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Tag Archives: Theology

Jesus Driven Into The Wilderness (Mark 1)

“Immediately the Spirit *impelled Him to go out into the wilderness.  And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.” (Mark 1:12-13)

Absent from Mark’s account of the Lord Jesus’ temptation are the details of how Satan sought to entice Him. There is no description given of the dialogue recorded both in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels between Jesus and the devil. But two interesting features are present in Mark’s version which we do not find in the others.

The Holy Spirit Drove Jesus Into The Wilderness

A different term is used by Mark than Matthew or Luke. While the other two state that the Lord was led by the Spirit, Mark says that He was driven (or impelled in the NASB) by the Spirit. At first glance, these words might not seem to significantly differ, but Mark’s expression has a much stronger meaning than those of the other two writers. While Matthew and Luke employed a root word meaning that Jesus was essentially guided into the Wilderness, Mark described the Lord as literally being cast out!

Obviously, we know that the Lord went willingly where the Holy Spirit brought Him, but the idea of the Lord being driven brings to mind a much greater sense of urgency and compulsion. It was the will of God that Jesus go out into that desert place to face the enemy and the path upon which the Lord was to walk led straight through the wilderness. The Spirit brought Him there immediately and without delay right into the face of temptation.

The Wild Beasts Were With Him

No other Gospel writer felt the importance of including this detail and it is initially puzzling that Mark would feel the need to. For we would assume that wild animals are present in a desert and wilderness place, wouldn’t we? Bible expositors disagree on whether the wild beasts are to be understood as instruments in the hand of Satan being used to enhance our Lord’s torment or are to be grouped with the ministering angels who safeguarded Him from harm. Some suggest that Mark mentions the animals simply to underscore the desolation and loneliness of the place of Jesus’ trials. But I wonder if the Holy Spirit wasn’t inspiring the Gospel writer to illustrate a different picture.

That the wild beasts were in league with Satan seems highly unlikely since the Lord Jesus is shown again and again to be in complete control over all of His creation. This is the One Whom even the winds and seas obey (Mark 4:41). Additionally, while the angels would certainly have been able to strengthen and refresh our Lord, assisting Him in an hour of physical weakness by serving Him sustenance at the conclusion of the forty days in a place where little vegetation grows, of what help would the animals be? We were told that John the Baptist fed on wild locusts, but we are not told that Jesus actually ate the wild beasts to end His fast.

The wild beasts do, however, remind us of another place in Scripture where their presence was significant and that is the Garden of Eden. After all, the Garden of Eden was the place of temptation for the First Adam and here we have the temptation of the Second Adam. The Apostle Paul compares Jesus Christ, the infallible Man, with Adam, the fallen man, even calling Jesus the “Last Adam” (e.g., Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:45-47). Christ is shown to have overcome where Adam failed and the response of each one is sharply contrasted here in the face of Jesus’ temptation.

Yet this is no paradise where the Lord faces His trial. The docile creatures of Eden are replaced by the wild beasts of the Wilderness and the lush, green garden filled with trees bearing sumptuous fruits is nowhere to be seen amongst the arid sands of the desert. The stain of sin has marred the perfect creation of God and the place where Jesus faces Satan is much different from that where Adam encountered him. The Spirit of the Lord drove man away from Paradise after he sinned (Genesis 3:24) and He drove Christ into a fallen and corrupted “paradise” to succeed in the very way in which Adam had failed.

The Beloved Son Is Driven Into The Wilderness

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:” (1 Peter 4:12)

We should consider one final thing about this passage of Scripture. Mark 1:11 ends with the words, “You are my beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased“, while the very next sentence begins, “Immediately the Spirit *impelled Him to go out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). God permits those whom He loves to be tried and tempted. The trials that we face and the temptations that we endure are not a sign that we are out of the will of God, no, they are usually indicators of just the opposite. Testing and temptation are never viewed in Scripture as a punishment or something which afflicts the wicked, but as something which proves the people of God. We often wonder why God permits the trials and tribulations of this life to come upon us, yet the Word clearly warns us that we will face them (cf. John 16:33).

The Father put His sign of approval on Jesus at His baptism and declared Him to be His beloved Son in Whom He is well-pleased. And what was the very next thing that God did? Send Jesus somewhere peaceful and quiet where He could enjoy all the luxuries and comforts of life? No. He sent Him right into a place where He would be confronted by Satan! The Father sent the Son to a dry, arid, and lonely place without even food or water for comfort. Yet the Father was well-pleased with the Son in all ways.

Let us not think it strange when we face our own trials and temptations, supposing that our Father has disowned us or has become displeased with us. Perhaps we have committed some grievous sin and moved ourselves out from under His hand of protection by our own foolish choices, though we never cease to be His children. Or perhaps we are standing exactly in the place where the Spirit has driven us because He loves us enough to allow us to be tested, that His faithfulness through trials be proven in our own hearts.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published July 23, 2014]

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

[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?”]

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Introduction To The Gospel Of Mark

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

It would be seemingly incongruous to preface any study of the Gospel of Mark with a lengthy introduction since the Gospel itself contains nothing of background or prologue. Mark’s is the gospel of action and urgency and he begins his narrative accordingly. Absent from his account are the genealogies of Matthew and Luke’s versions, nor do we find the theological profundities present in John’s opening. Instead, Mark commences his writing with a simple declaration: “Here follows the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…”

The Tempo Of Mark’s Gospel

From the very start, we see the pace and tempo that will define the entire book. In the opening chapter, we read of John the Baptist’s ministry, the Baptism of the Lord Jesus, our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness, John the Baptist’s arrest, the calling of the first disciples, Christ’s teachings in the synagogue of Capernaum, His casting out of demons, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, the healing of the masses of sick and demonically oppressed, and the cleansing of  a leper. The ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ began with a bang and Mark is dutiful to show this.

The word “immediately” (also translated as “straightway” and “forthwith” in the KJV) appears nearly 40 times in the Gospel of Mark (ten times in the first chapter alone), thus reinforcing the sense of urgency with which Mark recounts the events of Jesus’ public ministry. Now is the time for action, now is the time to respond to the Gospel. Perhaps no other portion of Scripture so imperatively demands a response and decision as Mark’s Gospel.

Mark’s Audience And Purpose

Luke wrote for the philosophically and scholarly minded, Matthew for the religious and orthodox of Israel, but Mark wrote for the common everyman within the Empire of Rome. We do not find the abundant references to the Old Testament Scriptures for the sensibilities of the Jewish reader, or the minute details for the historically and academically curious, but rather the facts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ laid bare and insistent upon our verdict. Will we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God or not?

For this is the overreaching theme and purpose of Mark’s writing: to convince us that Jesus Christ is the Son of God sent to redeem us from our sins. Mark’s very first sentence declares Christ to be the Son of God (1:1). John the Baptist attests to Who Christ is (1:7-8). God the Father and the Holy Spirit witness to His identity (1:10-11), as do the demons of Hell (1:24), and the Centurion overseeing His Crucifixion (15:39).

Christ The Servant

Mark presents Christ, not as King or Priest, but as Servant, the faithful Servant of God. Therefore it is not His biological origins nor even His teachings and parables that are in focus, but His actions. The witnesses mentioned above testify to His identity and His miracles prove it. Miracles are emphasized in Mark’s account and they serve as the credentials of the Anointed Servant of God.

Mark’s Background

Colossians 4:10 reveals that John Mark was a cousin of Barnabas. Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on Paul’s First Missionary journey (Acts 12:25, 13:5). When the missionaries reached Perga, however, John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Later, when Paul enlisted Barnabas to return with him for the Second Missionary journey, Barnabas suggested that Mark accompany them again. Paul refused and insisted that Mark not be allowed to join them because of his earlier abandonment of the group. This caused a division between Paul and Barnabas resulting in their separation, with Paul choosing Silas to accompany him into Syria while Barnabas and Mark sailed for Cyprus (Acts 15:36-41).

Without a doubt, Mark had failed his ministry at Perga and had abandoned his calling, yet we know that he later reconsidered and once again became profitable for the work of the Lord. Paul himself would later call Mark, along with Luke, his “fellow worker” (Philemon 24). Paul, toward the end of his life,  would also refer to Mark as “useful to me for service” in a letter to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:11).

Mark also had the unique privilege of being in close fellowship with another great apostle, Simon Peter. Peter refers to John Mark as “my son” (1 Peter 5:13) and Church tradition maintains that Mark’s Gospel is actually the “memoirs of St. Peter.” Thus it is suggested that Mark was in the unique position to learn the facts of the Gospel from the Apostle Peter and the interpretation of the Gospel from the Apostle Paul.

Studying Mark’s Gospel

For these reasons, I believe that Mark’s Gospel is a great place to begin a study of the Gospels, the New Testament, and even the Bible itself. In fact, when asked where someone who does not know Christ should begin reading the Bible, my answer is emphatically the Book of Mark. There are no lengthy genealogies to quickly lose the new reader’s attention, no list of Jewish laws and customs, no stories of the origins of the nation of Israel. These are all important areas of the Word of God worthy of the Christian’s thorough examination, but for those unfamiliar with the Word of God it is best to begin with the basics. After all, where would a medical doctor first direct his attention on a suffering patient? To a broken toe or to a wound gushing blood from her throat? Yes, the toe should eventually be addressed, but the potentially fatal injury is by far the more pertinent of the two. All manners of theological and doctrinal matters are vital for the total spiritual health of the child of God, but if a person lacks a solid foundation on the fundamentals of faith in Christ, they are of no avail whatsoever. To forego the basics in favor of the more advanced would make as much sense as attempting to teach the intricacies of the works of Shakespeare to the child who has yet to learn to read.

That being said there is, of course, much meat and not just milk within the Gospel of Mark for the mature believer, as well. It is my hope and prayer that everyone who joins me on this journey through Mark’s Gospel will find it edifying, profitable, and beneficial for strengthening their own walk with the Lord, regardless of how far along they have come.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published June 16, 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

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

Who Sent Joseph Into Egypt?

God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45:7-8)

The implications of this statement made by Joseph to his bewildered brothers must have been as perplexing and astounding to them as it has been to generations of Bible readers since it was first spoken. As believers, we tend to just sort of skip right through such profound statements with the unspoken understanding that, naturally, all things are under God’s control and He is in control of all things. Skeptics enjoy reading such statements as opportunities to impugn the character of God; assigning to Him full responsibility for the entirety of man’s errors. But what exactly do such statements really mean? More directly: was everything which we have read about occurring in the life of Joseph a part of God’s perfect plan?

Before we are too quick to answer this, we should consider what it would mean if all of these things were, in fact, the plan of God. First of all, it would imply that it was God’s plan for the brothers to commit sin by selling their brother into slavery. James tells us in his epistle that God never entices man to do evil (James 1:13) and consequently could never plan or intend for anyone to commit sin. Sin is, therefore, never a part of God’s perfect plan. Yet we are told that God sent Joseph into Egypt, i.e., that He planned for Joseph to go there. How is this possible if God did not intend for the brothers to sell him into slavery?

This is an area of disputation that has historically resulted in all sorts of theological dilemmas, calling into question where the line is drawn between God’s will and the free will of man. Does God or does He not ever step across that line in order to accomplish His perfect will? My simple answer to this is that He does not. What God does do is to take the opportunity to use even the sin, errors, and shortcomings of man (believers and unbelievers alike) to bring His will to pass. It was not God’s intention for the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery, but He chose to use that as the impetus that would put Joseph into the land of Egypt. God did not plan for Potiphar’s wife to make lewd advances toward Joseph nor to falsely accuse him of misconduct; yet He used those very things to facilitate Joseph’s delivery into prison — a place where he would come into close contact with the chief butler and baker of Pharaoh.

How God would have brought His will to pass apart from the sins of these people is anyone’s guess, but we can be assured that God did not need the sins of man to help His plans along. He never does. It speaks volumes about the sovereignty of our Lord in that He is able to accomplish His will in spite of man’s sin. What a profound reminder that God is in complete control!

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

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published November 11, 2010]

[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

Which Bible Version Do You Prefer?

A few weeks ago, I purchased a copy of the new Spurgeon Study Bible published by Holman Bible Publishers. This Bible uses the text of the Christian Standard Bible, a recent update of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, produced by the same publisher. My thoughts so far on this particular version is that it is an excellent English rendering of the Scriptures that seeks to blend the accuracy of a strict word-for-word translation with a clearer thought-for-thought wording where the original meaning might not be as readily understood by the 21st Century English speaker. They have labeled this approach “Optimal Equivalency” and it seems like a very good translation strategy, particularly for younger readers or new Christians.

Personally, I really enjoy reading a lot of the newer Bible versions that have hit the shelves in the past decade or two, although I do concur with the thoughts of many that we might be getting a little excessive with just how many new versions and constant updates of these versions are continuing to flood the market. And every time I see a new translation or update, I am reminded of just how passionate people can be about which Bible versions are superior to others. Some go so far as to be very dogmatic and rigid about which versions are indeed valid at all and which ones are corrupt, heretical, or outright perversions intentionally designed to lead people away from God. While most of us would never be so adamant about defending one translation over another, I believe that a lot of Christians have a particular version or versions that they certainly feel more comfortable with and maybe trust a little bit more because it is a version with which they are more familiar.

Having experimented with using several different versions on this website for Scripture quotations, going forward I would like to reference primarily one translation in order to remain consistent and avoid confusion (especially my own confusion!). I praise God that this website has gained quite a few regular readers recently and I really want to proceed carefully and prayerfully in deciding which version to choose for this. In articles that I have read in my own research, some have commented that they will not even read a blog or listen to a preacher that doesn’t use, for instance, the King James Version while others feel just as strongly opposed to those who do. It would be truly sad to alienate readers by using a version that they do not trust. In my opinion, there are several very good translations that would work nicely for the purpose of this website, but I would be very interested to know how those of you who take the time to read these posts feel before deciding. Below you will find a poll asking which, if any, Bible version you prefer and would most like to see quoted and referred to in these Bible studies.

Even if you are not a regular visitor, I would greatly appreciate your opinion. Please feel free to share any detailed thoughts in the comments section if you would like. Lord willing, in the coming weeks we will conclude the reposting of our Genesis study and will move over into a new study in the Gospel of Matthew. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any of the new posts as they come out. As always, may the Lord richly bless you in the study of His Word and thanks for reading!

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

Loren

 

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