DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Tell to the Coming Generation (Psalm 78)

A couple of weeks ago I went to my family doctor for what they call the annual physical. I don't know why they call it annual, because nobody I know goes every year. If you're like me you avoid that thing as long as you can, and when you go you go reluctantly. You know what's coming. You're going to get poked and prodded and examined. The doctor is going to ask you uncomfortable questions, and give you advice you probably don't want to hear. I would probably go get a physical more often if they told me to cut down on my vegetables and to start eating more cookies.

In any case, they asked me about my family history. They wanted to know about the medical history of my parents and brothers and sister. The reason is that a lot of our health is a matter of genetics. The 23 chromosomes you received from your mother and the 23 chromosomes you received from your father combined to make you who you are, and doctors like to know what you inherited so that they know what you're passing on to your children.

The psalm we just read is not concerned with your DNA. But it is concerned with what you and I are passing to our children. Verses 1 to 3 are kind of like the receptionist from the doctor who keeps calling to say it's time for an appointment. They are trying to get our attention so that we listen to what this psalm has to say.

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will teach you lessons from the past-
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.

The psalmist is saying, "Listen up! This is going to be really important. You need to pay attention to this."

Verses 2 to 4 tell us what the psalmist wants to talk about. The psalmist is concerned that we learn "lessons from the past." Verse 4 says:

We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.

Verses 6 and 8 continue this theme:

so the next generation would know them,

even the children yet to be born,

and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God

and would not forget his deeds

but would keep his commands.
They would not be like their ancestors-

a stubborn and rebellious generation,

whose hearts were not loyal to God,

whose spirits were not faithful to him.

What is the psalmist saying? I believe he's saying three things that we desperately need to hear. One: about our responsibility. Two: about our failure. Three: about the hope we can have despite our failure.

First: We have a responsibility not just to our generation, but to future generations.

Over and over in this passage the psalmist reminds us that we have a responsibility that extends beyond ourselves to the next generation.

So:

  • verse 4 - "we will tell the next generation"
  • verse 5 - "he commanded our ancestors to teach their children"
  • verse 6 - "so the next generation would know them"
  • again in verse 6 - "and they in turn would tell their children"

Last week, Robin shared with us that we have 50,000 people living within two miles of this church. He reminded us of the staggering responsibility we have as a church for sharing the gospel with these people. These are people in our community who are not in relationship with God, and who have not heard the gospel. Feel the weight of this. We've been placed in this community with the charge to make disciples, to take the gospel to people in our community.

The psalmist reminds us that our responsibility is not just to the people who live around us. There are generations yet to come: our children, our grandchildren. We need to tell them about "the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD" because we want them to put their trust in God. And we want to tell people in this community about the Lord not only because we went them to trust the Lord, but because they will have children and grandchildren. We want people in our community to trust the LORD, knowing that they will be changed, and God-willing their children will change, and their grandchildren, and so on.

There was a man named George McCluskey. When McCluskey married and started a family, he decided to invest one hour a day in prayer, because he wanted his kids to follow Christ. After a time, he expanded his prayers to include his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Every day between 11 a.m. and noon, he prayed for the next three generations.

As the years went by, his two daughters committed their lives to Christ and married men who went into full-time ministry. The two couples produced four girls and one boy. Each of the girls married a minister, and the boy became a pastor.

The first two children of the next generation were boys. One became a minister; the other became a psychologist and author - James Dobson.

We have a responsibility to the 50,000 people around us. But we also have a responsibility for future generations.

We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
(Psalm 78:4)

That's what the psalmist is saying. We have a responsibility for the next generation. But he's also telling us something else:

Second: We have failed.

Now, I've heard some people talk about their pasts. Every time I hear their stories, their life has been even more dramatic. The obstacles they faced get bigger, and their victories greater. I would love to be able to tell stories about great exploits, of how well we have lived and served.

But that's not what the psalmist says in this psalm. He says that we have a message, and the message is one of our failure, and God's grace. Verses 7 and 8 give us the burden of this psalm, both positively and negatively:

Then they would put their trust in God

and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
They would not be like their ancestors-

a stubborn and rebellious generation,

whose hearts were not loyal to God,

whose spirits were not faithful to him.

The psalmist charges us to fulfill our responsibility to the next generation. He then holds up the past as a mirror so that we can see ourselves, and he says: history must not repeat itself. He's relentless in making his point. From verses 9 to 64 he recounts failure after failure on the part of Israel.

  • In verses 9 to 16, he says they turned back in the day of battle, forgetting all that God had done in delivering them from Egypt. They could talk about God's power in the past, but it made no difference in the present. They were cowards despite God's power.
  • In verses 17 to 31, he says they sinned even more in the wilderness. The more God gave, the less they appreciated it. They murmured and complained. They failed time after time despite God's miraculous provision.
  • In verses 32 to 39, it looks like they finally repent, but their repentance is only skin deep. God disciplined them, and they repented for a while. But it was all a lie. Yet God showed compassion and restraint despite their disobedience.
  • In verses 40 to 53, the psalmist emphasizes, again, their continual ingratitude for the deliverance God had provided for them. "How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness...Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel" (Psalm 78:40-41)
  • Finally, in verses 54 to 64, he says they were ungrateful for the promised land.

There you have the entire history of Israel up until that point. Over and over again: they sinned, they rebelled, they forgot.

Don't forget that this is a psalm. This is Israel's songbook. I don't think we have any songs like this today. Maybe we should. Why would Israel sing a song reminding itself of all of its failures, and of God's patience?

I think it's because the psalmist wants us to examine ourselves, and to remind ourselves that we're in danger of repeating history. We're supposed to learn from the past and to remind ourselves that we have a pretty good track record of blowing it. This is also a reminder that our strength is not in ourselves, and our story is certainly not about how great we are. There is a hero in the story, and it's not us. It's God, who extends grace over and over.

Most of all, this psalm is part of worship to call us to something better. Don't let history repeat itself. Let's not make the same mistakes. Repent. Remember. Respond in gratitude to the deliverance God has given you. Do so for the sake of the next generation.

This is an especially timely message for us after last week. In a sense, we've had our history recounted for us. We've been reminded of our strengths, but we've also been confronted with some things for which we need to repent. The psalmist is saying: don't let the future be like the past. Don't repeat all the mistakes you've already made.

So, the psalmist says, realize that we have a responsibility to the next generation. And realize that we have a track record of failure. Learn from the mistakes from the past. But the psalmist has one more thing he'd like to tell us:

Finally, he tells us where we can get hope despite our failure.

If you're gotten this far in the psalm, you're looking for some hope. It's been kind of gloomy. It's like getting in trouble with a teacher at school, and having that teacher list all the times you've failed, all the times you've talked in class, all the times you've blown it, and then hearing, "Now tomorrow's a new day." Even if you want to do better, you know that it's not looking good. In class the next day you're probably going to repeat the same patterns you've been repeating for years.

Up until the end of this psalm we're not left with a lot of hope. But in verses 65 to 72 there's a new beginning. God wakes up as from sleep. He beats back his enemies. He chooses Mount Zion, which is in enemy hands, and captures it and reigns there. And then he gives them their greatest king, king David, who "shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them" (Psalm 78:72). All of this is undeserved, completely by grace. Their record is nothing but shame, but God emerges as their last and best hope.

Now we know it doesn't end there. Even after David, Israel persists in its sin. Eventually a new and better King arrives. The chosen tribe mentioned in verse 68 refused its rightful King, and did so in the chosen city. Yet God more than kept his promise. We have a King who is evidence of God's continuing grace, and who is evidence that God has not given up on his people. Where we have failed, he has obeyed. The King who came lived perfectly. He took our sins to the cross. He rose again triumphantly from the grave to give us new life. He reigns at the right hand of God, and offers eternal life to all who trust in his name.

For the sake of this generation and the next one, it's time. It's time to repent of the sins of the past, and to not let history repeat itself. It's time to renew our hope in Him despite repeated failure. This is going to take all of us. It's time to tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord.

Knowing God (Deuteronomy 6)

In their book The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner recommend a way for you to clarify what's really important to you.

Imagine that your organization has afforded you the chance to take a six-month sabbatical. You will not be permitted to communicate to anyone at your office or plant while you are away...But before you depart, those with whom you work need to know the principles that you believe should guide their decisions and actions in your absence. They need to know the values and beliefs that you think should steer the organization while you're away.

You're allowed just one page, and the result, according to the authors, is going to tell you a lot about what's really important to you.

In the passage that we have before us, Moses is not about to take a sabbatical. It's much more serious than that. Moses is about to die. He has led Israel for all these years, but he's now preparing for his death, and thinking about Israel's future. Before he dies he gives a series of sermons to Israel. These sermons are all found in what we call the book of Deuteronomy. These sermons reveal what's most important, according to Moses. These sermons are Moses' last chance to impress upon Israel some of the key lessons that they will have to remember if they are to continue faithfully.

And out of the whole book of Deuteronomy, we have come to the very core of the matter this morning. This is the very core of what Moses wants to leave behind. In fact, it's affirmed by rabbis and even Jesus himself that we have here the very core command that we need to apply as we follow God.

So let's look at this passage. We're going to see that Moses gives a command to know God in a way that transforms the whole of our lives and that deals with our greatest temptations, so that the next generation will experience God as well.

First, Moses commands us to know God.

Verse 4 says: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one."

This is called the Shema. It is the centerpiece of the Jewish faith. It's the pivot around which everything else in Deuteronomy revolves. It's been called the touchstone of Israel's faith.

What is so important about this verse? In this passage, God reveals himself. God says in this verse that he is going to identify himself, that he wants his people to understand who he is. In that day, people generally thought of multiple deities depending on the location and country. Today we generally have the same thing as well - we each get to decide what God is like, and we respect that you may have a different god or understanding of God than we do. But in this passage, God reveals himself. He says, essentially, that he is the only God, and that he as God is one. He is not divided. He is not one of many. And he alone is worthy of our allegiance. God begins with saying that he wants us to understand who he is.

Do you know what Moses is telling us here? He's saying that the most important thing is to know who God is. That's not all he's going to tell us - there's more - but it's important to pause here because it's tempting today to think that this doesn't matter at all. God reveals himself to us so that we will know who he is. As J.I. Packer puts it:

Knowing God is crucially important for the living of our lives...we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentenced yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.

Back then, as is the case now, there are a lot of false understandings about who God is. Some of us think that this doesn't really matter. It's a topic for theologians and academics, but not for normal people. But don't you see that the core of having a relationship is knowledge. It's getting to know about somebody, to accurately understand who that person is like, what motivates them, what gives them joy, what they love. You can't say that you have a relationship with somebody until you know them.

Moses is telling us that the great business of our lives is to develop an accurate knowledge of who God is - what he's like, what he has revealed of himself. To help us, God has revealed himself in Scripture so that we can grasp who he is. So Moses says that this is our primary task: to understand what God has revealed of himself. But then Moses says:

Our knowledge of God is meant to transform our entire lives.

It's not enough to know in our heads only. Moses continues:

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Jonathan Edwards says, "The Scriptures represent true religion, as being summarily comprehended in love, the chief of the affections, and the fountain of all others." So, Moses says, we aren't supposed to just understand who God is. It's got to be much more than that. It's meant to transform our entire lives. It's meant to capture our hearts. It's supposed to transform every part of our lives. They are to love him totally. Later on, Jesus affirmed this as the first, greatest, and most important commandment, so it's very important that we pay attention to it.

You see here that the relationship that we have with God is intensely personal. What Moses calls us to is not mere outward obedience. I've had jobs in which I've done my part. I've worked all day and given my best effort, but at the end of the day I was glad to walk away. They had my work but they didn't have my heart. Moses here says it's not to be like that. You're not to go through the motions with God. It's not even enough to do the right things. You've also got to have the right heart. It's not just outward obedience. It's about heartfelt love and the commitment of the whole person.

That's why he says "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" - with your entire personhood, with all of you. And the commands of God aren't just supposed to be on tablets; they're also supposed to be written on your hearts. Talk about them constantly, so it's not just about talking about God during devotions. Talk about them both at home and when you go out - not just in your personal life, but in your public life; when you lie down and when you get up - not just some of the time, but all of the time; on the door frames and the city gates - in your personal life, but also in your public life. Our love for God is to encompass all of our lives.

I was listening to a book this week. The author talked about his favorite radio station in Atlanta. It plays some good music. Some of the lyrics really aren't that good. But then they'll insert something they call an "inspirational vitamin."

The thing I find most interesting however is how they wedge the Inspirational Vitamin into their normal programming. What often happens is that right before they transition to the spiritual segment of the show they play some sort of [rap] song...Then they do the Bible verse and then they go back to booty music when it's over...

It's easy to laugh at how insincere that Inspirational Vitamin seems when it's sandwiched between hardcore rap songs, but to do so misses the bigger point - we Christians often live our lives the same way. Maybe God is listening to the broadcast of my day and this is what he hears:

  1. Quiet time in the morning. Read the Bible, prayer, give thanks.
  2. Go into work and act completely different and disconnected from God.Come home.
  3. Spend time with wife. Read the Bible, pray.

Moses tells us that this is not the way. The greatest priority is to know God. But don't just know him intellectually. Allow your heart to be engaged. Love God with the totality of your being, all the time, in every area of your life, not as an inspirational vitamin that you stick in occasionally.

Moses seems to anticipate our reaction here. I think many of us can see the logic in what he's saying, and we may even agree that this is a good idea, although we also know we won't really be able to do this consistently. That's why Moses goes on to say:

Our knowledge of God and relationship has to take into account some of our greatest temptations.

In verses 10 to 19, Moses is very realistic about the fact that we will be tempted to forget God in our lives. Moses addresses the land that the people are going to enter, "a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant." And then he gives a warning: "then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). The blessings they are going to enjoy will also present them with dangers. The very blessings of God can take the place of their relationship with God.

And that's not the only danger they face. They're going to be tempted by other gods, according to verse 14. And ironically they're going to be tempted not only by abundance but by times of suffering, as they were in Massah, according to verse 16. They're going to be tempted by both blessings and suffering, as well as by false gods of the people around him.

Today we could update this and say that some of us are going to be tempted because we've got the house with the double garage, as well as a high-definition TV and money in the bank. But some of us are going to be tempted by the bad diagnosis at the doctor's office, or the period of unemployment we weren't expecting. We're also going to be tempted by all the gods that people around us worship - power, sex, money, pleasure. In the middle of all of these temptations, Moses warns us to not forget God. Forgetting is a constant problem. At every turn we're tempted to forget God, and abandon the first and most important commandment.

One of the best things for us to do would be to begin to identify the things in our lives that make us forget God. What is it in our lives that causes us to live one way on Sundays, and a completely different way other times? We need to identify the temptations specific to you that may cause you to forget God.

At this point in the message you may be thinking that this is all well and good. But you may be feeling guilty because you don't live this way. You don't love God completely, and you don't have a hope of remembering him in all areas of your life. But this passage ends with perhaps the key for how we can do this. Because the last thing Moses says here is this:

Do all of this in such a way that the next generation will experience God as well.

Let's end with this one. The biggest test for you is going to be children, if you have them. You can fool people at church. You can fool the people in your small group. You can go through all the motions and even have daily family devotions. But the real test is if you're living in such a way that will transform not just your life, but the life of your children.

That's why verse 7 says, "Impress them [these commandments] on your children." Verse 20 assumes that you'll be living in such a way that your children will ask, "What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?"

One elder statesman of a Christian church has devoted himself to a fifty-year study of Christian and non-Christian families. He says that in American culture today, most young adults following Jesus Christ either come from non-Christian homes where they were converted to Christ in their teenage years through a dynamic youth ministry, or they come from homes where they grew up in love with Jesus because mom and dad were so in love with Jesus that love permeated their lives. It passed through their pores. Very few believers come from homes where there was a kind of indifferent, apathetic commitment to Christ.

It is sobering and thought provoking to suggest that, in American culture, the chances are better for a child growing up in a non-Christian home to become a Christian than for a child growing up in a home that has an indifferent, apathetic commitment to Jesus Christ. One of the keys to our children experiencing God is that we ourselves have a love for God that permeates our lives.

How do we get this? Notice what Moses says. When children ask the meaning of the stipulations, decrees, and laws, don't just answer, "God commands us to." When your kids ask why we go to church, don't say, "Because we're supposed to!" Moses says: answer with a story. And what a story it is. In verses 21 to 23, Moses says to answer this question with a story of the gospel. He told them the best story of the gospel that they had up until that time: that God had delivered them out of Egypt and saved them and made them his people. And Moses says, "That's why we obey God! As a response of gratitude for what he's done for us."

That's the best story that Moses had at that time, but we've got an even better one. If you want your life to be transformed, and not only your life but the life of your children, then tell yourself a story. Drill it into your hearts. And then allow it to overflow so that your children get it also. What's the story? That we were slaves to sin. And God brought us out of judgment and captivity with a mighty hand. At the cross, Jesus bought our freedom at the cost of his life, so that now we have peace with God. Tell the story of what Jesus has done for your life. Drill it down deep into your own life, and when your kids ask why we do what we do, tell them the story too. Our obedience is a response to that story.

In this very important passage, Moses tells us that we need to know God, not only know him but also to love him. And the way to do this is to get the story of what Jesus has done for us deep into our souls. And when this happens, it will change our lives, and it will also allow the next generation to experience God and his gospel as well.

So Father, I pray that in the next few weeks you would help us. We're going to look at how to know you, and also how we can pass on that knowledge of you to our children. We're looking at this because this is such an important issue. We want to be transformed, but we want our kids to know you as well.

We begin today by realizing that it starts with us. It doesn't start with forcing our kids to attend church or to follow all the rules. It starts with us getting so caught up with the gospel that it overflows into every area of our lives. Transform us with the gospel, Father, and allow our children to be transformed as a result. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

The Empty Tomb (Mark 16:1-8)

On Friday, things couldn't have been any worse. Jesus Christ, who had been preaching and healing for three years, had been completely abandoned by even his closest friends. One of the twelve people closest to him had betrayed him. One of his three closest friends had cursed, saying that he didn't have anything to do with Jesus. Not even his family believed. The story was over. Jesus had joined the history heap. He was just one of countless messiahs who came, built up a following, and then flamed out. If the Gospel of Mark ended at chapter 15, then Jesus would have been nothing more than a footnote of history, maybe getting a line or two in some ancient text but nothing more.

But just when things are at their worst, everything changes. In just 8 verses Mark shows us that everything has changed. In these 8 verses we're going to see that Easter was a surprise; that Easter includes us; and that the Easter story continues.

First: Easter is a surprise.

If you had lived at the time of Jesus, you would have understood that Jesus was just one of many messianic figures who came, and ended up dying disappointing deaths. For instance, Simon bar Kokhba led a revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 AD. He set up an independent Jewish state, and ruled for three years as ruler. But his revolt was eventually crushed, and today his name is hardly known. After the failure of the revolt, rabbinical writers began referring to him by a new name. Instead of calling him Bar Kokhba ("Son of a Star") they started calling him Bar Kozeba ("Son of the disappointment"). If the story of Jesus ended in Mark 15, this would have been the story of Jesus as well. Disappointment. Failure. End of story.

Now, Jesus had told his disciples over and over again what was going to happen.

"We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise." (Mark 10:33-34)

Here it is the third day, and absolutely nobody has even considered the possibility that what Jesus said would come true. His disciples are scattered. In verse 1 of this passage, three women come as soon as they can, early in the morning, with spices to anoint the body of Jesus. These spices would be very costly. They were designed to help deal with the stench that a decaying body would create. Nobody is expecting a resurrection. They expect to find a bloodied and decaying body there. Not a single person expected anything other than a dead body. As far as they were concerned, the story was over. Theologically, they didn't even believe that a resurrection could even take place in this age. That is something that the Jewish people believed would take place at the end of history. They certainly didn't expect Jesus to be risen from the dead.

Sometimes we make the mistake of reading the Bible and thinking that of course ancient people could accept the story of someone rising from the dead, and now we're so much more sophisticated. What you need to understand is that nobody back then expected the resurrection of Jesus. They didn't even have categories for it. When other leaders were killed, nobody thought to make up a story of resurrection.

The people in Mark didn't get it either, and yet something happened to transform them completely. A group of first-century Jews who were scattered and defeated and had no category for the resurrection were suddenly changed to emboldened witnesses who were prepared to give up their lives speaking about what they'd seen. As Pascal put it, "I [believe] those witnesses that get their throats cut." Virtually all of the disciples and early Christian leaders gave up their lives testifying to the resurrection of Jesus. Something happened on Easter morning that nobody had expected that changed everything.

If you're here this morning and you have a hard time believing the resurrection, join the club. There's not a person in the Gospel of Mark who expected it to happen. But something happened that changed everything - and is still changing everything today. Easter is a surprise.

But then, secondly, we see:

Easter includes us.

Mark 16:1 says, "When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body."

It's easy to miss how shocking this is. These women had been witnesses of Jesus' death. "Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome" (Mark 15:40). Two of them, according to Mark 15:47, witnessed where Jesus was buried. Now these three women are about to become the first witnesses to the empty tomb, and to the message of the angel.

What's so surprising about this? In Jesus' day, women were viewed as being unreliable witnesses. Their testimony was not considered admissible evidence. N.T. Wright makes the point that if you were inventing the story of the resurrection, you never would have made the first and best witnesses to be female. It would have been too inconvenient. The only reason you would say that women were the first and best witnesses is because that's what actually happened. It's there because it's true.

But it's surprising for another reason. The readers of Mark's Gospel would have understood that one of these three women, at least, was a woman with a past. Mary Magdalene was somebody who had previously been demon possessed. Luke 8:2 calls her "Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out." At least one of these three women is somebody who has a history.

What does this tell us? Mark is showing us how the gospel turns things upside-down. People who are excluded, who are pushed to the side, are the first and best witnesses of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The least likely people become part of the Easter story. You may be here this morning thinking that you're the least likely person. The first to be discounted in human society are the first to be included in divine society.

And just in case we get ahead of ourselves, Mark still points out that we won't get it right away. These women go to the tomb. They enter into a small chamber in the tomb and see a young man sitting there. This young man - an angel - announces the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They're told to go tell the disciples. All along, Jesus has told people not to tell people about him. Jesus commanded people to silence, and they spoke. Now, they're compelled to speak, and what do they do? Verse 8 says, "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." Easter is for the least likely people, but even the best of us blow it. The Resurrection changes us. The gospel changes us. But it's a process. Easter includes people like us, people who are the least likely to be included, people who still blunder in our responses to God and who don't get it right away.

What about the disciples? The angel told the women, "But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you'" (Mark 16:7). Before Jesus was betrayed, he told his disciples:

"You will all fall away," Jesus told them, "for it is written:
"'I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.'

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." (Mark 14:27-28)

The disciples had completely blown it. Jesus had told them over and over again what was going to happen, and they just couldn't get it. And when put to the test, they caved and they fled.

And out of all the disciples, no failure was more dramatic than Peter's. Peter had sworn emphatically, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you" (Mark 14:31). But when the moment came, Peter denied even knowing Jesus. Out of all the disciples, except for Judas, Peter knew that he had let Jesus down profoundly.

Yet the message was, "But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'" You see what this means? Jesus hasn't written Peter and the other disciples off.

Easter includes unlikely people. It includes people who blunder. It even includes people who have completely and utterly failed. Easter includes people just like us.

That's what Mark has been showing us so far. Easter is a surprise. It caught everyone by surprise. Nobody expected. And Easter includes us - the unlikely ones, the blundering ones, the failures. There's one more thing Mark shows us:

Finally: the Easter story continues.

You'll notice this morning that we've looked at verses 1 to 8. There's a reason. The oldest and most reliable manuscripts end at verse 8. Early church fathers don't seem to know of anything beyond verse 8. It seems like the last verse we have that authentically and originally comes from the pen of Mark is verse 8. Verses 9 to 20 seem to have been added later as a way to smooth out the ending.

I don't want to get into all the theories this morning about why Mark ends the way it does. Some think Mark meant to end this way. Others think that something happened - Mark wasn't able to complete his book, or what he originally wrote was lost. In a sense it doesn't matter. We learn a lot about what happened from the other records. No doctrine is affected no matter what we conclude about the abrupt ending of the Gospel of Mark.

But you have to agree that it's a strange way to end. Women come to the tomb and find the stone rolled away. They meet an angelic messenger who tells them that Jesus is risen, and he gives them a message to pass on to the disciples. Jesus is alive, and he's going to reconvene his community. The story continues. And then: "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." The end. Amen. Let's pray.

What a strange way to end the book! You can see why they'd try to neaten the ending and smooth it out.

But let's think for a minute. Those who first read Mark's Gospel would have known that this wasn't the end of the story. They would have heard the stories of Jesus' resurrection appearances. The very fact that the Gospel of Mark had been written would have been evidence that this wasn't the end of the story. Easter Sunday had set in motion a series of events that had transformed the disciples. Somebody points out that you have all the raw materials you need: an empty tomb, the young men's message, Jesus' indication that he's not done with his disciples yet. It's left to us to pull it together and to trace the line from what happened then to where we are today.

No matter how you understand the ending of the Gospel of Mark, it points out that Easter Sunday was not the end of the story. It's only the beginning. The resurrection of Jesus set in motion a new story that has not yet finished or resolved. It's a story that includes us today.

In a sense, Mark's Gospel ends at verse 8. For all we know, there was more, but we don't know. What we have ends, though at verse 8. But the story that Mark has begun to tell is a story that continues right to the present day. Jesus has been raised from the dead. It's taken us all by surprise. And Jesus is calling the most unlikely people - people who have let him down - to join his community of followers, and to announce the good news that Jesus is alive and has finished his work. The Gospel of Mark is over, but the story isn't. The story continues to this very day, and it includes you.

I'm glad that Mark ends with the disciples scattered and the women scared. I'm glad because we know that it doesn't end there. God transformed them into a group of people who, through the power of the Spirit, turned the world upside-down.


But it gives me hope, because some of us are scattered and afraid today. There's hope for us too. Easter may be a surprise, but the Easter story includes you in. It pulls you in so you see that Jesus has risen, and is alive, and the story continues. And it's a story that includes you.

Father, thank you for Easter. We've seen that Jesus bore our sins and our shame. But we've seen today that this isn't the end of the story. Jesus also rose to give us new life. You vindicated him, and he now sits at your right hand as King.

But you take us - those who are caught off guard, those of us who don't matter, who blunder in our responses, who flat-out fail you - and you pull us into the story. You take us and use us to change the world, not because we're strong, but because Jesus is risen.

So change us. Would you draw some of us even now into this story. We thank you for Jesus, for what he did. We thank you that he lives. And we pray in his name, the name of the risen and reigning King. Amen.

The Death of Jesus (Mark 15:21-47)

At first glance, the death of Jesus looks like a horrible defeat. In the passage we just read, Jesus is alone and abandoned. Instead of defeating the Romans as the Messiah, he's killed by the Romans. His own friends abandon him, and he's surrounded by mockers and strangers. And he dies with a loud cry, and it's over, and then he's buried. Why would Christians celebrate this death? Why do we call this Good Friday?

But you'll notice as you look at this passage that there's more than meets the eye. Because in this passage Mark tells, first, us that history's changed. Not only that, Mark tells us that our lives can change as well. Finally, Mark shows us, what took place at the cross is not a defeat; it's actually something that's worth celebrating.

First, History's Changed

Let's see how Mark shows us that history has changed by what takes place in this passage. In verse 33, right before Jesus died, we read: "At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon."

This detail - the darkness - is so important that it's mentioned by three of the four gospels. This couldn't have been an eclipse. Why? For one thing, an eclipse only lasts for a few minutes. Passover - which is when Jesus died - took place during a full moon, and eclipses only take place when it's a new moon. So this was no eclipse. Some people think it might have been a dust storm, but a dust storm would have been unlikely at this time because it was the wet season.

What Mark is telling us here is more than a weather report. Mark is showing us the significance of what happened. In the Bible, darkness means judgment. In Deuteronomy, God warned Israel:

However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you...At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 29)

One of the Hebrew prophets foretold a day when God would judge the nation of Israel. Amos predicted that God would call his people to account for their injustice. He said:

"In that day," declares the Sovereign LORD,
"I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight."
(Amos 8:9)

What Mark is saying is significant. We're going to look at the other events that take place around the cross. You're going to see that a lot is going on. But for three hours, the focus is not on any human activity, but on unnatural darkness. And it's not a darkness that goes to midnight. It's a darkness that ends at the death of Jesus. For three long hours, time passes as the death of Jesus takes place in unnatural darkness. Judgment. Isaac Watts wrote:

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature's sin.

What's going on at the cross? This isn't simply somebody's death. This is something far more than that. This is divine judgment. At the cross, Jesus bears the full weight of divine judgment for sins that we had done. God finally judges - but instead of judging those who had done wrong, God bears the judgment himself for all that we had done. As one person puts it, "Christianity is the only faith system where God both makes the demands and meets them" (Tullian Tchividjian). That's what happened at the cross.

But there's more. Verses 37 to 38 say: "With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom."

At the very moment that Jesus dies, something unbelievable happens. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. There were actually two curtains in the temple. One, the outer curtain, separated the sanctuary from the outer porch. The other was the inner veil that separated the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. Only the high priest could enter in, and only once a year for a moment. The curtain was 60 feet high and 30 feet wide. We don't know which curtain it was, but Hebrews identifies it as the inner curtain.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body... (Hebrews 10:19-20)

At the cross, Mark is saying, Jesus bore the judgment of God. And something happened at the temple which showed that the death of Jesus changed everything. At the cross, Jesus took the punishment for the sins we had committed. He experienced the judgment that should have been ours. At the death of Jesus, something happened that made the temple system of sacrifices and priests and all that it involved obsolete. This wasn't just an ordinary death. History changed at the cross.

But it's not just history that changed. Mark shows us something else in this passage. Here's the second thing that Mark shows us:

Secondly, Mark says, Our lives can change as well.

Do you notice the motley crew of characters in this passage?

In verse 21, we meet Simon of Cyrene. He's from north Africa. He stumbles upon the scene, and his family is changed as a result. Mark mentions his sons, Alexander and Rufus, presumably because his sons would have been familiar to the original recipients of Mark's book. A stranger from Africa stumbles upon the scene, and it evidently transforms his family.

Then there are three big surprises. In verse 39 we read, "And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, 'Surely this man was the Son of God!'" The centurion in this passage would have observed the death of many crucified criminals. He's the last person you would expect to be changed. But something about the way Jesus dies grabs him. He says that Jesus is the Son of God. The Romans called the emperor's son the son of god. This soldier transfers the title of the most revered figure in the Roman imperial cult to a Jew who's just been crucified. The first human witness to describe Jesus as the Son of God is not a disciple, not a Jew at all, but a Gentile army officer with no previous connection to Jesus. The disciples don't get it; the religious leaders don't get it; this Roman officer gets it. He may not have understood the full significance of what he said, but he gets that this is no ordinary insurrectionist. He understands that something more is going on. This is the true Son of God, who does not die in failure. He dies fulfilling his Father's will.

Then there are the women. Verses 40-41 say:

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

What's surprising about this? In all cultures at that time, women were viewed as inferior. Their testimony was not accepted. Up until this point, women had played a very minor role in the Gospel of Mark. Mark doesn't mention any female disciples. But here, at the climax of the Gospel, the male disciples have deserted Jesus, and the women are still there, faithful to the last. They are the witnesses of all that takes place. They are the ones that saw Jesus die; they saw his body being laid in the tomb; they are the ones who find the tomb empty. They are the only eyewitnesses of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. God entrusts the message of the resurrection to them. This is one evidence, by the way, of the accuracy of the Gospels. If you were making a story up, you would never invent that women are the first eyewitnesses. You'd only write that if it were true.

Do you see what Mark is showing us? The death of Jesus is turning everything upside-down. It's changing families of a random person walking by; a Roman soldier becomes the first to grasp something of who Jesus is at the cross; women who are normally excluded are brought into the very center, and become eyewitnesses of the greatest event in redemptive history.

There's one more person who's changed in this passage. We read in verses 43: "Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body." Joseph, Mark says, is a prominent member of the Council, the Sanhedrin - the group that has just condemned Jesus. He has significant social standing in Jerusalem. And yet he risks his life here by going to Pilate and asking for the body of Jesus. Romans usually left bodies hanging on the cross until they decayed as a warning to other would-be rebels and slaves. And yet Joseph puts his reputation and life at risk by asking for Jesus' body. And even more shockingly, he prepares the body for burial himself. Preparing a crucified corpse for burial would have been an unthinkable task, certainly well below what a man like Joseph would ever do. It was a job that was usually left for those much lower than him.

Do you see what Mark is showing us in this passage? What happened at the cross changed history. At the cross, Jesus bore God's judgment, and he made a new way for us to approach God. But it didn't just change history. It changed people. At the cross, the death of Jesus changed the lives of the most unusual people, people who would otherwise have nothing in common. It's still changing the most unlikely people: people from all different nationalities; people who are religious and people how aren't; people who are prominent and powerful and people who aren't. The death of Jesus changes history, and it changes lives as well.

There's one more thing Mark wants to show us.

The death of Jesus is not a defeat; it's a victory worth celebrating.

In this passage, Jesus is remarkably silent. Mark records only two times that Jesus says anything. As he dies, Mark says in verse 37, he lets out a loud cry. And in verse 34 he cries, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

What is this about? At first glance it looks like the desparate cry of someone who's been completely abandoned by God. It is that, but it's actually much more.

If you study the gospels carefully, you'll notice that this is the only time that Jesus addresses God as "My God." Every other time that Jesus refers to God, he calls him Father. Jesus addresses God not in terms of the intimate relationship he enjoyed with God as his Son; he addresses God at a distance. And his cry, "Why have you forsaken me?" gets to the heart of what happened at the cross. On the cross, Jesus is experiencing the immense pain of divine abandonment. Centuries before, the prophet of Isaiah wrote:

Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.
(Isaiah 59:1-2)

Isaiah says that our sins have separated us from our God. The Bible teaches that God's eyes "are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing" (Habakkuk 1:13). On the cross, all of our sins were poured on Jesus. When he took on the sins of the world, "he became the most grotesque, most obscene mass of sin in the history of the world" (R.C. Sproul). And at that moment, God turned his back on Jesus. He hung in the cross cut off from the relationship he had enjoyed with his Father throughout eternity. He didn't just feel forsaken; he was forsaken. Phil Ryken put it this way:

It was as if God had taken a giant bucket and scooped up all the sins of his people - all the jealousy and the lying, all the rebellion and the stealing and the incest, all the hypocrisy and the envy and the swearing - and dumped them all out on Jesus Christ. "The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us..." (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Once he had done that, God the Father had to forsake all that sin. When Jesus was wearing our sin on the cross, God the Father could not bear to look at the sin or at his Son. He had to avert his gave. He had to shield his eyes. He had to turn his back. He had to condemn and reject and curse and damn that sin...When Jesus Christ picked up our sins, he became a curse for us, and when he became a curse for us, he was accursed by God. God was not forsaking his Son as much as he was forsaking the sin the Son was carrying.

I said this was good news. So far I haven't told you how this is good news, have I? It's good news in two ways. First: "The forsaking of the Son of God on the cross is a fearful thing, but it's good news for sinners who repent" (Phil Ryken). Why is it good news? Jesus was forsaken so that we don't have to be forsaken. He was rejected so that we can be accepted. At the cross, he was cut off from God so that we could be brought in.

It's also good news because of where Jesus got this prayer: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus is actually quoting Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is the prayer of someone who is being attacked, someone who feels abandoned by God. When Jews quoted the Hebrew Scriptures back then, quoting one verse would be enough to bring up the whole passage. So many of those hearing Jesus quote Psalm 22:1 would have remembered how Psalm 22 ends: it ends with vindication. It begins like this:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
(Psalm 22:1)

But it ends like this:

For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
(Psalm 22:24)

Jesus is saying that he knows the abandonment is not the end of the story. God will vindicate him. There's more:

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him...
(Psalm 22:27)

As Jesus goes to the cross, there's more than meets the eye. At the cross, history changed. Not only that, but lives were changed. At the cross, Jesus was cut off from God so that we wouldn't have to be cut off. Because God did not reject him forever, neither will God reject us when he place our faith in Christ and understood what he did for us at the cross.

So help us see beneath the surface, Father. Thank you that on that Friday long ago, history changed. Thank you, though, that it's not just history that changed. For two thousand years now, you've been changing lives because of what Jesus accomplished at the cross. He bore our sins; he was cut off so we wouldn't have to be.

Help us see the cross. And I pray it would change us today. We pray in the name of the one who was rejected so we could be accepted, in the name of the one who gave his life so that we could live. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.