included Jesus.
So after they butter him up, they then drop what they believe was the bombshell question. The question that would seal his fate either with the people or with the Romans. The question that would trap Jesus was, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
This was a huge question in Jesus day. Do you pay taxes or not. You see the Peasants (like Jesus’ family) were forced to pay upwards of 50% of their income to various taxes. Various taxes like Ground tax (10% of all grain and 20% of all wine and fruit), Income tax (1% of man’s income), Poll tax (paid by men 12-65 and women 14-65- 1 denarius a year). But they also were forced to pay other taxes like a local tax, a temple tax, and taxes to Herod. But it wasn’t just about the tax, as bad as that was, it was also about what the taxes stood for. It meant that Israel wasn’t free, wasn’t independent. That they were now under the rule and thumb of the Roman empire. And what Rome ruled they taxed and taxed heavily.
The Pharisees and Herodians believed that they were forcing him into an either/or. Either he would say to support the paying of the tax therefore alienating the crowd who hated Roman rule and by nature the taxes that came with it or denounce paying the taxes and then the group would go to the governor and accuse Jesus of treason and revolt. Either way he would lose something. Or so they thought. They thought they had him right where they wanted him. They were wrong. Jesus, the master at always finding a way out of these either/or dilemma’s and finding a third way.
Jesus knowing what they were up to, not being blinded by their flattery, asks them why they are trying to trap him. He then says, “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. It’s interesting to note as an aside that he didn’t have a denarius on him.
So now this isn’t just a political or social question, this was also a religious question. You see there is a lot at play in relation to the coins. Jews were forbidden to make carved images. There were debates whether that included images like plants and flowers, but it definitely meant images of people. In fact, some of the devout Jews wouldn’t even touch or use the coins. And so they began making their own coins with the image of a palm leaf on them. And so Jesus is asking them, many in the Pharisee camp who probably wouldn’t hold or touch one, to go and find one.
They find one and he asks them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” And they reply Caesar’s. You see at the time the coins in use, the denarius, had an image of Tiberius on one side with the words “Augustus Tiberius. son of the divine Augustus.” above the image. And on the other side High priest, son of God, high priest” To a devout Jew this was no doubt totally offensive. I mean if the Romans wanted to be offensive to the Jews, they did a pretty good job of it with their coinage.
Once they have established whose image is imprinted on the coin, Jesus says these brilliant, and possibly misunderstood words, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” There are a number of ways to read his response to their question. First we could see him meaning, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar- pay the taxes but without the sting of submitting to Rome as your master. Or connected with that, since it’s Caesar’s blasphemous image on the coin, then send this filthy stuff back to where it came from. Secondly it could be taken that it echoes a Maccabean slogan from 200 years earlier during a revolt against Syrian rule, which said “pay back the Gentiles what they deserve and obey the commands of the law.” Jesus could be drawing their minds back to that revolt, and saying it as a revolutionary slogan for a different kind of Kingdom. The Kingdom of God where the one true God became King of the world. And lastly, Give to God what belongs to God. If the image stamped on the coin is Caesar, then give back to him what belongs to him. But Human beings bear the stamp, the image of God. Therefore all humans owe themselves, and their very lives to God. Caesar could have his image on coins, crowns, and robes. But life and creation have God’s stamp on them. Caesar could have his coins, but life is God’s. Caesar had no right to take what is God’s. God’s image is stamped on us like Caesar’s stamp and image on coins. God made us all including Caesar and he wants our lives. And I believe that if you give yourself wholly to God you would discover, like his followers then, that using violence to fight violence, and evil to fight evil, simply wouldn’t and won’t do.
But probably one of the most subversive things that Jesus meant when he said Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s , and give to God what is God’s, is in the fact that he refers to them as separate entities. He is saying that God is god and Caesar is not. The question then becomes who is truly King. One of the most subversive, radical, and treasonous things that Christians said in the face of the Roman empire is that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.
So when we boil it all down, the question really that we are wrestling with comes down to loyalty. Where does your loyalty lie? If you believe that everything is God’s, then there really is nothing left for Caesar. Once we have given God what is his, there really isn’t much or anything left for Caesar. Sure, pay taxes, Jesus would say but Jesus is the Lord. Our allegiance needs to be to him. Not to a country, a philosophy, a doctrine, a denomination, etc.. Total allegiance should be pledged to Jesus and to him alone.
So the question for us this morning is what is our Caesar? To whom have we given allegiance to in place of God? Where do our loyalties truly lie? And what is God saying to each of us about what is Caesar’s in our life, and what is truly God’s. That is where we’ll turn right now in our discussion time.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. To whom have we given allegiance to in place of God? Where do our loyalties truly lie? And what is God saying to each of us about what is Caesar’s in our life, and what is truly God’s.
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Over the next few weeks, during this Christian season of Lent, which started last Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) and running through Easter/Resurrection Sunday, we’ll be exploring Jesus last week on earth, in our series The Last Week. We’ll exploring Jesus last week through the lens of the gospel of Mark.
Last week we started the series looking at the first day of Jesus last week, the story of Palm Sunday/Triumphal Entry found in Mark 11:1-11.
Today we are looking at the events and encounters that took place on what many call Holy Monday. To explore the events of Holy Monday we’ll look at Mark 11:12-21 together.
Mark 11:12-21 says, “The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
So what is going on in these two encounters? What in the world is Jesus doing in cursing a fig tree, and seemingly violently throwing out moneychangers? These two encounters seem so unlike Jesus so just what is actually going on? Well let’s unpack both encounters and see what they mean and what they have to do with each other.
First, let’s look at the beginning of Holy Monday, the cursing of the fig tree. We read, “The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.”
So Jesus, the day after the Triumphal Entry leaves Bethany heading for Jerusalem. He is hungry and sees a fig tree in leaf. When he gets to the tree he sees that there are leaves but no fruit. And he seemingly gets mad, even though it wasn’t the season for figs. And then he curses the fig tree. What in the word is going on here? What is Jesus doing in cursing a fig tree when it wasn’t even the season for figs?
First of all, this act of cursing a fig tree is actually a dramatic, acted parable indicating the meaning of what Jesus was going to do in the temple. It was a dramatic acted parable of judgment. To understand more of what is taking place we need to look back at Mark 1, to the purpose that Mark had in writing his gospel. Look at Mark 1:1 which says, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” This enacted parable of the fig tree spells out again Jesus identity and authority. His identity and authority as King of Kings (as seen in Mark 11) and as Lord of Lords. His authority over all of creation. You see in Jesus’ day there were symbolism behind the fig tree, and here Jesus is showing his power, his authority, and his identity through the cursing of the tree. In Jesus day there were 3 things that the fig tree came to represent in Jewish culture and in Greco-Roman culture. The first thing the fig tree was associated with was various deities, primarily the tree god Dionysus. This shows his authority not only over Israel but over the gods of the empire. Also in Greco/Roman culture the sudden withering or blossoming of any tree was considered a powerful omen of coming destruction or blessing. A withering tree outside of Jerusalem would be considered, especially by Mark’s gentile readers as a sign of disaster for that city. And lastly the fig tree in Jewish scriptures was symbolic of the nation of Israel.
Also in relation to the connection between the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple, we see that this tree was pointing to something but not delivering. It was the signpost pointing to a reality. And so if the fig tree represents Israel, then Jesus is not only judging the fig tree for not being a signpost pointing to a reality, but he is using the tree as a symbol of coming judgment on the nation of Israel and the temple. That the nation of Israel and the temple, though they appear to be leafy, are not keeping with the fruit that Jesus is calling them to. And so Jesus was not out to condemn a non-bearing tree; he was pronouncing judgment against the religious barrenness of the nation. The tree is not in trouble, the nation is. The tree has not rejected its Messiah, the nation has. The tree is being used as a symbol, not the object itself, of the judgment.
So after Jesus cursing the fig tree with these words, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” he moves on to Jerusalem where he enters the Temple and begins to cleanse it by driving out the moneychangers, and to turn over the tables of those selling animals. There are a few things that we need to get out of the way when we look at this part of the text. First, those who were the moneychangers and sellers of the animals were there because people needed to buy animals for their sacrifice. People came to Jerusalem and the temple to sacrifice to cover over their sins. Many of these people would bring their own animals to be sacrificed. Animals that they had raised, had cared for, had invested time and money into, all to be brought to the temple to be sacrificed by the priest. But the priests were ripping people off by telling them the animal they bought to sacrifice didn’t meet their purity standards. People were thus forced to purchase a “temple certified” animal. The priests would then confiscate the allegedly substandard animal, only to turn around and sell it to the next worshiper who was told the animal they had bought was substandard. It was a money-making scam.
Secondly, many see this story as Jesus endorsing violence. You’ll notice that in this text no where does Jesus actually attack the people or animals in the temple. He does whip them, or hit them at all. He drives them out, he overturns the tables, he judges the entire temple system. But it is not a violent act towards people. Greg Boyd has this to say about the supposed violence in this story, “while Jesus’ behavior was certainly aggressive, there’s no indication whatsoever that it involved violence. True, Jesus turned tables over. But this was to put an immediate stop to the corrupt commerce that was taking place as well as perhaps to free the caged animals. There’s no mention of any person or animal getting hurt in the process. And yes, Jesus made a whip. But there’s no mention of him using it to strike any animal, let alone human. Cracking a loud whip has always been the most effective means of controlling the movement of large groups of animals. Jesus wanted to create a stampede of animals out of the temple, and there’s no reason to conclude he used the whip for any other purpose than this.”
After Jesus clears out the moneychangers and drives out the animals he quotes from two separate Old Testament passages to claim the temple for what it should be, a signpost pointing to a reality, and not the reality itself. First he quotes from Isaiah 56:6-7 which says, “And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant– these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” And then he quotes from Jeremiah 7:9-11 which says, “Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”–safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” Both of these passages and Jesus act in the temple point us to the issue. That the religious leaders and the temple system were actually getting in the way of people experiencing and encountering God. The religious leaders as I mentioned above were ripping people off. The system itself was corrupt. Jesus was bringing judgment upon it. The temple was supposed to be a signpost pointing to the deeper reality of God and his love for humanity. Instead, it became the reality. You see the temple had been intended to symbolize God’s presence among his people for the sake of the world. But the way that it was organized when Jesus came to cleanse it, was not about the inclusion of other nations, but Gods’ seeming exclusion of them. The religious leaders were living out what the prophet Jeremiah had said all those years before, and so Jesus had no other choice than to judge it and cleanse it. It had jumped the tracks and was now running in the track of it’s own making. It had lost its reason for being. Jesus was judging it, and shutting it down. It would still go on for a few more years until Rome destroyed it in 70 AD but it had lost it’s true purpose of being a signpost. NT Wright says it like this, “The sacrificial system was therefore doubly redundant. It was part of the Temple system which had come to stand for the wrong things. It was part of the signpost system set up by God to draw the eye to the climatic achievement of Jesus himself on the cross.”
So the question that all of this raises in my mind is have we as the church gotten off the rails? We are meant to be the signpost pointing to the reality, that of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection and his love for the world. Have we been a signpost pointing to Jesus, a signpost pointing to ourselves, or making the church the reality, when it is about Jesus. Have we gotten in the way of others experiencing the love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus? What would Jesus say or do if he came in this morning? What tables would he need to flip in our own lives? What things would he judge in our corporate lives that has gotten in the way of being inclusive and allowing others to experience him? What would he drive out of us to make room for others to find him? Those are the things that I want to unpack together in our corporate discussion time.
1. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What tables would Jesus need to flip in our own lives? What things would he judge in our corporate lives that have gotten in the way of being inclusive and allowing others to experience him? What would he drive out of us to make room for others to find him?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today is the first Sunday of Lent and the first Sunday of our series called The Last Week looking at the last week of Jesus life here on earth.
Before we jump into the Scripture and the story of the Sunday before Jesus death on the cross, better known as Palm Sunday, I thought I would share a little bit on Lent for those who didn’t grow up in the church or are unaware of what Lent is. Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, repentance, and fasting in order to grow closer to God. It’s the forty days before Easter. Lent excludes Sundays because every Sunday is like a little Easter. Basically, it’s about one-tenth of a year (like a tithe of time). Lent runs from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday.
Over the next 6 weeks we will look at the Last week of Jesus life. We will walk through Palm Sunday, Holy Monday and Tuesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We will also spend 1 Sunday (March 22) in service to our world. And we’ll spend one Sunday gathering around the Table for a time of reflection, a simple meal, feet washing, and communion. And all throughout these next 6 weeks we’ll be looking through the lens of the gospel of Mark as he tells the story of Jesus last week on this earth.
So today we’ll be looking at the story that occurs on the beginning of Holy Week, sometimes called Palm Sunday but also called the Triumphal Entry. This story happens in all 4 of the Gospels but we’ll be looking at this story, as I mentioned before, through the lens of Mark. So turn to Mark 11:1-11 as we begin to talk about and explore what kind of King is Jesus.
Mark 11:1-11 tells the story this way, “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”
So today we are going to look at this familiar text but through a new lens, the lens of Kingship and royalty. We are going to talk about what kind of King is Jesus and we’ll see that this story begins to show us what kind of King Jesus actually is. We’ll also see the connections between this story, and the story of Moses and the Exodus. And we’ll also unpack the political and religious understandings that are happening within this story.
Now the first thing that you need to know about is when this story took place. It happened during Passover, which commemorates God delivering the Israelites out of the hand of the world’s first superpower/empire Egypt. Being that this took place during Passover Jerusalem would have swelled to twice the size that it normally was. Travelers and Pilgrims would be there as would the powers that be. You see Passover again was all about freedom time and kingdom time. The time when all the hopes and dreams of freedom, of God’s sovereign hand, and God’s deliverance would again happen. The Jewish public were looking for a second Moses, one to deliver them out of the hands of Rome, the current Empire under whose thumb they currently resided. They were looking for a King in the line of David who would ride into Jerusalem, kick out the Romans and set up a new Empire/Kingdom. And their eyes turned to Jesus. Their messianic hopes rested on Jesus.
So Jesus made the trip from Jericho up to Bethpage, and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. The trip from Jericho to Jerusalem is only 17 miles but goes from 825 feet below sea level to 2500 hundred feet above sea level, rising more than 3000 feet in such a short distance. When travelers would crest the hill at Bethpage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem would come into view. Jerusalem, the home to their hopes, dreams, and their faith. It reminds me in some small way of the first time that I saw the Tetons rising from the earth. Kim and I were driving in Wyoming and we crested a hill and off in the distance we got our first view of the Tetons and it took our breath away.
Once Jesus and his disciples climbed that hill, their destination came into view, the city in which the son of man would be crucified as a common criminal. When their arrived Jesus sent two disciples into the village of Bethany (where Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived) to get a colt that no one had ever ridden. This is the second and third pieces of evidence in connecting this story to Jesus being King and finding out what kind of King he is. You see in the Mishnah (Mishnah is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the “Oral Torah”. It is also the first major work of Rabbinic literature) there is an instruction that says “no one may use an animal on which a king rides” So Jesus got two of his disciples to get a colt that no one had ever ridden knowing that this was going to set off flags in his disciple’s minds that this move was a royal move, a coronation if you will. That was the second piece of evidence in seeing Jesus as King.
The third piece was his choice in choosing not to walk but to ride into Jerusalem. His choice, gives us a clue into what type of King Jesus is. You see a warrior King (like King David) would have gotten a war horse or something very majestic. But Jesus got a colt and was seeking to show his disciples and others that he was a King of peace. Colts were ridden by men of peace not by men of war. Also Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy about the coming peaceful King and his Kingdom from Zechariah 9:9 which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a war horse to establish his Kingdom. No, he rode on a peace animal into the heart of the empire to have the empire eventually kill him and shed his blood in order for his Kingdom to be established. Instead of a King who shed others blood, he had the empire shed his blood. All of the while being a King, a King of peace, again symbolized by his choice of animals.
We also see the royal connection related to an earlier coronation found in 1 Kings 1:38-40 with the coronation of Solomon, “So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule and brought him to Gihon. There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.” This doesn’t sound too different than what we read in Mark 11.
So once they had gotten the colt, they spread cloaks on it as a saddle, and then Jesus got on it and off they went. Now here is where we see another royal or kingly understanding and expectation that the people had for Jesus. They began to spread their cloaks and branches on the ground in front of Jesus. And they began to shout “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” There are a few things that we can see from this part of the text that shows us that the people believed him to be King, but not the kind of King he actually was. No, they pictured him like all the other kings. Jesus however was not the sort of royalty that either Israel or the rest of the world were used to.
There is an Old Testament tradition that when one of Israel’s Kings of old was proclaimed King in defiance of an existing one, his followers would spread their cloaks under his feet as a sign of loyalty (see 2 Kings 9:13). They were determined to make a statement about what they thought was going on. They would also wave branches that they had cut from the trees to make a celebratory procession for this King. This too carried “royal implications”. So the people laid down their cloaks and waved palm branches, no doubt knowing what they were doing. They were seeking to proclaim Jesus king in defiance of the current rulers, not only the Jewish ones but even more importantly that rulers of the Roman Empire. They believed that now was the time, and Jesus was the man. Jesus was going to deliver them from the hands of their oppressors.
You see their hopes were not in a King of Peace, but in a King of war when they shouted, “Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our father David”. They were hoping that Jesus would initiate again a Davidic Kingdom. A Kingdom where the Messiah would rule and reign over Israel and not some foreign empire. Where a Jewish person would establish Jewish rule and reign and lead his people to freedom, deliverance, and prosperity not seen since David was King. All their hope and dreams from all those years under the thumb of Rome come exploding to the surface and they proclaim Jesus King. But as we see less than a week later Jesus, the King not spilling the blood of his enemies and establishing his Kingdom, but allowing his enemies to spill his blood and establishing his Kingdom of peace, salvation, redemption, and reconciliation.
We have definitely seen in this account of the triumphal entry that Mark is definitely emphasizing the idea of Jesus as King. I believe that this coronation if you will, this triumphal entry was one of the many reasons that came together that week in order to get Jesus killed. Royalty and others in power want to stay in power, and when they see a challenge to their power and throne, they fight it with all their power and strength.
No doubt, as we have seen in this story, that Jesus is indeed the King, but not in the way that many expected him to be. He is indeed the King of Kings. His rule and reign will move on from this time forward or as Handel’s Messiah says, “The kingdom of this world Is become the kingdom of our Lord, And of His Christ, and of His Christ;And He shall reign for ever and ever, For ever and ever, forever and ever,” But what does this mean for us today? What does it mean that Jesus is in fact King, but not in the way that we expect or even hope? How does this affect the way we live? How does this affect the way we read the rest of Scripture? And what are you seeking to lay down into front of King Jesus showing him your loyalty to his rule and reign? These are some of the questions that we’ll unpack together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What does it mean that Jesus is in fact King (though not in the way we expect or hope)? How does this affect the way we live? How does this affect the way we read Scripture?
3. What are you seeking to lay down in front of King Jesus and therefore showing him your loyalty to his rule and reign?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Good morning! Today, we are wrapping up our 7-part iDoubt series. You can find the sermon notes from the first 6 parts at www.veritaschurchpa.com. Today’s topic: How do we share our faith in a way that won’t push others away?
We will look at the Scripture for today, from I Peter 3, in just a moment. I would like to begin with the same disclaimer that Ryan has put on each installment of this series thus far. It is important for us as brothers & sisters in Christ to agree right now that it is okay to come at this question from different vantage points. We can also agree that we are allowed to express different points today, & that, if we do, we should do so with an attitude of love and grace. Let us explore this question, seeking God’s truth, & submitting ourselves as a community to Jesus. Through Christ, we can have love & grace for everyone – even those who we might strongly disagree with.
The key verse here is verse 15, but let’s look at some more of its context for a fuller picture. Let us read I Peter 3:13-18:
I Peter 3:13-18 (NIV)
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
It is natural for those of us who have been – & are being – saved by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, His death & resurrection, His victory over sin & over death, to want to share about it. We have been invited into the larger story, to know our Creator, our Savior, & to live for a greater purpose. It only makes sense that this reality would be central to our lives as Jesus’ followers, & that we should unashamedly identify with Him & be happy to let others know it. The question is – what does that look like in day-to-day life? Are we to direct every conversation into a discussion about Jesus? Should we be willing to bully people into believing as we do?
Make no mistake, the truth that we desire to share when we speak of “sharing our faith” is not merely a mental assent. It is possible, on an intellectual level, to know quite a lot ABOUT Christ, without actually KNOWING Him. I have heard a saying about the importance of knowing Christ being not just in our mind, but in our heart – making that “18 inch move” from head to heart. What I think that phrase is trying to express is that knowing Christ is about relationship – about trusting, about conversation, about becoming more like Jesus because we have been around Him & know what He is really like.
I see sharing my faith as more about introducing a person to my best friend & less about winning a debate. And that fundamentally shapes how I would answer the question we are exploring this morning. You see, I don’t think it is ME that does the saving, but rather God working through the Holy Spirit in the lives of others that saves them. That does not mean that I have no responsibility in the matter – I am to be Christ’s hands & feet to others, to be a vessel of His grace & love, & that may take a variety of forms, depending on who it is that Jesus has put in front of me. A good question to ask ourselves is, “What is the Good News to this person right now”? If it is your birthday, & what you really would like is day trip to New York City, & I ignore any hints that you have been dropping to that extent, & just get you what I think you might like, & I end up getting you a bowling ball, you might get the sense that I don’t know you very well, or don’t care to. Maybe I just really like bowling, so I figured that a bowling ball would be a great gift, never mind that you have never shown the faintest interest in bowling. It is a somewhat silly example, but it says a lot about how important it is to earn the right to vulnerability with another person. To get to know Christ requires some vulnerability, some openness to the Truth of Christ, & I need to approach it with more than just a persuasive argument. And that is where the gentle, humble element of our faith-sharing comes in. Matthew Henry said, “The readiness of the Christian’s defence of himself and the Church from all moral aspersions is not to be marred by any self-exaltation or improper confidence.” We are vessels for sharing Jesus’ truth, not trumpeting what wonderful communicators we are, or what big hearts we must have for caring to share the Good News with other people.
The song “Hands & Feet” by The Brilliance illustrates a lot of what I have been talking about. I want to take a few moments & play the song for you – here it is.
Hands & Feet
by The Brilliance
For all the strides we’ve made
For all our blessings
We’ve fallen far away from truth
Turning our face away
From this hurting race
We’ve turned our face away from You
We want to be Your hands, Your feet
Without words we’ll let our actions speak
For every broken heart
For every widow
For those without shelter from the rain
We lift our eyes to You
Looking for answers
When we have been called to ease the pain
We want to be Your hands, Your feet
Without words we’ll let our actions speak
So here we are
Words can only go so far
Draw us closer Your heart
Bring us back to You, bring us back to You
We want to be Your hands, Your feet
Without words we’ll let our actions speak
We want to be Your hands, Your feet
Without words we’ll let our actions speak
Here we are
Words can only go so far
Draw us closer to Your heart
Bring us back to You, bring us back to You
Bring us back to You, bring us back to You
Please understand, I do not mean to play down the usefulness of words when sharing our faith. We talked last week in our discussion about the “blessing strategy” & the “speaking strategy” for sharing our faith, though I grant that I may not have the wording of the terms we used exactly right. I think that a balance is possible. And, as much as the popular quote that St. Francis of Assisi may or may not have said – the “Preach the Gospel, & use words when necessary” quote – is used, words are extraordinarily valuable in sharing our faith, when they are backed up by our actions & shared in love as we have earned relationship with others. Interestingly, something that St. Francis of Assisi definitely DID write sheds some more light on how to share our faith. He said, “…love one another, as the Lord says: ‘This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.’ And let them show their love by the works they do for each other, according as the Apostle says: “let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.’” He also said, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” & “…As for me, I desire this privilege from the Lord, that never may I have any privilege from man, except to do reverence to all, and to convert the world by obedience to the Holy Rule rather by example than by word.” Consider also, though, Romans 10:14, in which Paul says, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” I believe that the right approach comes from balancing both of these factors.
To quote the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “To love another person is to help them love God. “ What does this mean to you? What does sharing your faith in Christ mean to you? Let’s discuss this.
1. What thoughts/comments/pushback/encouragements do you have based on these Scriptures & this message?
2. What experiences have you had with sharing your faith in Christ with others, whether in word or deed? What words or actions by others do you feel helped point you to Christ?
3. So what – what does this mean for you individually, & for us as a church community?
Today we are looking at probably one of the most challenging questions that we got, but a question that if you are engaging with anyone in our world and culture, you’ll eventually have to answer in one way or another. The iDoubt: Questions about Faith question that we’ll be exploring today is “Is Jesus the only way?”
This question is a question that each of us as follower’s of Jesus need to wrestle with, think through, and seek God on. I think too often this question however become a litmus test when asked. From the more “conservative” side of things, it is a question on whether or not you are an orthodox Christian or not. From the more “liberal” side of things it is a question about tolerance, supposed bigotry, pride, and arrogance.
So let me reiterate something that I’ve said a few times during this series and then I have a few more things to say before we jump into the Scripture for the morning. First, let’s agree right now that it is okay to come at this question from different vantage points. That is okay. Can we also agree that we are allowed to express different points today but can we also agree to do it with an attitude of love and grace. Can we seek God’s truth in this question and submit ourselves as a community to Jesus? And can we have love and grace for everyone even those who you might strongly disagree with.
Secondly, when we approach this subject of the exclusivity of Jesus, we go to the text that we’ll be looking at today especially verse 6 in John 14. This text has been used to clobber people over the head with Jesus. Can I say that that posture is wrong. Anytime we have used this text to demean, put down, cause harm, hurt, or inflict violence on someone else, this is not in the spirit of Jesus. When the church uses violence it ceases to be the church and becomes the world. We have seen too many times Churches and Christians who have been arrogant and violent in how they have presented the gospel. So let’s agree never to use this text as a means of clobbering someone.
Thirdly, I want to say straight out that I believe that all truth is God’s truth. I believe that there is a level of truth and beauty in all religions. There is something to be affirmed in almost every religion (I wondered about whether Satanism was a religion and is there something to be affirmed in that or not). I never want to pretend that I am a better person, more worthy, etc.. because I follow Jesus. Our relationship with Jesus should never lead us into arrogance, self-righteousness, or condemning of others. Jesus never condemned anyone.
Fourthly, let’s move this discussion away from which religion is right and which religion is wrong. I am not referring to religion in this message. The text that we’ll be looking at isn’t about religion. It is first and foremost about Jesus, and to be completely honest, Jesus didn’t come to start a religion. He came so that we could be reconciled and redeemed to God, each other, and the world/creation around us. And live in this reality that he called the Kingdom of God.
And lastly, something that we’ll seek to address in this message is the secondary question, “If Jesus is the only way, what is he the only way to?” Is this Jesus’ way of saying “I am the only way to heaven” or is there more to it than that?
Okay. With those things out of the way let’s turn to our text for today John 14:1-9 and let’s talk about the question, “Is Jesus the only way?”
John 14:1-9 says, ““Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
Let’s do a little bit of historical research that will help us understand this passage a little better before we really get down to verse 6.
First thing that we need to know about this chapter and the next 3 chapters (running from chapter 14-17) is that this section is called the Farewell discourse and Jesus spends a great deal amount of these chapters informing and commenting on his impending death on the cross. So much of the conversations in these chapters relate to prepping his disciples for what was to take place and how this one event in history would shake the foundations of the world as they knew it, and how that event would then ripple throughout history into our own time and beyond our time.
Let’s look deeper at verses 1-3 and see what Jesus is actually saying Verses 1-3 says, ““Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus here is using a metaphor of marriage to talk about relationship with him. There is definitely a Bride and Groom metaphor that is taking place. To understand that we need to understand the 1st Century Jewish betrothal and marriage process. The first step in 1st Century Jewish marriage process is the marriage covenant. The Father of the groom would give a dowery to the Bride’s family and therefore establishing a marriage covenant. When the Bride agreed to the arrangement that is when the betrothal would begin. The second step is that the son would return to his Father’s house to prepare the bridal chamber and the annex (connected to the Father’s house) that the bride and groom would live in. This process of building their living quarters would take roughly a year. The third step would be that once the annex was completed, the Father of the Groom would give the okay to the groom that the annex was ready and it was time to go get his bride. Then the groom and the groomsmen would set off for the bride’s house. Although the Bride was expecting her groom to come for her, she didn’t know the time of His coming, and as a result the groom’s arrival was preceded by a shout, which forewarned the Bride to be prepared for his coming. Once the groom got his bride, he would take her back to the Bridal chamber and consummation the marriage.
So we see this marriage process being talked about in relation to Jesus’ church, his bride. Here we see the process of Jesus giving us a marriage contract, by dying on the cross, then going to his Father, and eventually resurrecting. Now the interesting thing about this is that most of the time when we hear the word place in this text we think of heaven. That this text is about going to heaven. Now that is certainly true. But I believe Jesus is talking not only about a physical place but probably more so about an abiding relationship. So the reference’s to the Father’s House are not to be taken totally as a synonym for heaven. Instead this reference to the Father’s house needs to be read first in the context of mutual indwelling of God and Jesus. This idea of Jesus taking up residence within us has been stressed from the opening verses of the Gospel. So yes, as I said before, there is the idea of heaven in this passage, but even more so it is about a relationship here and now with Jesus, and allowing Jesus to live in and through you. And him creating a way for us to enter into God’s Family and to live out the reality of the Kingdom of God.
And so after Jesus talks about his going away, he tells them that, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus, I believe is talking and reminding the disciples of the last 3 years of their lives in which they spent learning the way of Jesus. He is saying that you have been with me for 3 years and you have seen the way that I have lived, how I have loved people, even my enemies, how I have served others, how I have healed others, how I have lived out the Kingdom of God in front of you. And so he is reminding them of all these things and is saying to them, “You know the way to the Kingdom. Just follow my example.”
Then Thomas, I believe missing what Jesus was really saying, asks Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas is frightened about the prospect of Jesus going away, and how he would live without Him. He was also struggling with the realization that the earthly Kingdom where Jesus and the disciples reigned in power was not going to happen, and that Jesus was not going to kill to take over the reigns of the empire, but be killed by the empire to set up his rule and reign and the Kingdom of God. One thing that many people think he was asking that he really wasn’t was “Jesus are all non-Christians going to Hell?”
And so we come to the verse which all of you have been wanting some help in understanding. In verse 6 Jesus replying to Thomas’ question about knowing the way, says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This verse is multifaceted and multidimensional. First of all Jesus is seeking to answer the question that Thomas asked in the verse 5 but also comfort him. What Jesus is saying here to Thomas is something like, “When I’m gone, continue to do the works I do. Follow the pattern I have set before you in the way I lived my life, and you’ll be following the way. And when you follow the way, you’ll be in relationship with God through me.” This statement is connecting back to the beginning of the chapter where we talked about being in an abiding relationship with Him. What he is saying is if you want to know God, then know and live out how I lived my life. Because later on in this text we see him saying, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well” and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” The primary question that is being asked isn’t about access to heaven and Jesus is saying, “You have to get through me to get to God and be in heaven.” No the primary thing that Jesus is talking about here is about life in the Kingdom and being a disciple. John 14:6 doesn’t define who is in and who is out, it defines who God is for the disciples. That God is Father. It defines Christology for us that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,” (Hebrew 1:3) Gail O’Day has this to say, “The particularism of John 14:6-7 does de facto establish boundaries; it says, ‘This is who we are. We are the people who believe in the God who has been revealed to us decisively in Jesus Christ.” Rather than using it as a means of condemning others, it should be seen as a doxological statement of who we are as children of the Father through Jesus And so this statement in John 14:6 is about the incarnation of Jesus, coming to earth so that we could see what God is truly like. And then we can pattern our life around this God that we see in Jesus. And then live the Jesus way, the Jesus truth, and the Jesus life best known as the Kingdom of God. I like how Eugene Peterson puts it, “Only when you do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way do we get to the Jesus life.”
So the original question was “Is Jesus the only way?” I assume the ending of that question is “to go to heaven when you die”. But I don’t believe that this is the primary question that Jesus is answering in this text. I do believe that our question is part of what he is getting at, but a small part of it. (Look at what Luke says in Acts 4:11-12, “Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”) Do I believe Jesus is the way to the Father. Yes, I believe that Jesus and the Father are one. So that when you know Jesus you know the Father. I like what Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch say in Re:Jesus, “It is true that Jesus is like God, but the greater truth, one closer to the revelation of God that Jesus ushers in, is that God is like Christ.”
I think then that this text is asking us a few questions which take us back to the first week where we explored the question of “What is a disciple?” I think this text is primarily asking us these 3 questions: 1. Am I living the Jesus truth? Yes we need to live the Jesus truth but not isolate from the others because if we only focus on the truth it yields a disembodied orthodoxy which means all the right words with no behavior to make the words believable. We need all 3. 2. Am I living the Jesus way? Do I know how Jesus lived his life, and I am committed to living my life in the same way (through the Holy Spirit’s power)? And lastly 3. Am I living the Jesus’ life. Am I living out Jesus life in and through my own life?
So let’s talk about your questions, thoughts, ideas on the question itself “Is Jesus the only way?”, the message, and the Scripture. Let’s also talk about how we as individuals and as a community seek to live out the Jesus truth, the Jesus way, and the Jesus life and which one we struggle with the most. And what God might be saying to us and what we should do about it?
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have about the question “Is Jesus the only way?”, the Scripture and/or the message?
2. How as individuals and as a community live out the Jesus way, the Jesus truth, and the Jesus life? Which one of these do you have the hardest time living into?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today we enter our fifth week in our series iDoubt: Questions about Faith. We’ve been exploring some significant and deep questions together over the last few weeks together. We’ve talked about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We’ve talked about what salvation is and can you lose it. We’ve talked about what baptism is and is it mandatory for salvation or just a public declaration. And last week week was probably our deepest and (at least for me) most challenging topic- that being Is the bible reliable.
Today we are looking at an equally substantial and defining question. The question that was submitted was “How can you know if you are part of the ‘select few’ those who will be saved?” This question is exploring some fundamental questions within Christianity. The person asking this question, whether they knew it or not, was asking questions around soteriology- which is, in other words, the study of salvation or the theory of salvation…how does it work, who will be saved, what is salvation, etc.. This person also is asking about atonement- what took place on the cross two thousand years ago, who did Jesus die for, and what was accomplished by Jesus death and resurrection.
Historically speaking in relation to soteriology and atonement there have been three varying theories around the question of salvation. There is on the one hand, shown in even how the wording of the question is framed, the reformed side of things which says there is the select few or called the elect that Jesus died for, and that only the elect (or predestined) will be saved. And those who aren’t elect are predestined for eternal damnation. The second position is called universalism and it says there isn’t a select few that will be saved because everyone is the select few and everyone, no matter what, will be saved. There are two versions of this..the Christian universalism belief that says all while be saved through the work of Jesus on the cross, and through his resurrection. And universalism that says it everyone will be saved no matter what and no matter what God they worship or don’t worship. (Just as an aside, I don’t believe that either Christian universalism or universalism in general can be taught from a biblical standpoint….though I do believe we should desire that all are saved. I wish that Christian universalism was true because I do want all to be saved.) The last position historically falls more in line with Arminianism and the belief is that when Jesus died on the cross, he died for everyone, hat all have the possibility and the potential to be saved and that we have free will to chose to accept Jesus and his work for us on the cross or to reject it. The “select few”then are those who select Jesus or who opt in, if you will. There are, I believe, a select few, that will be saved, not because they are chosen to be saved, but that they opt in and follow Jesus. Matthew 7:13-14 makes it pretty clear that only a “few” will follow Jesus…“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” But this doesn’t mean that salvation is only limited. I believe in one way there isn’t a select few, Jesus died for all people and all can be saved. But in another way I do believe there are a select few who do choose the way of taking up their cross, denying themselves and following Jesus.
So let’s explore two Scriptures that will help us more deeply explore the question, “How can you know if you are part of the “select few” those who will be saved? First let’s look at 1 Timothy 2:4-6 and then we’ll also look at 2 Peter 3:9. So let’s turn to these Scriptures and see what they have to say about soteriology, atonement, and salvation.
1 Timothy 2:3-6 says, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time” This letter is to Timothy from the Apostle Paul and this part of the letter is about prayer and the importance of it in relation to worship, following Jesus, and even praying for rulers. And so in the midst of this section on instructions for worship we find these 3 verses about soteriology and atonement. So in verse 4 we read, “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” This statement is pretty radical because part of the people that Paul is speaking about are the people that the followers of Jesus’ that Paul is writing to are supposed to pray for in verse 2, “for kings and all those in authority.” These Kings and authorities would include people like Nero and other ungodly leaders. The Lord hadn’t written them off and neither should those who follow Jesus. The question then would be, “If Jesus desires all people to be saved, do yo also wish it, and if you do wish it, do you pray for it?”
So there is a lot in this passage that we need to explore together. First we read the words “wants all people to be saved.” The word wants can also be translated as wills as in “wills that all people to be saved.” Now there are two different verbs in the NT for will, first being determination and the other is desire. In this context the best word would be that God desires that all people to be saved. This verses then teaches that God desires, but doesn’t determine that everyone be saved. If God wants all to be saved, then why aren’t they, the question can be asked. It comes down to the difference between desires and determines. God desires all to be saved but doesn’t determine that all people are. To determine would mean that we would lose our free will and we would become robots. God desires for all men to be saved is conditioned on His desire to have a genuine response from human beings. He won’t fulfill his desire to save all men at the expense of making men robots that worship him from being simply programmed to. And so obviously this implies the possibility of men and women accepting it or rejecting it.
Next we need to look at what the Apostle Paul means by the word people. There are some who have tried to make this statement about all people to mean “all types of people” or all people from various tribes, ethnicities, groups, etc… So does all people mean all or all types of people? I truly believe that we need to take the plain reading of this text that all means all. That everyone has access to the gift of salvation extended by Jesus and through his work on the cross. Not that everyone will take the offer as we see in life and also in Matthew 7 that we mentioned before, but that the offer is for everyone.
In verse 5 we read these words, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” This is a crucial piece of our puzzle when we are talking about soteriology and atonement. That this discussion about salvation, and atonement points to Jesus, his life, death and resurrection. That there is enough in the work of Jesus on the cross for everyone. No one will be turned away because He ran out of love or forgiveness. This would also agree with Acts 4:12 which says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Salvation is in Jesus because as verse 6 spells out so plainly, “who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”
When you read verse 6 in the Greek it comes out reading more like this “who game himself as a ransom on behalf of all people.” This gets at our point again that this grace, this salvation, this work on the cross done by Jesus is not merely for a privileged few but for all. His sacrifice on the cross was inclusive not exclusive. Just look at one of the most famous Bible passages in all of the Bible, one that many of us probably memorized. I know it was my first Scripture that I memorized…John 3:16 which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Notice a few words in this verse including “the world” and “whoever believes” Again the work of the cross was an inclusive work not an exclusive work, and is for all people.
God wants people of every race, color, language, to come to him and find true salvation. And he is calling us, as his representatives here in this world, through this passage to pray for people and to be as inclusive as Jesus was. That if we want to see our friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.. come to faith and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and to begin walking this journey with Jesus, then we need to be in prayer for them. We need to be talking with Him about them on a regular basis. And then be praying for opportunities to share the love, grace, compassion and mercy of Jesus with them. And we need to be for all people, just like Jesus. That Salvation is open to all no matter the nationality, race, creed, sect, sexual orientation, etc…. And we should liberally share the gospel in word and deed. But this sharing of the gospel, of our faith, must not be forced on people. There should be no force in religion. Jesus wants all people to come to a knowledge of him. That word come implies not being forced. Anytime force is joined with Christianity, it ceases to be Christ-like and Kingdom-like. (examples like the Crusades, street evangelism, etc..) Jesus never forced himself on anyone and never will. And we shouldn’t either. People should have the free will to choose or not choose to follow Jesus. To either opt in or opt out.
Let’s move on to the next verse which is 2 Peter 3:9 and see how this verse written by the Peter, one of Jesus disciples, gets at the question about how to know if you are part of the “select few” those who will be saved. 2 Peter 2:9 says “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Now the context of this passage is related to the second coming of Jesus but it shows God’s heart and affection for all people. It proves that God has a sincere desire that all people should come to have a relationship with Him. That he is patiently waiting for people to come to Him. The word that we encounter in this passage is the Greek word pas which means all or everyone with no exceptions. It again spells out that salvation is available to all people and not just for a select few. But at the same time only a “few” will actually choose the narrow road.
So to straight out answer the question of “how do you know if you are part of the ‘select few’ those who will be saved?” let’s go back to the first week of our discussion on what does it mean to be a disciple. We talked about being an apprentice of Jesus, standing on his shoulder, learning how he lived his life, and then seeking to emulate it in our life, to live it out in and through us. And that he calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. That is how you know you are a part of the select few, or walking the narrow road mentioned in Matthew 7. Each person has the opportunity to be in right relationship with Jesus. Salvation is open to everyone, bought by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Kingdom is an inclusive Kingdom and Jesus is calling all people to come and be a part of the Kingdom of God and live life as a disciple of him. So my question back at the end of this sermon is “have you decided to follow Jesus? Have you opted in to his offer of love, grace, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation? He loves each and every one of us and wants to be in relationship with us. All we have to do is say yes to his offer. My prayer for each of us is that we have said yes to his offer and that we have begun to walk with Him and follow Him. If you haven’t said yes, today would be an amazing day to do so.
So let’s talk about applying this message. Let’s talk about other questions that come up in relation to our overarching question of discussion for today. Let’s unpack what it means to us as individuals and as a community that Jesus loves and wants a relationship with all people. How does this play out in our individual lives, our corporate life, and our missional lives?
1. What thoughts, comments, questions, insights, etc.. do you have regarding the question, the Scriptures and/or the message?
2. What does it mean to you to know that God desires everyone to be “saved” and come to a knowledge of him? How does/can/should knowing this impact you as an individual, us as a community, and our missional engagement with our wider community?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today we continue our 7 week series iDoubt:Questions about Faith looking at 7 questions that were submitted by some of you. We’ve explored questions like: What does it mean to be a disciple? What is salvation and can you lose it? And Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or is it simply a public declaration?
Today we cover probably one of the harder questions that we will explore in this series and it revolves around the text that we gather around each and every week. It revolves around this book that we call the Bible. The question that was submitted was “Is the Bible reliable?” And so we are going to explore this question together. But know that there is no one that I will be able to answer all the questions that come from that question. I can’t explain everything in 20 minutes or so. That is why I have some books and a For Further reading sheet in case you’d like to do some more reading and research around this topic. If you take a book let me know which one you took.
To explore this deep, tough, but essential question we are going to break it down into several sections of the sermon. So we’ll explore what and how the Bible came to be. We’ll talk about why I believe it is reliable through discussion on things like manuscripts, archeology, and facts. We’ll talk about what it is and what it isn’t. We’ll talk about the purpose of the Bible. And lastly we’ll look at what the Scriptures say about itself.
So the Bible is a collection of 66 Books. 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books. These 66 books were written over 1600 years, over 60 generations, by more than 40 authors on 3 different continents, in different circumstances and places, in different times, in 3 different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), concerning stories of controversial subjects but it speaks with one unified vision. The New Testament was all written within 2 generations of the time of Jesus which would be somewhere by the end of the 1st century at the latest. It means that many of those who would be reading the gospels could have been eyewitnesses to the accounts in the gospels. The 4 gospels, Acts and the 13 letters ascribed to Paul were regarded as authentic and authoritative from early on- as early as the early to mid end century. We possess literally hundreds of early manuscripts. There are dozen’s of NT manuscripts from the 3rd and 4th century and a few as early as the 2nd century. Let’s compare this to other ancient writings that people don’t normally question the accuracy and reliability of the manuscripts. Look at Plato. He wrote 427-327 BC, our earliest copy fragment is from 900 AD or a time span of 1200 years and only 7 copies. Aristotle was between 384-322 BC. Earliest fragment from 1100 AD or a timespan of 1400 years and there are 49 copies. What about Homer’s Iliad, one of histories best example of reliability, and accuracy. It was written in the 9th century BC. Our earliest fragment is from 400 BC or a time span of 500 years there are 643 copies and the accuracy of these copies is 95%. When we compare these to the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, we see the overwhelming evidence for the reliability and trustworthiness of our Bible that we have today. The NT was written between 40-100 AD, our earliest copy is from 125 AD or only a time span of 25 years. There are over 24,000 copies of the New Testament and the accuracy of the copy is 99%. In fact, when shepherds in Israel in 1946 found what we call the Dead Sea Scrolls, some 981 different texts (not all Biblical texts), researchers found that when they compared those ancient scrolls and texts to the texts that we have today in common use that our modern day texts were 98% similar to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Not only is the Bible reliable in that we have overwhelming historical evidence in relation to manuscripts, but we also can see the Bible’s reliability in relation to the idea that this work is not a work of mythology. Many of the places that are talked about in the Bible can be found today. When it mentions places like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, etc.. these places can be found on a map and can be visited. Even more obscure places have been found through archeological digs. Many of the names that are in the Bible have also been uncovered through archeology. Almost no one disputes that fact that there was a historical person by the name of Jesus of Nazareth. They might dispute who he was, but almost all historical scholars believer there was a person named Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago.
So let’s turn the corner and talk then about what the Bible is and what it isn’t. The Bible is a place where, according to N.T. Wright, “heaven and earth overlap and interlock.” and “is part of God’s answer to the ancient human quest for justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty.” The Bible is full of different genres like narrative, poetry, song, law, history, letters and apocalyptic literature. But overall the Bible is a story, a grand epic narrative (think more like Lord of the Rings than like a science text book from school), and a love story. A story in which we are invited to take part and have a role to play. It is also the story of God’s redemptive work in and for the world. It is the story of God’s interaction with humanity and humanities experience with God. This epic narrative has a plot. There are many scholars and theologians who have their own ideas of the plot line of the Bible. You have some who see it as a four act play that starts with Creation, then Fall, then Redemption, then Consummation. Brian McLaren has a 7 chapter story all beginning with C…Creation, Crisis, Calling, Conversation, Christ, Community, Consummation. But probably my favorite is, (surprise) N.T. Wrights 5 act epic where Act 1 is God creating the world, Act 2 is Humanity Falls, Acts 3 is God calls and works through Israel, Act 4 is the climax in the person and ministry and life of Jesus. And then Act 5 is where you and I come in as the church, we are called to live out the story, and also the very ending of Act 5 we know the ending. The question for us then with this concept that the Scripture is story is what story are you a part of? What story are you living out in the world? And then there is a time in every Christians life when we must come to embrace the Bible as our own story and the story of the Kingdom of God.
So if the Bible is an epic narrative, a story of God’s encounter with humanity, and our encounter with God, then what isn’t the Bible? The Bible isn’t a Science textbook or a textbook at all for that matter. I believe we do a huge disservice to the Bible when we hoist our modern scientific worldview back onto the worldview that is found in the Bible. The original authors did not see what they were writing as meeting the critiques of a 21st century audience. And so discrepancies that are in the Bible that we make a huge deal over (like how people were counted) simply weren’t that big of a deal in those days. The Bible isn’t a divine rule book of what we are to do and even more so what we aren’t supposed to do. It isn’t a law book or a constitution. Are there guidelines for living in the Bible? Of course, but it is so much more than that. The Bible isn’t an instruction manual on how to live..or like some people say Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It isn’t to be compared to an owner’s manual for your new car or your new vacuum cleaner. The Bible isn’t the fullest revelation of God. Yes it is one of the revelations from God which includes Scripture and the creation itself, but he fullest and best revelation of God is Jesus. And the Bible isn’t to be worshipped, that is called biblio-idolatry. Often Christians are called People of the book, but is that what we are called to be? People that are defied by “the book” or people defined by Jesus? Is the Bible important, of course it is. But we need to make sure that nothing comes in between us and Jesus, and that means the Bible as well. Let me ask you a question, when you hear “the word of God” what comes immediately to mind? The Bible or Jesus or both? Jesus is the ultimate Word of God (see John 1) and we come to know the ultimate Word of God through the Bible, the word of God. That is where the Bible points us to.
So now that we have talked about the Bible from the outside looking in, let’s open the Bible and see what the Bible says about itself. Let’s turn to probably the best known Scripture that refers to itself, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Apostle Paul in these two verses lays out what Scripture is and what the purpose of it is. Basically what Paul is saying is that the Bible is inspired by God. God did not physically write the book, and the authors weren’t just being dictated through. Some really conservative people believe in what is called the dictation theory where the authors literally were just dictating. But this theory is more muslim than Christian. Paul is saying that Scripture is inspired by God, written through the authors. Personalities of the authors are definitely alive and well in the text of Scripture. The writers, compilers, editors and even collectors of Scripture were people who, with different personalities, styles, methods and intentions, were nonetheless caught up in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the purposes of God. And the Bible therefore is to then enable God’s people to be “equipped for every good work” or in other words, to do God’s work in God’s world. The Bible fashions us, and forms us, it, according to Paul, “teaches us, rebukes us, corrects us and trains us.” Trains us to be God’s people in the world seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to be about his work in the world. We fall inline then with Christians down through the centuries who have said that the Bible was inspired by God or I like to say, as Paul does, God breathed. It was an act of his creativity. What else does this idea of God breathed bring up? It ties into the beginning where God formed mankind from the breath of his lungs and created us. God breathed again into mankind, gave mankind his creativity, and these authors wrote the Bible. N.T. Wright has this to say about the Bible, “The Christian Bible we know is a quite astonishingly complete story, from chaos to order, from first creation to new creation, from covenant to renewed covenant, and all firing together in a way that none of the authors could have seen but which we, standing back from the finished product, can only marvel at.”
So let’s look at another Scripture that the author makes reference to what Scripture actually is and what it isn’t. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” Paul writing to the church at Thessalonica calls the Scriptures what it is. It is the word of God. He also says what it isn’t. It isn’t just human words. Yes humans obviously wrote it but as I mentioned before these are the words of God, inspired by Him, and written by mankind. These believers in Thessalonica received the word of God as it actually was, the word of God. God breathed (which is what the word inspired actually means) into 40 different authors who then took up their writing instruments and wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We, as Christians living in the 21st century half a world away need to do the same thing that the believers in Thessalonica did….receive the Bible as the word of God and not just human words.
So even though we are talking about the Bible, and the Bible is definitely one of God’s revelation, if we make it strictly about the Bible, we are missing the point. We are missing the point of the Bible. Don’t look at the Bible, look through the Bible. Look where the Bible points. It points to and directs our gaze to Jesus. And then we should use the lens of Jesus to then go back into the text and read all of Scripture in the light of Jesus. The Bible somehow becomes an authoritative instrument of what God accomplished through Jesus- particularly his life, death and his resurrection.
So what is my prayer as we come to the discussion part of our time together? One that we would read the Bible more. We are become less and less Bible literate and that needs to be changed. We would spend time in it, reading it, meditating on it, applying it to our lives. Also that we would let it read us. Secondly, that we would begin to see it not just as a book for individuals but that it truly is a community book. It was written in community, to communities, and for communities. And that we as a community would engage the Scriptures together. We do that each Sunday as we gather but we also do that in 2 Community Groups that meet. We can do that by joining our Scripture reading group that reads the same Scriptures on the same day together. But that we could come up with other ways of engaging the Scriptures in community together. Thirdly, that hopefully we have seen that we can know that the Bible is reliable and we can trust it. (And again if you want to do further reading and research on this question, there are a few books that I have that you can borrow). And lastly that we would allow the Bible to point us to Jesus, His Kingdom, and the story that he is writing and wants to write in and through us. So what story are you living out and into? Your own or His?
So let’s talk about the Bible some more. What other questions do you want to unpack together regarding the reliability of the Bible? What are your thoughts on the Scriptures that we used? And lastly what is God saying to you and to us about his word and how we are to engage with it as individuals and as a community?
1. What other questions, thoughts, comments, insights, etc..do you have around our question “Is the Bible reliable?” that you’d like to share?
2. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, etc… around the Scriptures that we used (2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 1 Thessalonians 2:13)
3. What is God saying to you and to us about His word and how we can engage it as individuals and tougher as community?
So we are on our third week and our third question in our iDoubt: Questions about Faith series. We have covered the questions: “What does it mean to be a disciple?” and “What is Salvation and Can you lose it?” Today we tackle the question, “Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or is it simply a public declaration?” We’ll find out that again this question is strongly tied into our discussion about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, to follow him with your life and not just a mental ascent to a series of propositional truth phrases. That is why we began our series seeking to wrestle to the ground the concept of being a disciple of Jesus, and then seeking to answer the questions based on the dialogue and discussion around discipleship.
So the question for today again is “Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or simply a public declaration?” Now it might seem like this is a simple question to answer from our thoughts and from Scripture but let’s dive deeper into it, and we’ll see it isn’t as simple as it seems. There are various Scriptures that talk about baptism and its’ relationship with salvation. Let’s read two and see what we might learn and how we answer this question about salvation and baptism. And we’ll see that on the surface it might look like these two different Scriptures actually differ in their understanding of the relationship between salvation and baptism.
Let’s look at Acts 10:44-48 first then we’ll turn to 1 Peter 3:21.
Acts 10:44-48 is part of the encounter of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion and Peter. Earlier in the chapter we see that Cornelius has a vision and in the vision God tells him to send people to Joppa to have Peter come and visit him. He sends 3 people to find Peter. Almost at the same time Peter has a vision where a sheet comes down from heaven filled with unclean animals (representing the Gentile population) and God tells Peter to get up and eat. Peter turns him down, and God tells him to not label anything God calls as clean, unclean. The three men get to the house, call for Peter, tell him the story, and Peter goes back with them realizing that God was telling him the gentiles weren’t unclean. Peter preaches the gospel to all who gather including Cornelius and verse 44-48 pick up the rest of the story and their response to Peter’s preaching, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”
So let’s break down what happens in order. Peter preaches the gospel, the Holy Spirit comes upon his hearers, they receive salvation, Peter says “no one can stand in the way of these gentiles being baptized.” And then they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. It didn’t say that they got baptized and then received the Holy Spirit and salvation. Salvation came when each one of these Gentiles responded to Peter’s message with believing faith in their hearts, so that they were saved while they listened. Once they had received faith, baptism then was a recognition of the salvation that they had already received. Not one of the circumcised could object to Peter’s statement and decision to baptize these gentiles because as he put it, “they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” They realized that the Jewish believers and the Gentile believer’s were now on the same footing, there was no division anymore between Jew and Gentile. And so then these Gentile believers, after hearing the message of the Gospel, receiving the Holy Sprit, were then baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
But what exactly is Baptism anyway and what does it mean? Baptism can be described as a symbol and a pledge. It is a symbol, or an external sign of an inward change or an external sign of an interior faith. And it is a pledge to all who witness it to continue to die to self, and raise to new life in Christ. Most Anabaptists believe that baptism is an initiation into “membership” in the church and also see it as a boundary marker for the church community “over and against the world.” Baptism is not a means to salvation but a sign of it. The early anabaptist (or sometimes called The Radical reformers) believed there were was what they called a 3 Fold Baptism. The first fold was the baptism of the Spirit. This meant when the Spirit came upon people, they confessed their sin, they gave their lives to Jesus, and they began to walk in obedience to Jesus. The second fold was the baptism in water. One of the early Anabaptist said this about baptism in water, “Baptism in water in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit … is nothing other than a public confession and testimony of internal faith and commitment.” And the last fold was Baptism of blood. Now when we hear this we immediately think martyrdom, and many early Anabaptists were indeed killed party because of their belief in believer’s baptism. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that. It means that even after baptism and seeking to be obedient to Jesus, followers of Jesus would still face the constant struggle of the flesh and of this world. The Killing of the old man (or women) so to speak was the third, panful and continual baptism.
And so when we break it down baptism is about obedience and discipleship. We seek, as followers of Jesus, to live and walk like he walked. Jesus was baptized so we should as well. But the waters of baptism are not salvific or regenerative. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important or not necessary. Plenty of places in the New Testament salvation and baptism are intertwined. Many places when the gospel was preached and received the texts say the people “believed and were baptized.” Always in that order. And when the jailer in Acts 16 asks what he could do to be saved, Paul and Silas answered him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” The jailer and his family did so, and then they were baptized. Also the story in Acts 8 where Philip shares the gospel of Jesus with the Ethiopian Eunuch, the Eunuch pulls the chariot over near some water, and asks Philip basically, “what can stop me from being baptized” and we see Philip and the Eunuch getting out of the chariot, going into the water, and Philip baptizing the Eunuch.
So from the whole of Scripture it looks like an open and shut case regarding our question, “Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or is it simply a public declaration?” It seems like everywhere we turn salvation and baptism are linked, in that people come to believe in the Lord Jesus, are saved and then are baptized. It seems pretty clear that salvation happens first, and then people in accordance with following Jesus are baptized as believers. That baptism is not a means of salvation but a sign of it. But is it possible then to be a follower of Jesus, be a disciple, and not be baptized as a believer? I believe it is possible. It is possible to be saved without being baptized. But another question that I have is if Jesus was baptized, and we are to follow his example, his lead, and have our lives emulate his life, shouldn’t we follow his example of being baptized and then be baptized ourselves as believers?
But let’s take a look at another Scripture that on the surface might seem that it contradicts the idea that baptism itself isn’t salvific. Let’s look at 1 Peter 3:21 which says, “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” From a quick first reading it looks like Peter is saying that baptism saves. But let’s take a deeper look at what he is saying to see if that is indeed what he is saying. In this text (3:20) Peter is making the connection between Noah and the ark and baptism. He is saying that Noah’s building of the ark to rescue his family points forward to baptism. Noah’s ark involved people begin rescued through the great flood and is a fairly obvious picture of baptism. And so the flood is an antitype of baptism. The flood and Noah’s ark symbolizes baptism and baptism symbolizes salvation. Just as the water of the flood washed away sin and wickedness and brought a new world with a fresh start before God, the waters of baptism does the same thing, providing a passage from the old to the new. From death to life.
So baptism washes away sin and wickedness just like the flood, but Peter is careful here to point out that it isn’t the actual water of baptism that saves us but the spiritual reality behind the immersion in water. In fact, it is quite evident at the end of the passage what saves us. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:21 shows us that the water of baptism symbolizes a spiritual cleansing through the power of the Holy Spirit gained through Christ’s victory over death. Baptism then places us alongside the Messiah in his victory over death, sin, evil and hell by his resurrection. Baptism means that we die and then we raise to new life with the Messiah.
So I believe it is pretty clear from the whole of Scripture that salvation and baptism are linked together. That Scripture calls us to be saved and to show that salvation, that inner faith outwardly through the sacrament of baptism. But this doesn’t mean that baptism is in anyway salvific or brings salvation. Only belief in Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection brings that salvation. But at the same time, salvation is worked out in fear and trembling, and every day when we get up. And I believe part of that working out of our salvation, is being a disciple, and seeking to follow Jesus, his life, and his example. And I truly believe then that as a disciple of Jesus, if we want to follow him that that will eventually lead us into the waters of baptism. Do I believe baptism is mandatory for salvation? No, they are as I said two different parts but are linked together in Scripture. I would encourage anyone who has either not been baptized before (at all) or who was baptized as an infant before coming to faith in Jesus for yourself, to pray and seek God and see if he might be calling you to seal your commitment to him in the waters of baptism. To symbolize your inner faith externally by being baptized. To go down into the waters, dying to yourself and your old flesh, and rising out of the water into new life with Jesus. I would be more than happy to sit down with anyone, answer questions, and have a dialogue about baptism.
So let’s unpack this question a little bit further together. What are your questions about this question, the Scriptures and/or the message? What are your thoughts about the connection between salvation and baptism? How does this play out in our missional engagement in the wider world? What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
1. What thoughts, comments, questions, insights, etc.. do you have about the question, the Scriptures and/or the message?
2. What are your thoughts about the connection between salvation and baptism? How does play out in our missional engagement with the wider world?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today we tackle our second question in our series iDoubt: Questions about Faith. As I mentioned last week, this series came from 7 questions that people here at Veritas submitted. Also as I mentioned last week there will be times during this series in which we might disagree during our time of exploration and discussion. We might come at the question from different places and end up in different places, and I believe that is okay. Let’s agree today that in the midst of disagreement that we’ll stay in the tension, stay in the relationships, and agree to disagree. Too often in the church when we disagree with each other, there goes the relationship. So let’s buck that trend, and actually stay in relationship, even if you disagree with someone.
Today our second question also ties into our discussion from last week. Last week the question was “What does it mean to be a disciple.” We talked about the fact that a disciple is one who apprentices themselves to Jesus. We stand at his shoulder watching and learning from him, and then seeking to live his life in and through ours. He calls us to be disciples by taking up our cross, denying ourselves and following him. Not an easy thing to do.
Today the question is “What is salvation and can you lose it.” Many of us in our lives have probably experienced a time when someone we had spent time with, maybe discipled, been in youth group or church with, decided to walk away from Jesus. And we are left with questions like, “Were they really Christians to begin with?” “Are they still saved because they made a profession of faith at some point in their life.” “have they lost their salvation?” And so we thought we’d explore this question because, I believed, we probably have all been there and have known people who used to follow Jesus.
But actually when this question was submitted it just referred to losing your salvation. But salvation is one of those words in which we think we know what it means but a lot of time we don’t really. So I thought I would explore what salvation is, and then we can go from there to answer the question about whether you can lose it or not. Because I believe how you define salvation will lead to seeing whether or not you could lose your salvation. And as we’ll see in a bit, I truly believe our discussion about discipleship ties neatly into how we view salvation and our question that we’ll explore today.
I believe that if you mention the word salvation to any western Christian and you’ll probably hear the answer that it means going to heaven when you die. But is that what salvation truly is biblically speaking? I think if we believe salvation is a one time contractual agreement that we enter with God. (ie…when I say yes to making Jesus my Savior- not necessarily my Lord- then he is obligated to let me into heaven when I die. But I don’t necessarily have to be a disciple and actually follow him) than we think of salvation in terms of an end destination. And when we think in those terms, then questions like can I lose my salvation take on a bigger role in our life. But if salvation is something other than just about going to heaven when we die, we can see the question about losing salvation as actually less important than before. (Not that it isn’t important). We start to see how salvation and being a disciple are wrapped up together. It is like two parts of the same coin. Jesus rescues us from sin, death, evil and hell and also rescues us for life and life to the fullest (John 10:10) (that’s his part) and then our response needs to be to accept his rescue, but then live it out on a daily basis (and that is our part). Taking up our cross and following him. NT Wright says this about salvation, “the work of salvation, in it’s fullest sense, is 1. about whole human beings, not merely souls. 2. about the present, not simply the future and 3. about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.” We need to realize this idea that we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. That we have been saved 2,000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross to set the world right (including our relationship with God, others, and the world) as well as when we said yes to following him. That we are being saved each day as we take up our cross, follow him and live a life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. And that one day if we continue walking in him, that we’ll be rescued fully, but not just ourselves but the entire cosmos will be saved and put right, the way that it has always meant to be.
Looking at salvation then as connected to discipleship, we begin to realize the importance of the everyday decision of taking up your cross, as some translations say, daily. You see, most anabaptist never thought of salvation in terms of a transactional guarantee of passage to heaven, but more concerned with the following of Jesus. The discipleship that he calls us to. Salvation then is something we attain by remaining on a path of obedience to Christ. Not that we can save ourselves, only God does that. But, it is like the Scripture that says, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, Jesus calls us to work it out.
Now you probably know by my discussion of salvation how I answer the question about whether we can lose our salvation. But let’s know look at a Scripture and see how it might help us unpack this question even further. Hebrews 6:4-6 says this, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”
The first thing we need to know about this passage is related to it’s wider context within the book of Hebrews. One of the reasons for writing the book of Hebrews was a call for the church to be faithful and to persevere till the end. You see the book of Hebrews was primarily written to Jewish Christians who were familiar with the Old Testament and were being tempted to revert back to Judaism or at the very least Judaize the gospel (add Jewish rules and regulations to the practice of the gospel). And so we see this call for the church to persevere to the end throughout the entire book.
Another thing we need to be aware of in the book of Hebrews is that it is filled with what is called warning passages. There are 5 warnings passages, of which the text that we read is part of 1. The 5 warning passages are 2:1-4, 3:4-4:13, 5:11-6:12, 10:19-39, and 12:1-29. Each warning passage follows the same pattern. First the subjects or audience are in danger of committing a sin. Secondly, the sin that leads to. Third, there is a exhortation to not fall into sin, which then if not followed, leads to 4. consequences of that sin.
There are 4 views of this particular warning passage. Or put another way there are 4 views of who the intended audience is for the warning. The four views are the hypothetical view, the false believer view, the true believer view, and the covenant community view. The first view is that this warning is real but the sin (the falling away) has neither been committed nor can be committed since, according to this view, true believers can’t fall away. It is a way to jar people back into perseverance. The false believer view is that the audience of these warnings are not true believers and that those who could commit that sin couldn’t be true believers. The covenant community view is that individual Christians aren’t in mind of the author, that the warnings are directed to Christian communities, and they are being warned about the rejection of God as a community. The last view, which I personally hold to is the true believer view. This view is that the audience of the warning passages are true believers in every observable sense, can commit the sin of following away, and can lose their salvation. Hence the call and warning to persevere to the end in their faith.
Now with that background in mind we can see that this warning follows the same pattern. The subjects in Hebrews 6:4-6 appear to be believers. We read verse 4-5 which lays out the case that the people the author is talking about were believers. Verses 4-5 read, “it is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age” We see that these individuals, I believe, had experienced the grace of God. They received the Holy Spirit (how can you share something you don’t have?) And they had been enlightened. I truly believe they were saved. Even the author of the Hebrews, I believe, treats these people as true believers. Obviously, only God truly knows this but by every observable method, these people were Christians.
Secondly the sin in this warning passage is the sin of apostasy, which is the abandonment or renunciation of following Jesus. This is understood, in this passage and other places, as the deliberate and public refusal to submit to God and his will for people in Jesus Christ. We read this in verse 6 in relation to falling away and being brought back. We also have to see that this falling away is in relation to rejecting Jesus. As long as people are in the act of rejecting Jesus they can not feasibly turn back to him. That is why at the beginning of this text, the author uses the word impossible. Not that it is impossible for someone who was walking away to return to faith. But that according to Scot McKnight, “The contention that “impossible to repent” means only an inability to return to a former state of intimate fellowship with God is rendered at most unlikely by our synthetic approach. If one examines the list above, especially the threatening dangers found at 10:26-31, one is pressed to agree what the author is not dealing here with the impossibility of reclaiming a recalcitrant sinner (who will nevertheless be saved in the end) but with eternal damnation because that person has apostasized from a former commitment to God’s salvation in Christ.”
When we break it all down, this text is honestly not really about losing your salvation or even the question can one lose their salvation. What this text is really calling each of us to is to continued maturity in our discipleship. To not get comfortable with where we are and get stagnant. But to continue moving forward and growing deeper in our journey with Jesus. The author of this book puts it this way, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.” What we see also before the text that we looked at is the author’s call for the church to move beyond the milk and grow deeper in Jesus. In Hebrews 5:11-14 we read, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
My prayer in relation to this question of whether you can lose your salvation is that we would see salvation as being connected to Jesus in discipleship and that discipleship is an everyday, day in and day out, get out of bed, and make a decision to follow Jesus. Salvation isn’t just a one time decision. It is an every day decision to follow Jesus. And that when we encounter someone who once walked with Jesus, we will continue to walk with them, loving them, serving them, and praying that they would return and begin to walk with Jesus again. We wouldn’t either say, “Well they were saved before and you can’t lose it so they are good.” or “You can lose your salvation and they have lost it for good.” The good news in the second situation is that the journey is not done and there is time to help disciple people back into the Kingdom.
How is this passage speaking to you? How do you read it? How have you encountered this question before and how have you handled it with others who have “walked away”? How are you growing in your faith each and every day? What spiritual disciplines are helping you work out your salvation with fear and trembling? And how are you discipling people who seem to be going away from Jesus? Those are some of the questions we’ll unpack together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have about the question, the Scripture and/or the message? How do you read this text?
2. Have you experienced this question in a personal way? Share a story that connects to the question? How have you or how are you continuing to disciple this person?
3. How are you growing in your faith each and every day? How are you working out your salvation with fear and trembling?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?