Jesus and Divorce (Mark 10:1-12)
Sermon Video: https://fb.watch/1ZcvaOVGVo/
(Sermon is from 17:30-1:06:39)
1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.
2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” – Mark 10:1-12
My wife and I have recently sought to change some things about our diet. I have a family history of diabetes and other problems related to diet, so we thought it would be wise to consider some changes we could make. Which is weird for me because I hate diets. I love rich food, I love fatty foods, and I really, really hate diets. But I also don’t want to get diabetes. So, here we are. But we aren’t zealots about it. I’m not lovingly counting each spinach leaf I eat each day. And if we are invited over to someone’s house and they serve us some delicious meal that is technically off-limits for us, we will happily indulge. Paul told the Corinthians that when they go over to someone’s house they should eat whatever is placed in front of them without raising any questions (10:27), so we are just trying to be Biblical! Our diet isn’t that important to us. We will follow it as a general rule, as much as we can, but when it becomes too difficult we cheat. And we are happy with that.
But I wonder how many people in our city today think about their faith like that. It’s a nice lifestyle to live by, generally. But where it becomes too obtrusive, too cumbersome, we can simply set it aside. While that might be a fine framework to have for a diet, does that work for the Christian faith? Can we set aside our convictions, the commands of Scripture when they appear to be inconvenient?
If you are a Christian, you cannot do this for two reasons:
1. Christ is your King. You are not at liberty to decide which commands apply to you and which don’t. If I were to leave church today and go steal one of your cars, I would not be able to tell the police officer, “Yes, I know this is technically illegal, but I don’t want to believe that law applies to me.” The law dictates what is legal or illegal, regardless of my own preferences. But Christ is not running some representative democratic government that enshrines laws based on popular opinion or has His power restrained by a system of checks and balances. He is the sovereign emperor of all the cosmos who does according to His will and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’ (Dan 4:35).
2. Christ is your Savior. If Jesus were only your King, that would be terrifying news. But, wonder of wonders, your King is also your Savior. Jesus left His heavenly throne to become a man, to become humiliated, abused, harassed, and killed; to take the punishment and judgment your sins deserved. Now, all who are weak are weary, porn-addicts and prostitutes and liars and self-righteous Pharisees, all can come and have their entire slate wiped clean, expunged totally. But this forgiveness produces love for the One who has paid so great a price, and this love constrains and compels us to want to obey our Lord.
Paul explains these two realities well, "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." 1 Cor 6:19-20. You are not your own, Jesus is your King. But He has bought you with a price--the price of His own life. He is your gracious, gentle Savior just as much as He is your mighty Lord.
Today, we will be pressing in to one of the most personal and difficult of teachings of Jesus, a teaching that will not let us approach it with a posture of convenience. Today we will think of Jesus' teaching on divorce and marriage. And while other teachings might be able to skim along the surface of life, marriage and divorce burrows down into our very hearts. How you treat your spouse reveals a great deal about who you really are. And in that, and in how we respond to this teaching, we will discern what we really believe about Jesus being our Savior and King. Will we submit to Him, even when it is difficult? Even when it is hard?
Here is one approach to marriage and divorce:
“Your marriage can wear out. People change their values and lifestyles. People want to experience new things. Change is a part of life. Change and personal growth are traits for you to be proud of, indicative of a vital searching mind. You must accept the reality that in today's multifaceted world it is especially easy for two persons to grow apart. Letting go of your marriage —if it is no longer fulfilling —can be the most successful thing you have ever done. Getting a divorce can be a positive, problem-solving, growth-oriented step. It can be a personal triumph.” So writes John Adams and Nancy Williamson in their book Divorce: How and When to Let Go.
What does the Bible teach about divorce? Today we will be examining Jesus’ teaching on divorce, but before we begin I want to speak a pastoral word of encouragement. I know that many people in this room have either experienced a divorce first-hand, or have had someone in their family experience a divorce. I know that each story is extremely personal, often complicated, and comes with a great deal of baggage. My job today is to unpack what Jesus wants us to know about divorce and marriage in general. But what this teaching looks like applied to each of our individual lives and stories requires wisdom—this is one of the reasons God gives elders to His church. The Bible doesn’t give us detailed explanations of what to do in every case, every scenario—it gives us iron-clad, clear commands that need finesse, wisdom, and grace in sifting through the intricacies of life to discern how to apply them. Divorce is complicated and painful. If at the end of this sermon you feel at a loss of what to do with your experience of divorce or someone close to you, please seek out one of our elders to help in whatever way we can.
What Does Jesus Teach About Divorce?
“And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Mark 10:2. The Pharisees are hoping to trip Jesus up by ensnaring him in a long-standing debate that had been raging in Judaism for sometime about the grounds of divorce. Jesus responds with a question, “He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away,” Mark 10:3-4.
The one place in the whole of the Old Testament that mentions divorce—what the Pharisees are referencing here—is Deuteronomy 24:1-4. In Deut 24:1 we are told that a man can write a certificate of divorce to a wife if he “finds some indecency in her.” There were two major interpretations of this: one stated that the “indecency” found in a wife was her participating in an illicit affair of some sort, the other believed that the “indecency” was anything that the husband simply did not like about his wife. So, for the first, a divorce was permissible only on grounds of adultery, while the other viewed divorce as being permissible on any grounds whatsoever, with one Rabbi even advocating that a man could divorce his wife if he simply found another woman more beautiful.
Jesus definitively sides with the more conservative reading of Deuteronomy, that divorce is only permitted in cases of adultery. But notice how Jesus first responds, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate,” Mark 10:5-9. Divorce was a concession due to the “hardness of heart,” but it was never a part of God’s original design. Jesus is saying we cannot have a cavalier view towards divorce, assuming that it is just a normal part of life and marriage.
We cannot be continually checking the dip-stick of our own happiness in marriage and assume that if our levels are low for long enough we can evolve beyond our covenant of marriage. There are some instances where, due to the hardness of heart, due to the effects of sin, where someone chooses to make the costly decision of divorce—but this should be a rare, reluctant decision. We don’t undertake the pain of chemotherapy or amputation unless circumstances are dire. The human body was not designed to have limbs chopped off or be poisoned by radiation—it is only exceptional circumstances that might lead us to do so. So it is with divorce.
When is a divorce permissible?
In Mark, Jesus is approached by His disciples asking him to explain this teaching on divorce more fully. He responds, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery,” (Mark 10:11-12; cf. Luke 16:18). It would appear that Mark and Luke teach that divorce and a subsequent remarriage is never permissible. However, Matthew’s account has Jesus explain, “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery,” (Matt 19:9; Matt 5:32). Why don’t Mark or Luke include the exception clause here like Matthew does? This is likely because Mark and Luke assume that everyone already knows that divorce on the grounds of sexual immorality was already permissive. The debate of the day was not over whether or not adultery was a legitimate grounds for divorce—everyone knew that it was legitimate—it was over whether smaller issues were legitimate. So, Jesus teaches that on the grounds of sexual unfaithfulness, a divorce can be permitted.
The apostle Paul echoes this teaching in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 7:10-11), and adds, “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord),” [by this, Paul is simply saying that Jesus did not speak on this issue, but he is still speaking authoritatively as an apostle of God], “that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him,” 1 Cor 7:12-13. In the Corinthian church, many people have come to faith who were previously wrapped up in different forms of pagan beliefs. Some of these people were already married when they were converted and now were uncertain about what to do with their spouse who didn’t believe. Paul does not advocate that they get a divorce, but remain as they are (cf. 1 Cor 7:27). The key phrase here is whether or not the unbelieving spouse “consents to live with” the other. In Roman society, “Divorce was instantaneously effective whenever one party renounced the marriage,” (Stein, BECNT, on 1 Cor 7:15-16). Unlike Jewish society, if one member no longer wanted to be married there were no legal barriers preventing the divorce from happening. So Paul explains, “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved,” (1 Cor 7:15a). Thus, Paul advocates that abandonment by a spouse provides a second permissible ground for divorce.
What about abuse? In all cases of abuse we would advocate for the endangered spouse to be separated from the abuser for a time and for the elders and any necessary authorities to be brought in to discern what is happening. Further, while this is somewhat contested today, I believe that in some cases of unrepentant abuse the abusive spouse has created a dangerous, unsafe home for the spouse and children and has thus not “consented to live with” the other spouse, because to continue to live with them poses a threat to the life of the spouse and children and thus there could be legitimate grounds for both divorce and remarriage in cases of abuse.
Pressing into the specifics of this is where the need for pastoral oversight and shepherding is needed. Dear friend, if you are in an abusive relationship, if your spouse has threatened you with violence, used violence, used their physical stature to domineer over you and intimidate you, you need to tell an elder here. If your spouse has used emotional manipulation, blackmail, or gaslighting to coerce you to do what he or she wants, you need to tell an elder here. Sin thrives in the darkness, it wants to remain hidden. If your marriage has soured into this, it does not necessarily mean that the only option is divorce, but this is why God has given you shepherds. Let us serve you. And this is why, not only for cases of abuse, but for any reason for pursuing a divorce, our membership covenant requires all of our members to first seek out an elder and speak with them before pursuing a divorce.
A divorce is a terribly costly act to take. And while there are exception clauses, a Christian is never commanded to divorce; it is something that in a few instance is permitted, but is by no means the default answer. In summary: aside from unfaithfulness and abandonment, Christians are not permitted to seek a divorce. If we seek a divorce for any other reason (falling out of love, irreconcilable differences, etc.) we are sinning. And if we remarry after pursuing an illegitimate divorce, we are committing the sin of adultery.
God’s Design for Marriage
You do not learn to fly an airplane by following the instructions for making a crash landing; you will not be successful in war if you train by the rules for beating a retreat. The same is true of marriage and divorce. The exceptional measures necessary when a marriage fails are of no help in discovering the meaning and intention for marriage. Jesus endeavors to recover God's will for marriage, not to argue about possible exceptions to it. His opponents ask what is permissible, he points to what is commanded. – Edwards, PNTC
“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate,” Mark 10:6-9. Jesus goes back to the creation story of Genesis to find the blueprint for marriage. He cites Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 before adding His own commentary, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.
1. One man + one woman
a. Notice that Jesus cites Genesis 1:27, “God made them male and female,” before citing Genesis 2:24. Genesis 1:27 doesn’t have anything to do with marriage, so why would Jesus cite that? To show that the design of marriage necessarily is heterosexual. If anyone ever tells you that Jesus never addressed the issue of homosexuality, this would be a good place to go.
2. The most important relationship
a. Gen 2:24, A man leaves his father and mother to take his wife. No other relationship in a person’s life is of more importance than their marriage.
a. Hold fast to your wife. One flesh.
b. Sexual union is the unique expression of marital intimacy, the full and total union of two people physically. But it is just a representation of what has happened with the whole life—total transparency, Gen 2:25, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
c. A husband and wife should enjoy regular times of sexual intimacy. 1 Cor 7:3-5, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
a. Mark 10:9, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
b. Never use the word “divorce” in your marriage. We never want to give our spouse the impression that our presence is contingent or temporary.
c. Marriage is hard, but that doesn't mean that its wrong. John Piper’s “the first 25 years are the hardest”
5. A Picture of the Gospel
a. Christ and the Church, Eph 5:31-33, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."
b. Marriage is meant to reflect the ecosystem of love and grace we find in the gospel. Whenever we are thinking of the thing that bothers us most about our spouse, “How has Christ treated me?”
c. “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Col 3:13
If you have had an affair, an illegitimate divorce, there is forgiveness. There is hope, there is healing. You have not committed the unpardonable sin.
Are you considering a divorce? Dear friend, count the cost. Divorce is a painful, painful step that comes at a high cost. But friend, also consider the beauty of what marriage could be. Your marriage now may be at a dry place, but the Lord can help. Stay faithful, seek the Lord, keep in step with Spirit, reach out to the church for support and wisdom, and see what God can do with your marriage.
Jesus and Sin (Mark 9:42-50)
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/660232--jesus-and-sin
- The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung
- Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices by Thomas Brooks
- The Mortification of the Flesh by John Owen (in "Overcoming Sin and Temptation")
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” – Mark 9:42-50
What would you do to save your life? When I was a child I remember having firefighters come to our school to tell us what we should do in case of a house fire. “Don’t try to grab any of personal belongings, just get out of the house as soon as you can.” Picturing my house burning down with all my worldly treasures was upsetting to think about. Surely, I could grab some things on my way out of the house, at least my Nintendo! No, they explained, “things can be replaced, but you can’t.” What the firefighters wanted all of us to understand was the value of life over possessions. When there is danger to your life, you are willing to part with what you love, what is precious to you, in order to preserve life.
Aron Rolston’s story, however, provides a more dramatic and harrowing choice one has to make to save life. Rolston was hiking alone in Bluejohn Canyon in Utah in 2003. He had not told anyone where he was hiking and didn’t have any means of contacting anyone. While climbing down a small slot canyon, Rolston accidentally dislodged a boulder and fell to the bottom with the boulder falling on top of him, pinning his right arm against the canyon wall. Rolston struggled desperately to free his pinned arm, but it would not budge. After five days, Rolston decided that the only chance of survival he had was to cut his right arm off. So he broke the bones in his forearm and used a dull two-inch blade from a cheap pocket knife to amputate his arm; it took over an hour and he lost nearly a quarter of the blood that was in his body. But, miraculously, Rolston survived.
As I read Rolston’s story this week, to be honest, I felt uncertain that I would be able to do what he did. It made me queasy just thinking about it. But, then again, I’ve never been in that kind of danger, that kind of desperation, so who knows? Jesus in our text today, however, seems to tell us that all of us are in this kind of dangerous, dire situation. “If you don’t cut off your hand and throw it away, you will go to Hell.”
What on earth could Jesus mean by that?
Of all the things we need to keep in mind today friends, we need to realize this: Jesus wants you to treat sin with a deadly seriousness.
The Salt of the Earth
“Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another,” Mark 9:50. What does Jesus mean by this? Well, here in this text it is contrasted with the kind of sin Jesus has been describing in the previous verses, we know that it is “good,” and is further displayed by being “at peace with one another.”
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus famously compares it with light, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” Matthew 5:13-16. Salt has a distinctive taste that stands out from other flavors just as light stands in stark contrast to darkness. In the same way a Christian is to be distinct and different from the world around it. In what way? In our good works. Paul elsewhere applies this specifically to how we speak, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” Colossians 4:6.
In our actions and our speech Christians are to be distinct, set apart. Friend, I wonder what is distinctive about your life. What is present in your life that is different than your non-Christian neighbors and co-workers? How you use your time? What media you consume? How you treat your spouse, your parents? What about how you speak? Is your speech filled with vulgarities, crude jokes, gossip, slanderous speech? When someone speaks with you are they loaded down with complaints and criticisms, or are they lifted up with gospel-encouragement?
Jesus highlights one aspect of Christian-saltiness: be at peace with one another. Brothers and sisters, is there anyone in this church you are not at peace with right now? Is there anyone that you have been withholding forgiveness from? Don’t wait. Go, be reconciled now.
The Horror of Hell
Jesus repeatedly stresses the horrors of Hell through evocative images. We are told that it would be better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be thrown in the sea than to go to Hell (9:42). It is described as a place of “unquenchable fire” where “worms do not die” and fires do not go out (9:48). Luke 16 describes Hell as a place of eternal, conscious torment. Matthew 25:30 describes it as “outer darkness” where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. 2 Thessalonians 1:9 describes it as, “the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” Revelation 14, 19, and 20 describes the fires of torment as something that goes on “forever and ever.” There is some debate about whether or not the fire of Hell is a metaphor or symbol, or is a literal picture of what Hell is like. But it matters little. Isn’t a symbol giving a picture of a greater reality which can’t be put into words. If the fires of Hell are metaphorical, they surely are a metaphor for something far worse than fire.
Friends, Hell is not a place you want to go. And it isn’t a place that God wants you to go. How can a Calvinist like myself say something like that? Because that’s what the Bible says, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” Ezekiel 18:23. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance,” 2 Peter 3:9.
As I was studying for this sermon I was surprised at how many pastors and theologians of earlier centuries had no problem repeatedly writing on, describing, and warning others about Hell. But, when looking at more recent work done, there is very little discussion of Hell in sermons, books, and writings. Why is that? It isn’t like the danger of Hell has lessened. It might be partially due to a good desire to not try to use fear of Hell as a means of conversion. We don’t want to give people the impression that simply not wanting to go to Hell is all it takes to go to heaven. We want to be careful about rightly explaining the gospel and the right motivations for believing it: love of God, an understanding of our own sin and helplessness, a need for a Savior to accomplish what we cannot on our own.
But I think another element has a lot more to do with our discomfort with the doctrine. We don’t think about death nowhere near as much as earlier generations did and so we don’t think about what happens after we die. But friends, our comfort doesn’t determine what we believe. And God never tells truth unnecessarily. What He has revealed about the reality of Hell is not something that is irrelevant for us and can be ignored. Here, we are told that reflecting on the reality of Hell is meant to encourage our repentance. So, if we ignore this doctrine are we not cutting ourselves off to one of the means God has given us for our sanctification, for our growth?
If you ignore the reality of Hell, you will never understand the immensity of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Our sins have offended a holy God, a God who deserves our worship, our obedience—we have not given it to Him. Instead, we have flaunted His laws, we have ignored Him, acted as if He was a trivial figure one step above Santa Claus or Zeus. We have hurt other people with our sins, we have defiled God’s creation, we have plunged ourselves into all kinds of wickedness. And God, righteous and just, because He is good, will give full vent to His judgment. This is what Hell is—the eternal outpouring of God’s wrath. But there is one other place where the full fury of God’s wrath is assuaged: Calvary. At the cross, Jesus takes on Himself His people’s sins, and bears the punishment we deserve. The eternal God takes the vast ocean of His infinite wrath, and funnels its immensity through a pin-hole in time, aiming its obliterating destructive force at….His Son…so sinful creatures like you, like me, can be forgiven, can have our sins removed from us, and can be brought into God’s family. Jesus bundles up the horrors of Hell and swallows them for us.
Friends, have you been functionally living as if Hell does not exist? Christian, has your evangelism been lackadaisical, half-hearted? Have you been toying around with unrepentant sin, acting like there is no real danger? Non-Christian, have you been flirting with the idea of religion, dabbling with it with a kind of bemused interest you would give to joining some rec-league or contemplating some vacation you might take one day. There’s interest, but it can be settled later; it isn’t really of great importance. But dear friend, there is nothing in your life of greater importance. Everyone in this room is going to die, and after that, everyone in this room will live forever. And we will either live in the presence of God, or be cast from His presence eternally, left in outer darkness and unquenchable flames.
The Cost of Sin
Jesus, because He loves us so dearly, wants us to see how dangerous our sins are. “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire,” Mark 9:43. Two more times Jesus repeats this warning, using feet and eyes as well. What does Jesus mean? Jesus does NOT mean that we are to mutilate our bodies to keep us from going to Hell. Jesus is using exaggerative, hyperbolic language here—if you go home and cut your hand off or rip your eye out, you will keep on sinning. No, Jesus is explaining that we need to be willing to take radical steps and actions in order to cut sin and opportunities for sin out of our life. Jesus is talking about the need for repentance, which begins at your heart and is manifested through outward actions. It isn’t merely outward actions alone. Paul warns about this kind of shallow repentance: “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh,” Col 2:23.
Jesus is making a number of assumptions here:
1. Repentance is necessary
Jesus says that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off because it is better to enter life crippled than with two hands go to hell. So…what happens if you don’t cut off your hand? What would have happened to Aron Rolston? He would have died. And dear friend, the sin that is pinning your arm to the ground will drag you all the way down to Hell if you do not sever it from your life. Point nine of our new statement of faith describes repentance and faith as “inseparable graces.” What does that mean? It means that all real faith is always accompanied by real repentance.
What is “faith”? It is trusting and submitting to Jesus Christ as the King over your life and the all-sufficient Savior of your soul. What is “repentance”? It is an acknowledgment that the sin you have been participating in is contrary to your King’s commands, a sorrow over your sin, and an earnest desire to remove that sin from your life that manifests itself in action. You cannot have faith without repentance, and you cannot have repentance without faith. If I say I love my wife, but routinely have affairs on her and apologize, but intend to keep having affairs, do I really love her?
James warns us, “Faith without works is dead,” (James 2:17) And Paul tells us, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live,” (Rom 8:13). If we do not, by the Spirit, kill sin, it will kill us. Titus explains to us, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” (Titus 2:11-12). God’s grace trains us to renounce ungodliness and to live godly lives. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works. We are not saved by our act of fighting sin, by our victories over sin. The fight of faith warring against sin is never a perfect fight, but it is a fight. And if there is no fight against the sin? If we simply make peace with it, accept it, embrace it, excuse it, love it…then we likely have never had true faith.
John warns of the danger of those who have embraced a sinful lifestyle and abandoned the church: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us,” 1 John 2:19. Their abandoning of the faith didn’t mean that they had “sinned their way out of heaven,” but meant that they never were there from the get-go. And friends, the
So, dear friend, is there sin that you have been making peace with in your life?
"Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head…And herein lies no small share of the deceitfulness of sin, by which it prevails to the hardening of men, and so to their ruin…it is modest, as it were, in its first motions and proposals, but having once got footing in the heart by them, it constantly makes good its ground, and presses on to some farther degrees in the same kind." – John Owen, Mortification of the Flesh
2. Repentance is costly
Maybe the very thing keeping you from repentance today is what repentance will cost you. What will happen if you have to tell your spouse the truth? How much more inconvenient will your life be without this comfort, that opportunity? People might think less of you, might even start to suppose even worse things about you that aren’t true if you come clean. Life without a hand, foot, or eye is very inconvenient. And friend, you need to fear God more than you fear men to repent wholly.
3. Repentance is possible, not perfect.
What Jesus is teaching here is not impossible, dear Christian. It may feel that way. Your sin may have been around for a long, long time and it feels like it is just a part of you. And as you hear this sermon, you may be just sinking deeper and deeper into despair: How am I to do that?
Repentance is often described as “turning around.” You are walking one way in a pattern of sin and repenting means to make an about face, and walk in the other direction. And that is true. Turning around is relatively simple while you are walking. Turning around while you are riding a bike, however, is a bit more complicated. It takes more time and maneuvering than when you are walking. Further, turning around while driving a car takes even more consideration and space. But what if you are driving a river barge loaded down with freight? It may take miles for you to turn around. Friends, our fighting with our sin may take years before we see that particular habit eradicated from our life. We may spend our whole life fighting it and only find relief when we die. True repentance is not only found in the simple, easy repenting. Sometimes the fruits of our repentance are shown in the midst of a day-to-day struggle that is filled with frequent stumbling and failure. It may take considerable time for that barge to turn. We are not saved by perfect repentance, but all who are saved will make an effort towards persistent repentance.
So, what should you do?
Remember the gospel—the Lord has accepted you, forgiven you, and made you His own. Your zeal for repentance is the by-product of already being saved, not the test you must pass in order to be saved. Read Psalm 103.
Ask yourself: Have I made peace with this sin?—do you have a real, genuine desire to cut this out of your life? If you could have a guarantee that you could continue doing this thing and no one ever found out about, would you keep doing it?
See it the way God sees it.—Do you make excuses for this? Do you try to paint it with cheery colors and make it sound understandable, necessary even, given the circumstances? Or do you see this sin the way God does: vile, damnable, bring dishonor to His name.
Confess—confess your sins to God and to another brother or sister, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another,” (James 5:16).
Ask for the Spirit’s help—it is only by the Spirit that we put to death the deeds of the flesh; ask Him for help.
Take action—whatever needs to be done to make your repentance concrete, do it. “Cutting off your hand” may look like getting rid of your smartphone, apologizing, telling your boss what you have been doing, asking for help setting up a stricter budget, telling the bartender not to serve you anymore, etc.
Repeat—the whole of Christian life is a life of repentance. We don’t stop till God kills us or comes again.
Remember—No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Cor 10:13
Jesus and Children (Mark 9:30-42, 10:13-16)
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/656188--jesus-and-children
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. 42 Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
…13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. – Mark 9:30-42, 10:13-16
What makes someone great? If someone were to walk into this room that made all of us stop and stare, become silent, what would that person have to do? There is an unspoken hierarchy of significance and prominence in culture that usually centers around wealth, beauty, success, intelligence, and influence. The more of those you have the greater you are. Different things appeal to different people, or course. Someone might think that a poet or a power lifter, an academic or an athlete is the epitome of greatness. But we all agree that “greatness” is found in excellence, and excellence is made evident through setting oneself apart from the ordinary, the typical, the mundane.
Without a doubt, Jesus Christ is the greatest human being who has ever lived. You could not find a person in history of greater consequence and magnitude. But as we look at His life, what makes Him great? And what does He advise His followers to build their lives on to pursue excellence and greatness?
Greatness is defined by service, not status.
Entrance into the Kingdom is granted to the helpless, not the competent.
Jesus has now begun His final, climactic journey towards Jerusalem, so he begins to teach more and more about what is about to take place. He explains to his disciples that he is going to be killed and three days later rise again, but none of his disciples understand what Jesus could possibly mean by this, so they stay quiet, too ashamed to ask further (Mark 9:30-32)—likely thinking of Jesus’ stinging rebuke given to Peter after his first passion prediction (Mark 8:31-33).
Jesus and the disciples arrive at Capernaum and Jesus asks them to tell him what they were talking about while they travelled (9:33). They, again, are silent out of fear and shame because, “they had argued with one another about who was the greatest,” (9:34). Jesus’ disciples desire greatness, prominence, recognition. They want everyone else to know just how big of a deal they are. Their inflated ego is seen directly following this in the next pericope where they explain to Jesus that they tried to stop someone else casting out demons in Jesus’ name, “because he was not following us,” (9:38). Following us? You would have expected the disciples to stop someone because they aren’t following Jesus. But they think they have the standing and clout now to be followed, like Jesus. This is especially ironic because this is following a story where the disciples were just unable to cast out a demon! (9:14-29)
How does Jesus respond to these “big-shot” disciples, childishly arguing over which one is the best right after Jesus just explained that He was about to die? How would you have responded? I likely would have thrown my hands in the air and walked away. What does Jesus do? “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he spoke to them,” (Mark 9:35a). Jesus patiently sits and talks with them. What grace! What patience!
What does Jesus say? “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all,” (Mark 9:35b). This is fascinating for three reasons:
First, Jesus doesn’t condemn their desire for greatness. It’s not wrong to want to be excellent, at least, not according to Jesus.
Second, Jesus flips our understanding of greatness and importance on its head. Seniority and prominence are found in the lowly places, the places of a servant. We tend to think of great people are people, by definition, who are not required to do lowly, menial tasks. Not people who need to worry about the little guys. Not according to Jesus.
Third, the scope of this service is shocking—be last of all and servant of all. Not, “Servant to some…servant to the worthy…servant to the really important people.” Servant to all.
Greatness, according to Jesus, flows downhill; it pools up in the low places, the very places the world tells us to abandon to pursue greatness. It is demonstrated in the heart that knows that other people are just more important than themselves, not in the heart that is constantly aware that they are a cut above everyone else.
What is particularly interesting is the immediate illustration of this principle. “And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me,” (9:36-37). What is the way to pursue greatness according to Jesus? Be a servant. What kind of service immediately comes to Jesus’ mind? To care for children. Jesus takes it even a step further: not only is this a model of pursuing greatness, but in our reception of children we are actually receiving Jesus Himself, and in receiving Jesus we are receiving the Father (see Matt 25:40). Whatever care we give to the “least of these”—the poor, hungry, naked, lonely, sick, the outcast and overlooked, and even the children—we, somehow, are actually giving it to Jesus, and through Jesus, to the Father. Church, are you aware of the eternal significance your care for children possesses? When you babysit, when you work in the nursery, when you tie your toddler’s shoes, teach your sixth grader math and listen to your teenager’s problems—you are having an encounter with the living God.
Children really matter to Jesus. Jesus’ day was very different than our day. There was not the widespread warmth towards children we see now; there were no politicians kissing babies to earn approval of the masses. One commentator writes, “Societies with high infant mortality rates and great demand for human labor cannot afford to be sentimental about infants and youth. In Judaism, children and women were largely auxiliary members of society whose connection to the social mainstream depended on men (either as fathers or husbands),” (Edwards, PNTC: Mark).
This makes sense why Jesus’ disciples are trying to keep children from Him in 10:13, “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.” The disciples rebuked the parents bringing children—that’s the same word used throughout Mark’s gospel for how Jesus silences demons (1:25; 3:12; 9:25). The disciples weren’t politely telling the parents that Jesus was busy—they were reprimanding them. How does Jesus respond? “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” (10:14). This is the only place in all four gospels that we are told that Jesus is “indignant.” What sparks anger and outrage in Jesus? Dismissiveness, condescension, and neglect of children, a posture that reveals that one thinks that children are simply not important enough to be taken seriously, “Come back when you’re older, kid.” Think of how shocked the disciples would have been to see Jesus’ response—they thought they were honoring Jesus’ own importance and status by keeping the children from Him, but Jesus is furious at their actions. The disciples simply don’t get it. They are still drunk on the world’s cocktail of superiority. But Jesus is here to sober them.
Jesus’ passion about children is seen earlier in chapter nine where he warns, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea,” (9:42). This sounds like a threat from some mafia kingpin. If you cause a child who believes in Jesus to stumble into sin, then having a three-hundred-pound rock tied to your neck and were pushed into the ocean would be better for you than what is going to happen in judgment. Jesus isn’t Mr. Rogers. He loves children, but He is ferociously serious about those who want to hinder or hurt them.
Friends, Jesus really cares about children. When the disciples were rebuking the parents for bringing their young children to Him, they were hoping that Jesus might be able to touch their children. Jesus’ touch in the gospel of Mark has been used to heal the sick, cast out demons, but also to show compassion and association. Maybe the children being brought to Jesus were sick, but here is what we are told Jesus does: “And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them,” (10:16). This sounds somewhat awkward because the phrase “laying his hands on them” has a negative, even inappropriate connotation in English. But that isn’t at all what this means. The parents were hoping for a passing touch from Jesus, but Jesus scoops the children up into His arms and blesses them. “Laying on of hands” to bless someone is a traditional practice in Judaism that was usually used to confer authority, favor, and status, particularly by the patriarchs in Genesis. Jesus blessing the children by laying His hands on them is not only showing His genuine affection for them, but the seriousness with which He is treating these children: “to such as these belong the kingdom of God.”
Friends, consider the dignity, weightiness, and opportunity of our calling to care for the children God has entrusted to us. God has blessed our church with an abundance of children (praise God!), so this means we need to think seriously about Jesus’ posture and His teaching about children. This is not just a sermon for parents or educators or nursery workers. If you are a part of this church than God is summoning you now to take seriously your responsibility to love, care for, disciple, and nurture the children that God has entrusted to our entire congregation.
Everyone wants to live an exciting life, a life marked by significance and impact. I don’t know anybody that says, I’d like to live a boring, mediocre life, that affects nothing, contributes nothing, means nothing, and then die. We all want our lives to matter! And, at times, it can be tempting to think that the only lives that matter as a Christian are the lives that are doing radical things for God. Selling everything and moving to Calcutta to care for lepers; becoming a missionary in a third-world country; planting a church in downtown Manhattan—these are the kinds of lives that really make a difference for the kingdom of God! And maybe God wants some of you to do those things. Maybe God is calling you to sell everything you have and move somewhere else to proclaim the gospel there.
But for many of us, were someone to write a book about our lives it likely wouldn’t be a very exciting read. We would so like it to be so! But our lives are marked by non-spectacular, non-thrilling, plain granola normal-ness. In Tish Warren’s book The Liturgy of the Ordinary she explains, “Everybody wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” But Jesus says that it is in the ignored places, the unexciting and overlooked places that true greatness, true significance is found—the place of a servant. And He reaches into the area of our lives where we may feel most tempted to feel like we are trapped in a repetitive cycle of monotony and drudgery—caring for children—and says, “There, that’s the place where real servant-hearted greatness is found.” And it is most often in the normal, routine places where God’s opportunities for us to make lasting change happens.
In a world that views children as a drag, as an impediment that keeps you from living an exciting life of travel, adventure, and following your dreams, in a world that assumes that the only reason you would have or help care for a child would be to fulfill your own desires, Jesus presents us with an entirely different picture. Parents, teachers, uncles, aunts, nursery workers, grandparents: in your daily work for children the world may yawn, but heaven is awarding you with Olympic gold. Mom’s, are you ever tempted to think your life is nothing but menial task after menial task? Are you tempted to think that your life is just nothing but wiping runny noses and doesn’t really mean much? Jesus doesn’t think so. It is in the low places, the places of a servant, the “last of all” places where Jesus’ glory shines brightest; this is where true dignity, significance, and importance lies.
Jesus explains that we are to receive children in His name (Mark 9:37). What does that mean? To welcome a child in Jesus’ name? It is no small matter. When we welcome a child in Jesus’ name, we are no longer only receiving a child, but Jesus Himself, “Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in my name welcomes me.”
To welcome a child in Jesus’ name means that we receive children in a particularly Christian manner. We do not welcome children the way the world welcomes children, but the way Jesus does. How does Jesus welcome a child? From our text we can see that Jesus welcomes a child:
(1) with love and affection,
(2) with earnestness and attention,
(3) with seriousness and spiritual intentionality,
(4) with the sternest of warnings to those who would casually or maliciously lead them into sin.
Friends, is this how we receive the children God has put into our lives? Our children need a fully-orbed picture of Christianity, which means that we need to teach them both the doctrines of our faith, but also the culture of our faith. By that I mean our children need to know that God loves them but they also need to see and feel that love displayed to them in three-dimensional, technicolor vibrancy in our church and our home in how we receive, play, teach, laugh, and spend time together. If we tell our children that the Bible is God’s truth, that God is supreme, and His love for us is our greatest joy…would they be tempted to think we are hypocrites because they don’t see that in our life? Do we teach our children that being “last of all and servant of all” is actually a drag by our own demeanor as we serve our children?
Do the kids of our church know that they matter, that they are loved, that they are not a nuisance? Maybe you are a parent, maybe a grandparent, maybe an aunt, uncle, friend, teacher—whoever you are—would your engagements with children reflect the heart of Christ? Parents, are you taking seriously the dire warning Jesus gives about leading little ones to stumble into sin? This means many things, but it certainly means that we are not going to just choose the path of least resistance as parents. That means that sometimes we will have to make decisions for our children that they will not like. But when those times come (and they will) we must not let our children be tempted into thinking we are doing this because we don’t love them.
God has entrusted these children to us. What are we going to do with it?
How do we find the resources to love our children like this? Jesus tells us: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Mark 10:15 What does it mean to “receive the kingdom of God like a child”?
It doesn’t mean that children are models of purity. It doesn’t mean that we have an simplistic, childish manner of believing that is opposed to diligent thought—Paul actually exhorts the Corinthians to not be childish in their thinking (1 Cor 14:20) and warns of the danger of remaining immature like children (Eph 4:14). So, what does it mean then?
It means that we realize that we are just as helpless and inept in our spiritual lives as children are. We acknowledge that we are spiritually bankrupt (Matt 5:5). We are not accepted before God because we are competent or clever or moral, or even a good parent. Rather, Jesus was in our place. And now, through His death and resurrection, helpless, foolish, incompetent children like you and me can be accepted, loved, and brought in by our Heavenly Father. IF we are willing to admit our need, our helplessness. The only thing that keeps you today from that welcome is the refusal to admit that you are just as needy and hopeless as an infant.
And once you do, once you realize that God has accepted you not because you are impressive or helpful, but just by grace, that revolutionizes how you deal with children. You now have a permanent parable before your very eyes of your own spiritual state, of your own need. In our faithful, day-by-day care for our children we are getting a faint taste of what God’s love for us is like.
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you. – Isa 49:15
Even if a nursing mother could forget her child, God never will forget His children. We now turn to our children and parent them out of the overflow of that love given to us.
Now, “little ones,” is a phrase that is used throughout the gospels often as a metaphor for Jesus’ disciples. In just a few verses Jesus is going to explain that His disciples must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven (10:15) and then will explicitly call them, “Children,” in 10:24. So, some explain that this warning isn’t intended to refer to children specifically, but to disciples. But the parallel account of this in Matthew 18:5-6 seems to apply it specifically to children, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
God's Government ( The Book of Daniel)
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/651802--gods-government
28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles' feathers, and his nails were like birds' claws.
34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble. – Daniel 4:28-37
A Summary of Daniel
Daniel is a book recounting the story of four Hebrew men who have been carried off into exile upon Jerusalem’s destruction by Babylon. It is a fascinating book precisely because Daniel and his friends have been selected to work within the upper echelons of the Babylonian political system, but being Israelites (who were taken as captives!), they are peculiar individuals to be working in a pagan government. It is a book that is divided into two halves: chapters 1-6 recount stories of Daniel and his three friends, while chapters 7-12 recount visions Daniel receives of the future. Most interestingly, however, is the fact that the book of Daniel is actually written in two different languages. Chapters 2-7 are written in Aramaic, while the rest are written in Hebrew. Chapters 2-7, thus present a unique block of teaching intended to be interpreted together as a whole, and, as will be demonstrated, serve as the heartbeat of the entire book.
Chapter one recounts the fall of Jerusalem by Babylon and a selection of prisoners taken to serve in the Babylonian courts. Daniel and his three friends (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) are some who are selected and are to be trained in the literature and language of Babylon, but are also to be given food that was forbidden by the dietary codes of the Torah. Daniel and his friends choose to eat only vegetables and drink water, and God honors their desire for obedience by having them prosper in health and status in Babylon.
Chapter two tells of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, having a dream he wishes to have interpreted, but he demands that his soothsayers and wisemen not only interpret the dream, but tell him the dream itself! None of the wisemen are able to do either, but Daniel prays for wisdom and is given both the dream and the interpretation.
Chapter three is the famous story of Daniel’s three friends and the fiery furnace. After erecting a 90 foot tall statue of himself and demanding all people to worship it Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago (their Babylonian names) refuse, so Nebuchadnezzar has them cast into a flaming furnace. However, God saves them and they emerge from the furnace unharmed.
Chapter four is a personal letter written by Nebuchadnezzar himself recounting another dream that was interpreted by Daniel that prophesied his own humiliation for his boastful arrogance. This dream comes to fruition with Nebuchadnezzar being driven to insanity and beastliness for seven years before he is restored.
Chapter five tells of Nebucahdnezzar’s son, Belzshazzar throwing an opulent dinner party where the guests are guzzling wine out of the vessels that had been stolen from the temple in Jerusalem, all while they are praising their pagan gods. A dismembered hand appears, writing on the wall a message of doom that (again) only Daniel can interpret. Daniel informs Belshazzar that God has weighed him and found him wanting; that night Belshazzar is assassinated and the Medo-Persian empire overtakes Babylon.
Chapter six is the even more famous story of Daniel and the lion’s den. Darius, the Medo-Persian king is tricked by officials jealous of Daniel’s status into passing a law that forbids anyone to pray to any god other than him for thirty days. Daniel defiantly disobeys and prays on his balcony, forcing the king to reluctantly throw Daniel into a den of hungry lions overnight. However, God, like in the fiery furnace, preserves His saints. Daniel emerges from the den unharmed by the lions.
Chapter seven is a vision that Daniel himself receives that expands further upon the dream of Nebuchadnezzar from chapter two that foretells the rise and fall of four beastly kingdoms before the kingdom of God is established. Chapters eight through twelve provide further sweeping prophecies of what the future holds, zooming in even closer on the four earthly kingdoms as they are finally displaced by the final kingdom of God.
That’s the book of Daniel. As we reflect on the book as a whole today, I want to draw your attention to four themes: (1) God’s sovereignty in human government, (2) beastly government, (3) God’s Judgment and, (4) the path for the faithful.
God’s Sovereignty in Human Government
“The Most High God rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever He wills.”
God us ultimately, finally, and decisively in control of the kingdom of men.
This is brought up over and over and over again, to the point of ad nauseam in this book. This is the painful lesson that Nebuchadnezzar has to learn in chapter four when he is driven to madness for his arrogance, pride, and sin. It is God and God alone who both “rules” over the kingdom of men and who gives it to “whomever He wills.” It is seen perhaps most potently in visions of the future in Daniel 2 and 7, and the expansions on those in chapters 8-12. In each of these chapters, Daniel is given in-depth details about what is going to happen in the future regarding the successive kingdoms of the world. But God doesn’t have this information because He merely knows the future, like a crystal-ball reader—God knows what will happen in the future because He is the one who is determining what happens in the future! “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings,” Dan 2:21a.
So, why will Persia overtake Babylon? And Greece Persia? And Persia Rome? Because the Most High God rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever He wills. Why will Donald Trump or Joe Biden become President of America? Because the Most High God rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever He wills. Friend, whatever the outcome of this week’s election, be comforted that everything will go precisely according to God’s plan. “The Most High God rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever He wills.”
While God is sovereign over who sits on the emperor’s throne, this does not mean that He approves of everything that emperor does. God warned Israel that if they violated the covenant, God would hand them over to brutal, pagan nations who would dominate them and exile them from their land. God is not endorsing their brutality, but uses them like a club in his hand to punish Israel (see Isa 10). Just because God places Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzer on the throne or Donald Trump or Joe Biden in office does not by mean that He approves of everything that nation does. In fact, Daniel’s visions in chapter two and seven reveal that most often human governments tend to be savage and rebellious and in need of judgment.
In chapter two Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a giant statue made of four different kinds of metals: “You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay,” (Dan 2:31-33). These different metals we are told represent four different kingdoms. Daniel explains that the head represents Babylon now (Dan 2:37-38). The next kingdom (silver) is the Medo-Persian empire, which we actually see take over Babylon in chapter 5-6. The next kingdom (bronze) we learn is the Greek empire in chapter eight, which, led by Alexander the Great, will overtake the Persian empire in 334 BC. The final kingdom (iron, which crushes everything), most scholars agree is Rome, which overtakes the Greek empire in 146 BC.
Typical of Hebrew prophets, we are given this same vision, only now from a different perspective. In chapter seven we are given Daniel’s vision of four terrifying beasts arising out of the metaphorical sea of chaos, each of them following along the same lines of chapter two. “The first was like a lion and had eagles' wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. 5 And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ 6 After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. 7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.” (Dan 7:4-8). Later we are told that these four represent four distinct kings (Dan 7:17).
What is interesting to see here is the progression of the beasts. Like the metals of the statue, which go from valuable to less valuable (gold to iron/clay), the beasts go from more humane to less. The first beast, representing Babylon, is transformed from a beast to something like a man; it is described as a lion with wings, whose wings are plucked off, stands on its feet like a man and is given the mind of a man. This is intended to represent the story of Nebuchadnezzar who is acting beastly, till he is humbled by God (by being turned into a beast!) and repents. The subsequent beasts become more and more deformed and terrifying, till we arrive at the macabre spectacle of the final beast. This progression shows us that the normal progress of human government is it become more inhumane, more barbaric over time. There are certainly good that progresses along side the bad, but Daniel wants to emphasize the bad.
We should be grateful for the many blessings that human government has given us. The posture of All government is pointless and stupid because it is so corrupt smacks of naivete and can only be said from the vista of one already enjoying the benefits of government, like the angsty teenager who spends all day complaining about how lame her parents are, but still counts on mom and dad making dinner for her every night. There are many good things—but where the good increases, evil abounds all the more. The most advanced, scientific, literate, and enlightened countries in the world killed more people in the 20th century than the previous 19 centuries combined. America, a beacon of so-called tolerance and progress kills 3,000 children a day through abortions and enshrines a sexual ethic as praiseworthy that Romans one tells us awakens God’s wrath. Our society as a whole thrives on outrage, suspicion and incentivizes leaders who stoke the fires of division through their own arrogance, machismo, and vulgarity, who use political smoke screens, blame-shifting, half-truths and false virtue to disguise their own corruption and moral bankruptcy. The rot and rancor run deep.
But what is most shocking is God’s response to these kingdoms of men. In Daniel two we are told: “A stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth,” (Dan 2:34-35). Daniel goes on to explain, “And in the days of those kings (the iron/clay kingdom) the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,” (Dan 2:44). This is telling us that during the time of the Roman kingdom a “stone…cut out by no human hand,” will hurtle towards the kingdoms of men who oppose God, utterly obliterating all of them, so much so that there won’t even be the dust from these empires around. And then, this stone grows into a mountain that fills the whole world. The cosmic mountain is a picture of God’s kingdom which brings restoration, peace, and healing to the nations (Isa 2)—this is what will be established with the demise of the kingdoms of men, and unlike the ever-changing kingdoms of men, this heavenly kingdom “shall never be destroyed.”
"Jesus identified himself as the “stone” from Daniel’s interpretation in a parable about wicked tenants. In Luke 20:17, he cited Psalm 118:22 (“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”; cf. Isa. 8:14; 28:16) and then said, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Luke 20:18), alluding to Daniel 2:34–35, 44–45." (Mitchell Chase, Daniel, ESVEC)
In Daniel 7 this “stone” is identified both with the “Ancient of Days” and the “Son of Man.” After the fourth super-beast is revealed, Daniel then sees God Himself (described as the “Ancient of Days”) take His throne and open up the books of judgment. “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed,” (Dan 7:11-14). God judges and delivers the beast over to be destroyed, and the Son of Man is given the eternal kingdom.
Jesus identified Himself as the “Son of Man” repeatedly in His ministry, specifically referring to the Son of Man “coming on the clouds of Heaven.” Sometimes He speaks about this referring to His second coming where He will gather His people and judge the wicked (see Matt 24:29-31; cf. Rev 1:7), and other places He speaks about it referring to His ascension where He will, just as in Daniel, come to the “Ancient of Days” on the clouds of Heaven (Acts 1:9). Jesus, while speaking with the Sanhedrin explicitly tells them that they will see this happen (Matt 26:64). So the New Testament presents the “Son of Man” riding on the clouds of heaven something that happens in two installments: at Jesus’ ascension and at His second coming.
Daniel, however, sees the “coming on the clouds of Heaven” as one event. But this is typical of the prophets who see into the future, but often cannot discern gaps of time between certain events happening (prophetic foreshortening). Time won’t allow a further investigation of this, but this is telling us that when Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, at that moment the kingdom was transferred to Him, Satan was decisively crushed, and the stone crashed into the kingdoms of men.
Now, while Jesus is king over all and has authority over all kingdoms of men by right (de jure), we do not yet see this authority manifested in totality (de facto) (cf. 1 Cor 15:23-28; Heb 2:5-9). There is a day where we will be able to say at the final trumpet blast, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever,” (Rev 11:15), but we are not there yet. Imagine a man standing on top of a barstool who is punched in the chest. If you set up a slow-motion camera at the moment he is hit, you could watch him lurch backwards and slowly lose his footing, flying backwards as he falls. That is how the New Testament describes the fall of Satan and the beastly kingdoms of men—they have been beaten through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords has taken His throne and now commands all men everywhere to repent—we are waiting for God’s enemies to hit the floor, but they do not have the same standing they had before. But while we wait, we can be confident that “All authority in heaven and earth has been given” to Jesus (Matt 28:18). The kingdom of God has arrived (Mark 1:14-15)! Where do we physically see the kingdom of God now made manifest? In the church. We have been made into “citizens of heaven” (Phil 3:20) and a “kingdom of priests” (1 Pet 2:9)—Jesus describes salvation itself as being brought into the kingdom of God (John 3:3; cf. Col 1:13-14). Daniel explains that the kingdom that Son of Man receives isn’t kept to Himself, but is also given to His people: “the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever,” (Dan 7:18; cf. Dan 7:27).
In sum: Daniel teaches that every government of men that opposes God is obliterated by the work of Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on the cross and rose again, He dealt the decisive death blow to these kingdoms by establishing His everlasting kingdom in the church, and will one day return to consummate this kingdom in its fullness.
How Then Should We Live
Maintain Our Integrity at All Costs
The story of Daniel being thrown into the lion’s den and his three friends being thrown into a fiery furnace provide us excellent models of what faithful living looks like under the shadow of a beastly government. It would have been very easy for Daniel’s three friends to simply bow the knee to the statue, and convince themselves that in their hearts they weren’t really bowing. I’m sure many other Hebrew captives there were doing that very thing. How easy would it have been for Daniel to just pray in his closet? I’m sure they felt the temptations of compromise: Your faith is a personal matter between you and God, you don’t need to make a big fuss so long as your heart still honors God. This is a choice of the lesser of two evils—it would be selfish to throw your life away when you could maintain your position to try to do good for your fellow Hebrews! Doesn’t God want you to be submissive to the governing authorities any way? But these men maintain their integrity to the point of death. The theological message of the book of Daniel is the invincible kingdom of God overwhelming any human kingdom that seeks to oppose Him—and we have now been made a part of that kingdom, so we are now confident in the face of any state-sanctioned persecution. We can follow our Lord and Savior Jesus with the same rock solid confidence that Jesus exhibits after Pilate exclaims: “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above,” (John 19:10-11).
Friend, in today’s explosive world we are living in today, are you tempted to compromise your convictions? Where in Daniel’s day the people were forced to bow down to a statue, today we can be forced to bow down to our culture’s definition of sex, tolerance, identity, and intersectionality. What are you going to do when you work makes you sign a “tolerance” document that states that you affirm an individual’s gender identity is fluid? Or that you should be identified, judged, and condemned by the color of your skin or socioeconomic status?
Are you tempted to justify sin for a political outcome? I do not believe that a vote for a candidate necessarily means an endorsement of everything that candidate stands for or represents. I could understand why a Christian, out of a desire to love their neighbor, could make a calculated decision to vote for either the Democratic or Republican ticket, believing that it would result in the greatest good, while acknowledging what is sinful and deplorable in the candidate or party platform. But, dear Christian, we must never compromise our integrity by praising and approving of what God hates. God hates the oppression of the poor, the widow, and the immigrant. God hates the murder of children. God hates the perversion of his good design for gender, sexuality, and marriage. God hates boastful arrogance. God hates when people praise him with their lips while their hearts are far from Him. And God holds kings of all nations accountable. Belshazzar had his kingdom stripped from him because he walked in unrepentant pride and arrogance. And friends, maybe God will sink America because of the unrepentant sin of our nation’s leaders.
Submit to Imperfect Governing Authorities
Though the beastliness of government is displayed in Daniel and the stories of Daniel and his friends defiantly disobeying government orders to worship false gods stand out, what is amazing is that throughout the story Daniel and his three friends work within the Babylonian and Persian courts, submitting to these imperfect, inhumane governing authorities. When Daniel is thrown into the den of lions by Darius, the first thing Daniel says to Darius after emerging from the den is, “O King, live forever!” (Dan 6:21). Daniel speaks with respect to a king who just had attempted to feed him to lions! While Paul is writing Romans 13, the classic exhortation for Christians to submit to governing authorities, he is writing under the wicked emperor Nero, who would viciously persecute the church. Nevertheless, Paul explains, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God,” (Rom 13:1). Those that exist have been instituted by God! Which is really just another way of saying, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever He will.”
Friends, this week as our nation’s election takes place, I want to exhort you. Due to the amount of mail-in ballots and the widespread accusations of voter fraud and voter suppression from both the Right and the Left, there likely will not be a clear winner announced right away. It will likely take time, and the results may seem murky and unclear, and there is a chance that a winner will be announced amidst much criticism over the results. My encouragement to you is to not let your response to whatever that outcome might be telegraph to others around you that you think the Most High does not rule the kingdom of men and does not give it to whomever He will. But, those people are ruining our country! They are taking our freedoms! They are promoting what God hates!
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Let God deal with the destruction of the kingdoms of men. You focus on loving your enemy, even your political ones.
And while Daniel anticipates the fourth beast (Rome) being the final beast, the book of Revelation describes its beast—the embodiment of wicked governmental power—as an amalgamation of all four of these: “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority,” (Rev 13:1-2). Thus, I think Revelation is trying to show us that the devolvement of government into wicked, inhumane abuses of its power is something that did not conclude with the Roman empire, but rather marks all of human history till Christ returns.
Jesus and the Mountain (Mark 9:1-13)
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/642564--jesus-and-the-mountain
1 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11 And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” - Mark 9:1-13
In the form of a pillar of smoke and fire, God led His people to His holy mountain. It had maybe been a couple of weeks since the ultimate act of deliverance in the Old Testament had been worked. An enraged and murderous Pharaoh chased the Hebrews to the very edge of the Red Sea, only to see the waters explode heavenward making a dry pathway for the Israelites to cross through. And as Pharaoh rushed in after them, the walls of water came crashing down. The horse and his rider He has cast into the sea! But now, God made it clear that He did not merely intend to deliver His people from the slavery of Egypt, but to enter into a covenant relationship with them and to make them into, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” Ex 19:6. But, for this to happen, Israel needed a representative to be a mediator between them and God. At Mount Sinai, God speaks directly to the people as they are gathered at the base of the mountain, but they quickly beg Moses to go speak with God instead because they are certain that if God keeps speaking, they will all die (Ex 20:18-21). God’s holiness is just too overwhelming; He appears on the top of the mountain, wrapped in thick smoke and scorching the mountain with shafts of fire; trumpets from heaven are blowing so loudly that the mountain is trembling; and when God speaks, it sounds like thunder. The people are not afraid for no reason. God even tells Moses that if anyone comes to close to Him they will just drop dead; God’s presence is like a nuclear reactor, emanating such power and glory that it will simply overwhelm any sinful human who comes to close. And yet, this is precisely what Moses now must do: draw close to this awesome, holy and terrifying God. How will he do this and not be consumed?
Well, even within the cloud that Moses enters, we are told that He is still not permitted a direct experience with the face of God. He is given a passing glance, a partial glimpse of the fringes of God’s glory that is figuratively described as “the back of God” (Ex 33:18-23). But still, his near proximity with God and His glory changes Moses. When Moses descends the Mountain, He is surprised to see the rest of the people reel back in fear: Moses’ face is shining (Ex 34:29-35). Moses has to hang a piece of fabric over his face to shield the people from the reflected glory of God in the face of Moses.
Hundreds of years later, on that very same mountain, another prophet meets God. Elijah, after fleeing for his life from the wicked queen Jezebel, arrives at the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:1-8). There, just like Moses, Yahweh reveals Himself to Elijah through speaking His word to the prophet (1 Kings 19:12; compare: “The LORD passed before him” Ex. 34:6 and “the LORD passed by” 1 Kings 19:11). But, unlike Moses, when Elijah hears God’s Word, he veils his face prior to hearing the word, not after: “And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave,” 1 Kings 19:13. Elijah does not presume to be able to speak “face to face” with God as Moses did (Ex 33:11), so he hides his face. Both Moses and Elijah, however, are up on the mountain of God while God’s people down below are in the process of violating the covenant and both receive God’s instructions on how to respond to these covenant-breakers.
Nearly 900 hundred years later, we see these two figures return at another mountain where God will once again reveal Himself in shining glory, where God’s people will again almost wholly be violating His covenant, and where God will again reveal instructions about what must be done in response. But this time, God will reveal Himself in a way that He never had before. The terror, and glory, and power that had made an entire mountain tremble like an earthquake was now condensed into a solitary human being: a travelling peasant from Nazareth.
The Kingdom in Power
Peter, upon confessing that Jesus was the Messiah, is immediately baffled by Jesus’ explanation of what the Messiah must do: die (Mark 8:27-33). The Messiah being rejected and put to death sounds like failure to Peter’s ears, not success. So he begins to rebuke Jesus over this idea, only to receive the stinging words of Jesus: Get behind me, Satan! The disciples don’t understand why Jesus, as the Messiah, must die, and therefore don’t understand what it actually means to follow Jesus. Jesus clarifies for them that following Him does not mean getting on the fast track to the life of “the rich and the famous.” Rather, following Him looks like denying ourselves, picking up a Roman crossbar, and walking in Jesus’ footsteps (Mark 8:34-38). Discipleship to Jesus leads to life, but only after we surrender control over our life to Jesus and follow Him wherever He leads us, even when it is hard, embarrassing, and painful.
But, lest the disciples be left too confused by this teaching, Jesus then quickly offers this explanation: “And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mark 9:1). Jesus is not explaining that He is going to die, or that His disciples must submit to this life of self-denial and cross-bearing because He lacks power. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche hated Christianity in part because he thought that all its teaching of self-denial, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek was just a religious charade to disguise and encourage weakness by calling it a virtue. He called it “slave or herd-morality.” If one had power, they would use it to exalt themselves and dominate others—there would be no need for this limp-wristed notion of “turning the other cheek.” Thus, Nietzsche concluded, one would only “turn the other cheek” because they are weak and are just looking to make their weakness look like virtue, since that was the only kind of “power” they had. Of course, Jesus blows a gaping hole in Nietzsche’s theory. Jesus’ death (and the life of discipleship He is calling us to) did not occur because He lacked power, but the exact opposite. But to help and strengthen His disciples, to make it clear that His death on the cross does not come at the expense of His power, He lets them peak at what “the kingdom of God in power” looks like.
So Jesus summons Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain where Jesus is “transfigured before them and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” (Mark 9:2-4).
Why do Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus? Why not Abraham? Why not David? The last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, written about 400 years before the coming of Christ ends with a command and a promise: “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes,” Mal 4:5-6. Remember Moses; I will send Elijah. Do you remember how Mark begins His gospel? By citing Malachi’s promise of the messenger who comes like Elijah, preparing the way of the Lord (Mark 1:2-3). Here again we see Moses and Elijah, another seeming nod to Malachi’s closing promise of what would happen before the “great and awesome day of the Lord.” The appearance of Moses and Elijah show us that Jesus is not representing a fundamental break with the Old Testament. God is not switching from “Plan A” to “Plan B.” Rather, Jesus is fulfilling what the Old Testament, what Moses and Elijah promised and pointed to all along. What do I mean?
Mark just tells us that Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah, but does not tell us what they are talking about. Luke’s account, however, explains that Jesus is discussing with them his “departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem,” (Luke 9:31). The word for “departure” is literally the word “Exodus.” Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah because Moses promised there would one day be another prophet that would arise like him (Deut 18:15) and the “Day of the LORD” that Malachi refers to, that Elijah is to prepare the way for, is repeatedly described in the Bible like a new Exodus. What did Moses do? Led the people through the Exodus. What will a new Moses do? Lead his people through another Exodus. What is the second coming of Elijah to prepare the way for? A new Exodus. What is Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah about? His Exodus which he is about to accomplish in Jerusalem. What is Jesus about to accomplish in Jerusalem? He is about to be nailed to a cross. You see, Jesus, like Moses and Elijah, is up the mountain while most of Israel down below is busy breaking God’s commandments, violating the covenant. The nation of Israel has so far largely ignored, misunderstood, and flat out rejected the arrival of its very own Messiah! But this time, Jesus’ remedy for these covenant breakers is different than what Moses or Elijah did. Moses and Elijah called the people to back to obey the covenant they had broken. Jesus has not come to call people to work harder at keeping the old covenant. He has come to establish a new covenant through His death and resurrection. A covenant supersedes the glory of the old in its profound promise of forgiveness: Jesus will bear our sins to the cross, and wash them away. Jesus will forgive our sins!
What does all of this mean? It means that Jesus is the new prophet that Moses promised would come. Jesus is like a new Moses, but the exodus He is going to lead His people on isn’t a delivery from physical slavery, but a spiritual one. Jesus has come to redeem His people from their slavery to sin and the devil, to make them into a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, to give them His new law that isn’t merely written on tablets of stone but on their very hearts! He has come to bring about the new covenant.
But Jesus isn’t merely another human prophet the same way Moses was. No, He is much more than that. We are told that on the mountain Jesus suddenly begins to radiate light, similar to Moses’ experience with his face shining, but Jesus is so radiant that the disciples only speak of his clothes because they seemingly cannot see Jesus’ face. Moses could simply put a veil over his face—but Jesus’ whole body is luminous! What is happening? Moses would reflect God’s glory after entering into His presence (the glory cloud), but Jesus hasn’t entered into the presence of God, yet He is shining—He is the presence of God. The light is not reflecting off Him, but emanating from Him! Jesus is like a new Moses, but unlike Moses. To put it more starkly: Jesus is the God whom Moses worshipped.
You see, most religions often view the pathway of their teaching like a journey up a mountain. There is a goal (heaven, nirvana, bliss), and if you will strive diligently enough, work hard enough, you can make the courageous climb up the mountain. Whether that be traditional religions or more garden variety western secular ones. But Jesus sets Himself apart by not staying atop a mountain and calling people up to Him, but by coming down the mountain itself and coming to us. Jesus does not wait for us to prove we are morally worthy of Him; He tromps down the mountain to the muck of our sin that we are mired in and plunges His hands into our filth to lift us up and carries us to Himself.
It is hard to imagine how we would have responded were we in Peter’s shoes. Seeing Jesus become robed in lightning, speaking with two of the most significant human beings who have ever lived, upon whom much of your faith has depended on. Peter is understandably struck dumbfounded: “Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” (Mark 9:5-6). Why Peter suggested they make three “tents” is unclear. While Moses was up on the mountain in Exodus he was given the instructions for the tabernacle, a tent in which the presence of God would make Himself manifest. Maybe that’s what Peter is thinking of, though it wouldn’t make sense for Moses and Elijah to have a tabernacle, since that is reserved for God alone. Perhaps he is slipping into a kind of superstitious veneration of these heroes of the faith, or maybe he just, as Mark tells us, doesn’t really know what he is saying. It does seem clear, however, that Peter still doesn’t fully understand the truth of Jesus’ identity since he seems to put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. But, this will be corrected quickly.
“And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.” Mark 9:7-8. The glory cloud of Exodus reveals itself, like at Mount Sinai, a voice booms from within. But, unlike Sinai, it does not give us a Law. No, it identifies Jesus: we are to listen to Him. The fact that Jesus alone is left is a subtle nod in the narrative to Jesus’ unique status over Moses and Elijah. Jesus is not just another prophet; He is the Son of God.
Listen to Him!
In a world that is crying out with a thousand different voices to listen to, isn’t it so comforting to know, dear Christian, that there is one voice that we must listen to. Maybe you are perplexed by what is going on in the world today. Which news channels should you listen to? What narratives should you buy? If you don’t act, if you don’t vote now, the world as we know it is doomed! If you don’t speak up and join our side, YOU are the problem! These apocalyptic cries are coming from several mutually contradictory sides in our country—who are we to listen to? What are we to do? Listen to Him. Pay attention to what Jesus has to tell you and be faithful to simply follow it. There will still be issues you are confused on, things that you won’t understand. But if you simply pursue faithfulness, listening to Jesus, in the here and now with what is in front of you, then God will provide what you need. Like the birds and the lilies, don’t worry about tomorrow; seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and the rest will be added to you (Matt 6:33). Listen to Him most.
We need worship
Jesus gives Peter, James, and John this mountain top experience to help alleviate their doubts and provide a powerful encounter with who he really was so that they could endure the difficulties that discipleship would demand of them. We likewise need worship to propel us through the demands of the Christian life. If we simply try to grit our teeth and bear it, we will either wind up with a cold, Pharisaic heart, or we will simply burn out in a pit of immorality. But how do we have a worshipful experience like Peter, James, and John? We can’t necessarily just hike to the top of the nearest hill and have Jesus appear transfigured before us. Peter helps us in his recounting of this event in his second epistle:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Pet 1:16-21
Peter is relaying his experience up on the mountain and uses that as one of the evidences for why his account is trustworthy. However, notice what he says in verse 19 after relaying these details: We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention. What is Peter saying? In the prophetic words of Scripture we have a “more fully confirmed” word than what Peter had while he was up on the mountain. While Peter was up on the mountain, he had his own experience to draw from, which was certainly powerful. But, now, Christians have the Holy Spirit inspired and authoritative word of God that is “more confirmed.” When we open our Bibles we can climb the mountain, so to speak, with Peter and see Jesus revealed. So this means that if we are to prioritize (as we should) worship in our life, we need that worship to be centered on and derived from God’s Word. So we spend time, day by day, in God’s Word. We prepare ahead of time for Sunday morning where we hear God’s Word declared to us. Why? Because we need worship, or we will putter out. And worship, true worship, will always be fueled by God’s Word.
There are only two other places in the Bible that use the word that is used here to describe Jesus being “transfigured.” One place is Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. In the third chapter Paul is describing what happened to Moses’ face when he would speak with God and how he had to veil his face to hide the glory that was reflected. Paul uses this as an analogy to describe the inferior nature of the covenant Moses was under. It was a covenant that revealed God’s glory, but that glory led to people being terrified and wanting the glory to be hidden. Paul calls it a covenant of “condemnation” (2 Cor 3:9), but now the new covenant exceeds the old in glory. It does not bring about condemnation, but righteousness! It does not bring about the covenant members fleeing in fear, but drawing near to God through the Spirit. Paul writes: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” – 2 Cor 3:18. We, members of the new covenant, do not veil our face. We behold the glory of God, and as we do, we are “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” The word for “transformed” is the exact same word translated as “transfigured” in Mark 9. Under this new covenant, as we behold God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:4), we ourselves are being transfigured, degree by degree, into His very likeness. Shockingly, this is telling us that Jesus’ display of radiant glory at the Mount of Transfiguration is no mere power display—it is a veritable preview of what the children of God will one day be like, and are in the process of becoming even now.
C.S. Lewis reflects on this truth in his profound essay The Weight of Glory:
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it …That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of murmuring sound” will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
But how do we do that? The one other place this word is used is in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (transfigured) by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Rom 12:2. Through renewing your mind we can be transfigured. What is renewing your mind? It is the process of setting your mind on the things of God, which we can do by meditating on and reading God’s Spirit inspired Word. So, degree by degree, as we read our Bibles, as we attend corporate worship, as we speak the truth to one another in live, as we memorize verses and teach them to others our minds are being renewed, and we are being transfigured into the same image of Jesus Christ, from one degree of glory to one another.