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Tag Archives: Salvation

The Beginning Of The Gospel (Mark 1)

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy. He wants to present the lineage of Jesus Christ and His birthright, as a Son of David, to rule over Israel. Luke begins his Gospel with a note of introduction explaining both his purpose and approach. And John opens his Gospel with a “Beginning” that looks back to time immemorial, before the Lord had created a single thing. But Mark begins his record with a prophecy and a prophet.

For Mark, the real beginning of the Gospel centers around an adult John the Baptist baptizing an adult Jesus. Mark, the “evangelist of action”, spends no time developing the background of Jesus’ or John the Baptist’s births, but jumps right in with the Scriptural prophecies concerning the Baptist. Quoting from both Malachi and Isaiah in verses 2 and 3 (cf. Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3), Mark gives one of the few references to the Old Testament in his entire book. As do the other Gospel writers, Mark gives these references in order to positively identify John as the prophesied messenger and “voice” who would serve as the forerunner of Jesus’ coming.

John The Baptist, Last Of The Prophets

“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11)

Here on the pages of the New Testament appears the last of the Old Testament prophets. John the Baptist was truly an extraordinary man who occupied a unique position in the purposes of God. His ministry serving as a transition point between the Old and New Testaments, John was called to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus to begin His own ministry. For not only is the ministry of John the “beginning of the Gospel”, so are the ministries of all the prophets of the Old Testament whose entire prophetic works ultimately pointed toward the coming Christ. John’s ministry was the culmination of every prophet of God who had served before him.

John Served In The Office Of Elijah

“It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)

“[The disciples] asked [Jesus], saying, “Why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He said to them, “Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.” (Mark 9:11-13)

John the Baptist came in the spirit and strength of Elijah. He actually served in the office of Elijah with a very similar type of ministry. In fact, the people of Judea were doubtlessly reminded of Elijah himself by John’s clothing (cf. 2 Kings 1:8) and that, along with his message, prompted them to plainly ask him if he was Elijah come in the flesh (John 1:21). But the Baptist denied that he was actually Elijah although our Lord confirms that he represented him.

“Elijah” himself is often understood Scripturally to be representative of all the prophets; a sort of synecdoche  used interchangeably with the expression “the prophets.” Thus the image of all of the prophets of the Old Testament witnessing to the identity of Jesus Christ through the Baptism of John is reinforced by John’s close association with the person of Elijah.

In The Wilderness

It is also significant that the location of John’s ministry was in “the Wilderness.” The Wilderness is the place in the history of Israel of wandering and rebellion against God. Israel, as a people and nation, had wandered far from the Lord and this is symbolized by the place where they are to go and meet with God’s last prophet before the coming Messiah. Yet the Wilderness is also a place of preparation where God tests, prepares, and meets with His people. It was to the Wilderness of Midian that Moses fled after killing the Egyptian taskmaster (Exodus 2:15) and it was in this wilderness that God appeared to him in the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-2). How appropriate it is that God would choose a remote, wilderness place for people to come and be baptized in preparation for the coming Christ.

The Message Of John

Finally, we consider the content of John’s message and the result of the baptism he was performing. First of all, the heart of John’s message was not an idea or teaching, but a Person. His primary purpose was to point others toward Jesus Christ. His ministry was a preparatory one, paving the way for the Lord’s coming.

“And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7-8)

John’s Baptism

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)

It should be understood that Mark is in no way suggesting that John’s baptism resulted in the forgiveness of sins; only faith in Jesus Christ can do that. But the repentance from sin and undergoing John’s water baptism was the proper response to his message. Doing this would prepare a person for the coming work of the Lord Jesus and would put them in a position to receive Christ. The Greek preposition translated in most of our English versions as “for” in Mark 1:4 is probably better rendered as unto, with reference to, or leading to.

“Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:4-5)

This incident in the Book of Acts demonstrates the purposes of John the Baptist’s ministry. These twelve men whom Paul encountered in Ephesus had apparently been disciples of John the Baptist but had never come to faith in Jesus. At what point they had left John and headed for Asia Minor is uncertain, but they had evidently missed much, if not all, of the Lord’s ministry in Judea. Consequently, they had repented of their sins, received John’s baptism, but had not yet received Christ for Salvation.

John’s baptism with water was performed in order to outwardly demonstrate the inward repentance the person had made. Yet Christ’s baptism with the Holy Spirit comes upon those who repent and trust in Him for Salvation.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published June 25, 2014]

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission

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Why Four Gospels?

The question is often asked, why does the Bible include four different Gospels? Forming the first books of the New Testament; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell the story of the life and ministry of Jesus, with many similar details and more than a few differences. The first three are often referred to as the Synoptic Gospels (literally meaning to see together) because of the abundance of parallel details recorded in each one. Some scholars have even become convinced that the first three evangelists must have all copied copiously from an as-yet-undiscovered common source which they have labeled “Q.” The Gospel According to John, agreed almost universally to be the last one to be written, diverges in so many instances from the Synoptics and contains so many unique characteristics that, apparently, either the aged apostle did not know about this “Q” document or he chose not to use it.

In my opinion, I do not believe that similarities in detail and structure of narrative necessitate a common source but rather reflect the recounting of events that were well known and established within the minds of the Gospel writers. Matthew was an eyewitness to most of the account he records (which is why it has always puzzled me that some scholars would think that he needed to read somebody else’s book to know what happened!) while Luke and Mark were both traveling companions of the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), who was in close contact with many eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus, with tradition maintaining that Mark was not only present during much of Jesus’ ministry, but was also a protege of the Apostle Peter after the Resurrection. Why would Mark need to consult some now lost, anonymous record of the Lord’s ministry when he doubtlessly had many times heard the reports of Simon Peter himself in rich and vivid detail?

The reason that we have four accounts of the Gospel which are often parallel but at times variant is that they are telling the same story from four different perspectives. The focus of each Gospel is slightly different, the original audience for each one is different, and even the purpose of each account is a little different. The metaphor has been given that one Gospel record would provide us with a beautiful portrait of Jesus Christ, like a two-dimensional painting, filled with color and texture. But when we take all the Gospel accounts together, we have something more like a three-dimensional sculpture showing us a much deeper image bursting to life with vividness.

Matthew, Writer to the Jew

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

As far as chronological order goes, the Gospel came first to the Jews before the Gentiles. It is fitting that the first Gospel to appear in the New Testament would be addressed to a primarily Jewish audience. Matthew’s Gospel bridges the New Testament to the Old as he establishes that Jesus is the long-awaited, promised Jewish Messiah. Matthew is quick to point out that the events he writes about happened to “fulfill what was spoken by the Lord” (e.g., Matt. 1:22). Fulfilled prophecy is a non-negotiable credential of the Messiah and any Gospel to be believed by the Jewish mind must contain it. Matthew opens his book with a genealogy linking Jesus back to Abraham, establishing His identity as a Jew. He also links the Lord to King David, establishing the Lord’s earthly right to reign as King of Israel as a Descendant of the king. Many scholars believe that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel account in Hebrew (as I believe also) because it was a Jewish audience he was primarily addressing.

Mark, Writer to the Romans

If the Jew was rooted in the past as one interested in tradition, the Roman was a man of the present. Stretching across most of the known world, the Empire of Rome ruled today, in the now. Carpe Diem was the philosophy and a strong focus on the present was the mindset of Rome’s citizens. Scattered throughout Mark’s Gospel are words like immediately which denote the fast-pace with which he is unfolding his message. This is the Gospel of action and is consequently the shortest of the four. Additionally, Mark focuses less on Jewish religious politics and makes sure to explain the Hebrew customs that he does mention. No genealogies are given because the Roman audience would not be interested in such details.

Luke, Writer to the Greeks 

“It seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;” (Luke 1:3)

Although Luke specifically addresses his Gospel (as well as the Book of Acts) to what seems to be one person, he clearly had a Greek-minded audience in mind when he wrote it. While the other Gospels often followed themes rather than a chronological order (Matthew would record miracles close together even when they may have taken place at very different times), Luke’s Gospel is more systematic, reflecting the observational skills of a physician and scholar. Luke presents Jesus Christ as the “Son of Man”, belonging not only to Israel but to anyone, Jew or Gentile, who would come to faith in Him. This is the Gospel which gives us insights, few as they may be, into the childhood of the Lord and focuses more on those on the fringe of Jewish society than the other Evangelists.

John, Writer to the Believer

Though the Apostle John explicitly states his purpose for writing his Gospel in John 20:31, that is, so that the reader might believe in Jesus Christ and have eternal life in His name, this last Gospel written seems aimed at giving a more in-depth revelation of exactly who Jesus is. John reveals Jesus as not only the “Son of God”, but as God the Son. John’s is a more spiritual Gospel that goes into areas that the other writers did not divulge in their accounts. By the time the fourth Gospel is set down on paper, Christianity had been around some sixty years or so and had already suffered heretical attacks from many sides. Whether it was the sophistry of the Greeks or the twisted reasoning of the Gnostics, John’s Gospel serves almost as an apologetic refutation of errors that had already begun to invade the infant Church. It is fitting that “the Disciple whom Jesus loved” would be the final voice to vindicate His Master’s Words at the close of the First Century, leaving a foundation of Gospel Truth upon which the Body of Christ could rest firmly before the curtain closed on the Age of the Apostles.

Four Perspectives on One Gospel

Thus the Gospel, though told from four different perspectives, is really one Gospel. It is the “Good News” not only for Israel but for the entire world. Jews and Gentiles, Romans and barbarians, slaves and free people, and men and women all could come to Jesus Christ for Salvation. None would be excluded on any basis other than their own decision to reject the only One sent by God the Father to save sinners. And regardless of a person’s background, there is a Gospel written that speaks directly to them. The sign which Pontius Pilate placed on Jesus’ Cross was written in three languages, to address the three main types of people present at the Crucifixion (John 19:20). This is reflected in the original target audience of each of the first three Gospels: Hebrew (Matthew), Latin (Mark), and Greek (Luke).

” Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission

God Meant It Unto Good

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)

If a person completely unfamiliar with the Book of Genesis sat down and read the first two chapters, then skipped ahead and read the final two, they would likely have the overwhelming feeling that something had gone horribly wrong in between the two sections. Perhaps unable to put their finger directly on it, they would sense that something catastrophic had occurred in between. Genesis 1 opens with God moving upon a barren planet, filling it with life and light. Genesis 50 ends with the burial of Joseph. Genesis begins with the birth of everything and ends with the burial of the final personage covered in the narrative. In short, Genesis begins with life and ends with death.

Even the most hardened atheist must concede that there seems to be something very unnatural and even unfair about the cruel, nearly mechanical cycle of life and death. All living things die eventually, but why is this so? Why is it that the human body, so resilient, so able to reproduce and revive its own cells, finally ceases all of these processes and ultimately surrenders to the cold grasp of death? How is it that everything which God created and called “good” has become otherwise?

Man has within his heart an instinct for survival, a desire to live, and an expectation of immortality. We know within our own hearts that we ought not to die, that this is not the way things were intended to be. And in reflecting on the Book of Genesis, we see that God never intended for it to be like this. Yet sin entered in; and with it, death (Rom. 5:12). This is what went horribly wrong in those chapters between the Second and Forty-ninth of Genesis: sin. We tend to blame all of our woes on external forces, but they originated within ourselves. Man has defied the Law of God and has brought death upon himself as a result.

Yet another theme is woven into the pages of Genesis, a theme that would be overlooked by the person skipping over all of those intermediate chapters. Redemption. What man has defiled, God desires to cleanse; what man has broken, God desires to fix; and what man has lost, God desires to restore. In other words: what man has thought for evil, God has meant for good. Even the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden, which led to the death, both spiritual and physical, of every person who would ever live can be overcome by what God has done through Jesus Christ on man’s behalf. Evil intent darkened the hearts of Adam and Eve in that Original Sin, yet God brought something good in the Redemption made available by the Blood of Christ, the Redemption offered to all men whereby they might be saved.

And so it is with the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers when they sold him into slavery. What they intended for evil, God meant for good. For this single sinful act of the brothers would set into motion all of the events that would one day bring them alive into Egypt. Though by no means alleviating their responsibility for their actions, God would bring something beautiful from the ugliness that the brothers had done. Even so, we know that the brothers of Joseph repented of the wicked deed they had done and did what they could to make things right. Fearing retribution from Joseph’s hand after their father passed away, they threw themselves upon his mercy and even appealed to Jacob’s final wishes to save them. But Joseph, his eyes fixed steadfastly on the perspective of God upon the entire matter, holds no such purpose as their destruction in his mind. He deeply loved his brothers and had forgiven them. Besides this, how could he wish harm against them when what they intended for evil, God meant for good?

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published November 19, 2010]

All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) of the Holy Bible

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

Joseph Reveals Himself To His Brothers

“Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.” (Genesis 45:1)

The moment of reconciliation. It is to this end that all of the actions of the preceding four chapters have been leading. It staggers the mind to think of the lengths that God has gone to in order for this very moment to come to pass; this point of reconciliation between the sons of Jacob wherein Joseph once again takes his place among them. We are reminded as we look back over the space of more than 20 years at Joseph’s dream, a dream where his eleven brothers bowed down before him (Gen. 37:5-7), that God truly does see the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Yet would we even begin to imagine all of the things which God brought to pass in order to make this happen? Would someone entirely unfamiliar with this account of the life of Joseph even begin to guess what would transpire in fulfillment of the prophetic dream?

Nevertheless, we know that God did these things for one end: to bring the sons of Jacob back together in the safety of the land of Egypt. All that has been leading up to this moment — the testing, the accusations of espionage and theft, the threat of placing Benjamin into slavery — were done to bring the brothers to this point in time. Do we not greatly underestimate what God will do in order to bring people to the place where He wants them?
The reconciliation between the brothers and Joseph is a portrait of the sinner’s reconciliation to Christ. All of the moments of fear, trepidation, anxiety, guilt, confusion, and frustration which the sons of Jacob experienced during their dealings with this enigmatic “governor of Egypt” are hallmarks of many of our own experiences when Christ was drawing us to Himself. Some roads longer than others, all of us were brought through moments of emotional pain, struggle and inner turmoil until we reached the point when our hearts were ready and the Lord Jesus revealed Himself to us.
It is worth noting that before the actual moment of reconciliation begins, Joseph sends every other person out of the room. “Cause every man to go out from me“, he cries. It seems to be our practice as Evangelicals to want those making an initial decision to come to Christ to go to the front of the church and announce their decision in front of everybody. But isn’t this most crucial moment in a person’s life really between them and the Lord? Sometimes we act as though their conversion is only validated by a showy presentation in front of the entire congregation. “They must confess Christ with their mouth and not be ashamed of Him”, we explain (as though there will not be time enough for public proclamation later). There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with giving an altar call, but we do well to respect what is going on at the moment between them and God. Seldom do we really know everything that has been going on in the person’s life which has brought them to this point. We do not know all that the Spirit of God has been doing in their heart in order to prepare them for the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal Himself to them and reconcile them to Himself.
Joseph’s steward and many of his other servants played a part leading up to this moment, yet when the time came, Joseph sent them all out of the room. It was just the brothers and Joseph. Why? Because the moment of reconciliation was just between them. Many of us will play a role in bringing others to Christ, but perhaps we are mistaken in insisting that we be there at the actual moment when the person is reconciled to God. Maybe our Lord is politely sending us from the room for a moment so that He might rejoice in private with that person, just as Joseph did when his brothers were reconciled to him.To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published November 9, 2010]

All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) of the Holy Bible

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

Joseph Accepts His Brothers’ Presents

“And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves to him to the earth.” (Genesis 43:26)

There is something very striking about Joseph’s dealings with his brothers that might be easily overlooked. After their first journey into Egypt, as the brothers are returning home, they are startled to discover that the money which they gave to pay for their grain had been returned to them (Gen. 43:21). After the second trip, Joseph again orders that their money be discreetly restored unto them: commanding that it be secretly placed back in their sacks, as had been done the first time (Gen. 44:1). Twice the brothers attempted to pay for the food they received and twice the money was returned to them. They even tried to give double the price after the first visit and their money was not accepted (Gen. 43:23).

Yet we are told that at the urging of their father, Jacob, the brothers brought a present to give to Joseph on their second visit, and the present was received. Oh, the present wasn’t really much: a little balm, a little honey, some spices, myrrh, nuts, and almonds. But we know that it was from the best fruits the brothers had to offer (Gen. 43:11). Joseph would not accept payment for the food that he had provided to his brothers, but he would accept a freely given gift.
Continuing with our look at Joseph as a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, we see another wonderful similarity in this. As Joseph would not accept any payment for the food that he provided to his brothers, neither will our Lord accept payment from us for the Bread of Life which He provides. Our money, our possessions, our good works, our acts of righteousness are all unacceptable currency for securing for us the gift of Eternal Life that Jesus offers. There is absolutely nothing which we can use to purchase Eternal Life because it was paid for by His own blood. But a gift — a present freely offered to the Lord out of our gratitude — that He will accept. God will honor that which we bring to Him voluntarily from our own best fruits.
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