Where Does the Gospel of Mark Really End?

On Easter Sunday, we officially finished 29 weeks in the Gospel of Mark, retelling the greatest story ever told in Mark 16:1-8: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some of you might be thinking, “Aren’t we going to finish the rest of the book in vv. 9-20?” My answer, “No, because it’s not part of Mark’s original Gospel.”  If you have a Bible with notes or cross-references, you’ll find a note near v. 9 that states something like this, “Later manuscripts (mss) add vv. 9-20.” That means, our earliest and most reliable manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel don’t contain vv. 9-20. Here are some of the reasons why I believe Mark ends his Gospel at v. 8:

1. The abrupt ending forces us to ask and answer the life-changing question: “How will you respond to the resurrection of Jesus Christ?” David Garland, in his commentary on Mark, writes:

The Gospel ends like one of Jesus’ parables and forces us to work things out for ourselves. This incomplete ending, therefore, has Christ still waiting symbolically in Galilee for His followers to come and forces us to ask whether we will go to meet Him there as well. It also prompts us to reflect on our own fear and silence.

2. Our two oldest Greek manuscripts do not have the longer ending (vv. 9-20). The church fathers Clement of Alexandria (c.150 – c. 215) and Origen (c. 185–254) show no knowledge of the longer ending’s existence. In addition, Eusebius (c. AD 263–339) and Jerome (c. 347 – 30 September 420) both state that the longer ending was not found in the majority of Greek manuscripts available to them.

3. The literary style (grammar and word choice) in vv. 9-20 does not match the literary style of the rest of Mark’s gospel.

4. The transition from v. 8 to v. 9 is awkward. In v. 8 the women are the subjects and then in v. 9, it abruptly shifts to Jesus as the subject, addressing Mary Magdalene with no mention of the other two women.

5. It seems as though vv. 9-20 is a compilation of the accounts found in the other three Gospels (Matthew, Luke, and John).

For a more in-depth analysis of Mark’s ending, see “Irony in the End: A Textual and Literary Analysis of Mark 16:8”

Ultimately, wherever the Gospel of Mark really ends, the life-changing question still remains: How will you respond to the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

What are your thoughts about Mark’s ending?

Kingdoms in Conflict

Mark 11:1-25 reveals two kingdoms in conflict… two value systems battling for supremacy and control of our hearts and lives. And the two kingdoms: Our Kingdom and Jesus’ Kingdom.

Our Kingdom. Our kingdom is built any time we put ourselves at the center. In our kingdom, our interests, desires, and needs take priority over everyone and everything else. We see it in our relationships when we have to get our way. We see it in our finances when we continually spend and accumulate more and more for ourselves. We see it in our identity, when we maneuver and make decisions that promote and protect ourselves. We see it in our emotions as we react when something doesn’t go our way.

Jesus’ Kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom is built anytime we put Him at the center. We see Jesus’ kingdom being built in our relationships when we love people like He loves people. We see it in our finances as we give generously to His ministry and mission. We see it in our identity when we are more concerned about what He thinks of us than what others think of us. We see it in our emotions as we choose to trust Him when things don’t go our way.

At the end of the day, these two kingdoms are in conflict. They’re opposed to each other. They operate off two different value systems. They aim to exalt two different things. Jesus confronts our kingdom and calls us to join His.

As Jesus confronts our kingdom and calls us to join His, what do we do about it?

The war is not “out there.” The war is in your heart. The epicenter of the confrontation and conflict is not out there in the culture and in the world. The most intense war is for our heart. Jesus didn’t begin by overthrowing Rome. He began by overthrowing Jerusalem. Jesus went straight to the temple, straight to the heart of Israel’s worship and affections. Jesus does the same with us. He goes straight to our heart, worship, and affections.

John Owen, the 17th century English Puritan, wrote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” This is why the cross of Christ and the gospel are so crucial for our lives. Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf defeated the ultimate power of sin over our lives. His work on our behalf gives us the opportunity to be freed from sin’s tyrannical and insatiable rule over our hearts. And it is only by His strengthening grace through the Holy Spirit that we can daily confront and wage war on the sin in our lives.

Where are those places in your life, your actions, your thoughts, and your choices where you have a tendency to build your own kingdom? Where are the places where you always have to get your way? Where are those places where your emotions go haywire when you don’t get your way? Where are those places where you find it most difficult to sacrifice and give yourself and your possessions away freely?

Will you allow Jesus to come and lovingly yet powerfully confront your kingdom? Will you let Him come into your heart and life and be not only your Savior, saving you from sin and death, but also let Him be your Lord as you daily direct the affections and actions of your heart towards Him for Him?  Because here’s the reality: as we recognize Him as King and Lord… as we give Him control over our lives and relationships… as we partner with Him and build His kingdom, we actually live out who we were ultimately created to be.

Effective Prayer

From The Struggle of Prayer by Donald Bloesch…

“The efficacy of our prayers is tied to the discretion of God. He will answer the prayers of the faithful, but He will answer in His own way and in His own time. He will often give us beyond what we ask for. As Luther phrased it, ‘We pray for silver, but God often gives us gold.’

Yet God may also answer with a refusal. He will not reject our prayer, but He may well reject the way we wish our prayer to be answered. We must not insist on our solution after it becomes clear that God chooses to impose another solution. There is a time to resist and there is a time to submit. God may delay His answer in order to secure our humble dependence on Him. We need to wait for the right time, which is known only to Him. It was seven years before William Carey baptized his first convert in India.

It is well to recognize that there will always be a tension and sometimes a contradiction between our desires and God’s will. The reason is that sin still darkens the minds even of believers, so that we do not always know or desire what is best for us. God is infinite, whereas we are finite; He is the Creator, we are only creatures. This immeasurable gulf between God and man is vividly portrayed by the prophet Isaiah: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts’ (Isaiah 55:8-9).

The paradox of prayer that is not answered according to human expectation but that is fulfilled in the perspective of eternity is admirably set forth in the following poem:

He asked for strength that he might achieve;

he was made weak that he might obey.

He asked for health that he might do greater things;

he was given infirmity that he might do better things.

He asked for riches that he might be happy;

he was given poverty that he might be wise.

He asked for power that he might have the praise of men;

he was given weakness that he might feel the need of God.

He asked for all things that he might enjoy life;

he was given life that he might enjoy all things.

He has received nothing that he asked for, all that he hoped for.

His prayer was answered!

In our prayers we will not always get what we expressly desire, but we will receive what we need.”

The Servant Prayer

In Mark’s Gospel, the first ten chapters cover the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry. And the final six chapters cover one week, the Passion Week. Up to this point, Jesus has been training the twelve disciples, teaching them His heart and His kingdom values, and showing them what happens when the rule and reign of God shows up in the lives of people. Before we enter into the final week of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has one more lesson for the disciples and for us… a lesson that’s the culmination of His heart and His mission for this world. The heart of Mark 10:32-52 calls us to pray and live out the Servant Prayer:

#1 To know what You have done for me

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus doesn’t give His life simply as the supreme example of servanthood. Something much larger is happening… something much more significant. When Jesus dies on the cross and gives His life for us, He pays a ransom. He’s paying the price to free us from the penalty of our sin and rebellion against God. Jesus giving “His life a ransom for many” is the clearest statement in Mark’s Gospel about the redemptive purpose of God in Jesus’ death.

On the cross, Jesus dies in our place as a substitute. We deserved death because of our sin and treason against God, but Jesus takes it in our stead. We are freed from and forgiven the penalty of our sin. Understanding this is crucial as we press into the remainder of this Servant Prayer. It is the heart change that Jesus accomplishes as He pays the penalty for our sin that enables us to then live out Jesus’ heart of servanthood.

Pastor Tullian Tchividjian wrote in his book Surprised by Grace:

It’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.

It is only as we grow in our understanding and application of what Jesus has done for us that we begin to grow in our understanding and application of serving the people and world around us.

#2 To seek greatness in serving

Each year USA Today honors overlooked and often unappreciated football players by naming them to what the newspaper calls its All-Joes Team. Now in its 19th year, the All-Joes award celebrates men who sacrifice their egos for the good of their team. USA Today writes:

Our Joes are not average or even sloppy, but rather unheralded, unloved and, sometimes, underpaid since the one prerequisite for being an All-Joe is that you cannot have a Pro Bowl on your résumé. The NFL’s stars wouldn’t succeed without the adjacent All-Joes. They would never make the Pro Bowl minus those who perform the grittier tasks. That’s one reason the All-Joe team doesn’t allow Pro Bowl picks on its roster and it lends bitter truth to its motto: If you work hard, good things will happen — to someone else.

The motto of the All Joes team really is applicable to those who are servant-hearted: “If you work hard, good things will happen… to someone else.” I’d tweak it… if you live in the grace of Jesus Christ, good things will happen… in and through you… to the people in your world as you serve them in the name of Jesus. We serve others because Jesus first served us. And the Servant Prayer calls us to seek greatness in serving others. While the world entices us with the idols of power, position, and prestige, Jesus invites us to pick up the towel and basin and wash feet. D.L. Moody once said, “The measure of a man is not how many servants he has, but how many men he serves.” Seek greatness in Jesus’ His kingdom by serving.

#3 To follow You with spiritual eyes

The Servant Prayer ends by asking Jesus for the spiritual eyes to follow Him… asking Jesus for the gift of seeing people and the world around us the way He sees people and the world around us. It is asking Jesus to give us the spiritual eyes to be people who are servant-hearted and kingdom-minded. It is asking Jesus to give us the spiritual eyes to see through the deception of the world’s values and to give us the spiritual eyes to live with kingdom values. Jesus, please grant me the faith to follow You with spiritual eyes… with eyes that know what You have fully done for me… with eyes and a heart that seek greatness in serving others.  Jesus, please grant me the faith to follow You with spiritual eyes as I deny and surrender myself and daily pick up my servant’s cross and servant’s towel and follow after You.

When we pray the Servant Prayer, we’re transformed by Jesus’ great grace to be people that follow Him and serve the world around us with His eyes. We become people who are servant-hearted and kingdom-minded.

American Idols

We have a lot of American idols. In fact, we even have a television show called “American Idol” in its 10th season that still draws upwards of 40 million viewers per season. We are a culture filled with idols. And we’d like to think that as followers of Jesus we’re immune from all of this American, cultural idolatry, but we’re not.

In Mark 10:17-31, Jesus has a dialogue with a wealthy young man. This young man is someone that our American culture would likely idolize because of his wealth. But the story of this rich young man is more than simply an expression of Jesus’ attitude towards wealth. It’s really a broader critique of what our culture values and idolizes.

I recently read David Platt’s book Radical. Here’s an excerpt as he talks about this rich young man:

Consider Mark 10, another time a potential follower showed up. Here was a guy who was young, rich, intelligent, and influential. He was a prime prospect, to say the least. Not only that, but he was eager and ready to go. He came running up to Jesus, bowed at his feet, and said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t have the personal evangelism books we have today that tell us how to draw the net and close the sale. Instead Jesus told him one thing: “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

What was he thinking? Jesus had committed the classic blunder of letting the big fish get away. The cost was too high. Yet the kind of abandonment Jesus asked of the rich young man is at the core of Jesus’ invitation throughout the Gospels.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of these eager followers of Jesus in the first century. What if I were the potential disciple being told to drop my nets? What if you were the man whom Jesus told to not even say good-bye to his family? What if we were told to hate our families and give up everything we had to follow Jesus?

This is where we come face to face with a dangerous reality. We do have to give up everything we have to follow Jesus. We do have to love him in a way that makes our closest relationships in this world look like hate. And it is entirely possible that he will tell us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor.

But we don’t want to believe it. We are afraid of what it might mean for our lives. So we rationalize these passages away. “Jesus didn’t literally mean to sell all we have and give it to the poor. What Jesus really meant was…”

And this is where we need to pause. Because we are starting to redefine Christianity. We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with.

A nice, middle-class, American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe upon our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream.

But do you and I realize what we are doing at this point? We are molding Jesus into our image. He is beginning to look a lot like us, because, after all, that is whom we are most comfortable with. And the danger now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves.

Whatever Jesus commands and means, He clearly asks us if we’re willing to give up everything to follow Him? At the core, Jesus asks us if there are any idols in our lives that divert our affections and allegiances away from Him and onto something or someone else? So how do we respond to these American idols that influence and infect us?

1. Identify your idols. We tend to believe that idolatry is something that happens overseas in foreign cultures… statues, temples, and altars built to foreign gods. But idolatry is something that happens right here in our own culture and in own hearts.

In the book Counterfeit Gods Tim Keller defines an idol this way:

“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”

What in your life is more important to you than God?  What are the things that absorb your heart, imagination, resources, and time more than God? Where do you seek identity, love, and meaning outside of your relationship with God? Whatever those things are, they are idols. Money can be an idol. The relentless desire to acquire more money and possessions easily takes over our heart. Seeking and wielding power and position can be an idol… spending hour after hour in job after job to climb the corporate ladder. Sex can be an idol, consuming our thoughts and corrupting our actions… somehow believing that it can satiate the hole in our hearts. Relationships become an idol when we’re more worried and concerned about what other people think of us more than what God thinks of us. If it takes the place of God in your heart and affections, it’s an idol.

2. Surrender your idols. Once we’ve identified the idols in our lives, now we need to confess them to Jesus. We need to repent and turn away from those idols and come back to Him. A.W. Tozier wrote this prayer in The Pursuit of God:

Father, I want to know Thee, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious. Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there.

It’s going to be a war when you surrender your idol… be prepared for that. Your own soul will beg for what it feels is lost, and the enemy will treacherously entice you that the idol is more ultimately satisfying than God. Be prepared for the war that ensues as you surrender your idols.

3. Invite Jesus to fill the void. It’s only as we grow in a longing for Jesus in intimacy with Him, learning to see Him as my all-surpassing treasure and everlasting joy that the idols are destroyed and not resurrected. It is only as I see and savor Jesus above all else that I stay “idol free.”  It’s in that daily surrender where idolatry is defeated. It’s in the daily prayer of commitment, “Jesus please help me today to deny myself and surrender my heart fully to you, so that I might pick up my cross today, see you for who You fully are and recognize how fully and completely you love me because today Jesus, I want to follow You with all that I am.” Invite Jesus to fill the void.

Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage

The following is a manuscript from the message “Life Lab” (Mark 10:1-12) where we discussed marriage, divorce, and remarriage:

This is going to be an uncomfortable message. Today I am going to talk about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. For some, this is an uncomfortable message because you are married and you’re either contemplating or in the middle of a divorce. For some, you have gone through a divorce, and it’s still painful and always will be. For some, you are not married, and you really want to be, so any message that focuses on marriage is painful.

Now with that disclaimer up front, this message is still for all of us. First, let me address those who are married. For those who are happily married, our passage grounds us in the heart of God for the sacred covenant of marriage… and you will be encouraged and challenged to continually live in that place of deep union with God and with each other. For those who are married and having a rough time of it, God’s Word will possibly confront your reasons for thinking about or pursuing divorce. For those of you who have been divorced and are either contemplating remarriage or are already remarried, hopefully this message will help point you towards a path of success in your new marriage. Second, let me address those who are single. You have friends who are married, and this message will help you support and pray for them more effectively. And if God has marriage in your future, better to start learning now what a marriage covenant is to look like before you make that commitment. So I think I addressed every person in the room. Here’s the overarching question:

What if God designed marriage to make us more holy than happy?

As we go through Mark 10:1-12, I want to answer three questions: (1) What is God’s design for marriage? (2) Are there biblical grounds for divorce? (3) What about remarriage? Let’s read our passage and then begin to answer these three questions.

1Getting up, He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan; crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them.

2Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife.

3And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?”

4They said, “Moses permitted a man TO WRITE A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY.”

5But 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“FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER,

8AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.

9“What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

10In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again.

11And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her;

12and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”

Question#1: What is God’s design for marriage? (vv. 6-9)

Before we can talk about any possible biblical grounds for divorce or the possibility of remarriage after a divorce, we need to establish God’s design for marriage.

The Context. In the context of the passage, Jesus and His disciples are heading south towards the region of Judea and out towards the Jordan River in the east part of Israel. A crowd gathers around Jesus, and as He is teaching, some Pharisees begin to ask Jesus some questions. They are trying to trap Him. And what they ask Him is whether it’s lawful for a man to divorce his wife. They’re asking Jesus this question because Herod Antipas rules this region of Israel. Remember that John the Baptist was executed because he confronted Herod’s illegal and immoral divorce to his first wife so he could marry his sister-in-law Herodias. And they are trying to set Jesus up so that Herod will find out about it and take Jesus out. We’ll come back to Jesus’ answer of the legality or grounds for divorce, but I want to look at vv.6-9 to establish God’s design and ideal for the covenant of marriage.

v. 6. Jesus establishes that marriage was part of God’s design for humanity from the beginning of creation. Jesus quotes part of Genesis 1:27, “God made them male and female.” The rest of Genesis 1:27 tells us that we are image bearers of God, and part of that image bearing is relationship and community. God exists in community with Himself… God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We call this the Trinity. And since humanity is created in the image of God, some aspect of being in harmonious relationship with others is implicit in how God designed us. And in the text, the first place we see this design for relationship is in God’s covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

vv. 7-8. Next Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24. In marriage the man and by implication the woman, leave their parents and become one flesh. And “one flesh” is much more than a sexual union. It’s an emotional, spiritual, and psychological union. They are no longer two… they are one.

v. 9. And God has created marriage to be a place where this deep, deep union takes place. And since He has created it, no man is to separate it. We’ll discuss the question “are there biblical grounds for divorce?” in a moment, but don’t miss v. 9 as Jesus clearly says that God’s design for marriage is permanence. Husband and wife are interwoven into each other.

 

Marriage is much more than a contract between a couple and the state. It is much more than simply a vow between two lovers. It is the fashioning of two worlds into one. And it is a profoundly spiritual journey. In marriage, we can experience the depths of love, selflessness, and sacrifice, which are at the core of the character of God. But marriage is also incredibly challenging because marriage exposes us… our sin, our selfishness, our pride, our anger. At its core, marriage is a spiritual journey that teaches us about God and about ourselves

1. Marriage teaches us about God. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that the relationship between a husband and wife is supposed to be a tangible object lesson of the true reality… the relationship between Jesus Christ and His bride the church. God establishes human marriage as a living, breathing illustration of the depth of His love for us.

2. Marriage teaches us about ourselves. Marriage teaches us how to love like Jesus. Marriage confronts our selfishness. Marriage “forces” us to think of another person first and to put their needs above our own. But marriage also teaches us that there is a joy in giving ourselves away to another person. God’s design for marriage is a permanent bond between a man and a woman where we have the opportunity to learn to deny ourselves daily and together surrender our hearts and lives, our sin and our selfishness, to Jesus so that He can do His transforming work in our lives so that He can use us to reveal His love to our world. What if God designed marriage to make us more holy than happy?

 

Q#2: Are there biblical grounds for divorce? (vv. 2-5)

So back in the passage, the question that prompts this whole conversation was the Pharisees asking Jesus whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. So Jesus initially responds with a question in v. 3, “What did Moses command you?” And in v. 4, they respond that Moses permitted a man to “write a certificate of divorce and send her.” So let’s take a look at what the Old Testament has to say about divorce, what was being taught in Judaism in the days of Jesus, and then we’ll look at a couple of New Testament passages that talk about divorce as well.

Deuteronomy 24:1. The Pharisees respond to Jesus by quoting part of this verse. The phrase that needs interpreting is “he has found some indecency in her.” Some people take the word “indecency” to mean “adultery.” It could mean adultery since the word “indecency” in Hebrew means nakedness, but one challenge to this view is that in the Old Testament, adultery was punishable by death, not merely by divorce. The precise meaning of the word “indecency” is unknown. It implies something unseemly or unbecoming and cannot simply refer to something trivial but something that violates the essence of the marriage covenant.

Intertestamental Background. In the days of Jesus, the question of permissible grounds for divorce was a source of dispute in Judaism. Some argued that a man could divorce a woman for any act, even one as trivial as a badly cooked meal. Others held that immorality and adultery was the only legitimate cause for divorce.

v. 5. Notice what Jesus says, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this commandment.” Jesus tells us that divorce, even on the narrow grounds allowed by Moses, was only tolerated, not recommended. It was permissible, but still not preferable. Jesus said that God’s intent is permanence in marriage.

Other NT Passages. We need to take a look at some other New Testament passages that talk about divorce.

Matthew 5:31-32 & 19:9. Jesus seems to say that marital infidelity is possible grounds for divorce. Once again, permanence in marriage is God’s will and design, but recovering from infidelity may not always be possible. But I want you to notice something about the context of the Matthew 19 passage. What comes immediately before this conversation at the end of Matthew 18? An extended parable and discussion on forgiveness. Here me on this… I am not saying that extending forgiveness and moving into a place of trust and intimacy is easy after adultery has been committed, but if God has given us the opportunity to receive forgiveness for sin, no matter how heinous, shouldn’t that be the ideal and the heart of God for us? Once again, that’s why I think divorce in the case of adultery is permissible but still not preferable. I think about the OT character Hosea who was to by God to marry a prostitute. Even as she committed adultery time and after time, God told Hosea to take her back as an object lesson of God’s covenant faithfulness and forgiveness towards us even though we commit spiritual adultery and rebellion against Him time after time. Once again, I’m not assuming this is easy, but I want you to ponder the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.

1 Corinthians 7. Even though we don’t have time to read 1 Corinthians 7 (but I encourage you to read it), this is Paul’s most in-depth discussion on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. One thing that he discusses in-depth is the marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. Now, you need to hear this… Paul is not saying it’s okay for a believer and an unbeliever to marry. Paul is addressing the reality that in the ancient world and in ours that after marriage, one of the partners, either the husband or the wife, might become a follower of Jesus. And therefore, now in the marriage, there is a believer and an unbeliever. And in this situation, Paul taught that it was better for the believer to stay married for the spiritual sake of the unbelieving spouse and any children. But if the unbeliever sought divorce and deserted the believing spouse, then the believer should allow the unbelieving spouse to leave. But if the unbelieving spouse wants to remain married, the believing spouse should not pursue divorce.

 

So here’s the bottom line to the question, “Are there biblical grounds for divorce?” I believe the only biblical grounds for divorce is adultery or divorce by an unbelieving spouse. And even with adultery, I believe it’s permissible but not preferable. I truly believe that the heart of Jesus always calls us ultimately to be like Him, and that includes a radical willingness to forgive. I know many of you are asking are there any other exceptions. I would pastorally address this on a case-by-case basis. Some of you are thinking about or have experienced an abusive spouse… physically or emotionally. I would pastorally have to hear more about the circumstances and situation surrounding this before I could make a pastoral, biblical, and theological recommendation.

Q#3: What about remarriage? (vv. 10-11)

 

I think that this is the most difficult part of the passage and the message. In the passage, after Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees is over, He and the disciples have a private conversation about remarriage.

vv. 10-12. If a husband or a wife divorces their spouse on unbiblical grounds, then Jesus says they cannot remarry. If they marry, they are committing adultery because technically they are still biblically married to their former spouse because they cannot dissolve the marriage covenant on unbiblical grounds.

If we believe that the only permissible grounds for divorce is adultery or divorce by an unbelieving spouse, then the implication is that the only permissible opportunity for remarriage is for one who has been the victim of adultery or one whose unbelieving spouse has left them. If your spouse has committed adultery and it ultimately results in divorce or if your unbelieving spouse has left you, then I believe it’s okay for you to get remarried. And here’s another case in which I believe the Bible allows remarriage. If your spouse divorces you, even on unbiblical grounds, and they get remarried, they have committed adultery. They divorced you on unbiblical grounds. So technically and theologically, you were still married. And if they got remarried, I am going to assume they consummated that marriage, and therefore committed adultery. The marriage covenant is broken, and you are now allowed to get remarried.

So that leaves the intense, personal, and painful question about all the other people who were divorced on potentially unbiblical grounds and then remarried.  Let me be as pastoral, loving, and caring as I can possibly be when I say this. I have to ground what I am saying in what God’s Word says. If you divorced your spouse on unbiblical grounds, seek forgiveness from God. That’s the starting place for anything in our lives, which is contrary to God’s heart. Also, seek reconciliation with your former spouse. If you are remarried or they are remarried, that doesn’t mean restoration of your previous marriage, because God doesn’t expect your new marriage to end in divorce to restore your previous marriage. But if there is lingering pain and offense that you caused and you haven’t dealt with it, you need to. If neither of you are remarried, is there a possibility of restoration and reconciliation?  If so, pursue it to that end. Get help from a pastor or biblically based, Christian marriage counselor to help you walk this journey.

 

Conclusion

Back to the original, overarching question: What if God designed marriage to make us more holy than happy? God has designed marriage to make us more holy than happy. And as I titled this message “Life Lab,” I believe there is not other earthly relationship that has the potential to help us live, love, and look more like Jesus. So we start by asking Jesus to help us in our marriage. We start with realizing that we need Him desperately if we are going to have a successful, thriving marriage.

At Northshore, we love helping to cultivate loving, thriving marriages. One opportunity that you have to grow and pursue a deeper, life-giving, life-transforming marriage is through a new marriage elective we are offering called The Art of Marriage. Here’s a short video that gives you a taste of what you’ll experience in The Art of Marriage.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Iqr_wpNxv4[/youtube]

Here’s the schedule for The Art of Marriage at Northshore. Check “Grow” on our website for more information.

  • Married with or without kids under 12 years old
    Sundays 8:45am starting February 6, Room 212
  • Married with teens (POTS)
    Sundays 8:45am starting February 13, Room 141
  • All Marrieds Wednesdays 7:00pm starting February 16.
  • Young Marrieds without kids or expecting
    Thursdays 7:30pm starting February 17

If you’re interested in any of the “Art of Marriage” classes or need some help in your marriage, please contact Pastor Wayne Phillips (waynep@nsb.org).

What if God designed marriage to make us more holy than happy?


Cross Bearing: Choice, Vision & Follow-through

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” ~ Mark 8:34-35

These are the most radical words Jesus says in all the Gospels. We want Jesus but not the cross. We like Jesus. We like His teaching. We like His stories. We like the way He treated people. As for His cross… that’s another story. But throughout the New Testament, we find this reality: Crown wearing requires Cross bearing. So how do we live in that place of cross bearing? Guy Gray, the Senior Pastor of River West Church (where I served before coming to Northshore), preached one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever heard from this passage. It’s stuck with me to this day. He had three words: Choice, Vision, and Follow-through.

#1 Choice. “If anyone wishes to come after Me.” The word wish is a word of desire. It’s a word of choice. I’m not going to get into the theological quagmire of “Do I choose God or does God choose me?” I’m simply taking what Jesus says at face value, in the plain language He spoke it to those original followers. “If you want to follow after Me… if you want to be a part of my kingdom, learn to deny yourself, take up your cross, learn to daily surrender your will to My will because that’s what it means to follow Me.” It’s a voluntary choice. Often times we’ll say, “I guess that’s my cross to bear.” And at times when we say it, it’s not what the verse actually means. If our boss at work is an ogre, then we say, “Oh, I guess this is my cross to bear.” No it’s not because no one would choose to have a terrible boss. If you had a choice, you’d get rid of him or her. Or if we get sick, even with a life-threatening illness, we’ll often say, “This is my cross to bear.” The sickness is not your cross to bear because being sick is not voluntary. Jesus is talking about choice here. Now what is your choice is how you live life in the midst of having a terrible boss or in the midst of a life-threatening disease. If you say, “I’m choosing to daily surrender my life to Jesus in the midst of this crisis and this pain,” then that is cross bearing. But cross bearing is always a choice… to surrender to Jesus or to not surrender to Him. And once again, don’t sanitize the cross… the cross is an instrument of death, so by implication, it’s going to be hard. So we need the next word… a word that tells us if it’s worth it to bear our cross.

#2 Vision. The vision of cross bearing is not simply about giving something up. It’s ultimately about wanting something more. If you have a vision for something more, even when it’s hard, you’ll choose to do it because of the overwhelmingly compelling nature of that vision. So what’s the vision that Jesus is talking about? What vision could make a daily cross bearing and surrender worth it? It’s a vision for life. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” We’re talking about life. We’re talking about meaning, purpose, and identity. We are talking about relationship with the God who created us and who loves us. And here’s why vision is so important. The world offers us a counterfeit vision for life… a “gaining the whole world” kind of vision. And if we’re honest, it sounds appetizing. All the money, sex, and power we could ever want. And some of us have gone down that road and some of us are still going down that road trying to gain the whole world. Ultimately it never lives up to what it said it would because it’s counterfeit. But Jesus offers us a depth to life that the world can never deliver… a meaning, a purpose, and an identity that far surpasses the world’s shallow offer. It’s that greater vision of Jesus’ kind of life that makes cross bearing worth it. And that vision for life is for today and into the beyond. It’s a choice informed by a vision for Someone and something more. So now we have to…

#3 Follow-through. In Luke’s accounting of Jesus’ radical statement about cross bearing, the word “daily” is included. It’s implicit here in Mark’s Gospel as well as Matthew’s. The choice to follow is a daily one. Every day, even though we’ve been saved by Jesus’ sacrificial, substitutionary death, as He died the death we should have died and paid the penalty we should have paid, following Jesus and following-through means we have to make a daily choice to surrender our lives to Him… to surrender our day to Him… to surrender our family to Him… to surrender our relationships to Him… to surrender our job to Him… to surrender our dreams and desires to Him. It’s a daily choice. It’s a daily following. It’s a daily cross bearing.

Remember, crown wearing requires cross bearing. And that cross bearing, that surrendering of our live for Jesus and His gospel is all about a choice to die unto ourselves and live for Him because the vision of life that He offers us far outweighs the world’s offer of counterfeit life. And to live in that place of life on a daily basis, it takes a commitment to follow-through. Let’s make that choice this year. Let’s have that vision this year. And as individuals, families, and as a church, let’s make that commitment to follow-through.

Jesus is LORD

“And He continued by questioning them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ.'” (Mark 8:29)

The most important question that Jesus will ever ask you is “Who do you say that I am?” And my hope and prayer is that you’ll answer, “You are my LORD. You are my only hope. You are my Savior. You are God Himself come to rescue and restore me.” The confession “Jesus is LORD” is the most fundamental confession of the Christian faith… nothing is as simple and nothing is as important. How does the confession “Jesus is LORD” change everything?

Jesus is LORD of…

Creation. If Jesus is the LORD of creation, then He’s all-powerful. He has the power to do whatever He wants and needs to do in and through your life, and even your crises.

Incarnation. If Jesus is the LORD of the incarnation… God Himself who came down to this sin-infested, broken world full of broken people, it means that He is near. He is in the thick of it with you. He’ll never leave or forsake you.

Crucifixion. If Jesus is the LORD of the crucifixion, it means He died for you to take away your sin. You are no longer condemned because of your sin and rebellion against God. Jesus died the death you should have died, paid the penalty you should have paid, and offers you the life you were created to live in and through Him. You are forgiven and set free.

Resurrection. If Jesus is the LORD of the resurrection, just as He was given life from death, so are you. Jesus can make all things new in your life and in your world. He can heal and bring life back to those broken, dark places in your life.

Ascension. If Jesus is the LORD of the ascension, in heaven on the very throne of the universe, it means that nothing escapes His purview and vision. Nothing goes unnoticed. He knows every heart ache you have, every struggle with faith, every tear that falls. And it means that He stands ready to intercede and pray for you, to give you the faith to believe that He really is who He says He really is.

Where do you need to experience Jesus’ lordship in your life right now? Do you need to see the all-powerful Lord of creation move in your life? Do you need to know that the Incarnate Lord is near you bearing your burdens? Do you need to trust and believe that the Lord who was crucified for you really has forgiven you and set you free? Do you need to experience the Lord’s resurrection power that makes all things new in your life? Do you need to see Jesus as the Lord of heaven, ruling and reigning over the universe?  Respond to Him today and confess that Jesus is LORD.

The Receptive Heart

This is the 3rd post of 3 on the Parable of the Sower  (Read Part 1 & Part 2)

The receptive heart receives Jesus and responds by sowing the seeds of the gospel. This is where the whole Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:1-20 goes. Jesus is asking you where your heart is. Will you joyfully receive and welcome the gospel of His kingdom. And will you respond by going out and sowing the seeds of His gospel in your world? Why is Jesus sharing this parable with His followers? He’s not only asking them to evaluate their own hearts, but He’s also training them to recognize the hearts they’ll encounter as they sow the seeds of the gospel themselves. And implicit is the reality that servant-hearted, kingdom-minded people are constantly sowing the seeds of the gospel in our world.

When I was in college, I took a class called “Soil Science” (yes… soil science). As a part of the curriculum, we learned to do soil analysis. We learned how to evaluate the health of a soil and how to identify what needed to be changed to restore health to the soil. We understood the quality of the soil determines the quality of the crop. Think specifically about a person in your life who needs Jesus. What’s the soil condition of their heart? Where are they looking for salvation? Pray for that person? Pray for the “soil preparation.” Ask Jesus for insight and wisdom on how to sow the seed of His gospel and His kingdom into their life. And then go sow that seed. Share the gospel with them. And when we respond to Jesus in this way, we’ve got those hearts of good soil, a life that is servant-hearted and kingdom-minded. We have a heart that receives the seed of Jesus great gospel… a heart that bears a beautiful and bountiful crop for His kingdom.

Soils & Saviors

This is the 2nd post of 3 on the Parable of the Sower  (Read Part 1)

As I read through the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:1-20, the soil of the human heart is really about what “saviors” we look to for satisfaction, significance, and salvation. The saviors we look to determines the heart of the harvest.

Savior #1: Myself. Savior #1 corresponds to Soil #1, the heart that is ultimately indifferent to the seed of Jesus’ gospel. In the context of Mark’s Gospel, the Pharisees are looking to their own self-righteousness and good works for salvation. They think that they’re good works can build a bridge to God. They’re looking to themselves. In our culture, this is the soil of many hearts. In an ABC News Poll, a random sampling of over 1000 American adults revealed that 89% of people believed in heaven and 85% percent of those people believed they were going there, and 60% believe that both Christians and non-Christians get in. The implication is that 60% of the people who believe in heaven believe that they’ll go to heaven because they’re good people. They’re looking to themselves for salvation.

Savior #2: Comfort. Savior #2 corresponds with Soil #2, the heart that looks for an easy spirituality because the savior here is comfort. This heart is not looking for anything too extreme. This heart says, “I want Jesus to be my Savior but not my Lord… because if He’s really my Lord and I really need to do and be what He’s calling me to do and be, it will mean being uncomfortable and being comfortable is my highest value. I don’t really want to have my boat rocked… I like life the way it is.” And just for the record, Jesus is not this kind of savior.

Savior #3: Pleasure. Savior #3 corresponds to Soil #3, the heart that’s looking for a balanced spiritual life… a little bit of Jesus is what I need in my life. But let’s be honest, when we have this kind of attitude, much like the savior of comfort, we’re often looking for pleasure to give us meaning and significance. Jesus defined it in v. 19 as the “cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things.” It’s the savior of pleasure. Notice that the plant in the parable sprung up but it ultimately bore no fruit because other things choked it out. We look to pleasure to provide meaning and happiness in our lives. I posted this quote on Facebook this week: “We sin because in that moment we desire, treasure, delight in, long for, fear, worship, glorify or want something more than we desire God.” In short, we sin and we choke out Jesus’ work in our lives because we desire something or someone more than we desire Jesus… it’s the savior of pleasure.

Savior #4: Jesus. The last soil, the human heart that is all about kingdom spirituality, is looking solely to Jesus as Savior and Lord. This human heart receives and welcomes Jesus, responding fully to His gospel and kingdom work as it transforms our lives and our world.

What Savior(s) are you looking to in your life?

Go to Part 3 – “The Receptive Heart”