I distinctly remember laying in my bed at night as a freshman in high school in Wichita, Kansas thinking about God and heaven and hell and thinking about whether I was good enough to be let into heaven. I wasn’t a bad kid and I didn’t do bad things. As the old saying goes, “I didn’t smoke, drink, dance or chew or go with girls that do.” I wrestled in my mind how God could possibly not let me in. I figured just trying to be good should be good enough. But I also laid there with a nagging feeling that my thinking wasn’t giving me much peace of mind. Something about my reasoning left me with a troubling uncertainty. Little did I know how futile my thinking was. I didn’t know God and how righteous and holy and perfect He was. I didn’t know about the justice of God and the demands of the law. I didn’t know how great a sinner I really was even though I didn’t do the big sins (like the seven deadly sins, wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony). And I especially had no clue about the work of Christ and His righteousness and about how my thinking completely negated what He did on the cross and robbed Him of His glory. I thought goodness could be achieved by living a relatively good life.
Human history began in a garden. Human history was completely rewritten in a garden. Adam ate of the fruit in the garden and plunged us all into sin and death. Jesus agreed to drink of the cup in the garden and raise us all to holiness and life. The first Adam ignored the will of God and results were disastrous. The second Adam sought the will of God and the results were hard but very good. In the first garden sin and Satan won and the curse was begun. In the second garden sin and Satan lost and the curse was about to be broken. Adam was put to the test in the garden and failed miserably. Jesus was put to the supreme test of His life and triumphed. We come to one of the most powerfully moving and emotionally charged scenes in the life of Jesus, certainly one of the most human scenes.
When we left the Belgic Confession in early December we were on Article 23 about justification. I said then our Belgic Confession is right to devote two long articles to this one topic “How can man be justified before a holy and righteous God?” That’s the central question, that’s the heart of the Gospel. In my last sermon I said there are two aspects of justification, the forgiveness of our sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (what He gives to us in place of our sins). These are called the negative aspect of justification and the positive aspect of justification. The negative is the forgiveness of our sins, the taking away of our sins. The positive is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, the giving to us of His righteousness. Jesus doesn’t just remove all our filthy rags and leave us naked. He doesn’t just clean out all the junk from our house and leave it clean but empty. He doesn’t just bulldoze the rotten structure and leave the lot bare. He doesn’t just take away. He also gives us something new, He replaces the old with something new. God in Christ takes away our filth clothes of sin and unrighteousness and gives us the white robes of Christ’s righteousness.
I have been waiting 40 years to show off this word in a sermon title and now that I finally got a chance to couldn’t pass up the temptation. I heard a pastor preach a sermon in Wichita, Kansas on “Pusillanimous Peter” and I have never forgotten it. There is a difference between what Judas did and what Peter did and there are fancy words for each. What Judas did to Jesus is called perfidy, a deliberate breach of faith or a calculated violation of trust. What Peter did to Jesus was pusillanimous, that is cowardly, a lack of courage. He was not premeditatedly or willfully disloyal. He just emotionally unraveled under the stress of the moment.
Last month the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom heard a case involving religion. Britain's Lord Toulson, a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, wrote in their ruling, “Religion should not be confined to religions which recognize a supreme deity” (website, Reuters, December 11, 2013). “Religion should not be confined to religions which recognize a supreme deity.” Ronald Dworkin in his book, Religion Without God, writes: “… religion is deeper than God. … A belief in a god is only one possible manifestation or consequence of that worldview.” R.C. Sproul in his book, Grace Unknown, talks about the difference between religion and theology. If I were to ask you the difference between religion and theology you might be left scratching your head. You might be tempted to say they’re the same thing, but actually there’s a huge difference. Religion is a human activity. If you go to a university you will find the religion department grouped with the anthropology, sociology and psychology departments. All of those sciences have to do with human behavior. Religion is a certain kind of human behavior that can be studied and researched and observed. When we study religion the subject matter is man. You don’t need a Bible to study religion. And you can have a religion without a god. Secular humanism is a religion without God. Theology, on the other hand, is the study of God. Theology is God-centered. This is why the Bible is so important to the proper study of theology. Christianity is a revelation, meaning that what we know about God doesn’t come from us or from observation. It comes to us from the mind of God. The Bible is from God and the Bible is about God. The study of God and what God says is theology. Before return to our study of the Belgic Confession and Article 23, I want to take time this evening to remind us of why we do this, why we read and preach through our creeds and confessions. Some people say that doctrine is dry, dusty and boring. Others say that doctrine divides. Others say that just believing in Jesus is enough and we don’t need to concern ourselves with all the other details. Why do we talk about theology and doctrine? Simply stated understanding theology and doctrine keeps our faith from becoming just another man-made religion.
As I said last week Chapter 14 of Mark marks a dramatic turn in events. This chapter gives the details of the last night of Jesus’ earthly life before His death. Jesus’ entire three years of ministry had been a running battle with the powers of darkness, both human and demonic. Now the battle is engaged as never before. Remember back at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when He was tempted by the tempter. At the end of that scene in the wilderness we read: Luke 4:13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. That opportune time has arrived.
As we resume the Gospel of Mark this morning we are in the last days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Lord willing we will conclude Mark with the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Chapter 14 of Mark begins the description of Jesus’ suffering, His abandonment, betrayal and arrest. The tide turns in this chapter, He’s opposed by everyone, the Pharisees, the chief priests and elders, even His own disciples, from Judas to Peter. By the time we get to the cross Jesus will die utterly alone.