The Cost of Following Jesus

Sometimes I get to preach a couple of weeks in a row, and often when Ben and I discuss the structure of a passage and realise that it would make sense for one preacher to take a particular block. This has happened to me these past weeks as I’ve gotten to preach from Mark 1:16 all the way through to Mark 3:6. The section has been broken in two, with part one looking at 1:16-45 and part two looking at 2:1-3:6.

As I was preparing for the sermon last week I noticed, with the aid of ‘Dig Deeper into the Gospels’, a chiasm that Mark has inserted into this section. A chiasm is a structure of writing in which two halves parallel each other in an ascending/descending fashion, often to highlight the middle portion. The chiasm in this section of Mark’s gospel looks like something like this:

A.   1:16-20 – Calling disciples to follow him

B.   1:21-28 – the Authority of Jesus teaching confirmed by a miracle

C.   1:29-34 – Healings

D.   1:35-39 – Jesus’ focus on preaching

C’.   1:40-45 – Healing the leper

B’.   2:1-12 – the Authority of Jesus to forgive confirmed by a miracle

A’.   2:13-14 – Calling Levi to follow him

You can see the small problem I had because we had originally planned only to go to 1:45 rather than through to 2:14 to cover the chiasm. This isn’t too big of a problem – many other commentators break up the structure of Mark at 1:45, and I was happy to work with that, but it did mean that because I was convinced of this particular chiastic structure I had to work out what to include and not include in the sermon.

So one of the things I dropped was the A, A’ bracket. While in the first service I shoe-horned it in, I dropped it for the second service as I realised it didn’t make much sense. Preaching 1:21-45 as it’s own unit made more sense – focusing more on the teaching of Jesus as confirmed by the miracles surrounding it all.

This coming week I’m preaching on Mark 2:1-3:6 and I’ve begun to notice something else: an escalating conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees.

It begins in 2:1-12 with the healing of the paralytic man. The authority of Jesus to forgive the paralytic man’s sins is questioned by the scribes – and rightly so. Only God can forgive – so their questioning of Jesus here makes sense, and we can give them the benefit of the doubt.

But then when Jesus calls Levi to follow him and hangs with the Tax Collectors and sinners (2:13-17) the Pharisees insert themselves again into the story asking why Jesus would hang around such people. Jesus’ response has a bit of a double edge (he came not to call the righteous – but no one is righteous… so is he saying that the Pharisees are self-righteous?).

By 2:18-3:6 we then have three incidences which escalate the dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees. They involve fasting and two incidences on the Sabbath until it finally ends in 3:6 with the Pharisees beginning their plot to kill Jesus.

It seems that the point of this weeks’ sermon will fall on the Pharisees and their objections to Jesus. Point A’ of the chiasm will, therefore, fall more naturally within the discussion on Jesus hanging with tax collectors/sinners.

So what this means is that discussion on the cost of following Jesus – which I was thinking I was going to highlight, is going to probably fall by the wayside.

And that’s why I’m blogging this – to say here what I was hoping to say on Sunday but realise is better left on the cutting room floor. Or the post of a blog.

On the cost of following Jesus

In Mark 1:16-20, and 2:14 we have two clear instances of Jesus personally calling disciples to follow him. Five men in these stories are called – Simon, Andrew, James and John (1:16-20), and Levi (2:14). In each of these stories we read that these men followed immediately – there appears to be no time elapsing in between the call and their decision to follow. There is no double checking with the spouses, no seeking permission from parents, just a simple act of responding.

And in each case, we can see a relatively massive cost to following Jesus.

First, there is the cost of leaving everything behind. By the description of the fishing operation, Simon and Andrew had a relatively successful business as fishermen – enough to own a home from it (cf 1:29). James and John were a part of a sizeable small business as well – not only were they also fishermen in what appears to be their father’s business, but the operation was large enough to require ‘hired servants (cf 1:20).

When Levi was called he was sitting at the tax booth – he was a tax collector. Given that these men would own the rights to tax collecting, and it was a relatively profitable venture, all these men gave up their wealth and ‘careers’ to follow Jesus.

There’s also the cost of leaving father (and mother). James and John were probably going to inherit their father’s business after he passed away. And yet here they were, not only turning their backs on this but also parting ways with their father whom they leave behind.

Following Jesus is a costly thing. In small ways we see here what Jesus demands of his followers later:

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. – Mark 8:34

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:26

The Luke quote is hyperbole – over the top exaggerated language to make the point: Jesus comes first.

It’s no small thing to follow Jesus. But as we saw in the opening verses of Mark, Jesus – the authoritative teacher affirmed by his miracles – is worth following. He is worth the cost of giving up everything we have to follow him.

And that’s all I wanted to say about that.


Refiner’s fire

A wonderful little quote from Iain Duguid’s Daniel commentary on the nature of trials and how they refine us – I found it an insightful reminder that the fire refines what should already be there:

We need to be careful at this point, however. There is nothing intrinsically purifying about fiery trials in themselves, and we should not seek them for their own sake. The refiner’s fire does not create the pure metal, it simply reveals it. If you put metallic ore into the crucible, the pure metal will sink to the bottom and you can remove the slag from the top. However, if what you put into the crucible is dross to begin with, you will get out nothing but dross. The fire simply reveals the true nature of the material being refined. So too in Daniel 12:10, when those who are wise go through trials, they are ‘purified, made spotless and refined’ by them; yet in the same circumstances, the wicked continue to be wicked. Trials thus serve to reveal the difference between the wise and the wicked. As the apostle Peter reminds us, the key purpose of our trials: so that “your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7). In a mysterious way, the trials that we face – trials that come from the fallenness and brokenness of this world – refine our faith and demonstrate its genuineness, making us more fit for the presence of God.

Iain M. Duguid, Daniel (Reformed Expository Commentary), p218-219

Psalm 150 – Let Us Lift Up Endless Praises!

**** These are the condensed notes from my sermon on Sunday. *****

Hills and valleys, highs and lows. Life is full of hills and valleys, highs and lows. So when we come to Psalm 150 and its relatively buoyant nature, what are we to make of it?

Firstly we can not divorce Ps 150 from its original context – the 149 Psalms which precede Ps 150 contain moments of overflowing joy and moments of excruciating despair. Hills and valleys, highs and lows. Psalm 100 shouts for joy in proclaiming:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

But then, just as easily, the Psalmist cries out:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Ps 13:1)

This is but a minute taste of the emotions which are felt and expressed throughout the Psalms. So when we arrive at the end, what are we to make of the journey through the Psalms?

I’d like to suggest that Ps 150 holds some great truths we must never let go of.

Firstly – Ps 150 is a conclusion. It’s the summarising point, the end note, of the Psalms. It’s the place we should finish as we reflect on life, and our relationship with God, through the Psalms. You could say that the main idea of this particular Psalm is that as we reflect upon God, His character and His works, we must eventually be led to exuberant and passionate praise of Him.

And within that sentence there are a few key words that we must draw attention to – must, eventually, exuberant and passionately. The Psalm raises two main questions for us – Why is God to be praised and How is God to be praised.

Verse 1 sets the tone for our answer:

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.

The first reason we praise God is for His place in the cosmos. The word ‘sanctuary’ refers to God’s Old Testament temple: the place where God’s spirit dwelt amongst his people, the place where Israel would offer up their worship (and probably sing this Psalm!). We praise God because he came down from ‘his mighty heavens’ to be with his people in his ‘sanctuary’. Today Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19…

Do you not know that your body s a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…?

Why do we praise God? Because He is in His holy temple – our bodies. Why praise God? Because His Spirit is within us! Praise the Lord!

The second reason we praise God is because is in verse 2:

Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!

What mighty deeds has he done? We know that in the Psalms there are great odes to God’s creation. For instance the psalmist cries out, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork’ (Ps 19:1). Elsewhere we see the Psalmist shout for joy at the saving work of the Lord – Psalm 66 rejoices in the ‘awesome deeds’ of God who turned the sea into dry landing order to save Israel.

Paul must have had this verse and Israel’s salvation history in mind when he penned the opening lines to his letter to the Ephesians where we read:

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will 6 to the praise of his glorious grace

The mightiest deed of our Father in Heaven is the very act of sending His Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins and thereby bless us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. And that he did all this before the foundations of the world – that we were predestined to receive adoption as sons out of love. And all of this working to the praise of God’s glorious grace. Praise Him for his mighty deeds, praise the Lord!

These are the two opening reasons why we should be praising God. That as we reflect upon our lives and upon God and His character we must eventually be led to praising Him.

The next question is how are we to praise God? Verse 3-5 set out the manner in which this is to be done.

Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Exuberantly and passionately! It is obvious that God deserves nothing less than passionate and enthusiastic praise. Now, this doesn’t mean that we should be joyous and happy all the time. It doesn’t mean that there will not be sombre moments or that the songs we sing in church should only be upbeat ones.

What it does mean is that that anything half-hearted will fail to please Him and fail to glorify Him. The Psalmist wants our enthusiastic praise to overflow from our deep satisfaction in God. And he wants us to do this at the conclusion of our thoughts and reflections upon Him.

Which leads us to our final exhortation in verse 6 of the Psalm:

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord, praise the Lord!

That word ‘breath’, as I mentioned in an earlier post, refers to the same ‘breath of life’ which God breathed into Adam. God wants all people to praise Him. People who will experience joy and pain, pleasure and sorrow. People who will go through the highs and the lows, the hills and the valleys of life. People who will read through the Psalms and have experienced (maybe not all) the emotions written down. People who will, as the Psalmist does here, bring their concluding thoughts on God and life to praising Him.

So, since Ps 150 can not be divorced from the 149 Psalms preceding it we’ve seen that Ps 150 is a conclusion. It is the end point of our reflections upon God and His character. Which means the obvious thing we can not do when we take time to ponder God is to walk away not praising Him. We can not continue to believe the lie and exchange the creator for the creation. We can not praise or worship everything else but God.

What it may mean for some of us is that we need to be shaken out of our complacent faith. A faith which is devoid of passion and exuberance. Faiths which are lukewarm in practice and in theology. For this is no simple Psalm – the praise is a result of a deeply rooted in theology.

But what it certainly means is this – that no matter what hills and valleys we may go through, our reflections upon life and upon God must eventually lead us to praising Him.

Last year at the Men’s Training Event a man shared his testimony. He had two sons, both of whom were mentally disabled. He shared memories of having to clean the sheets of a 25 year old man who still wet his bed. He shared his struggles raising his children. And he shared of how he and his wife had buried both of them. Their disabilities cut short their life-span, and what no parent would ever want they endured. That they should outlive their children. Now, by all accounts this was a man who had every right to be bitter at God. But he went on to say that he felt blessed to have two disabled sons. What parent could say that they never had to worry where their boys where at night? What parent could say that they were completely at peace knowing their two boys were now free from their disabilities and with Jesus? Here was a man who had gone through his fair share of hills and valleys, yet was coming away praising God.

When he finished giving his testimony there was a deathly silence. We rose and sang a song in response. A song which is sung every year, a song which never fails to rumble the foundations of the tin shed at Mt Tambourine. Hundreds of men gathered together singing at the top of their lungs in response to life’s hills and valleys:

No condemnation now I dread: Jesus and all in him is mine; alive in him my living head and clothed with righteousness divine. Bold I approach the eternal throne and claim the crown through Christ, my own.

Our reflections upon Jesus and his character must eventually lead us to exuberant and passionate praise of Him.

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord!