Mark 14:12 Where would you have us go?

Mark 14:12 (ESV)

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” (Mark 14:12 ESV)

The disciples’ question to Jesus points to an important principle of how we should serve the Lord.  They could have come to Jesus and said, “Lord, we know how important the Passover is to you, and that you would want to eat it, and so we have served you by going and finding a place where we can all gather and eat it.  Everything has been prepared, Lord.  Aren’t you pleased that we did this for you?”

Instead, they say, “Where would you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”  They are ready to serve their Lord.  They are ready to do the hard work of preparation themselves, but rather than doing what seems best to them, they ask their Lord for instruction.

We should serve Christ in the same way.  How easily we jump into all kinds of good activities, without first asking the Lord, “Where will you  have us go…?”  The foundation of all our service should be obedience to the Master who will guide us into his service according to his wisdom and eternal plan.

Bible Study Cross-Centered Life

How to Build Your House on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-27)

Perhaps, like me, as a child you often sang the cute little song based on Matthew 7:24-27

The wise man built his house upon the rock

The wise man built his house upon the rock

The wise man built his house upon the rock

And the rains came a tumblin’ down…

But when Jesus tells us at the end of the Sermon on the Mount to “build our house on the rock,” what is he referring to?  How do we actually do this?

Here is the whole passage…

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

I’m not sure where my early understanding came from, but for a long time, I thought that the rain and the floods and the wind that beat on the house were the storms of life–the trials  and struggles that all of us go through.  But if you look closely at the context here at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking about the final judgment.  The beating storm that the house must endure is nothing less than the judgment that Christ himself will render when he evaluates our lives on judgment day.  The question at hand, then, is whether or not we will “enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 21), or hear the awful words, “I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (v. 23).

In order to enter the eternal kingdom and live forever with Jesus, we must be like the man who built his house on the rock.  And Jesus states very, very clearly what that means in verse 24.  “Everyone then who hears these words of mind and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

Although it is very true that we must obey everything that Jesus says, when he speaks of “these words” he is referring to what he has just taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  And it is not enough just to hear those words and appreciate them.  We must do them (remember James 1:22-25 and the man who looks at his face in the mirror).

So what does “doing” the things that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount entail?  Well, to be honest, it entails a lot more than you and I are capable of.  What makes Matthew 5-7 so stunning (in the sense of feeling numb like you’ve been hit on the head with a crowbar) is that Jesus doesn’t only endorse what God had already revealed in the Old Testament, he deepens it and makes it a matter of the heart.  So it isn’t enough to just “not murder”, we must also make sure our hearts aren’t harboring bitter and angry thoughts.  It isn’t enough to just “not commit adultery,” our thoughts have to be pure.  We can’t just “claim our rights,” but we must be willing to suffer injustice at the hands of others.  Religious duties like fasting, prayer and giving must be done with a right heart… This is only a partial list of some of the words that we have just heard from Jesus in the sermon on the mount.  Jesus has shown us that a true keeping of the law is so much deeper than just external behavior, it is the description of a life that springs from a pure heart.

Now, depending at what stage you are at in life, you will probably respond to this in one of two ways.  1)  “Well, I guess I better buckle down and get started.  Let’s see, what part of the sermon on the mount will I work on today?”  or 2) “Can I just go back to bed?”

You see, when Jesus says that the one who builds his house on the rock, “hears my words and does them,” it is like being told that you need to build the Biltmore House (click if you’ve never seen the Biltmore House) on your $20,000 a year salary in order to get into heaven.  There’s no way you can do it!

The problem is that the gospel of Matthew is filled with such passages.  Matthew presents the “gospel of the kingdom” that Jesus came preaching: a description of what life under King Jesus is like.  And as glorious as that picture is, and as much as we would like to live it, it can seem unattainable when we look only at this Biltmore House of a life that Jesus talks about and realize that we can’t begin to measure up.

But the gospel of Matthew doesn’t consist only of the “gospel of the Kingdom,” it ends with the King himself dying on a cross and then rising from the dead.  So what is the connection between the message of the King about the life that he wants us to live, and the death and resurrection of the King?

Although there are some clues scattered throughout Matthew, it isn’t until after Jesus ascends to heaven and the apostles, through the Holy Spirit, explain to us in their writings the significance of Jesus’ death that we begin to see how Jesus’ death and resurrection make it possible for us to build our house on the rock.

The only way possible for us to “hear Jesus’ words and do them” is to be united with Jesus in his death and resurrection.  His death becomes our death, and his life becomes our life, and the house on the rock that stands against the storm of God’s judgment is nothing less than the exquisite mansion of Christ’s own life that he builds for us through the Holy Spirit who indwells us.

So, summarizing, how do you build your house on the Rock?

Admit to Jesus your helplessness to build anything that stands a chance of surviving his end-time judgment.  Every day look to his death on the cross, and see there the death of all your attempts to make yourself acceptable to God.  See at the cross as well the forgiveness for all your failed attempts to do what Jesus says.  Receive by faith the resurrected Jesus into your life and ask him to fill you with the Holy Spirit.  And then go out and in the power of his indwelling Spirit, listen to his words and do what he says.


Ephesians 3:14-21 Knowing a love that surpasses knowledge

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Here is a brief recap of my study thus far of this prayer for the Ephesian believers:
Like some people who like to read the last chapter to see if the book is going to be good, I started near the end of the request-portion of Paul’s prayer to see where he was heading. The end result of Paul’s prayer, should God in his grace grant it (and he will because he inspired it!) is that we are “filled with all the fullness of God.” This phrase points to the completion of God’s work in us as he forms in us his very image and we become like him in all his moral perfection and beauty. Wow!

But how will he get us there? Paul prays first that we will experience the love of Jesus for us as the Holy Spirit reveals to us in our inner being that we are loved by him. This experience of Jesus’ love has a rooting and grounding effect in our lives. But here is where things start to really rev up!

There is more to a plant than the root and there is more to a building than the foundation. Having experienced Christ’s love through the indwelling Holy Spirit, there is still infinitely more yet to be experienced. The root is going to blossom into a full-grown plant someday and the building will one day be complete.

Here is where some of the teaching on the fullness of the Holy Spirit often leads people astray. Some believers put so much emphasis on the initial experience of being filled with the Spirit and the experience of Christ’s love for them in that moment, that they forget that it is only the beginning! It is only the root! Paul goes on to pray…

“…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…”

Paul knows that to reach our goal of being filled with all the fullness of God, we need to have a constantly renewed experience of the love of God. In the words of C.S. Lewis in his final book of the Chronicles of Narnia…. “Further up and further in!”

Commentators do not all agree on what the four dimensions mentioned in v. 18 refer to, but I think the best interpretation takes them as referring to the love of Christ mentioned in v. 19. After all, what is the “breadth” of God’s love? What is its length? What is its height and its depth? Can it be measured at all? How does one measure the love of the Father in sending his Son to take the penalty of death that we as a rebellious race deserved for our sins? None of us has grasped the dimensions of God’s love that was displayed toward us at Calvary. As v. 19 says, it “surpasses knowledge

We can’t fully grasp God’s love because we have never seen the depths of our sin. We may believe that Jesus died for bad people, or even for really bad people or even really, really wicked people, but we have no idea what is in our hearts apart from the grace of God. This has been a long-term search for me personally. I want God to show me the depths of my sin so that I can more fully appreciate what Jesus did for me.

We can’t fully grasp God’s love because we can’t fully see the infinite glory of God. We have no idea whom we have scorned in turning away from God to follow our own ways. If we knew, truly knew, the God we reject every time we sin, we would fall on our faces and call for the mountains to fall on us. And we would see so much more clearly the condescension of his love in saving us through the sacrifice of his Son.

Let me backtrack a bit and talk about two important words in the text that support my premise that what Paul is asking God for in this prayer is that we might experience God’s love for us in Christ. In v. 18, he prays that we may be able to “comprehend” the love of God. And in v. 19, he prays that we may “know” the love of Christ. The word translated “comprehend” is a strengthened form of the verb “to grasp” and means to “fully understand” The word translated “know” can mean simply “to understand” but it often is used to denote a knowledge by experience–a knowledge of things as they really are.

Paul certainly is not just praying that we will have an intellectual and theological understanding of the love of God. Word studies aside, the context cries for an understanding of these verbs as relating to an experiential knowledge of the love of God. Besides, how else (other than experience) can one know something that “surpasses knowledge”? Paul desires that we will have an ongoing, deepening, broadening, lengthening experience of a reality that we will never exhaust–the love of Christ.

I have a theory regarding the words “with all the saints” that I would like to throw out for your consideration, and if anyone is still reading by this point, perhaps you could leave me a comment with your take on this interpretation (I haven’t found it in any commentary).

Could it be that Paul prays that the Ephesians will be able to comprehend “with all the saints” because he knows that it is only in heaven that all the saints will have this experience that he writes about in verses 18-19? In other words, only in heaven will this prayer be answered fully, and it will be answered for “all the saints.” We will all be filled up to all the fullness of God as we experience the love of Christ flowing to us with the same intensity with which it flows among the members of the Trinity, and that for all eternity.

It is a glorious thought, and I could write a lot more about this glorious prayer, but I have other responsibilities beyond writing for a blog!

So let me conclude this four-part study of this wonderful prayer with this comment: Pray this prayer for yourself and for the believers you fellowship with and for all of us as God’s children. Pray that God would grant us all the faith to believe that by His Spirt indwelling us we can have fellowship with Jesus that is even more intimate than the apostles experienced when they were walking with Jesus in the flesh. Believe that God wants to bless you with this kind of closeness and intimacy with Jesus, and no matter what your experience or lack of experience has been in the past… he is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us…”