You learn a lot about a person from how they deal with adversity and how they respond to times of testing and stress and conflict. At the beginning of our text this morning we see the character of Christ in three ways. First, He has told His disciples what must happen to Him in Jerusalem, He has told them the details of the torture, crucifixion and death. He knows exactly what awaits Him in Jerusalem and yet He turns and leaves Galilee to enter Judea to go to Jerusalem. Whatever fear and trembling He had about the horrible pain ahead, whatever dread of the severe wrath of God’s judgment on our sin, He courageously goes. Take this to heart. Take notice of the infinite love the Son has for us that He would do this. He surrendered Himself completely for the sake of our sin and our salvation. He died to Himself for the sake of others. There is a lesson in discipleship for us in this. Second, even with the personal and emotional pressures of His eminent rejection, suffering and death, He is still of a frame of mind to patiently teach and preach for the good of the souls of men. Jesus never wasted a day, He was never idle. He was always about His Father’s work and always about the good of others. And He did this knowing full well that the majority of those He taught and served were hardhearted and completely unappreciative. Even knowing much of His labor would be fruitless, He faithfully labored. May this encourage any of you who feel unappreciated and unthanked. May this encourage any of you who are daily faithfully doing what God has called you to do even though it’s hard. You may be a teacher, a care giver, a wife, a mother, a single parent, a parent of a rebellious child, an elder, anyone who labors in a difficult field where there seems to be little harvest. The fruit is the Lord’s business, the duty is ours. It’s not the “good and successful servant” that is rewarded, but the “good and faithful servant” who will know the joy of the Lord (J.C. Ryle, Mark, p. 197). There is a lesson in discipleship for us in that.
What do you believe? Why do you believe what you believe? If you were going to sit down and write a personal confession of faith, a statement of what you believe what would you write and where would you start? Would you start like the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth”? Would you start with questions like the Heidelberg Catechism, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Or with a question like the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?” Would you start like the Second Helvetic Confession and the Westminster Confession with a statement concerning Holy Scripture and what is our authority for believing what we believe? How would you begin? And by the way, I do think it would be an excellent exercise for your mind and soul if each of you wrote a personal statement of faith in your own words. Don’t say all the good confessions have already been written, or that you would just copy from some other creed. Seminary students often have to write a lengthy Credo or statement of faith and they aren’t allowed to plagiarize other sources. I encourage you to try it and then add to it as you grow in your understanding. Do you know what you belief? Could you write a simple statement of what it means to be a Reformed Christian? Many of you have been members of a Christian Reformed Church all your life, can you articulate what we believe? Can you defend why it even matters? Did you notice how the Belgic Confession begins? Did you notice what it says and what it doesn’t say? Article One begins with an assumption. It states that there is a God, that there is only one God, that in His essence He is one single and simple spiritual being and that His name is God. Then it goes on to mention His chief attributes in two separate and distinct lists which we will consider next week. The Belgic begins sort of like the way Scripture begins, with the grand statement, “In the beginning, God.” All creeds and confessions assume that God exists. Why is that? Why don’t they give detailed proof about the existence of God? Through the centuries great minds have developed some classic proofs for the existence of God. There is an argument from existence, from cause and effect (cosmological argument). We can look at creation and see the evidence of a creator, just as when you look at a watch you see evidence of an unseen watchmaker. This is called the cosmological argument. Every known thing in the universe has a cause, a beginning, and the world could not exist on its own, therefore the universe itself must have a cause and the only reasonable or rational explanation for such a great and vast universe is a great and mighty God.
This evening I am announcing the beginning of a series of sermons on the 37 articles of the Belgic Confession. This will complete our study of the three standards of unity that are the theological backbone of all the denominations that come out of the Netherlands. Tonight I will begin with an introductory sermon on confessions in general. Next week I will give the background on the Belgic Confession and its history and author. And then we will begin working our way through the Belgic Confession itself. Tonight I want to remind us of the value and importance of creeds and confessions and why we should know and profess our faith.
Football is on lots of people’s minds today and no doubt a number of us will be racing home to see how the Seahawks are doing against the Atlanta Falcons. Imagine what it would be like if we were watching a football game in which half of the players were invisible. All of a sudden a guy would fall down but we couldn’t see why. The ball would go flying but for no visible reason. Imagine how confusing it would be and hard to figure out or explain. As Christians we have to have a worldview that understands that in history and in our own lives some of the players are invisible. We have to understand that the dominate force in history and in our lives is God and that there are other invisible spiritual forces at work as well. We live too many of our days as practical atheists, never considering that there are invisible forces at work, that God is up to things we can’t see or imagine. We just see the earthly or human, the visible side of things. We see the politics, we see the business decisions, we see the cultural forces and the natural phenomena, but what we don’t see is how God is moving and directing and causing and effecting. Jesus’ incarnation should wake us up to the vast possibilities of how the divine is intertwined with humanity, of how the invisible can invade the visible. There are things going on that are way beyond our finite minds. The followers of Jesus then and today must learn this lesson that the Kingdom of God is far bigger than our own little experience of it and God is doing things and using means, even outsiders, for His purposes and His glory. If we are going to be wise Christians we have to become more mindful of the kind of world we live in. Presumptuousness, jealousy, narrow-mindedness will blind us to much bigger possibilities. If you think you have God’s ways or reasons figured out, you are in for a surprise.
After a break for Advent we are returning to Mark’s Gospel this morning. I usually take time in January to cover other topics of great importance but I want to get to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem by Palm Sunday so I need to start right back in Mark so we can make it to Jerusalem on time. Let me remind you where we are in Mark. After a couple of years of ministry in the region of Galilee, Jesus was getting ready to set His face toward Jerusalem. After the transfiguration we have five stories that expose several remaining serious deficiencies in the disciples, stories that expose their complete lack of understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, a follower of Jesus. Lessons we all need to learn, of course. The first story was as Jesus came down from the mountain and found the rest of the disciples perplexed because they couldn’t cast a demon out of a little boy for which Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith and their prayerlessness.