To Be Known As Great

Mark 9.35
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us – don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

–  Emily Dickinson

Our celebrity culture loves somebodies and banishes nobodies. We are obsessed with actors, athletes and, yes, even pastors. As a result, most of us – even if we are not egocentric maniacs – want to be somebodies. It may be for a fleeting moment, a few times a year, or every time we have to wait in line at a restaurant in the West Village. We long for “an admiring bog” to recognize us. Our culture says that we can become somebodies by, for example, having high Klout scores or attending prestigious universities. But what does the gospel say?

Jesus never criticized anyone’s quest for greatness. In fact, God made us in His image, and He wants our lives to be meaningful and significant. Yet something happened that distorted our pursuit of greatness. John Piper says that it has been corrupted into a longing not merely to be great, but “to be known as great” [1].

Even the disciples argued about who was the greatest among them. Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” He then showed them that being the “servant of all” meant serving the biggest nobodies of all – children: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” Why children? Because children do not care about Klout scores or universities. They care about getting what they want and, when they do, they must be taught to give thanks. Therefore, as Piper concludes, “Children prove, more clearly than any other kind of people, whether you are truly great or not – whether you live to serve or live to be praised.” [2]

Prayer
Lord, we often do not pursue true greatness by being servants of all. Instead, we long for “an admiring bog” to praise us. Forgive us and crucify our impulse of self-exaltation. For we know that the greatest Somebody who ever lived came to serve, not be served. Therefore, since we want to become somebodies in your kingdom, we long to become servants of all. Amen.

Christian Identity
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 39 (Listen – 3:08)
Mark 9 (Listen – 6:16)

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This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Genesis 40 (Listen – 2:10); Mark 10 (Listen – 6:42)
Sunday: Genesis 41 (Listen – 7:30); Mark 11 (Listen – 3:59)

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Footnotes

[1] John Piper. “Receiving Children in Jesus’ Name.” Desiring God. 23 February 1992. | [2] Scripture referenced: Mark 9.37

TBT: Of Christ’s Humiliation

Mark 8.36
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

TBT: Of Christ’s Humiliation | by John Meriton (c. 1659-1689)

Christ humbling himself should teach us to highly prize our souls. By the price that was paid we conceive at what a rate God values them. If God said concerning any soul, “I so esteem it that, rather than it shall perish, I will dissolve and unpin the whole fabric of heaven and earth,” that, you will say, evidently demonstrated a high valuation of souls. But the course which God has taken, shows an even higher esteem of them. 

Now let this dear-bought ware be precious. Ah! Let none of us adventure a soul for the satisfying of a base lust; let not any sin steal that away upon easy terms, which put the Lord of glory to such expenses. Christ best knows the worth of souls, for he paid for them. Christ so values them that he tells us that the gain of the world were no sufficient or satisfactory compensation for the loss of but one of them.

Did Christ thus humble himself to death for us? Let us prize him exceedingly and raise him in our esteem above riches, honor, pleasure, father, mother, husband, wife, friend, yea, life itself — or any other thing that we are apt to account precious. How ought he to be prized and preferred above all things, that prized such inconsiderable nothings as we are at so high rates as his own blood! 

If you put Christ into one end of the scale be sure he out-balances every thing that can be laid in the other: “Unto you that believe he is precious.” To a carnal heart, nothing is so low-prized and undervalued as Christ; but with believers, that have an interest in him, and know the worth of him, he is in highest esteem.  [1]

Prayers from the Past
Who can sufficiently praise
the mystery of your grace?
We have been enabled
to take our share of the gift;
may we keep it save to the end,
that so we may come to hear
the blessed voice,
the sweet, the holy, saying:
Come, you that have received
a blessing from my Father;
take possession of the kingdom
that awaits you.

— From the prayer “For Holy Saturday,” c. 200-400 C.E. 

Christian Identity
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 38 (Listen – 4:34)
Mark 8 (Listen – 4:29)

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Footnotes

[1] Abridged and language updated from Rev. John Meriton’s sermon on Philippines 2.8 in Nichols, J. (1981). Puritan Sermons (Vol. 5, p. 229). Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers.

The Idolatry of Tradition

Mark 7.8
[Jesus said,] “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

A large percentage of the traditions Jesus faulted were instituted or significantly amended during the 400 years between the end of the composition of the Old Testament and the events which fill the first pages of the New Testament.

During this time, referred to by theologians as the intertestamental period, volumes were written to explain and develop spiritual concepts. Systems for temple worship were reestablished and cemented into daily life. Theological orders were instituted under various groups, including the Sadducees and Pharisees.

When the Messiah arrived, despite all their traditions, many of the faithful missed him.

Christianity has had five times as many years since the composition of the New Testament as ancient Judaism had during the intertestamental period. We have largely invested in the same things. 

Volumes have been written—NPR reported Christian publishing is a 1.4 billion dollar market. Daily worship rhythms have been developed and practiced, formally through the Daily Office or informally through a ‘quiet time’. Theological orders have been established. 

Like the faithful before Jesus’ birth, we too expect our traditions to help us see God better. But even the ideal tradition can be used to veil Christ rather than reveal him.

At their best, traditions give historic root to modern practice. Jesus doesn’t condemn tradition in Mark 7. Instead, Jesus rebukes the sin of leveraging tradition to replace the hard work of active faith. When a tradition replaces faith the tradition itself becomes the object of worship.

When the book of Deuteronomy denounces idolatry it says, “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.” It’s possible to worship God through our idols. An idol isn’t just a token representing another god, it’s anything we exploit to soften the grace and truth of Christ in our lives.

The Pharisees in this passage wield their traditions to justify less grace toward others. We may manipulate ours to foster less trust in God. Either way, the idolatry of tradition causes the faithful to fall short of intimacy with Christ.

Prayer
Father, thank you for the traditions of the faithful who have walked before us. Help us to preach the gospel to ourselves daily. Search our hearts and reveal everything they do to remove faith in you and replace it with faith in ourselves. Cultivate our souls to know, trust, and love you.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 37 (Listen – 4:56)
Mark 7 (Listen – 4:28)

The Compassionate Shepherd

Mark 6.41
Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.

Jesus saw the people “as sheep without a shepherd,” Mark explains. He’s setting the context for the miracle where Jesus fed five thousand people. The shepherding language harks back to the book of Numbers where Moses, after being told he will not be permitted to enter the promised land, begs God to provide a new leader for Israel. 

In that moment God provided Joshua. Later God provided kings. But the heart of a king can be corrupted — a theme which repeated incessantly in ancient Israel’s story. The longing for someone greater than an earthly king began to grow — a King of kings.

“Every flock which does not have a shepherd to govern it does, of necessity, meet with great disasters,” recorded Philo in the first century. “It is not able, of its own power, to repel what is injurious to it, and to choose what will be advantageous.” The compassion Jesus felt for the people that day wasn’t simply because they lacked food. It wasn’t limited to their political plight as a people under the pagan culture of Rome. Jesus saw something far more injurious. [1]

The miracle Jesus performed pointed directly to him as their Messiah. The words “taking,” “blessed,” “broke,” and “gave” in the verse above are thematically similar to the blessing said before a Sabbath meal found in Deuteronomy 8. Jesus would use these exact words again during the Last Supper when he pointed to himself as the sacrifice. [2]

The hungry were not fed that day as a party trick to show God had power. They were fed to show that the shepherd had arrived. The One that humanity needed to guide it from the great disaster of a broken relationship with God was bringing his kingdom into reality. He would heal the injury of sin, death, and injustice that humanity had been powerless to repel. [3]

Prayer
Lord, we confess that we are sheep without a shepherd. Our greatest problem is admitting that there are problems that exceed our greatness. We don’t want to be dependent. Yet, in your love, you’ve offered your Son. Blessed by you, broken for us, and given to all who would trust. We are under your grace.

Christian Identity
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 35-36 (Listen – 9:33)
Mark 6 (Listen – 7:23)

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Footnotes

[1] Yonge, C. D. with Philo of Alexandria. (1995). The works of Philo: complete and unabridged (p. 138). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. [language updated] | [2] See Deuteronomy 8.7-10. The Jewish Annotated New Testament notes that the prayer “developed into the ‘blessing for nourishment’ [“birchat ha-mason”] used at mealtime. | [3] Mark 6.34; Numbers 27.12-17; Mark 14.22-25

Informed Faith

Mark 5.34
Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

There is only one woman in the gospels who Jesus called daughter. They met after she pushed her way through a dense crowd, stretched out her hand, and caught one of the tzitzit, or prayer tassels, dangling of the fringes of Jesus’ clothes. Immediately, Scripture records, she was healed of a bleeding disorder that had plagued her for over a decade. [1]

She suffered not only from her condition, but from her cures as well. “The cures were terrible back then,” observes Timothy Keller. He notes that one of the known remedies from the time was to, “take a goblet of wine and to fill it with a powder of pulverized rubber, alum, and garden crocuses.” The best solutions her culture had to offer were not only insufficient, but they intensified her suffering. [2]

It was a great risk to reach for the teacher. Her actions sent a clear message to every spiritual leader and healer about her doubts of the efficacy of their work. Moreover, if nothing happened after she touched Jesus, then she — a ceremonially unclean woman — would have made one of the most famous rabbis of her day unclean. The social scorn would have been immense.

This was an act of informed — not blind — faith. This miracle occurred early in Jesus’ ministry, long before even his closest disciples would recognize who he was. Yet this woman trusted he was her savior. Her trust in this had been formed from her knowledge of the Scriptures. 

In the final verses of the Hebrew Bible the prophet Malachi reveals that, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” In Hebrew the name of the fringe of a garment, where tzitzit attach, literally means “wings.” 

The woman’s dedication to the scriptures helped her see the world in a way no one around her did. The object of her faith wasn’t her knowledge, but her Savior. He saved her from her pain. He saved her from the pain of trying to solve her pain with the best of the world’s thinking. He gave her new life in his Kingdom. [3] [4]

Prayer
Father, too often we do not trust you simply because we do not know you. Our prayers are too often terse. Our knowledge of the scriptures, anemic. Help us become disciplined in knowing and following you. Give us grace and courage to act on what we know about you.

Christian Identity
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 34 (Listen – 4:18)
Mark 5 (Listen – 5:21)

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Footnotes

[1] Matthew and Luke’s accounts of this same story provides the detail that it was the kraspedon (Greek for tzitzit) that the woman reached for. (The Gospel of Mark was written for a Greek audience, so tzitzit would not have been familiar to them.) | [2] Timothy Keller. “How to Find Faith,” delivered November 8, 1998. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church. | [3] Scripture references, in order of appearance: Mark 5.26; Malachi 2.4 | [4] What proved the efficacy of her faith was not her healing, but her salvation. Many of us today, as well as our family members and friends, await the healing of our bodies. Outwardly we waste away, but inwardly the healing of the Messiah has ransomed us from greater pain and greater death than our body can experience. We trust because we are saved. We hold the Spirit as a deposit which guarantees full restoration when Christ returns. (2 Corinthians 4.16; Ephesians 1.14; 2 Corinthians 1.22)

 

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