Category Archives: Studies in Mark

God Smiles on Humility!

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The way, the truth and the life!

The Way Up is Down (Chapter 1 Verses 6-7)

The dress John wore marked him out as a prophet (Zechariah 13.4), the rough hairy garment was the usual dress. The prophet Elijah fore-shadowed John the Baptist in his stern preaching of repentance (Malachi 4.5; Mark 9.11-12; Luke 1.17). This is a missing element in preaching today, repentance I mean. When was the last time you heard a good full-blown sermon on repentance that was applied directly to everyone present? A while ago? But that is the gospel fore-runner, without repentance can there be forgiveness, salvation? John the Baptist’s dress, eating habits, dwelling place and his preaching, his whole being was a sermon on repentance. It was a challenge to all who made food and drink, houses and clothing, and much other such material concerns their primary concern in life (Matthew 6.33). When people came to hear John in the desert they left their luxurious lifestyles behind and were reminded for a time at least how little man really needs in this world, and of higher, greater, loftier, eternal matters. The message John preached included one who was coming v7, the Lord Jesus. Like any true preacher of God’s word, never pointing to himself, or any other, only the Lord Jesus, the mighty to save (John 1.29). Why? Because the preacher, John is a mere man, the preacher has no power to save, to change, alter the course of someone’s life or eternal destiny. But one more powerful than John comes, the Son of God v1, with the power, to forgive, to cleanse, to heal, and to save.
But do you notice how John takes a back seat here? The humility of John is a mark of his holiness, his greatness. The very purpose of John’s life is to exalt, to magnify Christ, but that is what you would expect a man full of the Holy Spirit to do, is it not? Because that is the office and work of the Holy Spirit (John 16.14). But is not John’s attitude of humility a refreshing one in a day when such arrogance abounds? People who think they have the answer to all, they pontificate about the origins of the human race, they boast proudly about their scientific achievements, enlightened, so sure, so powerful, yet still pathetically bound by addictions, unable to break the power of lust in their hearts. One does wonder why they have so many problems, they know so much. But God admires, smiles upon humility (Isaiah 66.2). Unless this, our own generation humbles itself, God will have to do it for them (Matthew 23.12). John had the attitude of his Saviour v7 cf. Mark 10.45. In the attitude of the servant bowing to untie the sandals, John demonstrates his understanding of the greatness of the coming One, the Messiah, the Son of God. Worship him today. Jesus I mean.

Baptism, in Water and Spirit (Chapter 1 Verse 8)

The difference in the persons, John and the Lord Jesus, has been highlighted in v7, now the difference in their work v8. Yes, both baptize, but Jesus will crown his redemptive work by baptizing with the Holy Spirit. Now to suggest that there was nothing of the Spirit in John’s ministry is false, John was filled with the Spirit from birth (Luke 1.13-15), how else would the Word of God come to him (Luke 3.2)? John’s ministry of repentance was worked upon the people by the power of the Spirit, for no one believes but by the Spirit, nor do they turn from their sin without the gracious gift of repentance from the self-same Spirit (Luke 11.18). “Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ” (Westminster Confession Chapter 15 Section 1). The Spirit baptism declared by John was concurred by the Saviour’s own teaching (John 16.7; Acts 1.5, 8). The same Jesus Christ tells the very religious Nicodemus that Spirit baptism is imperative, for even understanding the Kingdom (John 3.3). The Pharisees, to whom Nicodemus belonged, refused John’s baptism. But Jesus tells him bluntly, you’re wrong, dead wrong, you need John’s baptism of repentance, and my Spirit baptism, both are essential, water and Spirit Nicodemus, just as John taught (John 3.5). Or there is no entrance to God’s Kingdom. Whatever our views may be on baptism, whether a little or a lot of water, you can be baptized in the Atlantic Ocean, but if you have not been baptized in the Holy Spirit you do not belong to Jesus Christ (Romans 8.9), you must be born again.
You see being a Christian is more than understanding certain truths of the Bible, more than religious emotion, or conviction, it is not simply the exercise of spiritual gifts (Matthew 7.21-23). It is not mere morality either (Luke 18.9-14). It is about a deep, radical change within the core of a person’s being, changing and renewing their hearts (2Corinthians 5.17). The Spirit of truth (John 16.13), he gives us a love for the truth (1John 4.4-6). That truth begins to mould and change our lives, we begin to think as God thinks, transforming our views (Romans 12.3), we now agree with what God says in his word and become more like his Son Jesus, the ultimate purpose of God for each of his children (Romans 8.29). Now how does that work you say? Well, as you prayerfully read your Bible each day, carefully, listening to what God says to you, applying it to your heart and life. Doing what he says (John 2.5). But that means discipline, straining toward the mark, sometimes we won’t feel like doing it, but we must. We go on in faith, faithfully, because God does bless faithfulness.

(©️James R Hamilton, June 2018)

Spirit-Filled Power!

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The way, the truth and the life!

The Way Up is Down (Chapter 1 Verses 6-7)

The dress John wore marked him out as a prophet (Zechariah 13.4), the rough hairy garment was the usual dress. The prophet Elijah fore-shadowed John the Baptist in his stern preaching of repentance (Malachi 4.5; Mark 9.11-12; Luke 1.17). This is a missing element in preaching today, repentance I mean. When was the last time you heard a good full-blown sermon on repentance that was applied directly to everyone present? A while ago? But that is the gospel fore-runner, without repentance can there be forgiveness, salvation? John the Baptist’s dress, eating habits, dwelling place and his preaching, his whole being was a sermon on repentance. It was a challenge to all who made food and drink, houses and clothing, and much other such material concerns their primary concern in life (Matthew 6.33). When people came to hear John in the desert they left their luxurious lifestyles behind and were reminded for a time at least how little man really needs in this world, and of higher, greater, loftier, eternal matters. The message John preached included one who was coming v7, the Lord Jesus. Like any true preacher of God’s word, never pointing to himself, or any other, only the Lord Jesus, the mighty to save (John 1.29). Why? Because the preacher, John is a mere man, the preacher has no power to save, to change, alter the course of someone’s life or eternal destiny. But one more powerful than John comes, the Son of God v1, with the power, to forgive, to cleanse, to heal, and to save.
But do you notice how John takes a back seat here? The humility of John is a mark of his holiness, his greatness. The very purpose of John’s life is to exalt, to magnify Christ, but that is what you would expect a man full of the Holy Spirit to do, is it not? Because that is the office and work of the Holy Spirit (John 16.14). But is not John’s attitude of humility a refreshing one in a day when such arrogance abounds? People who think they have the answer to all, they pontificate about the origins of the human race, they boast proudly about their scientific achievements, enlightened, so sure, so powerful, yet still pathetically bound by addictions, unable to break the power of lust in their hearts. One does wonder why they have so many problems, they know so much. But God admires, smiles upon humility (Isaiah 66.2). Unless this, our own generation humbles itself, God will have to do it for them (Matthew 23.12). John had the attitude of his Saviour v7 cf. Mark 10.45. In the attitude of the servant bowing to untie the sandals, John demonstrates his understanding of the greatness of the coming One, the Messiah, the Son of God. Worship him today. Jesus I mean.

Baptism, in Water and Spirit (Chapter 1 Verse 8)

The difference in the persons, John and the Lord Jesus, has been highlighted in v7, now the difference in their work v8. Yes, both baptize, but Jesus will crown his redemptive work by baptizing with the Holy Spirit. Now to suggest that there was nothing of the Spirit in John’s ministry is false, John was filled with the Spirit from birth (Luke 1.13-15), how else would the Word of God come to him (Luke 3.2)? John’s ministry of repentance was worked upon the people by the power of the Spirit, for no one believes but by the Spirit, nor do they turn from their sin without the gracious gift of repentance from the self-same Spirit (Luke 11.18). “Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ” (Westminster Confession Chapter 15 Section 1). The Spirit baptism declared by John was concurred by the Saviour’s own teaching (John 16.7; Acts 1.5, 8). The same Jesus Christ tells the very religious Nicodemus that Spirit baptism is imperative, for even understanding the Kingdom (John 3.3). The Pharisees, to whom Nicodemus belonged, refused John’s baptism. But Jesus tells him bluntly, you’re wrong, dead wrong, you need John’s baptism of repentance, and my Spirit baptism, both are essential, water and Spirit Nicodemus, just as John taught (John 3.5). Or there is no entrance to God’s Kingdom. Whatever our views may be on baptism, whether a little or a lot of water, you can be baptized in the Atlantic Ocean, but if you have not been baptized in the Holy Spirit you do not belong to Jesus Christ (Romans 8.9), you must be born again.
You see being a Christian is more than understanding certain truths of the Bible, more than religious emotion, or conviction, it is not simply the exercise of spiritual gifts (Matthew 7.21-23). It is not mere morality either (Luke 18.9-14). It is about a deep, radical change within the core of a person’s being, changing and renewing their hearts (2Corinthians 5.17). The Spirit of truth (John 16.13), he gives us a love for the truth (1John 4.4-6). That truth begins to mould and change our lives, we begin to think as God thinks, transforming our views (Romans 12.3), we now agree with what God says in his word and become more like his Son Jesus, the ultimate purpose of God for each of his children (Romans 8.29). Now how does that work you say? Well, as you prayerfully read your Bible each day, carefully, listening to what God says to you, applying it to your heart and life. Doing what he says (John 2.5). But that means discipline, straining toward the mark, sometimes we won’t feel like doing it, but we must. We go on in faith, faithfully, because God does bless faithfulness.

(©️James R Hamilton, June 2018)

Grace’s Culture Cure!

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The way, the truth and the life!

The Culture Cure? A Radical Ministry (Chapter 1 Verses 1-3)

These words originally spoken by Isaiah (Isaiah 40.3-5), referred in the first place to Israel’s return route from exile. Their disobedience to God had caused them to lose the promised land, exiled in Babylon. The way back was by no means smooth and straight. There is always a double edge to prophesy though, it had further reaching consequences than Isaiah understood in his day. Now some of its fuller implications were to be realized. God was coming to visit his people again, he wasn’t far away and his grace was about to be revealed in a new and powerful way. The culture in which John ministered? An Israelite society which had declined terribly, it was in a deplorable state. Politically? Rome ruled, and ruthlessly too. Socially? The age was modern, its habits and comforts were accompanied by vice and misery. Slavery was practised on a massive scale. Home life was degenerating, one parent families the order of the day. Nightly shows in the amphi-theatres provided the bloodiest entertainment you could lust for. Morally? Immoral and vicious. No conviction of sin (Ephesians 4.19). Prostitution was widespread amongst males and females, and abortion wholesale. Weariness had seized many, they were a people who needed a Saviour. The religious ethos? Annas and Caiaphas held office, and there will rule in the house of God. Ruthless ecclesiastics who cared nothing about God and revival of true religion was the last thing on their mind.
In to this environment, John came preaching, with a God-given message (Luke 3.2). So John needed to know he had been sent by God, his ministry would enrage the politicians, disgust the social workers, cut him off from the moralists, and ostracize him from the churchmen. He would need to remind himself often in the presence of God, “Lord, you sent me”. But now the stage is set for his ministry. John was a real radical in Israel, he needed to be, but a man who left his mark on their society. Many came out into the desert to hear him (3.5), he was a preacher, that’s what he did, nothing else (Luke 3.3). There aren’t many of them around these days? John lifted his voice and declared clearly and distinctly with great courage what God gave him to say. No alterations, no omissions, or additions. Nothing of his own eloquence, not what John thought best for Israel. But the good news which is folly to those on the road to destruction (1Corinthians 1.17-25; 1Corinthians 2.2). How is God revealed, communicated to people? Through preaching (Titus 1.3). How else are they to hear (Romans 10.14)? The Lord Jesus himself stated his own primary function was what? You’ve got it – preaching (Mark 1.14, 38). O whether you be a Christian or not, get with good preaching, there’s nothing better for your soul, how else can you live, I mean flourish, prosper, reach the mark God has set for you (Deuteronomy 8.3; Matthew 4.4)?

Changing Grace (Chapter 1 Verses 4-5)

The message John preached was threefold, that the people should be baptized, signifying repentance, in order that their sins be forgiven. The baptism he proclaimed was connected to repentance, that is to say, that it was repentance which made a person eligible for John’s baptism. John would not just baptize anyone who requested it. We actually see him refuse to baptize certain impenitent people. There had to be a change of mind, and a turning with the entirety of one’s being from sin and rebellion against God. There was a deep spiritual significance to what John (and the Bible as a whole) meant by repentance. It was a change of heart, turning from sin (Acts 2.38), and its consequent guilt to God (Acts 3.19), for forgiveness and cleansing (Jeremiah 31.34). We tend to think of repentance as being a negative thing, but on the contrary, it is very positive, it brings spiritual refreshment from the Lord. And as both John and Mark tell us, John emphasized its necessity for Divine forgiveness. Do you begin to see what Mark means about good news? That there is mercy with God, forgiveness in abundance? The very conception of the Gospel plan tells us that. But O, that there is forgiveness (Romans 4.7; Micah 7.19; Isaiah 43.25), there is a way for real guilt to be dealt with, and a way back to God from the dark path of sin (Isaiah 30.21). O the matchless grace and favour of God!
The word used for forgiveness here is one of the sweetest in the whole Bible. It means the sending away of sin (Psalm 103.12), so far away that on the day of judgment, not even God can find it. As though the writing on the page had been blotted out (Isaiah 43.25). Can there be sweeter, more wonderful news for a sinner? All of them, the mountains of them, the huge ones, the open and secret ones, the gross ones, all of them (1John 1.7). What blessed relief when Jesus knows all about them, comes into the heart and says, “they are all gone, forgiven, all gently washed away”? Many people came to John confessing their sins v5. It’s good for the soul to confess sin. But it is important to realize what is meant is that the people confessed their sin to God, not to a man, not to John the Baptist. The Bible is clear on this, God gives the authority to forgive sin to only one, the man Christ Jesus (1Timothy 2.5; Mark 2 1-12). There is no one, no matter what ecclesiastical authority they carry, or dress worn, who has the authority to say, “your sins are forgiven”. Only God himself, in Christ, no other (2Corinthians 5.19). Go and tell Him, now!

(©️James R Hamilton, May 2018)

Who Wrote Mark’s Gospel?

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The way, the truth and the life!

The Human Author (Chapter 1 Verse 1)

The first mention we have of the author, Mark, is in the book of Acts, he is the son of the woman Mary (Acts 12.12). It was to her house Peter went after the angel released him from prison (Act 12:7-12). The last we hear of Mark is when he wrote this, his version of the good news while in Rome, in close association with Peter again. His ministerial career always seems to have been in an assistant’s capacity. With Paul and Barnabas (Acts 11.29-30), then on their first missionary tour (Acts 13.5). When it came to the second missionary journey Paul and Barnabas disagreed sharply with regards to Mark’s usefulness. Paul’s concern was due to Mark’s display of inconstancy at Pamphylia, he seemed to lack determination, courage, enthusiasm, or if you like, hang-on-in-there-ness (Acts 15.36-41). It’s not unusual to see this attitude in Christian service today. How the Church needs people who are dependable, who will hang-on-in-there despite the discouragements and setbacks. It’s amazing how much work we can achieve if only we’re determined to plod on in the Lord’s work come what may. Maybe it was because of a proneness to discouragement that left Mark an assistant all through his Christian life?
He appears again on the scene during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. Paul in writing his letters mentions Mark in his greetings (Colossians 4.10, Philemon v24). There had obviously been a reconciliation between the two men by this time. Is it not a tragedy when Christians fall out, and sometimes it seems they are determined they will never speak to one another again? We need to take the Lord’s words seriously (Matthew 6.14-15), he means what he says. A working relationship was developed and maintained to the end of Paul’s life. We find Paul asking Timothy to join him, and he requests that the useful Mark should come too (2Timothy 4.11). Is it not so important for us all to keep up with people and not just give up on them? Even though they make mistakes and fail in their lives? Perhaps with some encouragement or even a gentle shove, it would help a fellow Christian in the Church to find their place of usefulness, of restoration to God’s service. One failure doesn’t mean the end. I mean we wouldn’t want folk to give up on us, would we? Every member of the Church is bought and loved at infinite cost by the Lord. And each has a useful role, a place, from the least to the greatest, the public to the more private gifts, the ministry of the word to the cup of tea given in Jesus’ name (1Corinthians 12.1ff, Matthew 25.37-40).

The Divine Author (Chapter 1 Verse 1)
The close association Mark had, not only with Peter but with the Lord too, makes him the suitable author of this Gospel. And of course, these witnesses had the promise of the Holy Spirit’s help (John 14.26; 16.14). In all our handling of Scripture, we must never lose sight of the Divine authorship, guidance and control (2Timothy 3.16). It’s because the Person of the Holy Spirit is behind Holy Scripture we can have supreme confidence in every single word. It is God’s word, the voice of the Spirit. Mark’s Gospel was written for us Gentile readers and is probably the simplest of all four. His theme is the glad news of salvation, presented in a fast-moving and exciting way. But like the rest of Scripture, it is produced ultimately to create faith, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20.31), “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10.17). The word of God must always be handled thus, or else we read it or listen to without any profit at all (Hebrews 2.1-4; 4.1-2). How are we to read the Scriptures? “The Holy Scriptures are to be read with a high and respectful estimation of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial and prayer” (Westminster Larger Catechism Q & A:157).
The opening phrase (v1) must surely be considered as a title, the essence of salvation truth, the glad news. That’s what the word gospel means. But of course it is only good news to those who have seen themselves as God sees them, who have looked into the mirror of God’s word, who have seen that they are sinful, miserable, wretched creatures (Psalm 51.5; Jeremiah 17.9; Isaiah 64.6), who are in need of the good news of God’s forgiveness (Isaiah 1.18; 1John 1.8-10). For such, there is good news indeed. For it is about Jesus, the personal Saviour (Matthew 1.21), whom Mark records for us. That beautiful, that dynamic life, free from the blight of sin, full of compassion and mercy, showing the likeness and the glory and the kindness of God to us (2Corinthians 4.6; Hebrews 1.1-3). Mark does not finish there, he adds, “God’s Son.” The eternal, co-equal, essential Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. This Saviour, whom Mark draws our attention to, is nothing less than the Son of God, perfect and adequate in every way, able to start and finish the job he came do (Hebrews 7.25; Philippians 1.6). Trust him with all your heart.

(©️James R Hamilton, May 2018)

On Your Mark!

fullsizeoutput_314On Being an Over-comer

 

How do you reach the mark, the goal set for you by Jesus Christ (Philippians 3.14)? How do I not only end the race but win it? How do I not join the failures, the defeated millions who never come to realize the potential that could be theirs in Christ? How do I capitalize on the grace God has invested in me (Matthew 25 14- 30)? I want to be a winner! I don’t want to simply crawl unnoticed through the gates of heaven, I don’t want to just make it. I want a great, an abundant entrance! I want God to throw open wide the gates of his kingdom (2Peter 1:11), and welcome me, with well done! Imagine a scene at Westminster Abbey, in London, the Monarch is about to arrive, there’s the hub-bub of noise, people chatting, moving, the folk of no great importance coming and going. But then the royal car arrives, the doors are thrown wide open, and one by one people stop talking, a great hush falls upon the place, and then just as the royal figure steps up to the entrance, as one, all rise and a mighty crescendo, a fanfare of trumpets fills the whole abbey. A great, a super, abundant entrance! That’s the way we want to enter heaven, not crawl through the back door.

Overcoming the Obstacles

But how? Paul, the Apostle, speaks of straining towards the mark, to the end of the race that is (Philippians 3.14), it’s his goal, his mission statement. He wants to achieve the prize that is his from the God who is calling him up to heaven. But between us and that same goal lies so much, there are the accusations, other people, Christians included. There’s the condemnation of Satan, there’s trouble, calamity, so much disappointment, fears about today and worries about tomorrow. And then, after overcoming all these, there is death, ugh! Well God promises in his word, none of these things can ever separate us from his love in Jesus Christ (Romans 8.35-39). He has promised overwhelming victory. It is there for the taking. But taken it must be, by faith. Not a passive faith, but a working, doing faith. When Paul says he strains, that means he works at it. He says elsewhere “I labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily” (Colossians 1.29), I work very hard at this, as I depend on Christ’s mighty power. Of course, Paul speaks there of his ministry, but the principle applies to every area of Christian living. As we work, strain toward the mark, depending on the power of Jesus, we get the grace, the power to overcome, to win, to reach the mark.

Secret Strength in the Seed

What were we given the Bible for? For some, it is no more than a textbook to be studied. For some, it is the gathering of, a quest for knowledge, information. For others, it’s to pass exams. No, listen up! God gave us his word, first of all,  to teach us how to be reconciled to Him and to live unto Him. This is how you do it, become like Christ Jesus, God says. But that mark will never be reached without the word of God, the Bible. And that is why these notes on Mark’s copy of the good news are so important. Not that you become more clever, or are able to teach and correct others, or can pass anyone’s test of knowledge. But that you may become a winner, know that you have the assurance of God’s overwhelming victory of love. As we put the effort into it, day by day, no matter how hard we find it, as we strain toward the mark, God’s grace flows toward us, encouraging, strengthening, giving us victory in the midst of our failures, disappointments, all the calamities that life can throw at us. So get ready, on your mark, get set. As we wind our way through Mark’s gospel we are going to have a life-changing encounter with God, he is going to speak to us, tell us things we never knew, experience things we never dreamed possible, at times it will be a strain, but at the end of those days we will not be the same people as before. That is guaranteed! Are you ready? On your mark!

Getting the Best Out of God’s Word

Perhaps a suggested method of use would help. A time of prayer asking God, the Holy Spirit to enlighten, to give you understanding. To sing a Psalm or Hymn of praise as you devote yourself to Jesus each day. You can be greatly enriched by reading other passages of the Bible too, maybe a chapter from the Old Testament and a chapter from the New Testament, and then to read the appropriate passage from Mark’s Gospel that we are studying, following with a careful reading and checking all the cross-references as you go. This could be followed by a time of serious and prayerful consideration of what has been read. This I believe can only enrich your soul and increase, heighten your spiritual life, thanking and praising God for his kindness to you. Of course, all this takes time, but any time set apart for God is imperative for the Christian life if you are to grow, stay healthy, be strong, overcome evil, practise good, serve the Lord in righteousness. Be strong in the Lord! But you can’t be that without the Word of God dwelling in you richly.

I hope I trust, I pray that God will bless you as you use study his word, that you may be inspired to closer walk with God, in the victory he has provided for you as you walk by faith in Jesus.

In Praise of God’s Word

Thy word O Lord, I love to keep,
To live and meditate;
It shows my sin, it makes me weep,
And all transgression hate.Thy word O God, it breaks my heart,
It causes me to yearn;
Something, Someone, a brand new start,
A way I cannot earn.

Thy word O Lord, it is my hope,
My peace, my joy, my all;
It points me to the Christ of God,
My Saviour and my all.

Thy word O Lord leads to the Lamb,
The bloodshed on the cross;
To guilt removed, to sin destroyed,
I cannot suffer loss.

Thy word O Lord, my lamp shall be,
Thou art the Holy Oil;
Thy light increase, my love to Thee,
To rest from all my toil.

Thy word O Lord will lead me home,
And never shall it fail;
It’s truth, it’s light, it’s always right,
That’s why I will prevail.

(©️James R Hamilton, May 2018)