The Geographical Spread of the Witness of the Gospel in the Book of Acts

The words of Jesus in Acts 1:8 announce where the witnesses of Jesus and His resurrection would go—to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the end of the earth. Acts 1–7 records the witness to Jerusalem, Acts 8 the witness to Judea and Samaria (cf. Acts 8:1, 14), and Acts 9–28 the witness to the end of the earth.

Looking at Acts 9–28 more closely, we see a progression of this witness moving further and further away from Jerusalem. Saul (Paul) is called to be an apostle to the Gentiles in Acts 9. Peter takes the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius in Caesarea in Acts 10. Peter reports back to Jerusalem in Acts 11 to confirm that God is saving the Gentiles. Then, the church is relieved from persecution through the death of Herod in Acts 12. In this way, Acts 9–12 functions to give us an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9), Jerusalem’s preparation for the salvation of the Gentiles at large (Acts 10–11), and God’s protection of Saul and the church while he was in Jerusalem at the time of Herod’s persecution (Acts 12; cf. Acts 11:27–30, 12:25).

Acts 13–14 then tells of Paul going to the Gentiles in Galatia, the beginning of the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 13:47). After a clarification by Jerusalem in Acts 15 that they were indeed accepting that God was saving the Gentiles through the gospel, Paul returned to the Galatian churches and planted others even further away from Jerusalem in Acts 15:36–18:22. Paul returned to these churches again for his third journey in Acts 18:23–21:16, spending much of his time in Ephesus (cf. Acts 20:31).

During this third trip, we are prepared for Paul’s witness to go even further. After a return to Jerusalem, Paul would go to Rome. Paul resolved to do just this (Acts 19:21; cf. 20:22–24; 21:4, 10–11), and Acts 21–28 tell us of Paul’s witness in three locations—Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome. In Jerusalem, Paul was arrested, leading to an address before the people and then the Jewish leaders (Acts 21:15–23:10). Acts 23:11 reports the Lord’s words to Paul, capping of his time in Jerusalem and preparing us again for Rome. God protected Paul (Acts 23:12–35), and before getting to Rome, Paul stood before three leaders in Caesarea—Felix (Acts 24:1–20), Festus (Acts 25:1–12), and Agrippa (Acts 25:13–27). Finally, they sent Paul to Rome.

Experiencing God’s protection in travels once again (Acts 27:1–28:16), Paul arrived in Rome and spoke before the Jewish leaders and a larger group of Jews as well (Acts 28:17–31). Paul’s final words and actions in Acts indicated that the witness to Christ would continue yet further. The Gentiles would hear the gospel, which kept Paul preaching it to all who listened (cf. Acts 28:28–31).

Luke somewhat leaves the readers hanging to wonder what took place after Acts 28. It’s as if he meant for his readers to keep on going from where Paul had stopped (though the NT seems to indicate Paul’s release and further travels)—taking the gospel even further, making disciples, and glorifying God that many would listen. May God help us and our churches as we continue this Great Commission!

Prophecy Is Not… Prophecy?

There is a prominent view of prophecy that God can apparently presently give revelations or visions but then leaves the interpretation of such to the prophet, potentially resulting in errant prophecy that was only partially correct. Explaining this view in brief, 1) if the term prophets in Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5 is simply an appositional title for the apostles (meaning they are one and the same), 2) if these apostles act as the NT counterpart to the OT prophets, and 3) if any other prophets in the NT can merely be a prophet like the pagan prophets in Crete (Titus 1:12) or someone who might know something about you (cf. John 4:19) or might know who did some unseen thing (cf. Luke 22:29), then we can identify all of the other NT prophets (that is, in all other instances besides Eph 2:20 and 3:5) as something other and less than the OT prophets and have them speak from some mere “spiritual influence of some kind.”1 This influence could be the Holy Spirit, but (hopefully not) one’s “own interpretation” could muck the revelation up, maybe getting at least some of the details right along the way. In fact, Agabus in Acts 21:10–11 is an example of just that—though he said the Jews would bind Paul and deliver him to the Romans, it was the Romans who took Paul from the Jews and delivered him to their courts (so says Acts 21:33; 22:29). But he got the general idea of Paul’s arrest correct.2

A biblical view of NT prophecy, however, is to see all of it (whether by apostles or their fellow recipients of revelation, the prophets; cf. Eph 2:20; 3:5) as parallel to OT prophecy, and furthermore, as something that ceased once the Scriptures were complete (cf. Rev 22:18–19). There was obviously a loose sense of the word prophet (cf. Titus 1:12) and a narrow, biblical sense that referred to men who infallibly spoke for God, such as Agabus in Acts 21. The narrative of Acts 21:10–11 (and Acts 21:4 for that matter) would have perfectly fit with the revelation given by the Spirit to Paul in Acts 20:22–23—that imprisonment and afflictions were awaiting Paul in Jerusalem. And in keeping with Acts 19:21, Paul’s Spirit-given resolve in Acts 21:1–6 and 21:7–14 was to go obediently to Jerusalem despite what waited for him there. The resistance to Paul in the abbreviated narrative in Acts 21:4 was most likely the same in the more detailed and clearer Acts 21:10–14—inerrant prophecies of affliction were given, resulting in the human resistance of the brethren to Paul’s resolve to go to Jerusalem, much like Peter’s human resistance to Jesus once he understood that Jesus would likewise suffer (cf. Mark 8:31–32).3 As for Agabus and the fallout of his prophecy, his summary version of the events could simply be explained as the Jews and Paul described the matter later—that the Jews seized Paul, resulting in his being taken by the Romans (Acts 24:6; 26:21; 28:17).4

Of course, if one is compelled to explain the modern phenomenon of errant prophecy as a biblical phenomenon, one might find examples of such in the Bible as well. Or, if one simply lets the OT be the context for the NT, the prophets are in a class all their own from one testament to the next. According to the brief explanation above, this is the better and more biblical option of the two.

  1. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 1050. []
  2. This argument can be found by Grudem in his Systematic Theology, 1050–53. []
  3. David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 2009), 579–81. []
  4. See Bruce R. Compton, “The Continuation of NT Prophecy and a Closed Canon: Revisiting Wayne Grudem’s Two Levels of New Testament Prophecy” (paper presented at the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory in Rockford, IL on May 19, 2014), 11. Available online: http://ccggrockford.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Compton-Bruce.-A-Critique-of-Wayne-Grudems-Two-Levels-of-Prophecy.pdf. []

The Requirements for a Pastor

Is your church looking for a pastor? If it is not doing so right now, it will be in the future. Pastors resign, retire, move, or pass away, leaving churches with the need to find their next pastor. The Bible is not only sufficient to help a church figure out who that next man should be (and hopefully the church is training these kind of men already; cf. 2 Tim 2:2), but it helpfully gives specific instruction on exactly what kind of man the pastor should be.

While many passages help us understand the character and role of a pastor, 1 Timothy 3:1–7, Titus 1:5–9, and 1 Peter 5:1–4 are especially helpful in listing out what is required of men who are pastors. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 primarily inform the readers as to the character and abilities of a pastor, and 1 Peter 5:1–4 primarily exhorts pastors as to the manner and motives for their ministry. What follows below is a comprehensive list of the twenty-two requirements in those passages. The list below primarily follows the list in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and adds what is left from Titus 1:5–9 and 1 Peter 5:1–4. The list is categorized into four types of requirements—family, character, ability, and circumstances. The list of character requirements is further categorized into positive and negative character traits.

Circumstantial Requirements

  1. A pastor must first desire to be a pastor (1 Tim 3:1), and this desire should be guided by proper motivations (cf. 1 Pet 5:2, 4).
  2. He must not be a recent convert because a newborn Christian appointed to leadership could fall into pride and condemnation (1 Tim 3:6).
  3. He must be well thought of by outsiders, that is, unbelievers (1 Tim 3:7).

Positive Character Requirements (What He Must Be)

  1. He must be above reproach in both his character (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:7) and family (Titus 1:6, 9), a description which functions as somewhat of a headword for all of the character traits to follow in both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The pastor is naturally an example for others in all of the items in the list (cf. 1 Pet 5:3).
  2. He is the husband of one wife, which means he is faithful and pure, whether married or not (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6).
  3. He is sober-minded (1 Tim 3:2).
  4. He is self-controlled in his thoughts (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8) and disciplined in his bodily appetites as well (Titus 1:8).
  5. He is respectable (1 Tim 3:2).
  6. He is hospitable (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8).
  7. He is gentle (1 Tim 3:3; cf. 1 Pet 5:3, “not domineering”).
  8. He is a lover of good (Titus 1:8).
  9. He is upright (Titus 1:8).
  10. He is holy (Titus 1:8).

Negative Character Requirements (What He Must Not Be)

  1. He is not a drunkard (1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7).
  2. He is not violent (1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7).
  3. He is not quarrelsome (1 Tim 3:3).
  4. He is not a lover of money (1 Tim 3:3) and not greedy for gain (Titus 1:7; cf. 1 Pet 5:2).
  5. He is not arrogant (Titus 1:7).
  6. He is not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7).

Family Requirements

  1. He manages his household well, which, if he has children, is seen in part by having submissive children, meaning at the least that his children are not openly rebellious and engaged in riotous living (1 Tim 3:4–5; Titus 1:6).

Ability Requirements

  1. He is able to manage and care for the church as a whole (1 Tim 3:5) as the overseer of the church (1 Tim 3:1; Titus 1:7).
  2. He is able to teach (1 Tim 3:2), which Titus 1:9 elaborates as the pastor being 1) “taught,” 2) one to “hold firm to the trustworthy word,” 3) “able to give instruction in sound doctrine,” and 4) “able… also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

 

All quotes ESV

The “Golden Chain” of Salvation in Romans 8:29–30

Romans 8:29–30 states, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Highlighted in bold above are the five “links” that make up what the Puritan John Arrowsmith (1602–1659) famously spoke of as God’s “golden chain…. a chain which God lets down from heaven that by it he may draw up his elect thither.”1

For the sheer sake of encouraging us in our salvation, I just want to briefly look at these five links in the “golden chain” of salvation. Each of the highlighted words above are verbs, and their actions are by God. The one who loves God knows himself to be recipient of these five actions, and the listing of these actions together explains how God works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Let’s define each link of the chain in the order as they are listed by Paul.

God foreknew—this the action of God in eternity past whereby He placed His special affection upon some in order for them to receive the benefits of salvation.

God predestined—this is the action of God in eternity past whereby He sovereignly and graciously made certain that those upon whom He had placed His eternal love would indeed receive salvation and its blessings.

God called—this is the action of God during the life of the sinner whereby He effectively and imperceptibly brings the sinner to Himself through the general call of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit, an effectual calling, which, as best I can understand, is simultaneously joined by the faith of the sinner.

God justified—this is the action of God at the moment of faith whereby God declares the believer righteous and forever treats Him accordingly.

God glorified—this is the action of God in the future wherein God will eternally deliver the believer from the presence of sin in the entirety of his being.

Paul does not list out every item in the order of salvation in Romans 8:29–30.2 What he does list, however, are some of the key actions of God related to our salvation to explain how all things ultimately work together for our good (cf. Romans 8:28). Knowing that we love God and that our salvation is secure from eternity past to future, we are encouraged that nothing can ever separate us from the saving love of God in Christ to us (Romans 8:31–39, especially 8:35 and 8:39). An unbreakable chain, indeed!

 

All quotes ESV.

  1. Armilla Catechetica: A Chain of Principles (1659; Edinburgh: Thomas Turnbull, 1822 reprint), 242. Available on Google Books. []
  2. Not listed are regeneration, repentance, faith, union with Christ, adoption, sanctification, preservation, or perseverance. []

An Overview of Romans

Romans was written in A.D. 57 during Paul’s three months in Corinth (“Greece”) in Acts 20:2–3. He had apparently received the funds promised by the Corinthians to help relieve the famine for believers in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25–26; cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1–4; 2 Corinthians 8–9). Paul hoped to visit the Romans on his way to Spain (Romans 15:28), and, in his eagerness to preach the gospel to them, gave them a letter explaining the gospel in full (cf. Romans 1:15–17).

After an introduction (Romans 1:1–17), Paul begins to explain the gospel in that all men naturally reject what they know of God’s power through His creation, resulting in God’s handing them over to sin (Romans 1:18–32). But, the Jews are no more faithful because they were given the Law—all men have sinned, something made obvious by the law and even by the conscience of the sinner (Romans 2:1–3:20).

The sinner can only be declared righteous by God through faith, whether he is a Jew or Gentile (Romans 3:21–31). Abraham believed and was declared righteous, and he didn’t even have the Law (Romans 4:1–25). So, one can have peace, grace, and rejoicing to know that he is reconciled to God through Christ (Romans 5:1–11). Just as death came to all through Adam’s sin, so also life and righteousness are to all who believe in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:12–21).

Having this saving grace, the believer is a slave to righteousness and should not think that he can just sin because he saved or because Christ has fulfilled the Law (Romans 6:1–21). The Law makes the believer very aware of his sin (Romans 7:1–25), but the Spirit enables him to live as pleasing to God (Romans 8:1–17). Since God’s salvation work for him from eternity past to future is certain, so also is his sanctification and perseverance (Romans 8:28–39).

Applying the gospel to national Israel, though Israel was given many privileges, her present unbelief is in line with the purposes of God (Romans 9:1–33). Rather than trying to secure eternal life by the Law as Israel has done, righteousness comes by faith and confessing Christ, which requires preachers of the Word (Romans 10:1–21). So, while Israel is presently rejecting Christ, the nation was yet chosen for salvation, and there is a remnant who believes right now (Romans 11:1–10). Israel’s rejection is not permanent—God will save and bring her back to the place of blessing just as He is doing for the Gentiles in this present age (Romans 11:11–36).

Those who know this saving mercy of God are responsible to live righteously in a variety ways: by presenting themselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1–2); by thinking of themselves according to their measure of faith (Romans 12:3–8); by loving, serving, being patient, and blessing others (Romans 12:9–21); by submitting to their authorities and paying their taxes (Romans 13:1–7); by loving each other and their neighbors (Romans 13:8–10); by living in light of Christ’s coming (Romans 13:11–14); and by welcoming each other as Christ has welcomed us, and doing so in spite of differing convictions in matters of Christian living (Romans 14:1–15:13).

In concluding his letter, Paul stated that he wrote boldly as an apostle of Christ and clarified his mission to preach where Christ was not known (Romans 15:14–21). He clarified his travel plans and asked for prayer (Romans 15:22–33). He commended Phoebe and gave greetings to many in Rome (Romans 16:1–16). Paul warned them to stay away from false teachers (Romans 16:17–20), and greetings were sent from his company to the Romans (Romans 16:21–23). Finally, Paul closed with a doxology (Romans 16:25–27).

An Overview of 2 Corinthians

Paul planted the church in Corinth in AD 50–52 (Acts 18:1–18a). Paul then went on to Ephesus and wrote a letter to Corinth (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9, 11) and then another letter in AD 54, what we know as 1 Corinthians. Upon hearing of trouble in the church, Paul returned to Corinth for a “painful visit” (2 Corinthians 2:1) and then wrote another letter so that he would not have to return to deal harshly with the matter in person again (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:23–2:4). During his travels, Paul found Titus who reported that the Corinthians had responded to Paul’s “severe letter” with a godly, repentant grief (2 Corinthians 7:5–9). Comforted and rejoicing, Paul then wrote what we know to be 2 Corinthians in AD 55. In this letter, a new problem needed to be addressed—the presence of false teachers, men who were criticizing Paul in a variety of ways and creating division in the church. Their presence is felt throughout the letter, which could be divided into three primary sections.

First, in 2 Corinthians 1–7, the false teachers had apparently charged Paul with not loving the Corinthians since Paul had told the Corinthians he would visit them but then made a change of plans. Paul explained that his ministry was just the same as ever, as a minister of the Word whose concern was to reconcile men to God through Christ (see especially 2 Corinthians 5:16–21).

Second, in 2 Corinthians 8–9, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to complete their giving towards famine relief for the saints in Jerusalem, something they had been doing (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1–4) and would indeed complete in time to come (cf. Romans 15:25–26).

Third, in 2 Corinthians 10–13, Paul announced that he would be visiting the Corinthians again but hoped that his letter would bring about a biblical handling of these false and so-called “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 12:11) in their midst. If not, Paul would deal with them himself (2 Corinthians 13:1–4).

This letter is helpful in many ways—it teaches about financial giving and gives some very interesting details about the life of Paul, such as a time when was despaired of life and another time when he saw heaven itself. It is also helpful for reminding us why we do what we do as Christians—we live as God’s ambassadors, giving the gospel so that men could be reconciled to God through Christ. The letter throughout is incredibly rich for pastors and Christian leaders who, like Paul, experience opposition from within their flocks. And for that reason, it is probably a letter best understood and preached by those who have “been there and done that,” though it is obviously for the spiritual benefit of any Christian at any time.

 

All quotes ESV

An Overview of Acts 20:17–38

The text of Acts 20:17–38 has a certain gravity that has endeared its words to the hearts of many. It contains someone’s last face-to-face words to a group of people (Acts 20:25, 38), summarizes what an excellent ministry should be (Acts 20:18–21, 25–27), and shows a resolve to live and die for the gospel (Acts 20:22–24, 33–35).

Moreover, this text is written deeply in the hearts of many pastors. Not only does Paul give us himself as an example for gospel service by reviewing his three-year ministry in Ephesus, but his charge to the Ephesian elders endures for pastors today: 1) pay attention to yourself, 2) pay attention to your flock, 3) watch out for false teachers inside and out of the church, and 4) do all of the above because God purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28–31; cf. 1 Timothy 4:15–16). These imperatives and their reason for obedience are central to the ministry of every pastor.

For a quick walk through this passage, Paul calls the Ephesian elders to him in Miletus, some 25 miles away (Acts 20:17–18a). His address can be broken into three sections, the first two sections each looking to the past and then the future (Acts 20:18a–21 and 20:22–24) and a third section looking back one more time to provide an example for the future service of the elders (Acts 20:33–35).

In the first section of Paul’s address, Paul reviewed his faithful ministry in Ephesus (Acts 20:18b–21) and then looked ahead to the conflict awaiting him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22–24). What Christian does not want to echo the words of Paul in Acts 20:24? “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

In the second section, Paul looked back his ministry again, now informing the elders that he would never return (Acts 20:25–27). In light of this absence, Paul warned them to mind themselves and the flock, entrusting them all to God and His word (Acts 20:28–32). In the third section, Paul reminded the elders of his selfless service, an example for them to follow (Acts 20:33–35). Finally, the passage closes with prayerful and tearful goodbye (Acts 20:36–38).

All Christians can learn from the example of Paul in this passage. We all want to be faithful to God, come what may, and finish our service well. And, when we’re gone, what we’ve left behind is sufficient for others to repeat the disciple-making process. For pastors in particular, this passage is incredibly rich. Paul is a stellar example of living for the gospel, and his charge to the elders is one for us to remember today—watch yourself and the flock, a people God purchased with His blood.

 

All quotes ESV

“Restore Illinois” and Its Timeline for When Gatherings of 10, 50, and More Can Meet

Governor Pritzker’s five-phase “Restore Illinois” plan is summarized below with relevant points for gatherings of people. The pagination references below begin with the title page of the “Restore Illinois” document.

In short, essential gatherings of 10 are presently allowed (Phase 2), nonessential gatherings of 10 are allowed in the next phase (Phase 3), gatherings of 50 are allowed by June 26 (Phase 4), and gatherings with no limits are allowed after certain conditions are met.

Phase Summary Points for Churches Timeline
Phase 1: Rapid Spread Illinoisans must shelter-in-place and socially distance. Further, “only essential businesses remain open” (p. 2). “Every region has experienced this phase once already, and could return to it if mitigation efforts are successful” (p. 4).
Phase 2: Flattening “Non-essential retail stores reopen for curb-side pickup and delivery” (p. 2). Outdoor activities are allowed. Illinoisans must cover their faces “when outside the home” (p. 2).

 

“Essential gatherings, such as religious services, of 10 or fewer allowed” (p. 2).

“To varying degrees, every region is experiencing flattening as of early May” (p. 4).

 

“No overall increase… in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illness for 28 days” (p. 7).

 

The end of this phase would be May 29 at the earliest.

Phase 3: Recovery Some businesses “reopen to the public with capacity and other limits and safety precautions” (p. 2). “Gatherings of 10 people or fewer are allowed” (p. 2). Again, “No overall increase… in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illness for 28 days” (p. 8).

 

The end of this phase would be June 26 at the earliest.

Phase 4: Revitalization “Gatherings of 50 people or fewer are allowed,” and more businesses open, schools and the like “reopen under guidance” (p. 2). “Gatherings of 50 people or fewer are allowed” (p. 9). No specific time factors are given. Phase 5 only comes when “Vaccine, effective and widely available treatment, or the elimination of new cases over a sustained period of time through her immunity or other factors.
Phase 5: Illinois Restored Everything functions as before, only now “with new safety guidance and procedures” (p. 2). All phases are complete.

 

A PDF of “Restore Illinois” is available here: https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/19948697/restoreillinois.pdf

If anything above is incorrect, please correct me in the comments section below. Thank you.

When Life Puts You in a Press – Mark 14:32–42

This is more or less a transcript from a Facebook Live video that I provided to my church yesterday morning. I hope you find it to be an encouragement during trying times. Bold formatting indicates main points and Scriptural quotations from the ESV.

Imagine being pressed from all sides in life, find yourself in a somewhat isolated location, have only a few people with you, and even they do not quite give the encouragement that you wish.

That’s Jesus in Gethsemane. I’m going to be speaking from Mark 14:32–42.

Mark 14:32–42 (ESV)

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

Gethsemane (14:32) means “olive press” in Hebrew and was a garden just past the brook Kidron where Jesus often met with his disciples and thus known to Judas (Luke 22:39, “And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives”; John 18:1–2, “…there was a garden… Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples”).

In the New Bible Dictionary, the entry for “Olive” states, “The oil was usually extracted from the berries by placing them in a shallow rock cistern and crushing them with a large upright millstone. Occasionally the berries were pounded by the feet of the harvesters (Dt. 33:24; Mi. 6:15), but this was a rather inefficient procedure. After being allowed to stand for a time the oil separated itself from foreign matter, and was then stored in jars or rock cisterns.”

Jesus was “in the press,” so to speak—this was the night before His death, and His disciples would desert Him. In Mark 14:27, referring to their response to His looming arrest, He told the twelve “You will all fall away.” Besides this, He who knew no sin would become sin for us and be separated from His Father for a time on the cross.

What might you be facing today? Has the temporary halt in our economy hit your wallet yet? Are you about to snap because of the time you’ve been sheltered in your place? Do you have other concerns that are weighing you down on top of this? Are you a single parent trying to figure out when to see your child? Are you elderly and wanting to see your grandchildren but have to wait until April 7?

Imagine this: I have a sister-in-law who is a nurse with 4 young children, and she may have to work on a floor helping those with COVID-19. If nothing else, just walking into the hospital is going to increase the risk for her (and thus her children) receiving the virus. Added to this, her husband in the army was just deployed to help our country with the situation as well.

Whatever our concerns may be, Mark 14:32–42 is an excellent passage for us today for multiple reasons:

  • We can learn from the example of Jesus how He persevered through a time of suffering.
  • In keeping with greater point of Mark, we can be encouraged as believers to remember what it was for our Savior to suffer for us.
  • For anyone who is not a Christian, this video will give you an explanation for how you can know Christ, find eternal life in Him, and know that you will one day see His face and be with Him and the Father in heaven forever.

Getting to our passage, Mark 14:32–42 records a series of “threes”: (1) Jesus tells the three (Peter, James, and John) to pray and watch with Him three times (Mark 14:34, 37, 38); (2) the three sleep three times (Mark 14:37, 40, 41); and (3) Jesus prays three times (Mark 14:35–36, 39, 41).

Let’s walk through this cycle of “threes” one by one, and we will close with some applications for our lives at the end.

Jesus prays the first time (Mark 14:32–36).

As noted, Jesus is in Gethsemane (Mark 14:32) where He took with Him only Peter and James and John, sometimes referred to as “the inner three” of the twelve disciples. They were with Him at the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37), the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2), and, with Andrew, the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:3).

From Mark’s description of Jesus and his record of Jesus’ words, Jesus was very much “in the press.” Notice these descriptions:

  • He… began to be greatly distressed (Mark 14:33). Distressed (ekthambeō) is translated “amazed” in Mark 9:15 to describe the crowd’s reaction to Jesus. It is translated “alarmed” in Mark 16:5–6 to describe the women’s shock as they came to Jesus’ tomb and found an angel instead of Jesus. One lexicon defines ekthambeō in this way: “to be moved to a relatively intense emotional state because of someth. causing great surprise or perplexity, be very excited” (BDAG). In context, distressed is an appropriate translation—Jesus is intensely emotionally aroused over the thought of His coming betrayal, trial, torture, and crucifixion.
  • He… began to be… troubled (Mark 14:33). The word for troubled (adēmoneō) is used to describe how the Philippians were “distressed” that Epaphroditus was ill, almost to the point of death (Philippians 2:26–27). Comprehending His own death, Jesus was just as troubled and more.
  • My soul is very sorrowful (Mark 14:34). Sorrowful (perilupos) is a word used to describe how Herod was “exceedingly sorry” when forced to behead the imprisoned John the Baptist (Mark 6:26). The rich young ruler was “very sad” to contemplate giving up his love for riches in order to put his love and trust in Christ (Luke 18:23). As mentioned above, Jesus was sorrowful to think of what was coming His way.
  • He fell on the ground (Mark 14:35). Jesus’ posture matched His inner turmoil. He could only throw Himself down to pray.

And pray He did. Jesus prayed that the hour might pass from Him, the hour when the Father would pour out this cup of wrath against sin on Him on the cross (Mark 14:35–36). Hebrews 5:7 tells us that Jesus prayed “with loud cries and tears . . . and he was heard because of his reverence.” Nonetheless, Jesus submitted to what the Father would will, drinking from the cup as God desired, and would provide a means of salvation for you and me (Mark 14:36).

In commanding the three to remain here and watch, He was asking them to stay with Him and pray as well (Mark 14:34).

Jesus prays the second time (Mark 14:37–39).

Unfortunately, instead of heeding His command, the three were sleeping instead (Mark 14:37). Practically speaking, they had eaten a big meal in Mark 14:17–25. It was also late and when they usually slept. However, this was a special time for the willing spirit to watch and pray and thus not enter into temptation by succumbing to one’s weak flesh, that is, a tired body (Mark 14:38). This temptation for them was to fall away as Jesus prophesied earlier in Mark 14:26–31.

For a second time, Jesus prayed the same words (Mark 14:39).

Jesus prays the third time (Mark 14:40–42).

After praying, Jesus returned and again found them sleeping, with heavy eyes, unable to answer Him (Mark 14:40). That He came the third time back implies that Jesus went prayed a third time as before (Mark 14:41). At this point, the hour for Jesus as the Son of Man had come to be betrayed into the hands of sinners with the betrayer at hand (Mark 14:41–42). With this arrest, the most intense parts of the suffering of Jesus would begin.

Some Applications for Us Today

For Christians…

  • Just as Jesus did, take your trial to God in prayer. It may be that He takes it away, but we should be willing to go through the trial in order for Him to test and strengthen our faith.
  • From Jesus’ admonition to the disciples, remember that prayer is part of the means for you to persevere. They did not pray, and thus they fell away during Jesus’ hour of trial. Jesus prayed, God gave Jesus strength, and Jesus persevered.
  • Fight your flesh and persevere in prayer. It’s easy to be lazy. It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to do something else. But prayer is hard work, and we should be diligent to pray.
  • Your Father will never abandon you, even when others are inattentive at the least or flee from you at most. The disciples slept. The disciples ran away at Jesus’ arrest. But Jesus knew the Father would see Him though it all. Stay close to Him in prayer.

For everyone…

This intense time of prayer was just the beginning of what Jesus would suffer for us. He would be mocked, beaten, and eventually crucified on the cross—all within the next day. In doing so, Jesus as God and man died for the sins of you and me. And in doing so, He died sinlessly in perfect obedience to the will of His heavenly Father. Jesus did not deserve this death, so God raised Him from the grave and thereby vindicated that Jesus was true.

When we truly see our sin as God does—as something worthy of God’s wrath and eternal death—and when we see Christ as we must—as the One who paid the penalty for our sin and who provided the perfect obedience that we cannot—only then will God declare us forgiven, righteous, and holy in His sight. We must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and no one else for our salvation. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Salvation from eternal death is through no other Name, and no man will be in heaven with the Father apart from believing in His glorious Son.

When Jesus died, God miraculously ripped the 40-foot curtain of the Jerusalem temple from top to bottom, as if to say, “My Son has provided a new and living way for you to come to Me” (see Hebrews 10:19–22). A Roman centurion watched the curtain tear and exclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:38–39). We must truly believe and say the same!

Closing Thoughts

For those of us who have echoed the centurion’s words with saving faith in Christ, we know that, whatever this world may bring our way, Christ suffered for us, and in doing so, He left us an example for how to suffer as well. If you find yourself “in the press” today, trust in Christ, take your distress to the Father in prayer, and rejoice to know that your suffering will be over when you are one day with Him.

God’s “Yes” and “No” in Christ

One of my favorite ways to explain the gospel is state how the Father communicates a resounding “yes” and “no” to us through His Son Jesus Christ.

The “Yes”

“Yes” is shorthand for a longer, amazing thought: “Yes, God loves you.” John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 1 John 4:9–10 states it like this: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Stated simply, God loved us so much that He sent only Son to die for our sins on the cross. That’s God’s loving “yes” to you and me.

The “No”

“No” is shorthand for a longer, terrifying thought: “No, God cannot overlook sin.” As much as God loves us, our God is a righteous God who does not overlook our sin. We are “by nature children of wrath,” that is, the eternal wrath of God (Ephesians 2:3). “The wages of sin is death,” that is, eternal death and separation from God forever (Romans 6:23). Our sinfulness and sins render us guilty before God and worthy of eternal punishment. God justly says “no” to our sin.

“Yes” and “No” Together for Us in Christ

Though God says “no” to our sin, we see “that Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Only the Lord Jesus Christ—both man and God, sinless and perfectly obedient—only He could give “Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6) and merit a righteousness that is declared as ours when we place our hope and faith for salvation in Him. Our penalty for sin is paid by Christ, and Christ’s perfection is ours as well.

So, even for believers, God still says “no” to sin. However, God’s “yes” of love to us is to let Christ have taken the penalty for our sin on Himself at the cross. God’s “yes” of love to us is furthermore to declare His Son’s righteousness as ours by faith.

Putting it all together, God says “no” to sin, and emphatically so through the death of His sinless Son on the cross. At the same time, this death was God’s “yes” to you and me, His loving means of salvation in sending His Son to die in our place.

What a terrifying thing it is to contemplate the consequences of our sin. What an amazing thing it is to know of God’s love for us in Christ. May each of us say “no” with God to our sin and “yes” by faith to His Son who was lovingly sent for us!

All quotes ESV