Friday, February 27, 2015

Uniqueness of Mark’s Gospel Message

Jesus Christ:  “But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave (servant) of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:43-45 (NLT)

Mark’s Gospel portrays Jesus Christ as the Suffering Servant and Son of God (e.g. see Mark 8:31-9:1; Mark 10:43-45). Jesus Christ was God in the flesh (incarnate), but Mark’s Gospel reveals Him as entering human history as a Suffering Servant to save humanity as predicted in the Old Testament prophecies (e.g. see Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:1-6; Isaiah 50:4-9; Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Jesus Christ did not come as a conquering King on His first advent (arrival) but as a Servant announcing the Good News of God’s Kingdom to the world and sacrificially giving His life to save all humanity through their faith in Him (e.g., see Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31; mark 10:33-34). Although Jesus Christ suffered during His public ministry, Mark’s Gospel reveals Him serving humankind by telling the people of God’s Good News, healing varies disease and evil spirits, and proclaiming God’s love, mercy and compassion. Also, Mark’s Gospel shows Jesus Christ crossing national, racial, gender, and economic barriers to spread the Good News of God’s Kingdom to the world (e.g., see Mark 6:31-44; Mark 8:1-10). Mark wrote his Gospel message to encourage Jews and Gentile alike in their suffering and to also prove beyond a doubt that Jesus is the Messiah and the Suffering Son of the living God (Mark 1:1, 11; Mark 9:7; Mark 15:39).

Of the four New Testament Gospel messages of Jesus Christ, Mark is the shortest. Mark’s Gospel gives the readers a simple, concise, and vivid portrait of Jesus Christ. Mark emphasized more of Jesus’ activities and travels than what He said and taught. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus Christ is revealed in rapid and chronological action. The Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus Christ as busily moving from place to place as He met the physical and spiritual needs of all kinds of people – rich, poor, Jew, Gentile, male and female. Even more, Mark records more of Jesus Christ’s miracles than sermons. Jesus Christ is clearly revealed in Mark’s Gospel as a Man of power and action and not just words. With these series of actions, Mark’s Gospel portrays Jesus Christ’s true identity as the Messiah and God’s unique Son.

Mark begins his Gospel with a clear declaration: “Here begins the wonderful story of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, TLB). Then, Mark summarizes the entire Old Testament and intertestamental period in two verses at Mark 1:2-3. By Mark 1:4, Mark takes the reader quickly into first century Galilee. Omitting the birth narrative (the nativity) of Jesus Christ, Mark begins with John the Baptist's preaching. Then, Mark moves quickly past Jesus Christ’s baptism, evil’s temptation in the desert, and the call of His disciples. Mark’s Gospel takes us directly into Jesus Christ’s public ministry in the first century Galilee at Mark 1:14. Jesus Christ is the uncontested subject of Mark’s Gospel and He is portrayed as a Man of action. Mark’s Gospel reveals Jesus Christ confronting evil, healing sick people, and forgiving sins. However in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, the reader does not get into first century Galilee until after Jesus Christ’s birth narratives. Moreover, Mark’s deals with Jesus Christ’s temptation by evil in only two verses (Mark 1:12-13) while Matthew’s Gospel devotes eleven verses to Jesus Christ’s temptation (Matthew 4:1-11) and Luke’s Gospel devotes thirteen verses to His temptation (Luke 4:1-13). Moreover, Mark only gives the reader a sample of Jesus Christ’s teaching at Mark 4 with the parable of the sower, the parable of the growing seed, the lamp stand motif, and the illustration of the mustard seed. Then, Mark immediately takes the reader back into the action. Mark shows Jesus Christ calming the powerful waves, driving out demons, and healing Jairus's daughter. Next, Mark shows Jesus Christ returning to His hometown, Nazareth and experience utter rejection by His hometown. Although opposition against Him continued to mount, Jesus Christ continued to move, feeding 5,000 hungry Jewish men, reaching out to the Syrophoenician woman, healing the deaf man, and feeding another 4,000 hungry Gentile people. Then, Jesus Christ revealed His true identity to His disciples with His transfiguration. Even after His transfiguration, Jesus Christ continued His good and faithful ministry of teaching, healing, and defeating evil. Events moved rapidly toward the climax with Jesus Christ’s Last Supper, the betrayal, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. In all, Mark’s Gospel shows Jesus Christ in action – moving, serving, healing, sacrificing, and saving! Although Jesus Christ faced opposition, servitude, and suffering during His ministry, He continued faithfully serving God and loving others (see Mark 12:28-34; Acts 10:38).

Also, Mark’s Gospel was written with a simple structure using abrupt language, and sometimes poor grammar. Mark wrote his Gospel using ordinary spoken Greek. Until modern times, Mark’s Gospel had received considerably less attention than the other three Gospels. In comparison to John’s Gospel with its lofty theology, Matthew’s Gospel with its teachable narrative structure, and Luke’s Gospel with it parables and stories of Jesus Christ, Mark’s Gospel has often been called clumsy, artless and ordinary. Due to Mark’s ordinary writing style, the early church placed Mark’s Gospel behind Matthew and considered Mark’s Gospel as an inferior and slavish abridgement of Matthew’s Gospel. Mark’s Gospel begins with an abrupt title “Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and ends abruptly at Mark 16:8. Third, Mark wrote his Gospel with a sense of urgency. For example and as mentioned above, Mark gives a very concise version of the temptation of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:12-13) in comparison to Matthew and Luke’s Gospel version of Jesus’ temptation. Furthermore, a distinctive characteristic of Mark’s Gospel is his use (some 47 times) of words such as “at once,” “without delay,” “immediately,” “quickly,” and “just then” (e.g., see Mark 1:12, 18, 20, 23, 28, 42-43). Mark moves quickly from one episode in Jesus Christ’s public ministry to another. Some urgency about Jesus Christ public ministry is revealed in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels but this urgency was more pronounced in Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s Gospel contains the most action-packed events of Jesus Christ of the four Gospels. Moreover, Mark appears to be writing his Gospel to a Gentile Christian audience from Rome. As will be discussed later, many in the early church believed Mark was closely associated with Apostle Peter in Rome. Mark’s Gospel does not specifically designate his audience as Gentile Christians. Yet, Mark’s Gospel quotes relatively infrequently from the Old Testament. Also, as Mark is telling the story of Jesus Christ, Mark often interrupts his Gospel message with parenthetical remarks to explain common Jewish customs or Jewish words for readers (e.g. see Mark 7:2-4; Mark 12:18; Mark 14:12; Mark 15:42). Moreover, anytime Jesus Christ quotes an Aramaic word, Mark gives the reader the translation of the Aramaic word (see e.g. Mark 3:17; Mark 5:41; Mark 7:11, 34; Mark 10:46; Mark 14:36; Mark 15:22, 34). Mark’s Gospel presents Romans as neutral (e.g. see Mark 12:17; Mark 15:1-2, 21-22) and sometimes favorable light (Mark 15:39). Such remarks as these indicated Mark was writing to a non-Jewish audience who needed background explanation. Possibly, Mark’s audience was composed of Gentile Christians that came to the Christian faith directly from the pagan world. Next, Mark’s Gospel frequently interrupts a story with another second seemingly unrelated story. For instance at Mark 5, Mark starts telling the story of Jairus’s dying daughter and then Mark abruptly interrupts this story with another story of a woman with a hemorrhage.

In addition, Mark gives a unique portrait of Jesus Christ as misunderstood. Mark’s Gospel reveals large crowds following Jesus because He miraculous provided food, healed their sickness and brought comfort to hurting people. Jesus Christ’s compassion and mercy was unusual for first century Rome. The first century was a segmented society and no one cared about one another. In Roman first century society, there was no welfare system. However, Jesus Christ showed compassion to the weak, the hurting, and the needy (e.g., Mark 3:10; Mark 6:34; Mark 8:2). Also, Mark reveals the crowds misunderstanding Jesus’ true role as Messiah (Christ). The crowd wanted a conquering King like King David of the Old Testament. Instead, Jesus Christ came as a Suffering Servant serving and caring for the people as foretold by the Prophet Isaiah. Also, Mark reveals Jesus Christ’s confrontation with the teachers of the law early in His ministry. By Mark 2:6, the religious leaders were in direct conflict with Jesus Christ’s teaching and healings (see also Mark 2:6-7, 16, 24; Mark 3:2, 6, 22). Jesus Christ’s conflicts with the religious leaders came much later in Matthew and Luke’s Gospel. Moreover, Mark reveals the earliest plot to kill Jesus Christ came at Mark 3:6. Furthermore, Mark’s Gospel reveals that Jesus was often misunderstood by His own family and His hometown (e.g. see Mark 3:21, 31-32; Mark 6:1-6). Jesus’ family members thought He had lost His mind as a religious fanatic (Mark 3:21). These people saw no reason to believe that Jesus was any different from them, much less that He was specially appointed by the true and living God. The strangest misunderstanding of Jesus Christ came from the Twelve apostles (disciples). The picture we get of the Twelve in Mark’s Gospel is not a flattering picture. In Mark’s Gospel, the disciples often look confused, dulled or slow learners about Jesus Christ’s powers and authority (e.g., see Mark 4:13; Mark 5:51-52; Mark 7:17-21; Mark 8:4; Mark 9:32; Mark 10:13-14, 35-40). At one point, Jesus even called the disciples “hard hearted” (Mark 6:52; Mark 8:16-19).

Next, only Mark’s Gospel reveals Jesus Christ’s loneliness, isolation and abandonment by His family, friends, and His disciples. At the Cross, Jesus even felt abandoned by God. Only Mark gives one utterance of Jesus Christ from the Cross:  “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34, NLT). These final words of Jesus on the Cross reveal how deeply He felt in His abandonment even by God as He bore “the sin of the world” (see John 1:29).

Finally, the chief critical part of Mark’s Gospel concerns Mark’s ending. Serious doubts exists as to whether Mark 16:9-20 belongs to Mark’s Gospel. Mark 16:9-20 do not appear in two of the most trustworthy manuscripts of the New Testament, though they are part of many other manuscripts and versions. If Mark 16:9-20 are not a part of the genuine text of Mark, then Mark’s Gospel ends abruptly at Mark 16:8 with a promise that Jesus Christ has risen! 

The Gospel messages of Matthew, Mark and Luke are commonly identified as the Synoptic Gospels. These three Gospels tell essentially the same story of Jesus Christ, while John’s Gospel is quite different. Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospel agree extensively in language, in material, and sayings of Jesus Christ. The basic outline of Matthew, Mark and Luke are the same and in the same sequence. For instance, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a common starting point of Jesus Christ’s baptism and empowerment of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ’s baptism and Holy Spirit empowerment launched His public ministry in Galilee (northern Israel) with the peak of His ministry being Easter Sunday – the date of His resurrection! An example of the Gospels’ verbatim agreement is found at Matthew 10:22 and Mark 13:13. Even more, a mathematical calculation of the three Gospels reveals that 91 percent of Mark’s Gospel is contained in Matthew and 53 percent of Mark’s Gospel is found in Luke.

Since Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels give the same story of Jesus Christ; these similarities have given rise to the question of Mark’s relationship to the other two Gospels. Many theories have been put forward to explain the similarities between Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospel. Some believe that the oral traditions circulated in the early church about Jesus Christ provided a common source for these three Gospels. Some have suggested that the three Gospel writers drew from each other with the result being similarities in their three Gospels. The most widely accepted theory explaining the three Gospels’ similarities is that Mark’s Gospel and a lost document commonly called “Quelle (meaning German for “source”) or “Q” were used by Matthew and Luke as sources for most of their materials. 

Matthew’s Gospel was written primarily for a Jewish audience and he opened his Gospel with a genealogy. After all, Matthew had to prove to his readers that Jesus Christ is indeed the rightful Heir to King David's throne. Also, Matthew’s Gospel continually presents Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. For instance, Matthew’s birth narrative is to present Jesus as the royal Messiah from the royal lineage of King David. The Sermon on the Mount portrays Jesus as a new Moses who teaches God’s law from the mountain. Moreover, Matthew’s Gospel provides extensive examples of Jesus’ parables and other teachings. While Mark’s Gospel emphasized the power and activity of Jesus Christ, Matthew’s Gospel emphasized His teaching. As mentioned earlier, Mark did not record many of Jesus Christ’s sermons because he emphasized what Jesus did rather than what He said. Mark’s Gospel reveals Jesus as God's Servant, sent to minister to suffering people and to die for the sins of the world.

Luke’s Gospel was primarily written to reveal Jesus Christ’s humanity – Jesus was the God-Man. Luke had a profound interest in interpreting Jesus as the Savior of all humanity. Gospel writer Luke is generally accepted as the only Gospel written by a Gentile and also by a person who was not directly connected to the historical Jesus or to one of His original disciples.

The Gospel of John was the last Gospel written. John's Gospel begins with a statement about Jesus Christ’s eternity and His existence as the eternal God. The most striking characteristic of John is its sequence of Jesus’ ministry, the vocabulary and tone of Jesus’ words, even the day on which Jesus is crucified. John’s Gospel does follow the same sequence as Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels. Like John’s Gospel, Mark records no genealogy of Jesus Christ, unnecessary in regard to a servant. Mark’s Gospel, like the Gospel of John, begins with the ministry of John the Baptist.

The early church recognized God’s inspiration in the four Gospels of the New Testament. Yet several other books which presented themselves as gospels also circulated during the early church history. However, these other gospels were rejected as either an inadequate Jewish interpretations of Jesus or works heavily influenced by Gnostic heretics. Moreover, all of these rejected gospels were written much later than the four included in the New Testament.

For centuries, many scholars believed Matthew’s Gospel was the first Gospel written and Mark was clumsy abbreviation of Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s Gospel was the most popular Gospel accepted by the early churches because Matthew’s Gospel is very practical with actual teachings of Jesus Christ for everyday Christian living. However, Mark’s Gospel does not give actual teachings of Jesus Christ nor does Mark’s Gospel have a Sermon on Mount as in Matthew and Luke’s Gospel. Nonetheless, Mark’s Gospel message emphasizes Jesus Christ as “Teacher” more than Matthew’s Gospel message. The words “Teacher,” “teach” or “teachings,” and “Rabbi” are applied to Jesus Christ more than thirty-nine times in Mark’s Gospel.  Nevertheless, Mark’s Gospel remained in obscurity for many years as to the four Gospels and did not rise to the level of literary presence until the 18th century. In the 18th century as product of the Enlightenment, scholars concluded that Mark’s Gospel was not a clumsy abbreviation of Matthew’s Gospel but the first of the four Gospels written. So, many scholars concluded Gospel writers Matthew and Luke used Mark’s Gospel as their key source in composing their message of Jesus Christ.

The next question turns to the identity of Mark. No one really knows the true identity of the author of Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s Gospels have no direct internal evidence of authorship. Mark is never named as the author of the Gospel within the Gospel manuscript. The author of Mark’s Gospel as the other Gospels’ authors are anonymous and never identified within the early New Testament manuscripts. Connecting Mark as the author of this Gospel was done much later by the early church. Even the titles of each of the four Gospels, which were assigned on the basis of church tradition, appear in the second century. Mark was a common first century name and the true identity of Mark is generally not known.

Traditionally, the early church believed John Mark (“John, also called Mark”) authored Mark’s Gospel. John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) and sometimes the traveling companion of Apostle Paul (Acts 12:25; Acts 13:4). The first mention of John Mark is in connection with his mother, named Mary, who had a house in Jerusalem that served as a meeting place for believers of Jesus Christ (Acts 12:12). John Mark was perhaps the young man who fled on the night of Jesus Christ’s arrest (see Mark 14:51-52). When Apostle Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch from Jerusalem, John Mark accompanied them (Acts 12:25). Mark appears as a “helper” to Apostle Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5). Evidently, John Mark was responsible for travel arrangements, food, and lodging for Apostle Paul and Barnabas. For reasons unknown, Mark quit the journey with Apostle Paul and Barnabas at Perga in Pamphylia to return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Apostle Paul was deeply upset with Mark’s abrupt departure from the missionary journey. When Barnabas proposed taking Mark on the second missionary journey in approximately AD 50, Apostle Paul strongly refused. Apostle Paul and Barnabas disagreed whether John Mark could return with them on the missionary journey. This disagreement caused Barnabas and Apostle Paul to split their working relationship (Acts 15:36-39). Barnabas goes on another missionary journey with John Mark to Cyprus (Acts 15:36-41) and Apostle Paul picked up Silas on his second missionary journey. No further mention is made of John Mark in the book of Acts. Apparently, John Mark reunited with Apostle Paul. By the end of Apostle Paul’s life, John Mark had fully regained Apostle Paul’s favor (see 2 Timothy 4:11). John Mark reappears in Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossian church written from Rome (see Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24). John Mark was present with Apostle Paul’s first Roman imprisonment. Evidently, John Mark returned from his work with Barnabas and became associated with Apostle Peter. A final New Testament reference of importance shows John Mark laboring with Apostle Peter in Rome (1 Peter 5:13).

The most important evidence of John Mark’s authorship of Mark’s Gospel comes from Papias, a prominent Roman historian. Papias quotes other earlier sources that identify Mark as a close associate of Apostle Peter. Mark became Apostle Peter’s faithful interpreter and followed Apostle Peter’s preaching. John Mark was not connected to the original Twelve apostles but his eyewitness account came from Apostle Peter. Mark received the oral tradition of Jesus Christ from the preaching of Apostle Peter, a close disciple of Jesus. The conclusion drawn from this tradition is that the Gospel of Mark largely consisted of Apostle Peter’s preaching. Similar to the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, Apostle Peter’s sermons began with John’s baptism and continued to Jesus Christ’s resurrection from complete death (e.g. Acts 10:37-43; see also Acts 2:14-41; Acts 3:12-26; Acts 4:8-12; Acts 5:29-32;). However, some people argue there was no valid connection with Apostle Peter and John Mark in Rome. Nevertheless, Papias’ statement gives rise to a geographical context from Mark and other sources support that John Mark was associated with Peter and more importantly with Rome.

As to the date of Mark’s Gospel, most scholars place Mark around the year AD 70. Mark’s Gospel does not give an exact date. Some argue Mark’s Gospel was written around AD 65 to 73. In the 60s and 70s, there were two major crises in the Roman Empire. In the eastern part of the Roman Empire, Palestine was heading to a war with Roman due to Rome’s oppression and taxation. On the western part of the Roman Empire, there were the activities of Emperor Nero. Nero came to the throne around AD 54 and ruled to approximately AD 68. Interestingly, the first five years of Nero’s rule was good and pleasant due to the good influences by his mother and two good tutors. After his mother and tutors’ death, Nero’s life began to turn evil, cruel and vain. Nero even had his son killed but spared his pet pig. Nero’s great ambition was himself and he was very vain. Nero was murderous, heartless and spending excessive money. The worse of Nero’s act was the fire he started around July 64 AD. No one saw Nero setting the fire in Rome but many people believed Nero started the Roman fire. Nero’s ultimate ambition was to rebuild Rome and name the city Neropolis, meaning “city of Nero.” Sadly, Nero made followers of the Way the scapegoats of the Roman fire. Seeking a scapegoat for the fire in Rome – a fire that Roman historian Tacitus blamed on Nero – Nero fastened blamed to Christians. As a result, Nero subjected Christians to the most gruesome horrors. Up to this point, Christians were not persecuted because they were seen as a sect of Jews and Judaism was protected by Roman laws that allowed religious toleration. So the by AD 60s the Christians were now separated from Judaism and many Christians were persecuted and even set on fire by the Romans. This was the worst time period for Christians.

A second statement relevant to the dating of Mark is the statement found at Mark 13:14 concerning the “abomination that causes desolation” and Mark’s reference to flee to the hills when “the abomination that causes desolation” arrives. These statements by Jesus Christ concerned the coming destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by God's enemies. The Temple was destroyed in AD 70 when the Roman general Titus placed an idol on the site of the burned-out Temple after the destruction of Jerusalem. If this suggestion could be established, then Mark’s Gospel was written before AD 70. Many scholars find ambiguity of Mark 13:14 rather puzzling if Mark composed his Gospel after the actual fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

As mentioned earlier, many scholars believe Mark’s audience was Gentile Christians suffering in Rome around the last half of the first century during Nero’s reign. Many biblical scholars believe that Mark wrote his Gospel about Jesus Christ’s suffering as God’s Son to encourage and comfort these Gentile Christians also suffering in Rome. These Gentile Christians confessed Jesus as Lord. Yet, these Gentile Christians were suffering at the hands of Rome. Mark may have been writing to these Gentile Christians to comfort them by revealing Jesus Christ’s service and suffering for the Kingdom of God. There are many references throughout Mark’s Gospel to suffering and the importance of service (e.g., see Mark 1:12-13; Mark 8:34-38; Mark 10:33-34, 45). Suffering is the central issue of Mark’s Gospel. Mark was showing the audience how Jesus is Lord, even though He suffered persecution and rejection!

Life Application Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005).
Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Butler, Trent. Holman Bible Dictionary (Broadman & Holman Pub., 1991).
Edwards, James R. The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002).
Kelber, Werner. Mark’s Story of Jesus (Houston, TX: Fortress Press, 1979).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Due West Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2015.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary (Victor Books, 1989). 

Friday, February 20, 2015

What Is A Gospel?

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1 (NIV)

Most modern biblical scholars believe Mark was the first Gospel written about Jesus Christ’s ministry. Until about 1800, the church generally accepted the view, first advanced by Augustine, that Matthew’s Gospel was the first Gospel written. Before the 1800’s, biblical scholars took the view that Mark abbreviated Matthew’s Gospel, and Luke used both Matthew and Mark to compose his Gospel message.

If Mark’s Gospel was the first Gospel written, then Mark started a new literary genre with no parallels. There were really no parallels in the Old Testament, ancient Judaism or Greco-Roman literature. Mark created a new and unique literary genre to help a first century audience facing a particular first century situation under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. Many modern biblical scholars believe the other Gospel writers (Matthew, Luke and John) continued Mark’s new unique literary genre in writing about Jesus Christ’s ministry.

There were other first century forms of literature that were similar to a Gospel. Some argued that the Gospel writers were imitating a first century form of literature called Roman biographies. In the first century, these biographies were a mixture of historical fact, interpretation, and propaganda. Unlike the Gospels, Roman biographies never told of the struggles and hardships of the Roman Emperors. Yet, the Gospel writers told of Jesus Christ’s humanness, including His sorrow (Mark 14:34), disappointment (Mark 8:12), displeasure (Mark 10:14-15), anger (Mark 11:15-17), amazement (Mark 6:6), fatigue (Mark 4:38) and even uncertainty (Mark 13:32).

Some argued that the Gospels were just another form of miracle stories. In the first century Roman world, there were written collections of miracle stories. These stories included figures or people in the first century Roman Empire that were given the name “divine men,” also called “theois aner” in Greek. An example of such men included Simon Magus in Acts 8:9-25. These divine men were sorcerers or magicians and they were able to perform miracles. In Greek literature, the Greco-Romans believed the Greek gods lived on Mount Olympics and these Greek gods would sometimes make a sneak appearance on earth disguised a man. At Acts 14:8-20, when Paul and Barnabas were at Lystra and miraculous healed a slave girl, the people of Lystra believed the “gods have come down to us in human form” (Acts 14:12).  Paul and Barnabas were given the names of the two Greek gods, Zeus and Hermes and they were seen as divine men. In the first century, there were stories of these divine men and some argue say that the Gospel writers were essentially a pattern of these theois aner stories, particularly the Gospel of Mark. Much of Mark’s Gospel consisted of the miraculous healings of Jesus Christ. However, these miraculous accounts of these divine men verse the miracles of the Gospel are radically different. Many of these miracle stories of divine men emphasized the mechanics of actually how the miracles were done. However, the Gospels especially in Mark recorded Jesus Christ’s miracles but the Gospel writers gave no mechanics of how He performed His miracles. Thus although there were some similarities of divine men stories and the Gospels of the first century, these divine men stories were weak in comparison to the Gospels.

In summary, Gospels about Jesus Christ were not just a form of an Emperor biography or a theois aner story. Although these other first century literary forms may be similar to a Gospel, Mark’s Gospel was a unique literary genre with no real precedent and no significant comparison. One cannot explain the Gospel as divine men stories or a Roman Emperor biography.

In the New Testament, the word “Gospel” has two different meanings. First, the Gospel is the actual words spoken directly from Jesus Christ’s lips about the reign of God (Mark 1:14). Second, the Gospel is the story told about Jesus Christ’s earthly death and resurrection (Galatians 1:11-12; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). The Gospel message Apostle Paul preached was the Good News of victory over sin through the saving effects of Jesus Christ’s death by crucifixion and of His triumph over death in His resurrection. Faith in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is the only hope for sinful humans to “inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53-57). In each case “Gospel” refers to the work which God alone initiates and completes through His Son Jesus Christ. The central figure of the Gospel is Jesus Christ, in and through whom the history and the promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled (see Luke 24:27, 44-47; see Hebrews 1:1-2). Therefore, the Gospel is the continuation of the work which God began in Jesus Christ.

In Mark 1:1, Mark declares the essential content of his Gospel. At the very outset, Mark announces that the content of the Gospel is the Person of Jesus, who is the Christ and Son of God (Mark 1:1). “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, NIV). This message is a brief confession of faith, the meaning of which will unfold as the reader follows Mark’s presentation of Jesus Christ in his Gospel. For Mark, the Gospel is the message and story of God’s saving activity through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s unique Son Jesus Christ. In the apparent appearance of Jesus in Galilee, a new age had dawn that requires repentance and faith. Mark’s written record of Jesus’ life is itself called a Gospel. The most basic summary of Jesus Christ’s preaching appears in Mark 1:15. “The time has come,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News!” Jesus Christ’s purpose was to bring the Kingdom of God. He is the Proclaimer and Bringer of the Kingdom and all aspects of Jesus Christ’s life and death are related to this mission of the Kingdom.

The word gospel simply means “good news.” The “Gospel of Jesus Christ” is the Good News that God's unique Son has come into the world and died for our sins. The Gospel is the Good News because through faith in God’s Son our sins can be forgiven, we can be reconciled to God, and declared God’s child (e.g., see John 1:12-14; John 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:5, 8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Even more, the Gospel is God’s proclamation victory over sin, death, and hell (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 51-52; Galatians 1:1-9). The Gospel is the power of God’s Holy Spirit to raise the dead, to bring new life, and release bondage from sin (Romans 1:16-17; Romans 15:13; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:5).

Gospel is the usual New Testament translation of the Greek word “euangelion.” The concept of good news itself finds its roots in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament. In both the Old Testament and in Greek literature, euangelion was commonly used for reports of victory from the battlefield. Also, the “euangelion” was used in the Greco-Roman world as describing the birthday of the Emperor. In the Greco-Roman world, the birth of the Emperor was seen as a manifestation of a god in the first century. For example in 9 B.C., the birthday of Caesar Augustus was hailed as “euangelion.” Since Caesar Augustus was hailed as a god, his birthday signaled the beginning of good news for the world. Yet, the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah used “good news” as the anticipated deliverance and salvation from the hand of God when the long-awaited Messiah appeared to deliver Israel (Isaiah 52:7; Isaiah 61:1-3). The military-political and personal references of good news were united in the hope of a Messiah who would deliverer God’s people and usher in a new age of salvation. The arrival of this Messiah would be good news. For Mark, the arrival (advent) of Jesus Christ is the beginning of the fulfillment of the “good news” announced by the Prophet Isaiah. Christians increasingly used euanggelion as a specific term to describe the good news of Jesus.

Normally, people have defined the Gospel as the story of Jesus Christ. However, the Gospels are not true biographies of Jesus Christ. The Gospels essentially omit the first 30 years of Jesus’ life and focus mostly on the last three years of Jesus Christ’s life. Apart from Jesus Christ’s birth (see Matthew 1–2; Luke 1–2) and one from His youth at age twelve (Luke 2:41–52), the four Gospels record essentially the last two or three years of Jesus Christ’s public ministry. Moreover, the Gospels tells us very little of Jesus Christ’s family life including His earthly father, His brothers and sisters. Essentially, Joseph never appears in the story after Jesus Christ’s birth. The Gospels give few reference to His brothers and sister (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:21, 31-32; Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19-21; John 7:4-5) and no reference to Jesus’ educational background. Even the length of Jesus Christ’s public ministry is normally believed to be three years based on John’s Gospel references to Jesus’ attendance at three Passover events in Jerusalem. The traditional chronological of three years is based on the chronology of John where Jesus Christ went to Jerusalem on three different Passovers. Therefore, the Gospels are not true biographies of Jesus Christ’s life.

Even more, the four Gospel writers did not write their Gospels as an objective historical survey of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry. These Gospel writers were evangelist and they were calling readers to a commitment and faith in Jesus Christ. Moreover, the Gospel writers presented four distinctive theological portraits of Jesus Christ sent to four different first century Christian communities to help them deal with their circumstances. Matthew’s Gospel was written primarily for the Jews. After all, Matthew had to prove to his readers that Jesus Christ was indeed the rightful Heir to David's throne. Luke’s Gospel focused mainly Jesus Christ's humanity, for he knew that his Greek readers would identify with the perfect Babe who grew up to be the perfect Man. John's Gospel begins with a statement about eternity because John wrote to prove to the whole world that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the Son of God (John 20:31). Mark wrote his Gospel for the Romans, and his theme is Jesus Christ the Servant (Mark 10:45). The Gospel of Mark reveals Jesus Christ as God's Servant, sent to minister to suffering people and to die for the sins of the world. Mark gives us no account of Jesus Christ’s birth, nor does Mark record a genealogy of Jesus Christ. Essentially, the Gospel writers give four distinctive versions of the same story of Jesus Christ. The church has resisted any attempts to harmonize the four Gospel accounts of Jesus Christ into one story.

Around A.D. 150, Tatian compiled the life of Jesus Christ, called the Diatessaron. In the Diatessaron, Tatian attempted to harmonize the four Gospels into one account of Jesus Christ. Tatian started with John’s Gospel and John’s chronological of Jesus Christ’s life and tried to Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels into John’s chronological to create one Gospel account of Jesus Christ. Principally, the Diatessaron is a harmony of the four New Testament Gospels and attempted to simplify the Gospels into one account of the life of Jesus Christ. However, Tatian’s Diatessaron was eventually rejected by the early church and the Diatessaron no longer exists.

Prior to Tatian’s Diatessaron, the church had accepted the four-fold Gospels as a faithful witness to Jesus Christ. At an early date, the church realized that the combined witness of the four Gospels was required to proclaim the full and distinctive theological portrait of Jesus Christ. From the late second century forward, the Gospels have been circulated as a four-fold written collection of Jesus Christ. The early church saw a unique witness of Jesus Christ in each Gospel account and it was important to preserve the uniqueness of Jesus Christ’s life in each Gospel.

Matthew, Mark and Luke Gospels are often called collectively the “Synoptic Gospels”. These three Gospels tell essentially the same story of Jesus Christ in a similar fashion and similar content. The Synoptic Gospels casts the life of Jesus Christ within the framework of a Galilean ministry that extended from His baptism to His death, with emphasis on His final week on earth. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke recount many of the same incidents or teachings of Jesus Christ often in the same or related wording, arrangement, and content (e.g., see Matthew 3:13–17, Mark 1:9–11, and Luke 3:21–22). However, the Gospel of John presents a more independent account of Jesus Christ’s public ministry. John's Gospel begins with a statement about Jesus Christ’s eternity (John 1:1-5). John wrote his Gospel to prove to the whole world that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the unique and eternal Son of God (see John 1:18; John 3:16; John 20:31).

In the past 200 years, a great deal of study has been devoted to discovering the historical Jesus Christ of the Gospels. There were probably 50 or more gospels written other than the first four Gospels found in the New Testament. These gospels are often called “apocryphal gospels” and they were written much later than the first four Gospels given in the New Testament. The Gospels in the New Testament were all composed by the end of the first century. However, the apocryphal gospels came out of the second, third, fourth and fifth centuries. Out of many gospels and other accounts of the life of Jesus (Luke 1:1-2), God led the early church to choose the four Gospel which He had inspired by the Holy Spirit – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

In the mid-1980s, a group called the “Jesus Seminar” lead by Robert Funk tried to find the historical or “real” Jesus. This group felt that the portrait of Jesus Christ through the early church was distorted over the years. This group saw the Gospels as a collection of what people had come to believe about Jesus Christ. This group sought to discover the “real” Jesus by surveying all documents that discussed Jesus Christ from the first 500 years of church history and this included these apocryphal gospels. Thus, the Jesus Seminar group gave the apocryphal gospels equal importance or equal weight as the first four Gospels written in the first century. The picture of Jesus Christ that emerges from the Jesus Seminar is often modern, politically correct, peaceful, and fits into the 21st century. Sadly, the portrait of Jesus Chris from these apocryphal gospels is distinctly different from the theological portrait of Jesus Christ of the four Gospels of the New Testament.

Nevertheless, how did the oral communications about Jesus transition from a spoken message to written books? The four-fold Gospels did not miraculous drop from the sky and appear. There was a long and complex process to the creation of the Gospels after Jesus Christ’s death and ascension. Historical documents outside the Bible documents approximately AD 30 Jesus Christ was crucified and dead at the hands Rome by Pontius Pilate. Approximately AD 30 marked the end of the earthly life of Jesus Christ (see also Acts 1). In approximately AD 65 or 68, this was the beginning appearance of the first written Gospel. Mark was the first Gospel believed to have been written around AD 65 and the last Gospel written believed to be John’s Gospel around AD 90. Matthew and Luke appeared to have been written around AD 70 to 90. Thus, there was approximately 35 to 40 years between the events of Jesus Christ’s life and Mark’s Gospel. This puzzles approximately 40 year gaps between Jesus Christ’s life and the first written Gospel puzzles the modern world. Twenty-first century westerner society was geared to writings and skeptical of the long delay and possible forgetfulness of the Gospel writers.

Yet, first century Palestine where Jesus Christ’s lived and ministered was an oral society. In first century Palestine, this period was a period of oral traditions and oral traditions about Jesus Christ circulated among the Christian churches by the witnesses of the historical Jesus during AD 30 and AD 60. Reading ability was uncommon in the ancient world. Books and writing equipment were expensive and usually reserved for the rich alone. Consequently, many societies including first century Palestine preserved and transmitted the message about Jesus Christ by word of mouth. Such a system may seem fragile and unreliable by modern standards, but ancient societies including first century Palestine trusted these oral methods and forms they developed to sustain the process. Within the New Testament, the word euanggelion always refers to oral communications about Jesus Christ, never to a document or piece of literature. The remaining Twelve disciples of Jesus Christ (e.g. John, Matthew, and Peter) that witnessed the historical Jesus and many others such as Apostle Paul, John Mark, and Luke would circulate the message of Jesus Christ’s life by oral communications. The early church missionaries received pieces of Jesus Christ’s story from these authoritative disciples of Jesus Christ and this how the stories of Jesus Christ spread in the first century. Many biblical scholars believe that there were probably written parts of the Jesus Christ’s story during this period of oral traditions. Most likely, the Passion story of Jesus Christ and the last week of Jesus Christ’s life from Palm Sunday with the Triumphal Entry to Easter Sunday were written down in first century Palestine. Also, New Testament writings of Apostle Paul, the other disciples of Jesus Christ, and even the Apostle Creed focused on Jesus Christ’s Passion (death and resurrection). In fact, Apostle Paul’s teaching and thirteen Epistles focused little on the earthly life of Jesus Christ and focused primarily on Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection first. Besides, the Passion story of Jesus Christ is almost identical in the four Gospels of the New Testament. However, when one starts at the Passion story and work backward, there is more variety and less agreement in the four Gospel message. First instance, Mark has no birth story of Jesus Christ, Luke’s and Matthew’s birth stories of Jesus Christ are different. So the most substantial agreement of Jesus Christ’s life is His Passion.

Also, there was no need to write down the events of Jesus Christ’s life because from approximately AD 30 to AD 70 the eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ’s life events were alive. The remaining Twelves disciples of Jesus Christ and many other faithful followers who had physically seen and eyewitness the historical Jesus and heard His teaching were alive and could authenticate His life and ministry (see Acts 1:21-22). In the first century, there were other stories of Jesus Christ such as the infancy gospel of Thomas but these stories were never canonized and never authenticated by the Twelve. Moreover, some stories of Jesus Christ were not written down because the people of the first century believed in the imminent end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ (e.g. see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11).

Then, about thirty years after Jesus Christ’s ascension to heaven, several interrelated crises impacted the early church. As a result of these crises, the early church responded to the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit to write down the teachings, stories, and message of Jesus. Around AD 65, the Gospels started to appear in written form. First of all, by AD 70 most of the Christians were in the Roman world and the Roman world was geared towards written documents, unlike Palestine’s oral society. With the persecution of Christians in Palestine, the Gospel message about Jesus Christ had spread rapidly into the Roman world. Most of the Christian church – evangelists, teachers and preachers – were not in Jerusalem but in the utter most parts of the Roman world (see Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8).

Also during this time, the Emperor Nero initiated the first official persecution so he could use early Christians as scapegoats for his own insane actions. After setting fire to the city of Rome in A.D. 64 as a way to clear a portion of the city for a construction project, Nero unfairly accused Christians for committing the burning of Rome. On the basis of this supposed guilt, Nero began persecution of Christians which included arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution. The persecution begun by Nero continued in varying degrees by other Roman officials throughout the New Testament period. From a historical perspective, this persecution by Nero and others may have strengthened the spirit of the early church. Moreover by AD 70, most the eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry were dead leaving few disciples to authenticate the message of Jesus Christ’s life. Most believe by AD 70 most of the remaining Twelve disciples and other faithful followers of Jesus, including Apostle Paul were martyred except John who lived to the end of the first century. Some disciples during Nero’s persecutions and others simply aged enough to pass away from natural causes. The early church placed a high value on these faithful disciples and their actually having seen and heard Jesus Christ (Luke 1:2; 1 John 1:1). These witnesses had actually “heard . . . seen . . . looked at . . . touched” the historical Jesus during His public ministry (1 John 1:1; see also John 1:14; John 19:35; John 20:27; Luke 24:28; Acts 4:20; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 4:14)).  So since most of the personal eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ were deceased, there was a mission by the early church to transfer the oral traditions of Jesus Christ to written form. Finally, there was the realization of many believers of Jesus Christ that end of the world was not near. Members of the early church believed Jesus would return soon, so they felt no real urgency to write down His teachings for the future generations. Preaching recorded in the New Testament’s books such as Acts, Romans, and Corinthians have a distinct sense of urgency about the return of Jesus. The apostles believed that Jesus would be returning any day and that it was more important for them to give as many people as possible the opportunity to respond to the Gospel than to written down the message. Their constant emphasis was to communicate the Gospel and not to preserve the Gospel for the future. As a longer and longer period of time passed after Jesus’ ascension, the church became more and more concerned about preserving the Gospel message. The expectation of the immediacy of Jesus Christ’s return lessened by AD 70 and the fall of the Jewish Temple. So the expectation of the imminent of the end of the world was modified with the fall of the Temple. So, the oral traditions of Jesus Christ’s life began to be written, first by Mark’s Gospel.

In the late 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, there was another definition of a Gospel. However, this definition accounts for a discipline called form criticism. Form criticism flourished from the 1900 to 1950 and they focused on the period of oral traditions about Jesus Christ. The form critics concluded that during the forty-year oral period the stories circulated about Jesus Christ were embellished or exaggerated. They argue the four Gospels of the New Testament were based upon these embellished or exaggerated stories of Jesus Christ. According to form critics when Mark received the oral traditions of Jesus Christ’s life for his Gospel, these oral traditions were not “fresh” from the source. Form critics argue that Mark’s oral sources about Jesus Christ were now embellished stories as used in the life of the church. Thus, form critics state the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were just collections of oral embellished stories the early church had come to believe about Jesus Christ. However, form critics failed to take into consideration that the New Testament itself considered these oral traditions about Jesus Christ sacred and authoritative and not mere embellished gossip (see e.g., Luke 1:1-2; 1 Corinthians 7; 1 Corinthians 15:3). Even more, form critics’ methodology for assessing and critiquing the Gospels were flawed. For example, form critics Rudolph Bultmann and J. Jeremias both used form critical methodology to assess the Gospels. Using this same methodology Bultmann was very skeptical of the history of the Gospel while Jeremias using the same form critical methodology was very optimistic of the historical Jesus and the Gospel message. Thus, Jeremias and Bultmann essentially used the same form critical methodology and concluded with two differing opinions about Jesus Christ. Thus, the methodology of form criticism was not accurate and flawed and by the 1950’s, form criticism was abandoned.

Today, many modern biblical scholars define the Gospels as a theological portrait of Jesus. When the Gospels were written, the Gospels were sent to first century Christian communities that were mainly house churches. These Gospels were sent to these house churches to help Christians dealing with their first century troubles and circumstances. The Gospel writers were written by people that believed in Jesus and therefore the Gospels were evangelists. These evangelists were convinced of Jesus Christ and they were trying to convince others. Thus, Gospel writers gave the house churches a portrait of Jesus Christ and a portrait is essentially an interpretation of Jesus Christ by an artist. That is why the portraits of Jesus Christ are different in each Gospel because each Gospel writers are writing to their specific audience and addressing their audiences’ specific first century issues. That is why Irenaeus and the other church resisted incorporating the Gospels into one story of Jesus because each Gospel gives a different and distinct portrait or witness about Jesus Christ. In the 20th century, a Gospel discipline called redaction criticism tried to understand the Gospel text holistically and connect the Gospel to a first century event or situation. However, many argued this method is flawed like form criticism. So the most common method today is “story approach” in understanding a Gospel. This approach reads the Gospel holistically like redaction criticism but do not tie the Gospel to a first century situation.  However, some critics of the story approach argue without considering the first century circumstances surrounding the Gospels, the Gospels would be a short distance to an allegory. Most biblical scholars today read the Gospels as a story while also considering the cultural, religious, and historical conditions of the first century.

Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Butler, Trent. Holman Bible Dictionary (Broadman & Holman Pub., 1991).
Edwards, James R. The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002).
Kelber, Werner. Mark’s Story of Jesus (Houston, TX: Fortress Press, 1979).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Due West Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2015.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary (Victor Books, 1989).
Youngblood, Ronald F. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1995). 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What Does Real Love Looks Like?

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous (envy) or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way (self-seeking). It is not irritable (angered), and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice (evil) but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith (trust), is always hopeful, and endures (perseveres) through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Jesus Christ’s life reveals the real portrait of love. For this reason, Jesus Christ’s self-sacrificing death and miraculous resurrection is often called the Passion story. Jesus Christ lived a self-denying and selfless life characterized by humble and loving service for others (Matthew 20:24-28; Mark 10:43-45). Repeatedly, the New Testaments reveals Jesus Christ placing the needs of others ahead of His own, even though this meant suffering (Matthew 26:39, 42). As followers of Jesus Christ, we are also to stop making self the object one’s life and actions. Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is not more legalism but an orientation towards doing good, self-denial, and service for others (Mark 8:34-35). As Jesus Christ’s life revealed, real love is sharing, caring, kindness, tenderness, humility, forgiveness and generosity. However, the opposite of love is selfishness, bad-mouthing, competitiveness, pride, arrogance, self-importance, and jealous (1 Peter 3:8-9). True followers of Jesus Christ must live with abandonment as they abandon their own self-interests, rights and pride for the good of others (Philippians 2:1-5).

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from His love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit. . . . Then . . . love one another, and work together with one mind and purpose. Do not be selfish (selfish ambition); do not try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Do not look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Philippians 2:1-5

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to follow Jesus Christ’s portrait of real love. We are not to let selfish ambition, ego, or pride be our guide. Jesus Christ was never selfish nor did He try to impress others. Instead, Jesus Christ’s life was tender and compassionate as He healed and cared for others (e.g., see Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 8:41-56). Even when the Jewish leaders, Roman politicians and soldiers, and bystanders mocked and ridicule Him on the Cross, Jesus Christ said “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34; see also Matthew 27:12-14, 34-44; 1 Peter 2:23).

Here is an example of Jesus Christ’s love:

In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus. Christ Himself was like God in everything. But He did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for His own benefit. But He gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing. He was born to be a Man and became like a Servant. And when He was living as a Man, He humbled Himself and was fully obedient to God, even when that caused His death — death on a Cross. Philippians 2:5-8 (NCV)

Here is another example of Jesus Christ’s call for loving others:

“For I was hungry, and you fed Me. I was thirsty, and you gave Me a drink. I was a Stranger, and you invited Me into your home. I was naked, and you gave Me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for Me. I was in prison, and you visited Me. . . . I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!” Matthew 25:35-36, 40 (NLT)

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another . . . . Honor one another above yourselves. . . . Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath . . . . On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21 (NIV)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Solutions For Suffering!

So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude He had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. You will not spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God. You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy — their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols. Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you. But remember that they will have to face God, who will judge everyone, both the living and the dead. That is why the Good News was preached to those who are now dead — so although they were destined to die like all people, they now live forever with God in the Spirit. The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers (forgives) a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from His great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God Himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to Him forever and ever! Amen. 1 Peter 4:1-11 (NLT)

Sometimes, suffering is just a part of life, even if we are fully within the will and purposes of God. When suffering and trials come, it is very easy to start a “pity party” and soak in our sorrows, despair and pain. However, God tells His people to rejoice and not to be discouraged during times of suffering and trials (1 Peter 4:13; see also Psalm 37:27-28; Matthew 5:11-12; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Romans 8:17; James 1:2-8; 1 Peter 1:6-7). God is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9), God is good (Mark 10:18), and God will never leave fail nor leave you (1 Peter 4:19; Hebrews 13:5). We can rest assured that whenever we suffer, God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ) is with us always through the Holy Spirit as we faithfully, expectantly, and patiently trust in Him (Mark 4:35-41; see also Psalm 37:7; Luke 8:22-25).

For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your Example, and you must follow in His steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when He was insulted, nor threaten revenge when He suffered. He left His case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in His body on the Cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By His wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls. 1 Peter 2:19-25 (NLT)

Instead of becoming depressed during times of testing and suffering, the Holy Scriptures gives another help strategy - not to give up (2 Corinthians 4:1). The Holy Scriptures teaches:  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9-10, NIV). We are to focus our hearts and minds on God, keep on doing what is good and right, and be patient (1 Peter 3:8-13; 1 Peter 4:1-2, 19; see also 2 Timothy 2:4; James 5:7-11). The Lord God rescues the godly; He is their fortress in times of trouble and helps the godly in times of suffering and trials (Psalm 37:39-40). God promises a wonderful future for those who love peace, who seeks honesty and seeks goodness (Psalm 37:37). If anyone suffers for doing good and right, that person has made a clean break with sin (1 Peter 4:1-2). If we trust our lives, cares and futures to God during times of suffering, God promises He will never leave and never fail you (1 Peter 4:19; see also Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Psalm 37:24, 27-28; Psalm 118:6; Hebrews 13:5-6). The true and living God directs the steps of the godly and he delights in every detail of their lives. Though the godly may stumble, God promises they will never fall, for He holds them by the hand (Psalm 37:17, 23-24).

Do not love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my Helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6 (NLT)

During times of suffering and trials, a good and patient attitude with expectant faith in God is our strongest medicine (James 5:7-11). Outlook determines outcome. A good attitude and a cheerful heart are our best medicine (Proverbs 17:22). “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (Proverbs 17:22, NLT). We must remain continually faithful and dependent upon God with our whole hearts. Our focus during times of suffering is to continue faithfully seeking God, continuing to love one another and doing good (1 Peter 4:7-9; see also Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:37-40). God wants His people to continue to use their gifts, abilities, and talents serve Him and serve others, even during times of testing and suffering (1 Peter 4:10-11; see also Romans 12:6-8; 1Corinthians 12:8-11; Ephesians 4:11). God commands us to continue wholeheartedly loving Him and loving others even in the midst of suffering. As followers of Jesus Christ, our goal must be to follow Jesus Christ’s example as we face suffering — with patience, calmness, and confidence – knowing that our all-loving God is fully in control (Romans 8:28).

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. . . . Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 21-22 (NIV)

Even more, we must continue to be filled with an attitude of joy, thanksgiving and prayer – pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). As a child of the true and living God, He has already blessed us with EVERY spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 1:3). In other words, you are blessed because God through our faith in Jesus Christ is blessing, comforting and overcoming all sufferings and trials for His people (2 Corinthians 1:4-11). Believers of Jesus Christ that seek to lead godly and righteous lives can expect to face the hostility of a sinful world (1 Peter 3:13-14; 1 Peter 4:12). However, those who faithfully follow Jesus Christ will experience the victory (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Romans 6:1-10; Romans 8:17). God always takes care of the godly (Psalm 37:17). NEVER STOP BELIVING IN GOD!

Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.  Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will help you. . . . Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. . . . For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land. Psalms 37:3-5, 7, 9 (NLT)

The worst thing to do during suffering and trials is to focus on ourselves and our problems because this focus often leads to even more despair, depression and sadness. A grumbling, unfaithful and complaining attitude will lead to defeat, depression and disaster. Sadly, our suffering and trials can provide an excuse for sinning. The worse medicine during suffering and hardship is to turn to self-pity, sex sins, lust, getting drunk, wild parties, drinking bouts, stopping church attendance, and every other kind of terrible sins (1 Peter 4:3, 15; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; Hebrews 10:25). Jesus Christ teaches us not be consumed with the worries of this world, the desire for riches, and the pursuit of pleasure (Mark 4:5-7, 16-19) but to focus on God first (Matthew 6:33).

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad — for these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it is revealed to all the world. So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by His Name! For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? And also, “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?” So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for He will never fail you. 1 Peter 4:12-19 (NLT)

However, followers of Jesus Christ are to no longer live such immoral lifestyles nor lifestyles of murdering, stealing, making trouble, being a busybody and as a meddler (1 Peter 4:3, 15). During times of suffering, we are to seek other fellow believers for support, keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, and resist evil (1 Peter 5:8-9; James 4:7). New birth and salvation require believers to live as God’s people, separating themselves from the values of the world and imitating the goodness of God (see Exodus 34:6-7; Galatians 5:22-23). The Holy Scriptures urges all God’s people to decisively turn away from such sinful way of life from which Jesus Christ in His suffering delivered us. Instead, God calls all faithful followers of Jesus Christ to keep on reverentially trusting Him, loving Him with our whole hearts, doing good and forgiving to others (1 Peter 4:8, 19; see also Proverbs 10:12; Matthew 5:16; Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 7:47; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Besides during suffering and trials, call on the Helper – God’s Holy Spirit (John 14:26; John 15:26). The Holy Spirit – who is the Glory of God – helped the Israelites in the wilderness as they headed to the Promised Land (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 16:10; Exodus 24:15-17). God’s Holy Spirit continues to help God’s people today (1 Peter 4:14-16). God sends His Holy Spirit to strengthen and empower followers of Jesus Christ to withstand any test, trial, and suffering (see John chapters 14 through 16). God’s Holy Spirit is available for those who are suffering or persecuted as the result of good Christian conduct.

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your Example, and you must follow in His steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when He was insulted, nor threaten revenge when He suffered. He left His case in the Hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in His body on the Cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By His wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls. 1 Peter 2:21-25 (NLT)

Sadly, we may suffer for many reasons. Some suffering is the direct result of our own foolish sins and selfishness (Proverbs 11:31), some happens as the result of living in a fallen world (Romans 8:18-25), some suffering comes to bring God glory (John 9:1-3; John 11:4), and some suffering comes from God. Contrary to popular opinion, no one sins and gets away with sinning (Psalm 37:1-2, 9; Proverbs 11:31). The Holy Scriptures are clear:  the faithful are rewarded for their faith and goodness and the wicked will be punished for their sin and wickedness (1 Peter 4:18; see also Proverbs 11:30-31). Those who continually sin are marked for punishment when they stand before Jesus Christ – the Judge over all (John 5:22; Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1).

Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. In His kindness God called you to share in His eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, He will restore, support, and strengthen you, and He will place you on a firm foundation. All power to Him forever! Amen. 1 Peter 5:7-11 (NLT)

The Holy Scriptures acknowledge that God’s people sometimes suffer troubles and afflictions even though they did not sin and lived righteous lives (see Job chapter 1 through 2; Proverbs 3:11-12). When we follow Jesus Christ's example of humbly loving God and loving others, we too may suffer (Mark 8:34-35). Sometimes God allows suffering to discipline His people, to purge our sins, and lead to repentance (1 Peter 4:16-18; see also Proverbs 3:11-12; Luke 13:1-5; Hebrews 12:4-13). Yet through times of suffering and trials, God is continually with His people, guiding them, and helping them for their good (Hebrews 12:10). If we will not give up and continually trust God, God promises to bring restoration (Joel 2:23-27). Although Job suffered many troubles, God restored Job with twice as much as he had before with more children, more property, and good health (Job 42:10-17). God blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. Job learned the God is good all the time (Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Peter 5:10).

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love. Romans 5:1-11 (NLT)

As believers in Jesus Christ, our suffering leads to our overall good and makes us stronger (James 1:2-18). If God can oversee the forces of nature, we can rest assured that God will see us through any suffering and trial we face. In our suffering and trial, we must never forget that God is still sovereign, faithful and in control. God controls all the circumstances of life. Besides, as we walk faithfully with God, God will often use our suffering and trials for a good purpose. Suffering often brings God’s people into fellowship with Jesus Christ, who also suffered before He was glorified by God (1 Peter 4:13; see also Romans 8:17). All of God's faithful followers are assured of an eternal life with Jesus Christ where there will be no suffering (Revelation 21:4).

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. . . . All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars — their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. Revelation 21:4, 7-8 (NLT)

When we face suffering and trials, we must continually stay faithful to God and give ALL our worries, stresses and struggles to Him (1 Peter 5:7). The true and living God is all-powerful, all-wise, and all-knowing and He truly cares for us. God is filled with good blessings (James 1:17). Even if our suffering is the result of our sins, God still in His never ending mercy still cares for us and wants to help. Turn to God with your whole heart and your problems. The true and living God is the answer!

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Do not repay evil for evil. Do not retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and He will bless you for it. For the Scriptures say, “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and His ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns His face against those who do evil.” Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So do not worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. 1 Peter 3:8-18 (NLT)

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