Reading Mark 13 in Context: Seeing 16 Connections between Jesus’s Olivet Discourse and His Death and Ascension

robert-bye-6PLB5SKWiIY-unsplashI saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
— Daniel 7:13–14 —

On Sunday, I preached a message on Daniel 7:13–14, how it is understood by the New Testament authors and why Christ’s ascension is such good news for us today. You can listen to the sermon here. And if you do, you will find that the longest part of the message is located in Mark 13–14.

The reason for that long meditation is that Mark cites Jesus referencing Daniel 7:13–14 in two places. First, answering his disciples’ question about the destruction of the temple and when these things will be (Mark 13:1–2), Jesus says, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). Second, after his arrest, Jesus is  interrogated by the high priest. In response to a question of his identity, Jesus again references Daniel 7, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62)

Following the lead of Daniel itself, I interpreted these two passages as a reference to Jesus’s ascension in relationship to his impending crucifixion. Instead of reading these references of the clouds to something still future or his second coming from heaven to earth, I recalled the original meaning of Daniel 7:13–14 and explained how Jesus is speaking about his ascension and entrance into heaven.

As you might expect, this led to some questions. In our community group that followed Sunday’s sermon, there were more than a few questions about this reading, as it stands in contrast to more popular readings of Mark 13 and its parallel accounts in Matthew 24–25 and Luke 21. In what follows, I will restrict my focus to Mark and try to explain how we might read his Gospel with greater attention to his own words and the meaning of Jesus’s words in Mark 13. By paying attention to the literary connections between Mark 13 and Mark 14–15 (#4 below), I believe we can see how Jesus is preparing his disciples and Mark is preparing his readers for understanding a heavenly perspective on Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, with (perhaps) ongoing implications for the destruction of the temple in AD 70.

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A Theology of the Face: How Endless Mask-Wearing Hides the Image of God and Hinders the Church

Christian themed stained glass, Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
– 2 Corinthians 3:18 –

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
– 2 Corinthians 4:6 –

We are in the season of that ancient of holidays, the one where humans put on masks and pretend to be lions, ghouls, super heroes, and villains. This year, however, Halloween’s game of dress up has become ubiquitous. It has been going on ever since “social distancing” became 2020’s favorite neologism. And there is no end in sight. Masks, it seems, are here to stay long past Halloween, and it is worth asking—to what effect?

What are the consequences of wearing masks? And what are the consequences of not wearing masks? The latter question is easy to answer; just read the regular updates on the CDC website or visit your local grocery store. State regulations, governors’ orders, and local business practices have converged to declare with legal force—no mask, no service.

Following this line of thinking many churches have pursued the same approach. With good intentions, especially in the early stages of COVID-19, many sought to love their neighbor by wearing a mask. Yet, as masking as become the new normal, I want to ask: What are the not-so-hidden consequences of hiding the face for months on end? And what are the consequences for churches who are called to live distinct from the world and who are to proclaim the glory of God in the face of Christ?

While medical experts continue to debate the efficacy of preventing COVID-19 with a cloth mask and doctors demonstrate the inefficiencies of various masks, I want to approach this subject theologically. Opinions continue to change about masks, but with the exception of a few articles (e.g., They Don’t Own Your Face You Know), I have seen little consideration for the theological impact covering the face has on humanity and the church who gathers to worship God.

With that in mind, I want to answer a few questions: What does Scripture say about the face? What impact does hiding the face on a regular basis have on humanity, the glory of God, and the gathering of God’s people? In particular, can we worship God face-to-face with masks constantly on? And if so, what implications do that have on the church?

As we will see from Scripture, the veiling of the face, with no certain change forthcoming, distorts our ability to embrace the knowledge of God, and hinders the community of faith created to reflect the image of Christ. More than that, masking as a normative practice in worship services runs into multiple New Testament commands. In other words, the commands of God are strained, if not violated, by making mask-wearing the normative practice.

What follows is not the only line of argument we need to consider when making decisions about gathering God’s people in these days and wearing or not wearing masks. Loving our neighbor (Romans 12), obeying civil magistrates (Romans 13), and considering weaker brethren and not violating conscience (Romans 14) must all play a part in our decisions. Yet, we must not forget that Romans 12–14 follows an expansive description of the gospel (Romans 1–11), and is followed by Paul’s description of the gospel ministry.

Thus, setting Romans 12–14 in context, it is my contention that in recent application of Romans 12, 13, and 14 for mask-wearing without end, we are picking up habits of heart and face that may interfere with the clearest declaration of God’s mercies (Rom 12:1) in the gospel (Romans 1–11 and 15). In that vein, I offer this God-centered argument, that seeing and showing the face matters. And I ask Christians to consider the impact of endless masking on the spiritual health of image bearers and Christ’s Church.

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The Good News of the Law: A Meditation on 1 Timothy 1:8–11

carolyn-v-bb8WmgqWfeg-unsplashNow we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
— 1 Timothy 1:8–11 —

In a world where the laws continue to be questioned and rewritten, one thing remains: We are a people inextricably committed to rules, laws, and legislation.

There are rule books for leadership, rulebooks for diets, rulebooks for childrearing, and rulebooks for just about anything else you might want to tackle. The trouble is that the “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leader” and the 600+ laws of the Pentateuch aim at different things. The former address the physical man and his ability to learn, grow, and improve as a (fallen) leader. The latter, God’s law, addresses the moral man and his inability to be holy and righteous before God.

This difference is too often missed. And it is often missed by Bible-believing, gospel-believing preachers. Those who “ought to know better” are the ones who preach a message of “ruled living” for 45 minutes (or less) and then tack on a gospel invitation at the end. This confuses the whole matter, even as it explains why the church is so devoid of gospel power.

Conversely, there are other “gospel-centered” preachers so committed to grace (as pardon) that they miss the place of the law in the life of Christian. Such antinomianism (lawlessness) does not rightly understand grace nor express the fruit of the gospel. Rather, it presents a half-truth (God justifies the ungodly) as the whole truth, without understanding how the law and gospel relate.

In the fulness of truth, the gospel is not opposed to the law. The good news of Christ is rooted in the way Christ fulfilled the law on our behalf, died under the law, and now writes the law on our hearts. Thus, if we are going to understanding the gospel, we must see how it relates to the law. And that’s what I want to consider here. Continue reading

Jesus, the Poor, and the Mission of the Church: Three Truths about the Gospel

black cross on top of mountain

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
— John 12:8 —

What does the cross of Christ have to do with the relief of poverty? Does the gospel address the issue of economic justice? When Scripture speaks of Jesus paying our debt is this spiritual in nature, or material too? How did Jesus think about his cross and what his cross was meant to accomplish? These questions and more can be asked when we think about the gospel and its relationship to poverty and justice—a theme that continues to confront us these days.

Thankfully, Scripture gives us clear direction, recording Jesus’s words about his cross and his concern for the poor. In a passage found in all four gospels, we find Mary anointing Jesus’s feet in preparation for his cross and burial. And from this encounter, we learn much about what Jesus thought about poverty. Let’s see three things. Continue reading

From God’s Throne to His Priests by way of His Word: Three More Truths About Justice

cloud05Over the last few weeks, our church has been thinking about justice from the Psalms. In Psalm 97, we saw that God himself is the source and standard of justice. In Psalm 98, we discovered how God “does” justice in justifying the ungodly by providing a legal substitute. And in Psalm 99, we saw how priestly mediators served to bring justice from God’s temple to God’s people, and from Zion to the ends of the earth.

In what follows, I will conclude the message of Psalm 99 in three points of application about justice. Continue reading

How Justification by Faith Impels Justice: The Biographical Testimony of William Wilberforce

wilberforceAt 4:00am on February 24, 1807, the British Parliament voted to end the British slave trade. With a count of 267 to 16, the House of Commons voted with loud cheers for the abolition of this abominable institution.

Though it would take another 26 years for slavery to be ended in Britain and its colonies,  this decision by the House of Commons, which followed the majority decision of the House of Lords, proved that in the span of 50 years what was unthinkable—namely, the end of the slavery—could be put to an end through a radical change in public and political opinion.

This change raises the question: What led to that remarkable act of liberation? What changed the hearts of the British governors? Was it a war? No, not unless you count the war of words in parliament. Was it a pragmatic argument based upon economics. No, it actually cost Britain a fortune to end slavery. What was it then?

The answer can be given in three words—a man, a mission, and an unusual motivation. Continue reading

Justice and Justification: Five More Truths about Justice

cloud05On Sunday, I explained from Psalm 98 how God justifies sinners and demonstrates that he is both just and justifier (Rom. 3:26). From that message, let me synthesize five more truths about justice. These build upon three truths about justice from Psalm 97, and they continue to assist our understanding of justice as the Bible presents it.

What Psalm 98 Teaches Us about Justice

Because salvation means different things to different people, it is always important to define salvation from the Bible itself. In Psalm 98, therefore, we need to see how salvation is presented. And importantly, we will see that salvation comes from God’s justifying justice.

In other words, salvation is not simply the victorious defeat of God’s enemies for his people, nor is it the dismissal of guilt from his people without a legal solution, nor is it the liberation of oppressed people regardless of their sin. Rather, as we learn from Psalm 98, salvation is grounded in the events of redemptive history which turn on the exodus. In fact, we can find at least five truths about justice in Psalm 98. Continue reading

The Theological Message of the Twelve

worms eye view of spiral stained glass decors through the roof

In his book The Unity of the TwelvePaul House argues that sin, judgment, and restoration are three themes extant in each prophet. He argues these themes also organize the Twelve (i.e., the Minor Prophets), where the first six books stress sin, the next three judgment, and the last three judgment. For him, this is the plot line that puts the Twelve together.

Complementing that vision, while not completely affirming, Richard Alan Fuhr and Gary E. Yates, in The Message of the Twelvepresent four themes that repeat through the Twelve: (1) repentance and return, (2) the Day of the Lord, (3) a new covenant, and (4) the coming messiah can be found in the Twelve. I will outline these below. Continue reading

Do You See Jesus? Does Jesus See You? 10 Things about John 1:35–51

hence-the-boom-vbQsU3kVVPI-unsplashIn John 1:35–51 we move from John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus to Jesus’s own testimony. Here are ten things we find about Jesus in those verses.

1. John’s introduction (1:19–51) culminates in Christ’s testimony about himself.

Last week we observed that John 1:19–51 is organized around four days. Each of these days serves as a “window pane” to see Christ.

With John 2:1 speaking of the “third day,” we see how John introduces Jesus in his first week. These six or seven days (depending on how you count John 2:1), add to the creation theme of John 1 (see vv. 1–3, 32). And in chapter 1 they organize John’s introduction to the Word of God made flesh around the testimonies of John, John’s disciples, other disciples, and finally Jesus.

More specifically, John 1:35–51 brings the testimony of John and his disciples to Jesus himself. Whereas John’s testimony (v. 19) is the focus of the first two “window panes” (vv. 19–28, 29-34), now attention shifts away from John. First, John points his disciples to Jesus (vv. 35–37), so that some leave him. These disciples who follow Jesus then begin to invite others to follow Jesus (vv. 41–42, 46). Finally, Jesus himself bears testimony to himself (vv. 50–51). This is the climax of John’s four days and prepares us for all that follows. Continue reading

The First Word about the Eternal Word (John 1:1–18)

john03

The First Word about the Eternal Word

This Sunday we began a new series in the Gospel of John with a look at the first 18 verses. These verses are known as John’s Prologue, and they serve as an introduction to the whole book.

In this sermon, I showed the shape and substance of John’s Prologue. The shape of John’s introduction centers on verse 12 and leads us to consider who can believe in Christ. This is the main point of John’s whole Gospel (see 20:30–31) and it is helpful to see how the prologue captures that main point too.

The substance of the prologue is devoted to a glorious vision of Christ and all the ways John will identify him. In short order, I outlined 12 “posters” displaying who this Christ is. John’s Gospel is very visual (as it employs all manner of signs and symbols) and I tried to show that in this message.

You can listen to the sermon online. You can find response questions and an introduction to John’s Gospel in this blogpost. As with our last sermon series through Joshua, I will aim to post a weekly “ten things” blog to help identify key literary, biblical, and theological themes in each passage. Follow along if you want to learn more about John’s Gospel.

Response Questions

  1. What does the opening of John’s Gospel teach us? 
  2. How does seeing the structure of the prologue help us see the main point of the passage? How does it help read the whole Gospel?
  3. How does the beginning of the Gospel of John compare with Genesis 1? What about the other Gospels?
  4. What ought we to conclude from John’s testimony (v. 6–8, 15)?
  5. How does comparing John 1:14–18 to Exodus 33–34 help us understand who Jesus is?
  6. What should be learned from the comparison of the law with grace and truth?  Why is the NIV translation better than the ESV? And why is the KJV wrong? What difference does this make?
  7. Which truths about Jesus do you find encouraging? Why? 
  8. How ought we to respond to this text?

Soli Deo Gloria, ds