Posted by: Billy Marsh | October 31, 2008

Marveled, Amazed, and Astonished (Part IV)

In Part III, we looked at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and how the people were immediately astonished at his teaching (Mk 1:22). Now I want to run through a few more examples in Mark’s Gospel where he shows the exagerrated reactions of Jesus’ hearers.

One of my favorite passages in all of the Gospels is Mark’s account of Jesus and the Rich Young Man (or “Ruler” depending upon your translation’s subheadings). This scene could easily serve as a summary of “Evangelism 101”. And perhaps this is what makes the passage so amazing. Jesus communicates the heart and essence of the gospel to this young man, without apology in a straightforward fashion. His words do exactly what Dr. William Lane spoke of in the previous post, in that the difference between Jesus and the scribes was his ability “to compel decision.” Here, however, the decision the man was compelled to make was the choice that resulted in walking away from Christ rather than to forsake everything he owned to follow after the Lord.

The Rich Young Man, having been stripped of his misguided enthusiasim, departed from Jesus due to the fact that he could not heed Christ’s demand to “sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (Mk 10:23).” This action then led to Jesus’ decision to address his disciples who had witnessed the interchange, saying, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God (10:23)!” Mark tells us that the disciples “were amazed at his words (10:24a).” But Jesus does not let up. He is bent on making sure they get the gospel right. So he he further hammers home his point, declaring, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God (10:24b).” Wow. It is no wonder that the disciples were left in amazement. Jesus’ proclamation at this point is very counter-cultural and definitely not man-centered. I think it is clear that Mark is showing us that the incident with the Rich Young Man exposed some of the misunderstandings within the disciples regarding the nature of the gospel, thus, demonstrating the need for Christ to confront them unashamedly with the hard truth of the kingdom.

Just a quick glance at the context tells us a lot about this narrative. Before the Rich Young Man arrives, we see the disciples hindering the children from coming to Jesus; however, the children are the ones that Jesus says we must be like if we desire to enter the kingdom of God. Then, we see the abrupt shift in the narrative where the Rich Young Man comes running up to Christ, but this time, is completely unhindered by the surrounding disciples. Ironically, the one whom the disciples allow to kneel before the Lord is the one who cannot enter the kingdom, while the ones that the disciples rebuked, climb into Jesus’ arms and are the ones that he said “for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

So what is there to be amazed at in this exchange? Well, I believe two main things. First, I think the disciples were at some basic level shocked that the Rich Young Man’s status had absolutely no bearing on his eligibility for entrance into the kingdom. This is evidenced by the fact that he came to Christ unhindered by them, and then further substantiated by their amazement at Jesus’ words concerning the difficulty of the wealthy for becoming a part of the kingdom of God. Second, it seems as if Jesus’ second declaration regarding the difficulty of entering the kingdom, which left out the emphasis on the rich, was also alarming. In 10:26, the text says, “And they were exceedingly astonished,” which caused them to reply, “Then who can be saved ?” What Jesus is wanting to convey to the disciples isn’t just that wealthy people, though they may have a harder time leaving behind their riches, are the only ones who will find entrance into the kingdom of God difficult, but even more so, for any fallen human being, to be a follower of Jesus Christ, it is a demand that requires a person to lose his whole life that he may be saved (cf. 8:35-38; 10:29-31). And this is truly an amazing and unique teaching! One that we should, at the core of our being, stand in total astonishment, because it renders us completely incapable of doing anything on our own to merit salvation. And for sinful man, this is hard to come to terms with no matter how much we know it is true.

So how does Jesus respond to the disciples desperate question? With these all-glorious words: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God (10:27).” Lane comments on this scene stating,

Salvation is completely beyond the sphere of human possibilities; every attempt to enter the Kingdom on the basis of achievement or merit is futile. . . . The ability and the power to effect deliverance reside in God alone (370).

I believe it is a very necessary mindset to constantly sustain that we are wholly at the mercy of God for salvation and having citizenship in heaven conferred upon us. Due to the great depth of our depravity and sinful nature, it should always leave us in amazement not only that in reality, there is nothing we can do to merit God’s favor, but also that he has willingly made a way, by his power and grace alone, to take both the wealthy and the poor, and bring them into salvation by the finished work of Jesus Christ. In other words, we should unceasingly pray that the Holy Spirit would mold and condition our hearts to stand and marvel at the fact that: We couldn’t, so God did! Ultimately, what is most astonishing about this truth is that the Holy God made it possible for sinful man to be a part of his kingdom. Of course, it takes a sound understanding of the nature of holiness and the seriousness of sin for one to truly begin to grasp the amazing work that God has wrought in sending his only begotten Son to suffer and die that those who believe in him might have eternal life.

Are you amazed? If not, then I ask, what greater truth is there that might stir your soul than the wonder of the gospel?

**Here are two other examples in Mark’s Gospel where the people were greatly affected by Jesus’ words: Mark 11:18 & 12:17.

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Responses

  1. Wow, this is a powerful post. It’s very inspiring for my own studies.

    I read this a bit out of order-this is the first of these posts I’ve seen, so I’ll read the other three next.

    If you are interested, I am working on a similar project called “Foundation, Not Addition” (FNA) in which I provide commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. You can find the first five completed parts on my website, and more are coming soon.

  2. Attention ! I just found an error in your article! Check if your theme is set right!


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