One of the techniques Mark uses to teach about Jesus is geography. We discover important themes in Mark’s teaching by watching where Jesus moves; when Jesus leaves; noting the history of the location; noting where Jesus is headed. Watch this on this map.
Mark 9:2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,
We suspect this is Mount Hermon in the far north of Israel.
Mark 9:9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Mark 9:30-31 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise."
Mark 9:33-34 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
Jesus taught them about greatness…the servant is great, the one who offers a cup of water…
Mark 10:1 And Jesus left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.
Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem. Jesus is headed toward his destiny on a cross. But along the way he still has crucial lessons he must get his disciples to understand. In chapter 9 Jesus has taught them about greatness. This morning, in chapter ten, Jesus teaches the disciples about Backwards Day in the Kingdom! Jesus says it like this.
Mark 10:31 “But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
Near the Jordan river on his way to the cross, Jesus explains Backwards Day as three different groups of people come to him. Each of these groups represent the first who should be last. First group to approach Jesus is the Pharisees.
Mark 10:2-4 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away."
This was evidently a hot topic of the day. Maybe, these Pharisees knew the compassion Jesus had for women and children. Or more likely, they thought Jesus held the same view on divorce as his predecessor; John the Baptizer. These Pharisees thought they were clever. They could get Jesus to say something stupid about divorce which would result in him losing his head… too. Remember our geography. Jesus is beyond the Jordan where John the Baptizer taught. “What about divorce? Come one say something incriminating.”
In each of our three groups that come to Jesus in chapter 10, I am going to explain the cultural differences of 30 AD Palestine and 2017 New Mexican culture. Let me explain that the situation then is not what it was today; about divorce. If a man, if a Pharisee, wanted to upgrade his wife. “Perhaps, a newer model would be nice.” This guy, under Jewish law, could just write on a piece of paper; a certificate of divorce, saying… “You are out of here.” She was gone… no alimony… no child support… no way to make a living… unlikely her parents would take her back… unlikely some other guy would want the older model… Bam, she was out of here. Under Jewish law the woman had few rights. She was out destined to poverty or prostitution.
Roman law was different. It did allow a woman like Herodias, to upgrade from her first husband Philip to the higher-up King Herod. That is the problem here, in chapter 10, was the marginalizing of spouses because of hard heartedness.
So, the Pharisees knowing Jesus had a soft spot for women… “What about divorce?”
Jesus, of course, spots the trap a mile off and instead of getting involved with the arguments of why this or that, Jesus deals with their hard heartedness; their selfishness; the real problem…
Mark 10:5-12 And Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.' So, they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
It is Backwards Day in the kingdom when it comes to marriage…
--The point is not what does the Law allow. The point is the treasure of oneness in marriage.
--The point is not what you can get away with. The point is doing God’s will.
--The point is not what you want; a newer model. The point is to place the other… above you.
--The point is not hoop-jumping to justify the hard heartedness. The point is compassion.
--It is Backwards Day in the Kingdom. We always place the last, first!
Jesus avoids the trap, unlike John the Baptizer. Jesus teaches the value of marriage, while condemning the hardness of heart that would hurt a spouse.
Let me just add this. Divorce has touched all of us; most of our families; many or our neighbors; lots of our friends; certainly, our congregation. I’m not here this morning to condemn, or throw people under the bus… again. I don’t believe that is what Jesus is doing in this passage. Jesus is demonstrating compassion for the last; for the hurting. That is the point of Backwards Day. Jesus was drawn to the least of these.
Yet, at the same time, Jesus is pointing towards the beauty of becoming one flesh. There is something precious in two joining together. Jesus is hammering anyone who flippantly disregards marriage for their own selfishness. That is the judgment of the passage.
I don’t give advice. I certainly don’t give marriage advice. Let Jesus give some marital advice. He was never married, so he can give marital advice. Let the first be last and the last first. Live your marriage backwards. If you are married, it is your job to make the other happy. That will lead to oneness. That is God’s idea of marriage.
Jesus continues Backward Day in the Kingdom with a second group of people who come to him; the children.
Mark 10:12-16 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
Once again, we need to place this story in its social context. Children in this time were not valued like we do in our society. We value kids and most of us live to serve the kids. But in this time, kids are not at the top of value chart. When the disciples treat them like everyone else would have treated them, “You kids, get off my lawn!” Jesus is indignant… You still do not understand the nature of the kingdom!
It is Backwards Day…
--The kids own the kingdom. It is our job to serve the owners of the kingdom. I first preached basically this same sermon on March 17, 2013. Over the last four years I have quoted this to myself more than anything else I have preached. The kids own the kingdom.
--That is the power of the kingdom. When we get that we are here to serve the weak; when we understand that the might of the kingdom is in placing the last, first; weakness is power of the kingdom. That is what is so backwards… our power comes in transforming others when we put the last first; when we minister to the marginalized.
--Jesus is not saying that we need to become like children in innocence; or wonder; or their pure unselfishness; is that really kids... Jesus is saying we take the lower position. We operate as if we are the weaker. We serve as if we were in the place of kids.
--You are not even going to get into the kingdom until you back in. That’s pretty good. How do you get into the kingdom? You back in.
Then he did what we should always attempt to do… Jesus blessed the kids! His touch was a blessing to these children.
One more group. A group of one. A rich man approaches Jesus for another lesson in the Backwardness of the kingdom.
Mark 10:17-21 And as Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…
Matthew’s gospel adds of this guy that he was young and a ruler…so we call this guy… The Rich Young Ruler. We need to place the Rich Young Ruler in his current cultural view. In the days of Jesus – less so today – they viewed those with money as blessed by God. Obviously, those with the most money were the ones most loved by God. God blesses those he loves… with riches. Some still have this view today. We react to the rich young people differently than the old poor outcasts.
Here was a guy, who was obviously a good guy because he had all the blessings of God, coming to ask Jesus what do I need to do to be right with God in the next life? Notice he does not ask what to do to get to go to heaven. That was not what anyone would have thought. The Bible doesn’t teach that we go to heaven when we die. It teaches that God will come to earth to be with his people in the next age. This rich young ruler wants to be with God when all things are made right.
First, Jesus blows him off. Why do you call me good? Do you know who I am? Jesus is teasing him. “Do all the commandments of the law.” But the young man knows enough to press Jesus harder. Then, Jesus stops. Jesus looks into his heart. What Jesus sees, he loves. The next line is with compassion…
Mark 10:21-22 …and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
It is Backwards Day in the Kingdom… money is not a valued commodity. Treasures are stored in heaven to be revealed in the Age to Come. The reason you have money in the bank is not to go to the bank when you die. You place treasures in heaven so heaven will bring them to you. So, you can use them in the next life.
Jesus offers, with all the persuasion of the LORD, give it up and follow me. “Give up the love of stuff and come love me. Give up the priority of possessions, and line up for the cross. Give up yourself first and sacrifice your life to be with me… on my way to the cross and then into the age to come forever.”
Mark 10:23-26 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?"
It is just as impossible for those who place money first on their agenda to enter the coming kingdom as a camel to squeeze through a needle.
It is backwards day in the kingdom when we place our possessions last.
Mark 10:27-30 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." Peter began to say to him, "See, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
Jesus raises the stakes again. There are enormous blessings in following Jesus. There are blessings of family, there are blessings of inheritance, there are blessings of an age to come. It is Backwards Day in the kingdom. We win by giving up. We are blessed by stepping away from the blessings. We are willing to die to receive life.
The Jesus summarizes all three of our stories in chapter 10 in the ironic premise of the kingdom…
Mark 10:31 “But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
It is Backwards Day, every day, in the Kingdom!
August 27, 2017
Los Alamos Church of Christ