(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.
I received this question from a friend in my small group the other day:
I am struggling with Romans 2: 1-16. It seems to go a bit against what I have more recently been understanding about God's Grace and Mercy and that works alone will not save us. That I understand, but what about 2:6-8?
Romans 2:6 "God will give to each person according to what he has done. 7 To those by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.
I understand that if we are truly following God, then there shouldn't be a disparity in our lives between what we say and believe and what we do. I understand that we are not saved by works, but the integrity of our faith can be revealed through works? Help me put the wrath and judgment piece together with Grace and Mercy.
This is an important discussion, thanks for bringing it forward. I’d like to offer a few thoughts regarding the passage you have quoted—first considering the specific statement you are asking about in verses 6f regarding wrath and judgment and secondly considering the larger context of Romans.
Notice there are two groups of people being contrasted:
1. Those “who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality”
2. Those “who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness”
Those who do “good” and seek “glory, honor, and immortality” are those who are not destined for judgment and wrath. Therefore we know these to be believers. The “good” that we “do” which results in glory and immortality is to believe the gospel. In fact, Scripture is clear that belief in the gospel is the only way to glory and immortality. Consider the following:
John 6:28,29 Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."
2 Timothy 1:9,10 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,
So we know that those who are “doing good” in Romans 2 are believers in Christ. And no believer in Christ will ever, EVER experience judgment or wrath from God. To suggest otherwise really amounts to despising the work of Christ on the cross. There are many things we could talk about regarding what these believers were experiencing in the first century which required the “patience” of which Paul speaks. They were enduring intense persecution from not only the Romans, but also from the self-righteous Pharisees and Jews who were enemies of the gospel, and who were about to have God’s wrath poured out on them--which brings us to the identity of the second group: those “who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness.” Again, what is the “truth?” The truth is the gospel. To obey the truth is to believe the gospel. To disobey the truth is to reject the gospel. And it’s helpful to back up a couple of verses for the clearest confirmation of who these “disobedient” ones are:
Romans 2:5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
Now back up even farther to chapter 1, which sets the context for this whole discussion. The wrath of God (the same wrath which is the subject of your question in chapter 2) was being or about to be revealed at the time of this writing against those “suppressed the truth.” Again, the truth is the gospel. And yes, we can prove this:
Rom 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
Rom 1:17 For in it [the gospel of Christ] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."
Now watch this:
Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is [present tense--it was happening or about to happen then] revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth [the truth is a synonym in this very context for the gospel in verse 16] in unrighteousness.
So, to sum up the difference between these two groups Paul is contrasting: those who “do good” believe the gospel, and those who are “self-seeking” (ie, they instead trust in themselves, or in their own righteousness) do not believe the gospel.
And some additional thoughts, considering again the larger context. If we keep reading in chapter 2 we will find continued confirmation that it is the self-righteous, unrepentant, Christ-rejecting Jews who were about to receive God’s judgment and wrath. Watch this:
Rom 2:17 Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law [ie, you trust in self-righteousness], and make your boast in God [you claim to be serving God],
Rom 2:18 and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law,
Rom 2:19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,
Rom 2:20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.
Rom 2:21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?
Rom 2:22 You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
Rom 2:23 You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? [he is exposing their hypocrisy]
Rom 2:24 For "THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU," as it is written. [quoting Isaiah 52, ie, God’s name is being blasphemed because of your self-righteousness]
Rom 2:25 For circumcision [the “Jewishness” and legalism you are trusting in] is indeed profitable if you keep the law [but NO ONE CAN]; but if you are a breaker of the law [which all of you are], your circumcision has become uncircumcision [ie, your law-keeping is worthless, and gets you nothing].
Now this is the clincher, right here:
Rom 2:26 Therefore, if an uncircumcised man [a Gentile, one you despise as unclean and a law-breaker] keeps the righteous requirements of the law [WHAT?!], will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?
Wait a minute. As we studied in Galatians, no one is justified by keeping the law, because no one CAN keep the law. As we read in James, to break one tiny part of it is to break the whole thing. So how can an “uncircumcised man” (a Gentile, and the fact that he is uncircumcised means he’s already broken the law, since the law requires circumcision! This is some riddle!) keep the “righteous requirements of the law” so that it turns him into a Jew? (That is essentially what is meant by “his uncircumcision will be counted as circumcision.") Paul explains it later in Romans (we HAVE to read Romans as a whole, because of course that is the way it was delivered). Remember the phrase from 2:26 above, “the righteous requirements of the law…” and watch this (remember, it is part of the same discussion by Paul):
Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh [ie, do not seek justification in the law], but according to the Spirit.
Rom 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
Rom 8:3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,
Rom 8:4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh [seeking justification/righteousness by keeping the law] but according to the Spirit [trusting in and receiving Christ’s righteousness].
Remember that Paul says in chapter 2 that anyone who keeps “the righteous requirements of the law” is counted as a Jew. In contrast to the ones who prided themselves in being Jews (keepers of the law, righteous in their own eyes, and superior in their own eyes because of their national/racial "Jewish" heritage). And here Paul continues by saying that those “righteous requirements of the law” ARE FULFILLED by Christ, IN us.
Finally, look at the last verses of chapter 2, which again clarify the contrast Paul was making at the beginning of the chapter:
Rom 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly [ie, you self-righteous ones who think you are better than others because you are “Jews” are not “Jews” in any way that matters to God] or is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;
Rom 2:29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. [ie, true “Jews,” true keepers of God’s law, are believers in Jesus Christ, who have been forgiven and cleansed by the cross, and who are now perfectly righteous in the sight of God.]
So to bring this full circle back to your question, how do we reconcile the statement in Romans 2 that God gives to each person “according to what he has done,” with His mercy and grace to believers? His mercy and grace is indeed lavished upon ANYONE who does “good”—or “the work of God,” which is to BELIEVE in Jesus. And when we abandon self-effort/self-righteousness, and trust in Christ’s righteousness, “the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us. Christ fulfilled it, because we could not. And for us who have believed, for you and me, ”it has been fulfilled. Once and for all. “Therefore there is no condemnation.”
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, SO THAT we would be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
“The Lord has brought forth our righteousness, come let us declare in Zion (Zion = the church, the assembly or congregation of believers) the work of our God.” (Jeremiah 51:10)
For further study, we also discuss this section of Romans 2 in this podcast, if you are interested in spanning out even farther to include a larger Scriptural context for Paul's comments.
I wanted to share some thoughts about a message we just added to our video archive at NCMI, called The Holiness of God.
We have a growing archive of sermons at our website. They are all wonderful messages that Ward has given communicating the beauty of the kingdom and grace of God. This one in particular, though, is probably one of the two or three most significant, and impactful to me personally. It is foundational to what our ministry is all about, because it so clearly defines God's radical mercy which He has lavished upon us. Indeed, it took an act of infinite mercy to bring us into the presence of an infinitely holy God.
Since I started seeing Christ in the Old Testament, this has become one of my favorite passages:
Isaiah 57:15 For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
It seems to come up a lot in our podcast studies in the prophets, and it's often my "go to" passage when I am writing about the kindgom of heaven--its character and substance, how it was fulfilled, and how we experience it. In this sermon, Ward talks about this passage in conjunction with one of his bullet points: "The Holiness of God does not allow Him to dwell with evil." That statement should cause us all to pause and consider just what it took to make us the "many mansions--or dwelling places--in our Father's house." No less than this was required: that we be made holy as He is holy. Nothing less would ever do.
Ward also makes a rather provocative, yet entirely Biblical statement:
If you are saying in your heart, "God will never save that guy, he's too wicked," then God probably hasn't saved you.
When you consider it, in light of Isaiah 57:15, you will understand my heart's passion toward the ministry of NCMI. It's only in humbling ourselves before God's holiness, and seeing who we really are apart from Him, that we can know the incalculable riches of His mercy, and share it with others. So that we can truly experience the joy of forgiveness and presence with God. And rest in His completed work. For me, it's all right there in that passage.
There are so many Christians who have trusted Christ as their Savior, and yet are still burdened with feelings of guilt and shame. And that guilt and shame tends to come out toward others as self-righteousness and condemnation. And I think it's what mainly keeps people away from "churches." That is why this message is so needed.
I am personally so thankful for the technology of video and the internet, which allows us to share these messages with a wide audience. And I know there are all kinds of things competing for your time and attention. But I just wanted to encourage you all to listen to this one message even if you typically don't get a chance to listen regularly. I can't tell you how many times I had to pause it while editing through tears (as I need a clear view to insert text at the appropriate places). And also, I was thinking of so many applications of this message to current preterist "in-house" debates on the forums, including the unbiblical concept known as "progressive sanctification" which is being argued for and against. It occurred to me as I was listening to this message and as I considered the cross, the most awesome display of God's power there ever was, and what it accomplished: my holiness in His sight--that this "progressive sanctification" notion is a particularly blatant offense to God. And it must grieve Him to know that His children still see themselves as lacking something, when He's already given them Himself.
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.
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.