(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
Mark 8:34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
How would the early Christians have understood Jesus’ command that his followers must “take up your cross and follow me?” Is there any application of this to us today?
The earliest Christians were receiving these words in the context of persecution, and therefore they would have understood that to be a follower of Christ meant to participate in suffering for His name. We certainly see this demonstrated throughout the lives of the apostles in the book of Acts. “Losing one’s life” does not necessarily refer only to the loss of physical life, but also to the potential loss of one’s position in the hierarchy of the community. As most of the earliest Christians were Jewish, their community life would have revolved in large part around the synagogue, from which they would be outcasts upon becoming followers of Christ. It was their persecutors who had “the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets” (cf. Mark 12:39). And just as Jesus warns them in another place in Mark, these early Christians (Jewish believers) would be “handed over to councils; and be beaten in synagogues; and would stand before governors and kings because of [Christ], as a testimony to them” (cf. Mark 13:9).
For us today, the “cross bearing” familiar to first century Christians may seem less relevant. However, as we reflect theologically on this passage, especially in light of New Testament admonitions regarding our communion with other believers, we will see that “cross bearing,” or the more accessible image of “burden bearing,” is the unique mark of a follower of Christ. Now, as we “bear one another’s burdens,” we “fulfill the law of Christ” (cf. Galatians 6:2). Christ’s commandment to us is that we “love one another as he has loved us” (cf. John 13:34; 15:12). And by this we know that we are his disciples: when we love one another (cf. John 13:35). And this love “covers a multitude of sins” (cf. 1 Peter 4:8) as we “confess our faults to one another” (cf. James 5:16)—in denial of ourselves and self-righteousness, silencing the voices of all accusers, either from within or from without--and “restore one another in a spirit of gentleness” (cf. Galatians 6:1), as those who are “holy and blameless in his sight” (cf. Colossians 1:22), because “he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that are now made the righteousness of God in him” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). We now bear the burdens for one another of sorrow, shame and guilt by comforting one another with the comfort of the Gospel (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2) and restoring one another to the joy of salvation in the New Creation, where all our judgments have been removed (cf. Zephaniah 3:15). This is the “cross” we now “take up” on one another’s behalf: “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), when he “removed our transgressions as far as the east is from the west” (cf. Psalm 103:12) and now “remembers our sin no more” (cf. Isaiah 43:25).
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
Why are the stories of the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage and the raising of Jairus' daughter presented together, and how do they relate to one another?
The story of the ceremonially unclean woman’s healing is “sandwiched” within the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter. The first thing we might notice is the contrast between the woman and Jairus. Not only is the woman “unclean,” and therefore untouchable to any law abiding Jew; Jairus, as a leader of the synagogue, would have been one to enforce such laws. The unclean woman’s presence is an intrusion as Jesus is on his way to Jairus’ home, which most certainly would have been appalling to most of those looking on, and maybe most especially to Jairus. But it is an intrusion welcomed by Jesus, who recognizes and rewards her faith.
The woman’s belief that she would be “made well” could also be read “saved” (Gr. Sozo, and is the same word used by Jairus when he asks Jesus to heal his daughter). This theme of touching Jesus’ clothes and being “healed” or “saved” is repeated in 6:36; and Jesus’ statement, “your faith has made you well [i.e., saved you]” is repeated verbatim in 10:56. We have precedent in Mark of physical healing being associated with spiritual healing (i.e., salvation, or the forgiveness of sins) in 2:5-12; and also of the healing that Jesus performs being a response to faith.
Whereas the woman only wants to touch Jesus’ clothes, and hopes to remain unnoticed; Jairus boldly asks Jesus to come into his home and “lay His hands” on his daughter. It is interesting that when Jesus addresses the woman, he tenderly calls her “Daughter,” which enunciates the wholeness of her healing—she is no longer an outcast, but a cherished family member of Israel’s household. (This may remind us of Isaiah’s image of the restoration of Israel's "daughters" which is prophetic of the New Jerusalem, cf. Isaiah 60:4). In both cases—the healing of the woman, and the raising of Jairus’ daughter—Jesus states that faith is required in order for healing and resurrection to take place. Whether you are an outcast of society, or a member of the religious and social elite, it is your faith that will “make you well,” a “wellness” that has significance beyond the present moment. As Morna Hooker states, "the child’s resurrection would be understood as a symbol of [Israel’s] own future resurrection. The story of the woman would have been of special interest to the Gentiles, since they too, had once been ‘outsiders’, excluded from the community of God’s people. Both stories would have brought reassurance of the new life and salvation which came to believers through the power of Jesus.” 
 Morna D. Hooker, Gospel According to Saint Mark, The (Black's New Testament Commentary), Reprint ed. (Hendrickson: Baker Academic, 2009), 148.
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
What is “the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” and why did Jesus say it was the “unforgiveable sin?” Can we commit “the unforgivable sin” today?
First, spanning out and considering a larger context, this incident (3:19-30) is preceded by Jesus’ confirmation that He is indeed claiming to be God, who alone can forgive sins, in direct response to a charge of blasphemy from the Scribes—if only at this juncture in their unexpressed thoughts (2:1-12). Now we see him charging them with blasphemy for openly ascribing the works of God to the works of demons, or “Satan” (the prince of evil spirits, or the adversary). So in Mark’s chronology we see Jesus’ identity progressively revealed, and along with this revelation we see the Jewish leaders becoming increasingly bolder in their accusations against him, and in their denial of his deity—which is their rejection of God’s revelation of His salvation to humankind in Christ.
Specifically to the question of why Jesus defines blasphemy as the “unforgiveable sin,” it is important to identify from the text what that “blasphemy” is. And we do have the definitive statement that Jesus is speaking against the “blasphemy” of those who had said, “he has an unclean spirit” (3:30). In other words, this unforgivable blasphemy—committed in a specific time and place by a specific group of people--was the denial of Jesus’ deity, and not simply by suggesting he was a mere man rather than “the Son of Man,” but with the added force of claiming the works he performed to prove his identity were in fact works he performed by the power of “Satan.”
I have occasionally heard people wonder, “what if I have committed the unforgivable sin?” It is important that we remember the time and place context of this story. Again, Jesus was speaking to a specific group of people, who had committed a specific offense—that of denying that His works, done physically in their presence, were the works of God, and ascribing those works instead to the works of “Satan.” This is not a position any of us are in today, historically speaking. Beyond this, our theology, and specifically our soteriology, will dictate our response to someone who fears they may be “unforgivable.” When our faith in the power of the cross assures us that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (cf. Romans 8:1) we can comfort one another with this “good news.”
 First century Jews would have indeed understood from their prophets that Israel’s Savior would be none other than God. In fact, it is not possible to call Jesus “Savior” without also calling him “God” (cf. Isaiah 43:3; 45:21; Hosea 13:4).
 “Soteriology” refers to the doctrine of salvation, or our belief about how one becomes saved, and would also encompass whether we believe one could ever “lose salvation.”
What Is Desired Is Kindness
Proverbs 19:22 What is desired in a person is kindness.
We've all experienced the loss of friendships. Sometimes we lose them because someone moves away, and we just "lose touch." Those "losses" are just part of the changing seasons of life. But sometimes friendships die, right before our eyes, for lack of kindness.
I have been contemplating the essence of kindness in the face of such a death. I keep thinking about this:
Ephesians 4:32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
Kind. Tender-hearted. Forgiving.
Regardless of how one may choose to analyze that admonishment from Paul grammatically, I believe that tenderheartedness and forgiveness are intrinsic qualities of kindness. For only a tender heart can be kind. And only one who has forgiven--unreservedly, extravagantly--out of the abundance of mercy they have been shown, is free to show unrestrained kindness. And is there any other kind? Is there such a thing as tempered kindness? Guarded kindness? No. For such would be perceived as feigned or forced, and therefore, most assuredly, unkind.
The face of unkindness masks a hard, rather than a tender and open, heart. And it reveals a reluctance to forgive. Usually we withhold forgiveness and harden our hearts to protect ourselves from being hurt. Again. It's natural. When someone has hurt us, we want to protect ourselves from being hurt again. So we may say, "I forgive you, but..." What we are really saying with that "but," is that we acknowledge what the other person has done to hurt us, and we recognize our responsibility to forgive them, but we aren't willing to acknowledge the hurt that we have caused them. We aren't ready to receive the forgiveness that we are so piously offering, and so desperately in need of ourselves, because to do so would require a humility and a vulnerableness that our hardened heart will not accommodate.
What I am learning? Protecting myself from being hurt again: it's just a form of pride. And "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." And it is His kindness that leads me to repentance." His kindness: His tender heart, and His forgiveness. And if I want my friend to repent? Again, it is kindness that leads. It is kindness that initiates. It is what drew my heart to God. It is what draws my heart to others, time and time again. But kindness only flows from a tender heart. There is no such thing as self-protective, hard-hearted kindness.
Thankfully, there is no vicious cycle with God, the way there is between us, because He doesn't withhold His kindness based on our failure to perform in return. He lavishes it upon us freely. His mercies are new every morning. But it's only when we receive them from Him with a tender heart, broken and contrite, that we can forgive others, "even as Christ forgave us." Because it's only when we come to the place of knowing that we are rich beyond measure in Him, that we can freely give out of that abundance, as though we had nothing to lose. And resuscitate a friendship dying for lack of kindness.
"What is desired in a friend is kindness;" in fact, kindness is the very air a friendship breathes. To prove this, we need only to look to the One who said, "I have called you friends," and be Him to one another.
A Revelation of Forgiveness
Recently we were having a discussion with some friends about "heaven." We had all attended a church service a few evenings earlier, the theme of which, coincidentally, was "what will heaven be like?" One of the passages the pastor quoted at church, and that we again referred to in our dinner discussion, was this from Revelation 21:
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away (Revelation 21:4).
Our futuristically minded neighbors agreed with us that this is a description of heaven. A place of no more tears and no more sorrow. So we went on to discuss some other passages which identify the tears and the sorrow, and what removed them…we discussed the cross and the nature of our redemption. We discussed the "Revelation of Jesus Christ" and how it was not about the history of our planet, but the history of our redemption in Him, the restoration of innocence and presence with God. It struck me that while much "food for thought" had been brought to the table, the same question was still being asked, and the query remained pretty much unsatisfied: "Is this all there is?"
This is all very related to discussions even among "preterists" who acknowledge with their lips a completed redemption and yet in their hearts are far from experiencing the full impact of forgiveness. Could this be why the preterist view fails to be convincing to futurists? That often times those who present it focus on proving something that happened in the past, and have still not even experienced the impact of what they are "proving" for themselves? I am speaking of the power of the cross.
What we need, preterists and futurists alike, is revelation: The Revelation of Forgiveness. Because forgiveness *is* heaven. Forgiveness *is* home. Our futurist friends look forward to "going home" someday. So many of our preterist friends do too. No wonder we have nothing to offer to those who are seeking (regardless of their perceptions or paradigms) ultimate satisfaction and eternal comfort and rest.
As I was contemplating my neighbor's responses afterwards to our discussion of "heaven", it was very apparent that no "time statement argument" of what happened empirically in 70 AD was going to reveal forgiveness to her. And it is only *that* revelation which will answer the longing in her heart for her heavenly home. If the Bible equates forgiveness with heaven, and even supposed believers in heaven fulfilled are not acknowledging that *all* of their sin has been forgiven, then doesn't it stand to reason that this is where our focus as preterists needs to be?
Fulfilled eschatology = fulfilled redemption. I get really perplexed when people say they want to focus on soteriology rather than eschatology. The two cannot be separated, because either eschatology is fulfilled, or neither is our salvation. I just think there are a lot of "preterists" out there who have not really grasped the impact or the context of the forgiveness of sin and until they do, their "AD 70 message" is going to fall flat.
Psalm 16:11 Thou wilt show me the path of life: In thy presence is fulness of joy; At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
This past summer on our family vacation, which included three extra teenagers, as each of ours brought a friend, I watched an Ellen DeGeneres DVD with the girls. I have always enjoyed her comedy and we laughed a lot. At the end of one of the segments, however, it got a little more serious, when she took comments and questions from the audience. A young woman came to the mic who would be recognized on the street immediately by any of us as being a lesbian. She immediately choked up to the point of having difficulty speaking, and expressed to Ellen what a difference she had made in her life by "coming out" and how it gave her hope for her future, and brought her comfort in the midst of all the pain she had experienced at the treatment she had received by those in her community, and some in her own family.
Ellen was visibly moved (sure, there may be some who would say it was all staged and contrived, but I am not speaking here to those people) and motioned for the woman to come forward. She bent down over the front of the stage and embraced her, at which point the woman sobbed uncontrollably in her arms.
My girls all teared up as most anyone with even a basic sense of compassion would. I was moved to tears as well, but perhaps for more specific reasons. I immediately wondered if she came from a "fundamentalist" background. It is a story I am sure you all have heard over and over again from homosexuals who speak out: they come out from "fundamentalism" and break free of its oppression. Invariably, anyone who comes out as a homosexual, and is a member of a church even remotely resembling the church in which I grew up, has only one option available to them, and that is to leave that church...or be expelled.
You know what's perplexing? You don't see gossips being compelled to leave the church. On the contrary, it's often a "the more the merrier" mentality. You don't see those who perpetuate strife among brothers being kicked out, as they often manage to present themselves as acting in the interest of "truth". But there is no such thing as truth void of mercy; that "truth" is a lie.
As I watched Ellen embrace this young woman, and comfort her in her pain, letting her know she was not alone, I thought about Christ, and how He would have responded to her. We don't have to wonder whether He would have responded like Ellen who embraced her, or like the "fundamentalists" who had turned their backs. We already know.
I thought about my girls and what I am teaching them about Christianity, and who Christ is. And who we are in Him. What made me weep was the fact that an unbeliever was demonstrating to them them a level of compassion that they were not likely to see in a "church" any time soon.
My 17-yr-old daughter asked me a few months ago, "If I got pregnant, would you kick me out of the house? Because [so-and-so's] mom would kick her out." I was immediately grieved that the question had to be asked, but what I realized after a very tender conversation with her, was that she knew the answer, she just needed to hear it from me again. And so I resolved that day that she would continue to hear it again, and often.
The moralist will dismiss this as sentimentalism, or "emotionalism", or as somehow excusing immorality. I even heard one say recently that to admit to our moral weaknesses, and confess them to one another, was to take pride in them, or to be without remorse. That somehow owning up to our human frailty and reveling in the mercy of God is the height of debauchery. (Nothing like entirely missing the point!) But "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
As Christians, who have experienced God's mercy and forgiveness and are commanded to love one another as Christ has loved us, we should respond to a fellow believer who struggles with homosexuality the same way we respond to a fellow believer who struggles with any other area of weakness. And yet for whatever reason, this one "sin", and even one who commits it, has been separated as untouchable by the church. This is especially perplexing since the afore-mentioned sin of gossip arguably does much more damage to God's people and the reputation of His Kingdom in the world. It should sadden all of us, and convict our conscience, to see an unbeliever show more compassion to a stranger than we as members of God's household would show to a hurting brother or sister.
Why does James write, "Confess your faults one to another?" He tells us why, in that very context:
James 5: 16 Confess your faults one to another, <em>and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
It goes hand in hand with this passage:
Galatians 6: 1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, <em>restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 <em>Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
We confess our faults, or our struggles and weaknesses, with one another <em>so that</em> we may be restored and healed. But where there is fear of judgment and condemnation, not to mention excommunication, this restoration cannot be accomplished. Christ's law cannot be fulfilled through our communion if we are fearing one another. That is why the apostle writes, "There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18).
So many times I have heard Christian parents speak about the ultimate shame of finding out their child struggles with homosexuality. But would these same parents hang their heads and be afraid to show their faces in church if their child struggled with being unkind, unloving, self-righteous or judgmental? It is no wonder that hurting people desperate for mercy often run as far from "church" as they can get.
As parents, we should consider fervently how we are portraying Christianity to our children. I want my children to encounter Christ in my loving arms. I want all who enter my home to be embraced by His mercy. And someday, maybe those expelled from "church" will be drawn to the Kingdom of our Savior.
For What It's Worth
Our appreciation for the worth of something is always dictated, and the degree of it is enhanced, by our understanding of what it cost. I value gifts from people relative to this, either consciously or subconsciously. I am not just talking about money. I actually value many gifts from people much more than material gifts...the gift of their time and presence most of all.
The same applies to the worth I assign to my redemption in Christ. The more I understand about what it cost, the more glorious it becomes to me. The more I understand of the depth of His love, and the extremity of His sacrifice, the more I love Him. I will never understand it fully, but I will always be understanding it more.
There was a price to be paid, and He paid it. At great expense to Himself, far greater than my mind could ever fathom. He became ashamed for me. God did. I don't know how to explain that, but I just know that He did that. And if He hadn't done it, I would be lost.
The "idealist" would reduce the cross to a mere metaphor, or symbol, denying that the cross was necessary and effectual for salvation--for the forgiveness of sins, to bring us to God. But these past couple of years that I have spent reading the prophets, the thing that has so gripped me is the way they were so desperate for their Savior. Waiting, hoping, longing....for that Day. And they were afraid and lonely and in despair when they contemplated death, because they knew what the grave was. It was a place of non-existence, and separation from the presence of God. And it was the cross--the historical event of the cross in time and space-- that made the difference for them, the difference between death and life. Between separation from God and presence with God. And it was the cross that made the difference for me. And this is how much it cost:
Psalm 69:1 Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. 2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. 3 I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God. 4 They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away. 5 O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee. 6 Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel. 7 Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face. 8 I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children. 9 For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me. 10 When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach. 11 I made sackcloth also my garment; and I became a proverb to them. 12 They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkards. 13 But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O LORD, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation. 14 Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters. 15 Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me. 16 Hear me, O LORD; for thy lovingkindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies. 17 And hide not thy face from thy servant; for I am in trouble: hear me speedily. 18 Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it: deliver me because of mine enemies. 19 Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonour: mine adversaries are all before thee. 20 Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. 21 They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. 22 Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap. 23 Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. 24 Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. 25 Let their be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents. 26 For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded. 27 Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness. 28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous. 29 But I am poor and sorrowful: let thy salvation, O God, set me up on high. 30 I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving. 31 This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs. 32 The humble shall see this, and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God. 33 For the LORD heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners. 34 Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein. 35 For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession. 36 The seed also of his servants shall inherit it: and they that love his name shall dwell therein. --Jesus
I have been married to my loving husband Keith for 26 years. We have three beautiful and brilliant children, ages 24, 22 and 20. Nothing cheers my heart more than having them all at home, yet nothing is more satisfying to my mind than watching them grow from afar. My personal passion is theology: the knowledge and experience of the Truth and Mercy found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and displayed in the lives and communion of His people. My husband and I love to travel, and because our children are often out and about in the world, we get lots of opportunities to see it! And we also love to fill our home with friends who love us, and love our wine collection.