Thursday, May 12, 2005

Teaching the Disciples

Second Quarter 2005 Adult Sabbath School Lessons:
Jesus Through the Eyes of Mark
Insights to Lesson 7
Teaching the Disciples
May 7-13

(Produced by the 1888 Message Study Committee)

Conflict between faith and unbelief is observed in the various experiences of the people to whom our attention is directed in this week’s lesson. We observe this conflict in the behavior of Christ’s disciples, in the principles of marriage and divorce, and in the attempt to serve both God and mammon. In contrast, faith is best demonstrated by the simplicity and trust of children that Christ drew to Himself. Let us learn from what Jesus taught His disciples. We begin our lesson with:

A Public Failure and a Public Demonstration

Jesus gave His disciples authority to cast out devils previous to the situation in which they found themselves when they were unable to do anything helpful for a demon possessed boy (Mark 9:14-18). Nine disciples were clueless as to why they could not exercise power that had been given to them by Jesus (9:28; 6:7, 13).

The child had been deprived of abilities to speak and to hear. He was often convulsed with violent seizures. And the devils now attempt to destroy him (9:18, 20-22). Because God’s power was absent during this time of humiliating defeat, the nine did that which they knew best, which was to argue with their opponents (9:16).

When Jesus came upon the scene He emphasized the characteristic cause of all spiritual failure--lack of faith in God (cf. 9:19, 23). Christ’s rhetorical questions to His disciples, and to the crowd, addressed the disciples’ spiritual dullness, and by way of application ours also (v. 19). Jesus acts with power where the nine had failed miserably.

The father’s words, “If You can do anything, . . ,” indicate the disciples’ inability to expel the demons (vss. 18, 22). Consequently, this incompetence shook the father’s faith in Christ’s ability to deliver his son. Jesus turned aside the father’s words of doubt with His own conditional proposition: “If you can believe . . .” “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (v. 23). Faith never sets conditions or limits on God’s power. The father’s response was immediate (euthys). He declared his faith while acknowledging his weakness: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (v. 24).

A spiritual lesson must be drawn from this experience. Our condition may be as helpless as that of the hopeless father; yet if we will cast ourselves at Christ’s feet with the father’s cry, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief” we can never perish--never (see The Desire of Ages, p. 429). Compare this thought with the following from Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, pp. 309-310:

“The powers of darkness gather about the soul and shut Jesus from our sight, and at times we can only wait in sorrow and amazement until the cloud passes over. These seasons are sometimes terrible. Hope seems to fail, and despair seizes upon us. In these dreadful hours we must learn to trust, to depend solely upon the merits of the atonement, and in all our helpless unworthiness cast ourselves upon the merits of the crucified and risen Saviour. We shall never perish while we do this--never!” (emphasis in the original).

The lesson to be learned is this: “the faith of Jesus” is always triumphant. And He will never turn away from the heart-felt cry of the weak and distressed. Never. This lesson will be learned, finally, by the church called Laodicea. She will “buy” “without money and without price” the “gold tried in the fire,” which is the faith of Jesus. We next move to the lesson of “the faith of Jesus” as exhibited in those only who are enabled to “see” and thus to “enter” the kingdom of God (Mark 9:33-50).

True Greatness: Childlike Faith

Jesus informed His disciples that He would be crucified and afterward would arise from the grave. The twelve could not grasp what He said. Those unwelcome dreadful declarations did not fit into their understanding about the Messiah. And they were not about to ask what He meant by His words. Mark wrote that they “were afraid to ask Him” (9:31, 32). They were not going to let truth inform their misunderstanding.

Ignoring Christ’s declaration about His soon coming death, the disciples became agitated over who among them was the greatest. They thought to hide their verbal wrangling from Jesus. They could not. When He asked them about their discussion they refused to answer (vv. 33, 34). Later, when James and John got the jump on the rest of the disciples, by sending their mother to lobby Jesus into letting her sons have the highest position in the kingdom, the ten were livid with anger (see Matt. 20:20-24).

In stark contrast to the disciple’s behavior is the faith of children. Twice Jesus used children to illustrate the principles of His kingdom and entrance therein (Mark 9:37; 10:14). In His first lesson, Jesus sought to draw out from His disciples the bigotry and exclusiveness attending their ideas of greatness. Jesus took a child in His arms and said, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me” (9:37).

John was not about to receive this kind of message. In the next verse we read his words by which he distracted his attention from the worrisome message he was hearing: “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow US casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow US” (9:38, emphasis supplied). There is danger, always, in the attempt to suppress the work of others because they are not one of “us.” They may not say things just like we say them, so we may be tempted to think it best to shut them out. This conduct usually comes from an unseen Laodicean spiritual pride in thinking we are greater than others in understanding truth, even the “most precious message” sent from heaven. Lord, anoint our eyes with your holy “eye salve” that we may see.

The next recorded time that Jesus took children to Himself was when, and because, His chosen teachers attempted to keep them away (10:13). His rebuke was fast in coming. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (vss. 14, 15). We must be born from above before we can “see” and “enter” God’s kingdom (see John 3:3, 5). And we must be clothed with Christ’s robe of righteousness, for no one shall see God without His holiness (Heb. 12:14).

The faith of Jesus is best demonstrated in the experience of a little child. We are not to be childish and think we are greater than others. Instead, we are to be childlike--depending on Jesus alone and learning as children do by that faith which works though love, esteeming others better than ourselves. This is the essence of true greatness. This is the experiential result of the message of 1888. Are we listening? Are we learning? Do we truly believe?

A Discussion on Divorce

We need to know that God hates divorce. He knows what it does to those who go through this heart wrenching living death experience. “‘For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously’” (Mal. 2:16).

Legal experts attempted to turn people away from Jesus and also to get Him into trouble either with the people or with Herod, for he had divorced his wife and married his older half-brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). Jesus skirted their purposes of legal entrapment, expediency, and their interpretation of the rule of law, and went directly to the principle as outlined in Genesis 1 and 2 (see Mark 10:5-9).

More than politics were involved in that trick question recorded in Mark 10:2. The verb indicates that the Pharisees “kept testing Him,” as though they hoped to provoke Him to say something incriminating. Divorce was a very controversial subject among Jewish rabbis. No matter the answer Jesus should give, He would be sure to displease somebody. Hopefully this would give opportunity to arrest Him, so thought His enemies.

As He usually did, whatever the constant current controversial conundrum unanswered satisfactorily by anyone, Jesus focused attention on the Word of God (Mark 10:3). In this case it was the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. As you study this passage, it is important to note two facts. First, it was the man who divorced the wife, not the wife who divorced the husband; for women did not have this prerogative at that time. Second, the official “bill of divorcement” was given to the wife in order for her to reveal her status and to assure any prospective husband that she was indeed free to remarry. Apart from the giving of this document, the only other requirement was that the woman not return to her first husband if her second husband also divorced her. Among Jews, the question was not, “May a divorced woman marry again?” because remarriage was permitted and even expected. The big question was, “What are the legal grounds for a man to divorce his wife?”

The Law of Moses did not give adultery as grounds for divorce; for, in Israel, the adulterer and adulteress were to be stoned to death (Deut. 22:22; Lev. 20:10; also see John 8:1–11). Jesus explained that Moses gave the divorce law because of the selfishness of the human heart. The law protected the wife by restraining the husband from impulsively divorcing her and abusing her like an unwanted piece of furniture. Without a bill of divorcement, a woman could easily become a social outcast and be treated like a harlot. No man would want to marry her, and she would be left defenseless and destitute.

By giving this commandment to Israel, God did not encourage divorce, nor put His approval on it. Rather, He sought to restrain men and make it more difficult for them to dismiss their wives. He put sufficient regulations around divorce so wives would not become victims of their husbands’ whims.

Jesus then took those legal experts of His time back beyond the Law of Moses to the record of the original Creation (Gen 1:27; 2:21–25). It was Jesus who established marriage; and He has the right to make the rules. According to Scripture, marriage is between a man and a woman, not two men or two women; and the relationship is sacred and permanent. It is the most intimate union in the human race, for the two become one flesh. And further it illustrates for us the close spiritual union that Jesus wants to have with His bride, the church.

While the spiritual element is vitally important in marriage, the emphasis here is that marriage is a physical union: the two become one flesh, not one spirit. Since marriage is a physical union, only a physical cause can break it--either death (Rom. 7:1–3) or fornication (Matt. 5:32; 19:9).

Does there have to be divorce? From today’s culture the answer is a cacophonous yes. Independence from God produces independence in marriage. There is a cure, however, especially for these last days. A heaven-sent message, believed, reconciles. God was in Christ “reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) and He will bring about reconciliation between husband and wife who believe the gospel of Christ, along with children and parents (see Mal. 4:5, 6).

Mere Profession and Many Possessions

Riches in and of themselves are not evil. Many believing Christians are, and were, very wealthy. One great example from history is Abraham, father of the faithful. He possessed both earthly and heavenly riches. Problems stemming from the love of worldly possessions and its accompanying greediness that takes possession of its possessor will result in his rejection of God’s message. In this last experience of this week’s lesson we learn that the ruler who was both young and rich loved Jesus, but he loved his earthly possessions much more (Mark 10:17-31). Because of his misplaced love he threw over all the riches of heaven, embodied in Christ, for a comparatively paltry sum with its unstable security.

As it was in the days of Christ on earth, so it is today. In the gospel darkness of this age of popular “prosperity” preaching, people are led to believe the falsehood that health and material things are evidence of God’s special blessing and to the concomitant lie that if you do not have health and prosperity you are in some way inferior to “super” Christians who do. Mere profession, with many possessions, is very dangerous. This is because there is no possibility of salvation in this configuration, as the rich young ruler realized. This concept must not be lost as it is applied spiritually in the rebuke by the “True Witness” to Laodicea (Rev. 3:17). Mere profession and great religious possessions give evidence of deadness within. The sepulcher may be whitewashed as in days of old, but it is still filled with the skeleton of uncleanness and unrighteousness.

May we learn the lesson the rich young ruler refused. May we heed the “counsel of the True Witness” as He invites us to receive from Him the richness of His faith, His robe of righteousness and His Spirit (Rev. 3:18). This is the beginning of that message that will lay our glory in the dust so that God’s glorious gospel of righteousness may lighten the world with its splendor (Rev. 18:1). This message is summed up in the following quotation:

“What is justification by faith? It is the work of God in laying the glory of man in the dust, and doing for man that which it is not in his power to do for himself (Special Testimonies to Ministers and Workers, Series A, No. 9, 1897, pp. 61, 62; Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 456).

This is a message of hope for those who are as helpless as were the nine disciples when they encountered the power the prince of darkness. If we have lost the power of God in our lives; if we wrangle over doctrine; if we are argue about who is the greatest, let God do His work of justification in laying our glory in the dust and doing for us that which we are incapable to do for ourselves. Let’s pray for the simplicity and love and faith of a little child; for those childlike characteristics such of faith and hope and love may be exhibited in and through us. This is the faith of Jesus that we are to cherish and to keep.

--Gerald L. Finneman