Fundamental Moral Truths Of The Gospel
Notes of an address at Plumstead Conference 2001
Scriptures read: Mark's Gospel ch. 2:1-12, 17, 22; 3:1-5, 13-15, 20-22, 31-35; 4:1-4, 20, 22, 26-29, 35-41; 5:1-5, 15-17, 22-28, 35-40; 6:2-3, 7-11, 21-29, 34-38, 42-52; 7:1-3, 5-7, 17, 18, 24-35, 8:1-2, 4-21, 31-33, 38; 9:1-8, 14-23.
I would like to consider some fundamental points of the gospel, and how God deals with men and with His disciples. I am not going to present the gospel - I hope that all of us here have salvation through Jesus Christ and can call Him our Lord and Saviour - but I would like to look at these passages in the gospel of Mark as a direct message for all of us, even for believers because we need to have a better understanding of the grace of God and how He is dealing with us.
In the first passage we read (Mark 2:1-12), the miracle of the man sick with the palsy who was lowered through the roof by four men, the Lord told him first 'Thy sins are forgiven thee. When He healed him, it was not the first action, but a proof, or evidence that He had the power to forgive sins. This first passage introduces the fact that Jesus Christ came here not only with a doctrine, and salvation for men, but with something totally new. This is a matter for us also: we need to realise that we have not just a further doctrine in Christianity - not just an improved doctrine over previous ones - but new resources, a new source of efficient blessing and working of divine power whatever our weakness and misery. We also reed to realise that all these blessings are closely connected with the relationship that should exist between us and our Lord and Saviour. This is well summarised in 2:17 when Jesus said to His listeners, `They that are strong have not need of a physician, but those who are ill. I have not come call righteous men, but sinners.' From this verse and from this healing of the man sick with the palsy, we should realise that it is not simply an issue of the salvation of each of us, but the important matter of a new relationship between us and God the Father and the Lord Jesus. Let us ask ourselves this question: "Do we really feel that we have the need for the intervention, action, and healing of our Lord and Saviour?'
It is clear from this story that the first issue was the need of the man sick with the palsy to get rid Of his sins - how to get salvation - not the issue of his physical health. For us also the first issue is not so much the health of our body, but the health or the condition, of our soul and spirit. Our Lord has this in mind first of all. The key point in this gospel, and what our Lord Jesus was presenting and which was new, was that Fie was not simply coming with a teaching or a doctrine, but with power and might and that He was able to satisfy the need of the people. Furthermore, the people who were really getting the benefit of His intervention were those who felt their need and who were prepared to pray the Lord, to ask Him, for direct action, or intervention. This is an important point.
There are many different people in this room; probably most of us have had a Christian education and many of us have heard how the Lord Jesus can save us, As a result of this it may well be that we, like Job, have enioyed a kind of hedge of protection. For instance, we have been in circumstances where our Christian education has helped us in some way. Now the question is: do we feel that we are better than other people because of this? Are we relying on the hedge of protection which is around us, or do we feel like the person in this story that we are sick and have a direct need of the Lord Jesus? This is a key point. Are we happy with our life, or do we realise that we have real needs that should be satisfied by the Lord? We will see that this is a key point. In the Old Testament, God was asking people to obey and to fulfil the law. Now with the gospel and Christianity, there is something completely new: it has been proved that it is impossible to fulfil the law, to satisfy the requirements of the law Of God, and therefore God has brought in His grace. The truth of God through Jesus Christ is presented to men today, and we need to realise that the grace of God is not simply presented to sinners for salvation, but to all of us who need it throughout our lives, day by day. We need to live by the grace Of God satisfying all our reeds. We should have the attitude of these men, who realised they had no power, just as their friend who was sick with the palsy had no power. We are to be as those who realise they are sick and need a physician, for then the Lord can intervene and act for us, healing us and giving us blessing. But if we are happy with our lives as they are, and do not feel any special need - content that our parents have set up a hedge for our protection - we will not experience the intervention of our Lord and Saviour. Such a state of mind shows we do not really understand the grace of God, even though we are believers, for we need it in all the details of our lives. The grace of God in Christianity is like new wine in 2:22: 'no one puts new wine into old skins; otherwise the wine bursts the skins, and the wine is poured out, and the skins will be destroyed; but new wine is to be put into new skins'. It is not just a matter of fulfilling commandments as in the Old Testament but of living a real, powerful life, not because we are better or have power in ourselves, but because we realise that we have no strength. We are like the man sick with the palsy. and we rely completely on the grace of God for every action in our lives. And we are not only to understand the importance of the grace of God. but to be absolutely convinced of it and of the necessity to get the benefit of that the blessing it brings us throughout our lives.
Another point we see repeated in the various passages we have read is that the grace of God is almost never thwarted. There is nevertheless one exception which we have seen in chapter 5 at the healing of the man with the unclean spirit whose name was Legion. There was an actual healing, but then the people asked the Lord Jesus to go out of the country and He went according to their demand. His power was no longer in action there. This spirit of unbelief always slows down or stops the might of God; but even in this situation the Lord went to another region where He continued His work for other people. This is very encouraging. The grace of God is always willing to reach other people. Let us get the benefit of it. If we do not it will certainly act in favour of men by going to others.
How impressive to see in each of the passages we have read the Lord Jesus doing something good, whether it be in healing or giving blessing in some other way. But then there is either unbelief or criticism of Him, or violence against Him. Sometimes it is just a despising of Him because He is a carpenter, or the son of a carpenter, or unbelief as in the case we have considered already where the people asked Him to go out of the country. Other times the enemy, Satan, produces a storm on the sea and the ship almost sinks Nevertheless each time we have such circumstances the Lord Jesus never stops His action. The grace always abounds, being more abundant than previously (Rom 5:20).
This happens at the end of chapter 4, where even the disciples thought Master was going to perish. Immediately thereafter, He heals the man with the unclean spirit with a greater display of power than before.
In chapter 6 we read that He was despised by His own: 'What is the wisdom that is given to him ... Is not this the carpenter?' (vv.2-3), but nevertheless He then sends the twelve (v.7) so that He did not give a simple blessing in return, but a blessing multiplied by twelve. He sent the twelve disciples to do so much more.
Immediately after this we have the account of the killing of John the Baptist by Herod and by his daughter who asked her mother to get the his head. This is a typical event because God was seeking to bless the people, the men of the earth, and man's answer was of the worst kind, killing one of the best witnesses, John the Baptist. What happened after the murder of John the Baptist? Did our Saviour stop His service for men? Not at all! We read in chapter 6:34 that immediately after, 'Jesus... was moved with compassion for them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd'. Then there was the multiplication of the loaves and fishes: an overabundant blessing. God is not stopped even by the worst action of men killing one of the best witnesses at that time. This is a very important point if we are to understand how God is dealing with men now. We have to understand this grace which is displayed and which is acting in favour of men even in the worst conditions when the violence of men is fully developed against the servants of God.
Another point to learn from these passages is the real condition of religious men. Constantly, we read that religious men objected to what the Lord was doing. They objected to His capacity to bless or to His person, either because He healed on the Sabbath day, or because He is just a carpenter, or had not learned the law. They had any number of reasons for saying the Lord should not do what He was doing. It is a very important point all through these passages to realise and understand that religion does not improve men but makes them more opposed to the true power of Christ and of the cross. We heard yesterday that in Jamaica it is considered good to be Christian. I think it is the reverse in Europe; I am speaking of France, but in some countries it is even worse. We are at a time when there is more and more direct opposition to the gospel, against the Word of God and against Christians. Even if we are still more or less preserved, we have not to have any illusions: we live in a time when the situation is getting worse and worse. and the response to the Word of God is going to develop from indifference to direct opposition. Nevertheless, we learn from these passages that this does not stop the Lord. If there is opposition, if there is unbelief, it is no problem to Him. He goes to other people, and the grace of God is always active and abundant.
There is another point in these passages, which is a very important one. In chapter 4 we read the parable of the sower, and we see in this that the Lord Jesus was no longer seeking fruit from His people, Israel. He was sowing the Word of God and this was bringing forth fruit, some thirty fold, some sixty fold and some a hundred fold. A little further on it says, 'Thus is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast the seed upon the earth and should sleep and rise up night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth bears fruit of itself' (vv.26-28). He does not say here as in Matthew that the man sleeps and while he sleeps there is the sowing of tares. We could take this as meaning the Lord Jesus sleeps and apparently nothing happens, but nevertheless the harvest grows and fruit is produced. This is a very important point for our understanding of how God is dealing with us and acting in the world today: even if there is nothing great for the eye to see, even if no impressive things are taking place, a work is being done by the Lord, and there is a large multiplication, a hundred fold. At the beginning the Lord came to present the kingdom, to bring healing and so on - a total reversal of the power of the enemy - but He was rejected. This is why we get this parable of the sower where the Lord Jesus comes and sows the word of God. We might be a little bit surprised, wondering what is the use of just giving words to people, and nothing more, but we have to be convinced of the power of the Word of God for this characterises the grace and operates in the souls of men. It is a question of faith. We are in a time of weakness, we are in the day of small things (Zech. 4:10); this is indisputable. There will be no display of power or might as in other times, and even if there were then we, the Christians, would take it as an opportunity to boast, to pride ourselves or to attribute the results to ourselves and not to the Lord. There will certainly be no outward appearance in the development of God's work. It will remain essentially secret, not seen by others, but we should have faith in the Holy Spirit and in the power of the Word of God despite this. It is what we see in this chapter. Despite all, the Word of God is working, and working efficiently.
Another consideration is the attitude of people, of each of us, in the face of the actual work of God. We have the examples in chapter 5 of the ruler of the synagogue, Jairus, and the woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years. These are good examples because we have a mighty man, this ruler of the synagogue, with an official position, and at the very opposite end of the scale, this poor woman, having lost all her money during twelve years of paying the physicians for nothing. Both of them had no other option but to go to the Lord to pray for the blessing that He was prepared to give them. The other people did not understand; even when He was going to heal the young girl He had to put all the other people out of the house because they were laughing at Him. They did not believe that He was able to heal. Let us have the same mind as Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood. Have we real needs to bring before the Lord? Do we realise that we have no other option but to go to Him and to pray about them? We know that we have to pray; maybe we say our prayers morning and evening and before meals. That is right, but do we realise the extent to which we need the Lord's intervention in every detail of our lives to get the response we need so much? This is an important point. Even if it is not the time when the Lord takes possession of His kingdom, is recognised as the King, even if He has been rejected, even if He has been simply sowing the seed, the Word in the country, nevertheless there is no other way for us than to go to Him and ask for what we need to get the blessing. We have to realise, each of us, that we are not in a better condition than Jairus; we have to realise that we are not in a better condition than the woman with the issue of blood.
There is a real difficulty for many of us who have grown up in Christian families. We have got this hedge of protection around us and there might be the tendency to think that finally we are a little bit better than other people; that we have not so much need as the other sinners of the world. Let us realise that we are all on the same level, and say as Job did at the end of his book, 'I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes' (42:6), which is the Old Testament equivalent of Romans 7:18, 'in me... good does not dwell.' We have to be personally convinced of this. We have to realise the power of the grace which is not simply the grace forgiving our sins to get salvation, but the grace of God we need for each and every step of our lives, every action, every stage, every minute of every day. It is difficult to grasp this way of looking at the Christian life, especially for those who have had good parents and a Christian education. There is the immediate tendency to say, 'Well, we are not so bad. We are a little bit better than others,' but there is no other way to live a good Christian life than to seek all our resources from the Lord.
Now I would like to say something in relation to the attitude of the disciples. When reading all these passages (and we have not got time to go through the rest of the gospel), we are always impressed by the constant attitude of unbelief of the disciples. When they were with the Lord in the boat and there was a storm on the sea they believed that the boat would sink and that they would all be lost. Later in the gospel when the Pharisees set their traditions against the grace of the Lord regarding the washing of hands before eating, the disciples came to Him and said, 'Why do you say uncleanness comes from the inner part of a man? We do not understand that.' This attitude is also seen in chapter 3:21, 'And his relatives having heard of it went out to lay hold on him, for they said, He is out of his mind.' We have already mentioned that when He was asleep in the boat during the great storm of wind, 'They awake him up and say to him. Teacher, dost thou not care that we are perishing?' They even believed that the Lord Jesus could perish in a boat! When He went to heal the young girl (we have spoken of this already) in chapter 5:40 and He said that the damsel was not dead but sleeping, they laughed Him to scorn. In chapter 6 we also have the Lord walking on the sea during the storm (6:48), and 'they, seeing him walking on the sea, thought that it was an apparition, and cried out'. Then verse 52 says: 'For they understood not through (or 'even after') the loaves: for their heart was hardened.' The hearts of the twelve disciples were hardened, though they had been so close to Him for many months! What a condition! What a state of mind! This is very significant and we have to learn a lot from it.
Let us look at 6:37. There is this multitude of people, and the Lord has compassion for them because 'they were as sheep not having a shepherd... When it was already late in the day, his disciples came to him, saying: The place is desert, it is already late in the day; send them away that they may go into the country and villages around and buy themselves bread, for they have not anything they can eat. And he answering said to them, Give ye them to eat' (vv.34-37). These words are very important. He ,vas telling the disciples that they were to give food to this multitude. Why does the Lord give such an order to them? Is it because they have made progress; because now they are in a position to understand the power of God, because they are better than they were in the past? Not at all! It was after the storm when they were afraid of the Lord walking on the sea and considered Him a spirit, a ghost. It was immediately after this that it is said that they did not consider the miracle of the loaves; their hearts were hardened. It was to such disciples, in such a poor condition, that the Lord said, 'Give ye them to eat.' It is very important that we understand this because the Lord is asking us to serve Him. Is He asking us to work for Him because we are skilled workers; because we have a high level of gift; because we are sophisticated people with a lot of intelligence? Not at all! He was asking these disciples to work for Him because they had only two fishes and five loaves in their hands - nothing more. Intelligence? No intelligence. Faith? Practically none. A good heart for the Lord? Only a hardened heart. We would have said there was nothing that could be done with them and that it was better to forget them and take others who were in better shape. But the Lord does not do that. He says to them, 'Give ye them to eat.' We need to realise that we are on the same level as these disciples. It is only then that we realise that we are no better in the way that we behave and that there is no other way for us than to rely upon the grace of God - not the grace we need for our salvation, but the grace we need at each and every step of our lives.
We have no more time. We could look at a lot of other things in this gospel that teach the same thing. There is a second multiplication of bread, and apparently the disciples have no more faith than the first time. There is one person who gets a wonderful answer to her request: the woman in chapter 7:24 - from the border of Tyre and Sidon whose daughter had an unclean spirit. She considered that she was on the level of the dogs that get the pieces of bread under the table of the master. Such a person, realising that she was in such a poor and miserable condition, obtained a wonderful answer, given to her because she was convinced of her misery and of the infinite grace of God which pours out favour on those who deserve nothing.
Even after the wonderful scene on the mount of transfiguration when the Lord Jesus displayed His kingdom glory, the disciples are unable to heal the son who had a dumb spirit. They go to the Lord who says, 'O unbelieving generation! how long shall I be with you?' (9:19). But then we get the words of verse 23, 'Jesus said to him, The 'if thou couldst' is: believe; all things are possible to him that believes.' The wording in the French Darby translation makes clear the issue is not whether the Lord can or cannot, but whether we believe. Why? Is it because we have more power; because we know the word of God better; because we have attended this conference and have an improved level of Christian knowledge? Not at all! Why then? Because of the grace of God. We have a need, and the Lord is able to satisfy this. Let us keep this permanently in mind. The grace of God is never stopped, even by unbelief, except that where there is unbelief the grace of God goes elsewhere or to other people. Let us remember also the permanent opposition of religious men, which is growing and growing; getting worse and worse. We are not to have any illusions on this issue. Let us be as Job, as the poor woman of Tyre and Sidon, who relied solely on the Word of God. the power of God, realising that we have need of it for each and every detail of our daily life and that our inability and incapability are absolute. The only way to enjoy full blessing, not only for us individually, but also for our families and for our assemblies, is to abandon any confidence in ourselves and to turn to the Lord, to His grace, in humility and humiliation, having no rights, no strength by ourselves. Let us present to Him our needs: 'Ye have not because ye ask not' (James 4:2). We can be sure that God is willing to pour out His fully overflowing grace.