A King’s Reception

On Sunday Christians will begin the observance of the final week before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Palm Sunday recalls his formal entry into the city of Jerusalem as Messiah. All four of the gospels say that crowds welcomed Jesus with worship, singing psalms of praise in his honor.

Thousands of pilgrims were entering the city for the festival of Passover. Many of them recognized Jesus as the miracle worker of Galilee. Others had heard how he had raised Lazarus from death. Their hopes were centered on the promised kingdom, and they praised Jesus as Messiah, the Son of David.

Jesus was riding a young donkey, not a war horse or chariot, a sign of humility and peace. This was Jesus’ deliberate choice in order to fulfill a prophecy of scripture (Zechariah 9:9). Some of the people spread their cloaks on the ground before him and waved palm branches, shouting “Hosanna!” quoting Psalm 118:25-26.

This commotion did not seem to arouse the interest of the Roman officials. They apparently thought this activity was just another part of the Jews’ Passover celebration.

The national leaders of Israel had already been conspiring to have Jesus killed. “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48). The Pharisees told Jesus to make the people stop their shouting and singing. Jesus’ reply was that if he silenced the crowd the stones would cry out in his praise! He seemed to be deliberately provoking the hostility that would lead to his death.

Jesus knew that the time had come for him to die. That is why he was now allowing the people to publicly praise him as Messiah. Heretofore he had suppressed talk of his kingship. He knew the people then did not understand the spiritual nature of his kingdom.

But now he is hurrying toward the cross and this public display would only hasten his death and resurrection. Not many days later the crowds would be shouting, “Crucify him!”

His disciples did not yet understand the significance of these events. It was not until the Lord’s resurrection  had occurred and the Holy Spirit had descended that they were able to discern the meaning of the prophesies. Then they understood that his death and resurrection were necessary as a sacrifice for sinners.

They would come to understand and accept as their mission to proclaim this message. Their attitude would be meekness, the fruit of the Spirit. Their method would be loving persuasion, not military conquest. Their Master was the One who fulfilled the prophecy: “See your king comes to you righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding upon a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Why Jesus Died

This season of the year is traditionally a time when Christians contemplate the message of the cross. That is what Jesus wanted his disciples to do. As he and his men made their way to Jerusalem, he gave them a prophecy of what would happen to him there. In fact, he repeatedly told them he was going to die and then be raised from the dead. And he told them why.

“‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise'” (Mark 10:33-34). This is the third preview of his death which Jesus gave his disciples which is recorded in Mark’s gospel.

One cannot help but notice the explicit detail: Jerusalem, religious leaders, Gentiles (Roman government and army), mocking, flogging, spitting, killing. These details are intended to drive home, to a group of men who were in a state of denial, the reality of what was about to happen.. Mark says they were astonished and afraid (v. 32).

Mark had introduced Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 1:1). But the title Jesus used most often was Son of Man. Why is this? Jesus’ hearers knew what he meant: he was claiming to be the Messiah, God’s anointed king.

The Lord Jesus was referring to the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14 and applying it, without hesitation, to himself. According to the prophecy, the Son of Man will receive reverence belonging only to God. He will reign as a universal king, and all nations, peoples and languages will worship him.

In using this title for himself, Jesus was also identifying with the human race. Son of Man was a Hebrew idiom for humanity (Numbers 23:19). He is THE Son of Man, the representative man, the ideal human being. He identified himself with us in every way, except for sin.

Instead of asking for clarification or showing any interest at all in these momentous announcements, Jesus’ disciples persisted in denial and unbelief. They tried to change the subject to the power and prestige they associated with the kingdom (Mark10:35-41). In answer, the Lord Jesus contrasted their appetite for honor, security, and earthly power with his humble servanthood. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

He expected his disciples to follow him in humble service, not in ostentatious displays of power. “Whoever wants to be greatest among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).

D.L. Moody once said that the measure of a man is not how many servants he has, but how many people he serves. The word “servant” Jesus used for himself and his disciples, was the common word for a household slave. How many of Jesus’ 21st century  followers see themselves in this way? Someone has said that the test of whether a Christian has the attitude of a servant is how he acts if he is treated like one.

Then the Lord returned to the theme of death. His dying would be the payment of a ransom. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is a further expansion of his predictions of his death and resurrection. It tells us the purpose for which he would die and rise from the dead.

“‘Ransom’ was a familiar idea in Jewish, Roman, and Greek cultures,” wrote Donald English. “It was the price paid to liberate a slave, a prisoner of war, or a condemned person. The paying of the price cleaned the slate. To set a person free like this was known as ‘redemption.'”

The rest of the New Testament develops this theme. In their letters, Peter and Paul, and other apostles use this terminology of the marketplace to describe the great redemption payment that was made as Jesus gave his life as a sacrifice for our sins (Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 1:18-19, Hebrews 9:12). The ransom was the price paid to secure freedom for the captive or the slave. Jesus’ ransom secures forgiveness and freedom from sin’s penalty for all those who believe in him.

During this season, as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter, let’s remember that Jesus paid the ransom so that we could be set free. He was judged so that we might be acquitted. He was forsaken, so that we might be accepted. He refused to save himself, so that we might be saved. He died so that we might live.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Jesus Prophesied His Death

Jesus was a prophet. In fact he was the “prophet like me” whom Moses said would arise from among the people of Israel. God would put his words in the prophet’s mouth and the people were to listen to him. He would speak with the authority of God (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Many who heard Jesus applied Moses’ words to him (John 5:46, 6:14, 7:40, Acts 3:22-24, 7:37).

As a prophet, Jesus foretold his own death and resurrection. This is one of the evidences for his divine nature. Mark’s gospel records three instances in which the Lord Jesus spoke plainly about what was going to happen when he went to Jerusalem. The second of these accounts reads as follows: “He was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days, he will rise'” (Mark 9:30-32 ESV).

Jesus had been in seclusion, outside of the borders of Israel (Mark 7:24, 8:27), trying not to draw a crowd. This was so he could spend time with his disciples in intense preparation for what was to come. Travelling incognito, they were now passing through Galilee on the way to Jerusalem (Mark 9:30, Luke 9:51). He was a peripatetic teacher, instructing the disciples continuously as they went along.

He was radically revising their preconceived understanding of what Messiah should be and do. Yes, the title “Son of Man” was indeed a reference to the messianic king they envisioned (Daniel 7:13-14). But what they did not yet understand was that before he would rule as messianic king, he must die for the sins of the world. The double reference to being killed implies a violent death at the hands of men.

He told the disciples he would be “delivered up” to be killed. This could refer to the betrayal by Judas, (reflected in the NIV translation). Or it could be interpreted as a reference to the Jewish officials handing him over to Pilate. Or of Pilate delivering him into the hands of the Roman soldiers for them to carry out the crucifixion.

We must not overlook the fact that the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Peter later to preach that it was God himself who delivered up Jesus to die for sinners on the cross. He said that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23 ESV). The apostle Paul agreed, writing that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25 ESV). 

The disciples did not yet understand. The idea that Messiah could be killed in this way was unthinkable and repugnant. In fact they were overcome with grief (Matthew 17:22). They certainly did not comprehend the resurrection. As the prophet spoken of by Moses, Jesus predicted these events and he was preparing his disciples. This was divine foreknowledge.

There are skeptics who deny this. They say that Jesus the man could not possibly have foreseen the future. But to deny his ability to prophesy coming events is to deny the portrait we have of Jesus throughout the gospels. If he was the divine Son of God this would be consistent with his nature.

There are skeptics who call attention to the fact that Jesus never claimed to be divine in Mark’s gospel. They say that Mark emphasized Jesus’ humanity. True enough, on both counts. Even without an explicit claim to deity such as we find in the gospel of John, Mark seems to be saying, “Look at the evidence and draw your own conclusion.”

Jesus forgave people’s sins. His enemies spoke the truth when, shocked by this they said, “He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:5-7). He declared himself to be Lord of the Jewish sabbath (Mark 2:23-28). He raised the dead (Mark 5:35-41). Over and over he demonstrated his power over demons, diseases, and over the forces of nature. He accepted the worship of people. If he was not divine, this would indeed be blasphemy (Mark 11:9-10).

When the officials of Israel asked him directly, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” he answered, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-62). So upon reading the description of Jesus in Mark, it it no great surprise to hear him foretelling the future in detail (Mark 13:1-36). He was indeed the prophet.

Mark’s purpose is evangelistic. He magnifies the message of the cross. His style is direct, unadorned, and vivid. His gospel is a witness, an invitation to his readers to believe in Jesus, the Son of God who died on the cross, knowing he was accomplishing God’s plan of salvation.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


What if I Had Been There?

What if I had been there? What if you had been there? What if we had heard his words? Would our response have been any different? Would we have understood? Would we have believed him?

“There” was an area about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, near the city of Caesarea Philippi, at the base of Mount Hermon. Since the time of the ancient Canaanites the region had been  known as a center for pagan idolatry. Both the Greeks and the Romans had developed it as a center for the worship of their gods.

I have visited the ruins of this ancient site. I have seen the cave which housed a shrine dedicated to the worship of Baal, a Canaanite fertility god. I have  seen the niches carved in the rocky cliffside which once held statues of Greek and Roman deities.

Jesus was there with his disciples because he wanted to instruct them and prepare them more fully for what was coming. This was the training of the twelve for their further mission. They had withdrawn from the crowds in Galilee to have time together for this purpose.

It was in this milieu of spiritual darkness, that the apostle Peter made his great declaration that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. This is a shining witness in contrast to the dark superstition of the place. The Lord Jesus did not deny this statement of Peter’s. Rather he commended him for speaking the truth as it was revealed to him by God above (Matthew 16:16-17).

What happened next is what prompted my original question. Jesus startled his men by talking about his impending death. He told his disciples that, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).

Jesus was specific and clear about how all this would occur. “He spoke plainly about this” (Mark 8:32). He said he would suffer. He foresaw the physical sufferings that were ahead. Then there were the emotional sufferings of his agonized prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, hearing his countrymen screaming “crucify him,” the denial of Peter, the betrayal by Judas, and his own cry of ultimate dereliction: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

He told them that the officials of the Jewish religion would officially and categorically reject their Messiah (the Son of Man, Daniel 7:13-14). He said that he would be subjected to a violent death. This would be followed by his resurrection after three days.

His words were a shocking disruption to their thinking. They had no categories by which to process what the Lord was saying to them. They simply didn’t understand. Peter filled the awkward silence with words of his own. He spoke for the other disciples and himself when he began to protest. The whole idea was inconceivable.

If Jesus was the Messiah, as Peter had just declared him to be, such an ignominious death did not match their ideas about what Messiah would be. The image of Messiahship Peter had in mind was more in line with Jewish nationalism and political power.

Jesus wheeled around and rebuked Peter sharply. “You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men” (Mark 8:33). To understand how seriously wrong Peter was to contradict what Jesus had been saying, we have only to meditate on his words to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!”

Jesus wanted to revise the disciples’ understanding of what his Messiahship really meant: “The Son of Man must suffer . . . and be killed . . . and rise again.” This was inevitable  and necessary because it was God’s will and Jesus was determined to fulfill his Father’s will.

What if we had been there? Would our response have been any different than that of the disciples? Would we have understood? Would we have believed him?

The question is moot because from our historical perspective we have three advantages those disciples did not have at that time. We have the completed New Testament (which they wrote) to give us the full story. We have the church, the assembly of God’s people, to be a repository and declarer of the gospel. We have the Holy Spirit who has now been sent to every believer as an instructor and guide in the truth (John 7:39, 14:26).

By these means of grace we are now able to understand that this was the first of three previews of his coming death which are recorded in the gospel of Mark. Jesus was preparing his disciples for what was coming. In doing so he was giving them the gospel and laying the foundation for their future ministry to us.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


A Parkinson’s Update

It has been almost a year since I received the diagnosis that I have Parkinson’s Disease. The tremor in my left arm and hand had been becoming more pronounced for several months. So when I was able to see a neurologist in Oklahoma City, his verdict was not surprising to me.

Friends near and far have inquired about how I am doing. This little report is an attempt to answer them. I hope I can give thoughtful answers without complaining. I know, as my neurologist has gently reminded me, that my symptoms could be worse than they are. But the reality is that I am facing a new reality. Part of the new reality is simply brought on by aging; part of it is defined by Parkinson’s.

I’ve been a pastor for over fifty years and that involves public ministry. The embarrassment of conspicuous shaking as I speak is a distraction to me and I can only imagine what it must be like to those who are watching and listening. Is that vanity on my part?

Recently I experienced a really bad “brain freeze” while I was preaching.  The words simply would not come forth! Was that due to the aging process? Did Parkinson’s have something to do with it? Only the Lord knows. But I will keep on preaching and teaching as long as he keeps on providing opportunities.

The Parkinson’s diagnosis influenced our decision to move from Oklahoma to be near our daughter Carrie and her family in Valdosta, Georgia. Connie and I live in a lovely retirement community. Our apartment is comfortable, the food is good, and our neighbors are congenial. We have joined a nearby Baptist church where we worship with our family. We have made new friends in our Sunday School Class.

Medically, I am on my third prescription, The med they call the “gold standard” didn’t work for me. The second med didn’t calm the tremor either. Now I am trying a third drug which works wonders for some people. I’ve been taking it for a month in increasing doses and I am supposed to call the doctor to tell him whether it has made a difference. I don’t know what he may have up his sleeve when I tell him the news that I can’t shake the shakes.

As I write this, I say to myself, “Stop whining Randy! Get on with life! God is good!” I remember what the patriarch Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21). That’s the attitude I want to have as I learn to deal with the progressive and incurable nature of Parkinson’s. I want my first instincts to be like Job’s: to respond to God in worship, in spite of everything.

For a really good example of a response to a Parkinson’s diagnosis read this article by one of my favorite writers, Philip Yancey.           Philip Yancey’s Story

Pastor Randy Faulkner