Equipping Manly Men in the Church

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An Introduction to the Gospel of Mark (pt. 1)

[Sermon Audio]

I. Authorship

As is the case with all four of the Gospel accounts, the author of this Gospel does not identify himself. Thus, any attempt to determine who wrote this Gospel must look to the testimony of the early church for help.  Looking back at the writings of the early church, we find that uniformly the early church recognized Mark as the author of this gospel. The earliest statement that we have on the authorship of Mark comes from an author named Eusebius (at the latest A.D. 140). According to Eusebius, a teacher named Papias said that, “The elder used to say this: Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately… whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.” From this quote we gain three important pieces of information. First, Papias said that this view went all the way back to the “the elder.” Most likely this elder refers to none other than the apostle John. If this is the case, then we have evidence going all the way back to the New Testament authors that Mark wrote this Gospel. Second, Papias specifically names Mark as the author of this Gospel. Third, Papias tells us that this Mark was an interpreter of Peter. In other words, he studied under Peter and he was familiar with Peter’s preaching ministry. This is not the only quote from church history that indicates that Mark wrote this gospel, but it is the earliest and best example of what the early church believed. Specifically, that Mark the student of Peter wrote this Gospel.
Now that we have established Mark as the author of this Gospel we must now determine which Mark wrote this Gospel. Mark was not an uncommon name; there could have hundreds of men named Mark in the church at that time. However, as we look at the Scriptural evidence it will become clear that Mark who wrote this letter was the “John Mark” referred to with some frequency in the New Testament.

The first appearance of “John Mark” in the Scriptures may come as early at Mark 14:51-52. Jesus and his disciples had left the upper room to go down into the garden where Jesus was betrayed by Judas, and arrested by “a crowd with clubs and swords.” In 14:51-52 we read of this young man getting caught up in the actions:

A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked.

Apparently this young man was sleeping when he was awakened by the commotion. In haste he ran outside to see what was going on only to find Jesus being arrested and his disciples running away. About that time someone from the crowd grabbed this young man. He struggled to get free and ran away naked leaving his sheet behind. Many have speculated that this young man was Mark for a couple of reasons. First, his mother Mary owned a home in Jerusalem that may have been used by Jesus on that night. Second, Mark is the only Gospel writer to include this detail. Thus, it would make sense for him to be this unidentified “young man.”
The next appearance of John Mark comes in Acts 12:12. In this account Peter is miraculously freed from prison and flees “to the house of Mary the mother of John who was also called Mark.” After this, John Mark left Jerusalem with Paul and Barnabas for Antioch (Acts 12:25). From there Mark remained with Paul and Barnabas assisting them in their missionary work (Acts 13:5). This was a natural fit for Mark. His mother had already proven to be a useful servant to the church; he was Barnabas’ own cousin (Colossians 4:10); he was even bilingual. Everything was going according to plan for Mark as he served under to world’s foremost missionaries until one day when everything changed for Mark. As the missionary team moved on to their next stop in Perga in Pamphylia Mark abruptly deserted his missionary team and returned home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Luke does not tell us why Mark deserted his companions, but it seems as if Mark was no longer willing to face the dangers and hardship that lay ahead of the missionary team.
Mark’s desertion was not well received by Paul. In fact, as Paul and Barnabas prepared to leave for their second missionary journey a major dispute arose over whether Mark should be allowed to accompany them or not. Paul said no, and Barnabas said yes. Unable to reconcile their opinions the team split up over this incident (Acts 15:36ff). At this point in Mark’s story we see a man who failed to live up to his commitments and let down the apostle Paul himself. However, this is not the end of Mark’s story.

Around eight years after Paul and Barnabas split up over Mark, Paul was in prison writing the epistles to the Colossians and Philemon. In the conclusions to both of these letters we once again find John Mark. This time the once rejected John Mark is now commended by the apostle Paul as a co-worker (Colossian 4:10; Philemon 24). In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul added to his commendation of Mark when he wrote: “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.”
The final mention of Mark in the New Testament comes from the pen of Peter in 1 Peter 5:13. Here Peter writes, “She [the Church] who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.” From this we learn that John Mark was in Rome ministering with Peter. We are not sure exactly what role Mark played in the ministry of Peter, but it is clear that Peter had a major role in Mark’s development. As Hendricksen has pointed out, “It would appear, then, that sovereign grace, making use of the kindly tutelage of Barnabas, the stern discipline of Paul, and the potent influence of Peter, had triumphed in the life of Mark.” And of the three of these it was the “potent influence of Peter” that had the greatest impact on Mark’s Gospel. Peter was a man who knew what is was to deal with immaturity, and failure. He had personally experienced both as a disciple of Christ. And because of these experiences, Peter was the perfect man to take Mark under his wing and help him to grow in the Lord.

Peter’s relationship with Mark is not only interesting to reflect upon, but it is also a key element in understanding Mark’s gospel. As Heibert has pointed out, “Peter’s preaching indeed was the main source upon which [Mark] drew….” This influence of Peter upon Mark’s Gospel is seen in several ways.

i. First of all, Peter’s influence upon Mark gives this Gospel credibility. Peter was one of the twelve; an eye witness to the earthly ministry of Christ. On the other hand, Mark was at best an interested bystander to the Christ’s arrest. Mark surely did not have the credibility on his own to record the events of Christ’s life, but through Peter he did.

ii. Peter’s influence upon Mark’s gives it a vivid quality. Many of Mark’s episodes are recorded with a vividness that could only be recounted by an eyewitness (i.e. the addition of the “and Peter” found only in Mark 16:7). If one were to replace the word “they” with “we” one could easily imagine Peter telling the story rather than Mark (1:21, 29; 5:1, 38; 6:53-54; 8:22; 9:14, 30, 33; 10:32, 46; 11:1, 12, 15, 20, 27; 14:18, 22, 26, 32). Quite literally, the Gospel is revealed to Mark’s readers through the eyes of Peter. Consequently, Mark’s Gospel portrays the disciples—especially Peter—in a very candid light. Mark does not protect the image of the disciples, but rather he reveals them in all of their humanity (4:13; 6:52; 8:17, 21; 9:10, 32). Undoubtedly, this reflects the influence of Peter.

iii. Finally, Mark’s reliance upon Peter reflects the continuance of the apostolic teaching of Peter.

 

How Does God Control Sin?

The relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s sin

The Bible makes it clear that God is not the cause of sin.

James 1:14: Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.

However, the sinful acts of men are within God’s sovereign rule.  In this way God does not cause sin, but rather relates to sin.  There are four ways God relates to sin:

1. God can put a stop to sin – at times God prevents men from sinning.

Genesis 20:6:   Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.

2. God can allow sin – God often allows men to commit the sins that they are determined to do in order to bring glory upon Himself.

Romans 1:24:  Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.

3. God can use sin – because God is sovereignly in control of His creation He is able to permit sin, and use that sin to accomplish His holy purpose.

Genesis 50:20:  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

4. God can limit sin – in many cases God restrains the sin of men.  This common grace is experienced by all, and it is the reason that despite being totally sinful we are not absolutely sinful.

Job 1:12:  Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord.

 

Core Principles for Accomplishing our Mission (pt. 1)

The Church’s mission is to spiritually prepare individuals for the Kingdom of God.  If we are going to be effective in this mission then there are core principles that we are going to have to hold onto.

A. A High View of God

The church must be committed to a high view of God. An appropriately high view of God is the starting point of all wisdom (Prov 9:10), and when the church has this view of God then all other aspects of church life and theology fall into their proper places.

In order to have a high view of God we have to Know who and what God is.  So, what is God.  The Shorter Catechism answers that question for us:

God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power. Holiness, justice, goodness, and truth,

This means that  an appropriately high view of God must include (but is not limited to:)

o  His wisdom (Rom 11:33).

o  God’s sovereignty (Dan 4:17),

o  His holiness (Isa 6:3),

o  His righteousness/justice (Rom 3:24-26),

o  His goodness (Ps 34:8),

o  His Truth (Exodus 34:6)

Apart from a high view of God the church will inevitably tolerate sin and focus her attention on pleasing men rather than glorifying God. This is why the church must be committed to a God-centered ministry, and this requires a high view of God. When the church draws near to God in this way then God will most assuredly draw near to the church (James 4:8-10)

B. The Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture

The church must be committed to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. If the church has a high view of God then by implication it should have a high view of God’s word. Every word contained in the 66 books of the bible has been breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16). This makes it authoritative and
sufficient. The authority of Scripture means that it must be believed and obeyed. Whatever it says the church must do! The bible must never be trivialized, marginalized, or disobeyed. Every word that God has provided is necessary to feed and lead the church (Matt 4:4).The sufficiency of Scripture means that God’s word is the only standard necessary for the faith and practice of the church. It is relevant to deal with every conceivable situation. It may not specifically address every situation, but it does provide the principles by which we can faithfully follow God in every situation. Additionally, God’s word has been proven true. It always accomplishes it’s purpose (Isa 55:11). It is always effective for the work of ministry (2 Tim 3:16-17).  Apart from a commitment to the authority and sufficiency of scripture the church will not be guided by God. Personal experience and contemporary wisdom will replace the word of
God as the driving force of ministry. In the end, when the church is not committed to God’s word it can never live up to God’s standards. Thus, the church must be committed to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

 

In addition to these 2 core principles I would add:

3. The Need for Sound Doctrine

4. The Significance of a Holy Church

5. The Priority of Biblical Leadership

We will delve deeper into these principles in the days to come…

[Sermon Audio for this material can be accessed HERE]

A Dependent Church – Acts 4:23-35 (pt. 3)

Audio // Part 1 // Part 2

IV. A Dependent Church is Unified (v. 32a)

So far we have seen three traits of a dependent church: 1) a dependent church prays, 2) a dependent church finds comfort in the Sovereignty of God, 3) a dependent church boldly proclaims God’s word.  In the v. 32 we will see that the fourth trait of a dependent church is that a dependent church is unified.  In this verse Luke is done recording the prayer, and now he begins to describe the church.  The first thing that he says about this group of believers is that “the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.”  With this we learn that they were not only united in their prayer, but they were also united in heart and soul.  Or to put it another way, they were unified.

The terms heart and soul together simply indicate that they were unified in the entire being.  There was no part of them that was not unified with the rest of the church.  When I think of this it is quite amazing to me, and leaves me with several questions.  For instance, what does this kind of unity look like?  In response to this question Kent Hughes put it better that I can when he said that

This does not mean these believers saw everything eye to eye. It is wrong to suppose, as sadly some do, that when believers dwell in unity they will carry the same Bible, read the same books, promote the same styles, educate their children the same way, have the same likes and dislikes—that they will become Christian clones. The fact is, the insistence that others be just like us is one of the most disunifying mind-sets a church can have because it instills a judgmental inflexibility that hurls people away from the church with lethal force. One of the wonders of Christ is that he honors our individuality while bringing us into unity.[1]

As we pursue unity in our own church Hughes’ quote is very helpful.  We should not be looking for conformity to one another’s preferences.  Instead, we should accept the different ways that God has gifted each one of us, and seek to use those gifts together to serve Christ.  This is the essence of unity.  Unity is a group of individual who have been joined together through the work of Christ, and who are willing to set aside personal preferences in order to better serve Christ.  The bible tells us that when the church is unified in this way there will be amazing results.  In fact, when Jesus was praying just before his crucifixion He made this request of the Father:

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:20-21)

Here we see that the unity of the church is a testimony to the world that Jesus was sent by God as the Savior.

Another question that arises in my mind as I contemplate the unity of this early church is: where does this kind of unity come from?  I ask this in my mind because this kind of unity is difficult for me to pursue.  I don’t want to surrender my own preferences.  I would rather have everyone just do it my way, so this kind of unity is not going to come from within me.  In fact, this kind of unity is not going to come from within any one of us, it comes only from God.  This is why Ephesians 4:2-3 says “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Notice the it says that we need to preserve the unity, not create it!  This is because God has already provided it for us through the work of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. REMEMBER, Unity is a group of individual who have been joined together through the work of Christ, and who are willing to set aside personal preferences in order to better serve Christ.  You see, Christ died so that we could be forgiven of our sins and become a part of His spiritual body.  Additionally the Spirit has given each one of us individual gifts so that together we can effectively serve Christ.  This means that our unity come from God.  Or to put it another way, we must depend upon God for our unity.  When we are jealous of another persons gifts we are really failing to depend upon the God who gave the gifts.  When we refuse to humbly forego our own rights for the good of our brother we are really selfishly pursuing our own good rather than depending upon God to work all things together for our God.  I think you get the point.  Dependence upon God will result in unity.  This was certainly the case with this group of believers in Acts 4.  They were so busy depending upon God that they didn’t have time for disunity.  They were busy praying, preaching, and as we will see in a minute providing for one another.  They didn’t have time for disunity.  Rather, their dependence resulted in unity.

V. A Dependent Church Gives Generously (vv. 32b, & 34-35)

In vv. 32-36 we will see that a dependent church gives generously.  Here Luke further describes the church by saying,

and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

 To understand this passage we need to go back and remind ourselves a little bit about the situation that these people were in.  The church was filled with new coverts from every stripe of life.  Many of these people were very poor, and with the Jewish community persecuting them it would be hard to earn any extra money in the market place.  Additionally, many of the new converts were in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast, but when they repented and accepted Christ they extended their stay so that they could learn more about their new found faith.  This meant that there were a lot of people in financial need.  But look at how the church responded to this need.  No one held onto their own personal property.  Everything they had they made it available for service to Christ.  They understood that God was the one who gave it to them, and so they had no problem giving it back to God for the good of His church.  Because of this generosity Luke tells us that there was not a needy person among them.  This does not mean that everyone lived in the lap of luxury, or even that everyone was in the same tax bracket.  It simply means that everyone had their basic needs provided for.  Verse 34 tells us specifically that this was because some of the more well off believers were able to sell of land and give it to the apostle to be disbursed among the church. Thankfully the Lord saw fit to save some individuals who were in a more stable financial situation.

By the way, I want to set the record straight.  This passage is not teaching some kind of Christian communism.  As Calvin notes, “…he meaneth not that the faithful sold all that they had, but only so much as need required.” (Calvin, 192)  People still retained their possession, however they were willing to generously give up their possession when the needs of others required it. Kent Hughes further explains it, “If we focus on what seems to be the impracticality of this, or upon the seeming communism, we miss the point. Communism says practically, ‘What is yours is everyone’s. ‘Christianity says, ‘What is mine is yours.'”[2]

This kind of generosity can only come out of a heart that understand that God is the one who provides us with the material blessing that we have.  Or to put it another way, generosity comes from a dependent heart.  If we are depending upon God to provide for our needs then we will not fret giving away something the belongs to us.  The problem is that we very rarely view our money as a gift from God.  In fact, often times we depend upon our money rather than upon God.  We keep checking our bank accounts and as long as we have so much money we feel safe.  Or, we depend upon money to purchase the things that we think will satisfy our desires.  Either way we are depending upon our money, and when we do this it will be impossible to give generously.

What we must do instead is depend upon God to supply us with our needs, and then wisely use the resources that He has provided for us to serve Him.  Remember, whatever God has given you belongs to Him and He expects you to be a good steward of it.  He expects you to generously help your brother or sister in need.  And He expects you to regularly give to your church.  If you are depending on God then you will easily be able to do these things because you are not depending on you money.  The believers in Acts 4 were able to do this even though they were facing the kind of persecution that was eventually going to affect them economically, and they were able to do this because they were depending upon God.

VI. A Dependent Church Trusts God with the Results (vv. 31, & 33)

There is one more trait in the passage that I want to go back and look at.  Namely that a dependent church trusts God with the results.  Now I know I said earlier that the trust is synonym for dependence so this point is rather redundant.  But still I think that there is a helpful reminder here for us.  Look back at v. 31.  Here God answers the prayer of the people and look what happens, the began to preach boldly.  When the people prayed asking God for boldness they had no idea how He would answer that prayer, but they trusted Him.  Additionally, when they continued to speak the word with boldness they had no idea what would happen to them.  They didn’t know if a single person would accept their message, or even if the Sanhedrin would allow them to live.  But that didn’t stop them because they did not concern themselves with the results.  They were being faithful to what God called them to do, and they trusted Him to accomplish whatever results He intended to accomplish.

Now look at v. 33.  Here again we find the apostles testifying to reality of the resurrection of Christ.  But here Luke adds that they were doing so with great power.  I think that we can safely presume that this meant that they were experiencing great results.  I say this because the first time Peter preached 3,000 people were saved, and the second time he preached 5,000 people were saved.  One can only assume that when Luke says that they were preaching about the resurrection with great power that great numbers of people continued to believe.  However, I want you to notice why this was happening.  It was not because Peter knew his demographics well.  Or because the apostles had a great 10 year plan.  It was because “abundant grace was upon them all.”  In other words, as they were being faithful to their task the Lord took care of the results.

I want to be clear on this point.  I am not saying that God will provide thousands of converts to every preacher that faithfully depends upon him.  This is simply not how it works.  In fact, many of the prophets saw very few, if any people, respond to their message.  My point is simply that we must depend upon God for the results.  take this church for example.  Whether God fills up this building and we need eight services, or He keeps us where we are at our responsibility remains the same.  We cannot change the results, we can only dependently trust God with results.  This means that we don’t worry.  We are not anxious.  Instead, we trust in what God is doing.

Sometimes this is hard for us.  We worry about the results.  Rather than faithfully serve God we would rather manipulate the results.  This, however, reveals a heart that is dependent upon self rather than God.

 

Conclusion:

I this passage we have seen what a dependent church looks like.  Specifically, we saw 7 traits of a dependent:

  1. A Dependent Church is Committed to one another. (v. 24a)
  2. A Dependent Church God prays. (v. 24b)
  3. A Dependent Church finds comfort in God’s sovereignty (vv. 25-28)
  4. A Dependent Church boldly proclaims His word. (vv. 29-30)
  5. A Dependent Church is unified. (v. 32a)
  6. A Dependent Church gives generously (vv. 32b, & 34-35)
  7. A Dependent Church trusts God with the results.  (vv. 31, & 33)

My prayer for our church is that these traits would become prominent marks of everyday life around here.  But the only that is going to happen if each of us individually seeks to live out these traits in our own lives.  So my challenge for all of us is that we would dependently look to God as our source of help in all circumstances.  That we would have a heart attitude that trusts God more than self.


            [1] R. Kent Hughes, Acts : The Church Afire, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996), 69.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Acts : The Church Afire, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996), 71.

Weekend Wrap up (1.23.12)

Monday mornings are a great opportunity to reflect back on the Lord’s Day and remind ourselves of what God did and how God spoke to us through His word.  Here is a brief recap of what happened at Grace Community Church at Wilmington…

Prayer Needs

  1. On Sanctity of Life Sunday we prayed for the end of abortion.
  2. We prayed that God would provide gifted and godly workers for our children’s ministry

Also, a few requests that weren’t specifically mentioned:

  1. Pray for our study in the Gospel of Mark which will begin next week.
  2. Pray that God would provide the financial means for us to act on a specific ministry opportunity for our church.

Sunday Morning: A Dependent Church (pt. 2)

We finally finished up are examination of what a Dependent Church looks like in Acts 4:23-35.  Here are the traits of dependence that we saw in this passage and are striving for in our church:

  1. A Dependent Church is committed to one another. (v.23)
  2. A Dependent Church God prays. (v. 24a)
  3. A Dependent Church finds comfort in God’s sovereignty (vv. 24b-28)
  4. A Dependent Church boldly proclaims His word. (vv. 29-30)
  5. A Dependent Church is unified. (v. 32a)
  6. A Dependent Church gives generously. (vv. 32b, & 36)
  7. A Dependent Church trusts God with the results.  (vv. 33, & 36)

Listen to the sermon HERE.

Sunday Evening: “The Mission of Our Church” (pt. 1)

Last week we discovered that our mission as a church is to “spiritually prepare individuals for the Kingdom of God.”  As we seek to fulfill our mission there are some core principles that we must hold on to very tightly.  We saw the first 2 of those principles yesterday:

  1. We must be committed to a high view of God.
  2. We must be committed to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

Listen to the sermon HERE.

Read the full Philosophy of Ministry HERE.

Questions to Think About:

Sunday Morning: Acts 1:23-35

  • What does it mean to Depend upon God?
  • How can we work to preserve the Unity God has provided?
  • How can we look at our financial resources from dependent perspective?
  • How should Christians view earning a living and sharing with others?
  • What is a biblical definition of success? How does this affect our personal lives as well as our church body life?
  • Evaluation: Are you trusting God with the results in your life? In what areas do you need to focus more on faithfulness and less on results?

Sunday Evening

  • What are the core principles (Philosophy of Ministry) of our church?
  • Why is it so important for us to uphold these principles?
  • Evaluation: How are you doing at personally upholding these principles in your own life?

 

 

 

Jesus>Religion… an interesting perspective

The viral “Why I hate Religion, but Love Jesus” has made the rounds and been discussed at length.  There isn’t any reason for me to analyze it when you can go HERE and get a very good perspective on the video.

However, I read an article today by Jonathan D. Fitzgerald of  the WSJ online that provided an interesting opinion (especially since it was coming from a non-Christian publication):

This is the kind of Christianity in which I was raised, where a man with a high school degree and a “calling” can lead a congregation, where a pastor can spend millions advertising an apocalypse only he predicted, and where a church burns the Koran and leads to the unnecessary deaths of innocent people halfway across the world.

Stating that religions build churches at the expense of the poor, as Mr. Bethke does, turns a blind eye to the single greatest charitable institution on the planet. Blaming religion for wars ignores the fact that the greatest mass murderers in the 20th century—indeed in all of history—killed for nonreligious reasons. And advocating for a kind of Christianity that is free of the “bondage” of religion opens the door to dangerous theological anarchy that is all too common among young evangelicals and absolutely antithetical to biblical Christianity.

You can read the entire article HERE.