A New Kind of Kingdom

Throughout Mark’s Gospel, he has been showing us the kingdom of God through Jesus’ teachings and actions. Jesus has come to bring a new kingdom to earth and he is the king. We have seen through Jesus’ healing and miracles that his kingdom is marked by life and blessing.

With each miracle and ground-shaking teaching, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what life in his kingdom is like. The kingdom of God is a realm that carries a particular set of values.

Life in the kingdom looks a certain way, and no other ways are tolerated. Jesus bringing the kingdom of God to earth is like a new coach taking over for a team. When a new coach is hired, the culture of the team and program immediately changes. There are new rules, new goals, and new expectations.

With the arrival of Jesus came a new way of life that would be opened and empowered by his life, death, and resurrection.

Jesus’ kingdom is marked by humility, love, peace, mercy, grace, and self-sacrifice. Such a kingdom stands in stark contrast to many kingdoms in the world. People base their lives on many things, but the above list usually isn’t found on a fast track to success.

There are kingdoms based on money, power, and prestige. In these kingdoms, you typically don’t put others first and strive to live peaceably with all while loving those who persecute you. Nice guys finish last, after all. Jesus himself turns the such kingdoms on their heads as he calls for self-sacrificial love by teaching his disciples to die to self and strive to be last.

The kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world collide as Jesus and his disciples are confronted by Judas and his mob outside the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:43-50). Judas approaches Jesus in stealth possibly to catch him off guard with betrayal. Perhaps Judas didn’t simply point Jesus out to the mob because he feared Jesus was prepared for a fight. After all, Jesus has been talking about a kingdom and his disciples believed he was the Messiah.

After being betrayed by the kiss of a friend, Jesus is immediately arrested by an armed mob. Peter responds the way Judas probably expected. He fights. He pulls a knife and slices off the ear of a soldier.

Jesus responds by asking if the mob believes him to be a criminal. He’s asking, “Am I some kind of rebel trying to start a revolution that you have come out with swords and clubs?” Jesus essentially declares that his enemies are completely blind to his kingdom. Jesus rebukes Peter and the mob because his revolution is not fought by taking life, but by giving up his life as a ransom for others.

Judas and Peter come with swords drawn because both have missed the point of Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Judas was living for himself and personal profit. His kingdom was marked by lust for wealth and status. Peter pulled a sword to save his life. He was trusting in his own view of the Messiah and the kingdom.

Jesus counters all of our self-seeking and self-serving kingdoms by refusing to flee or fight. He serenely submits to his arresters and accusers remaining basically silent throughout his trial. He could have defended himself. He could have called down a legion of angels to come to his defense. He could have. But he is the King of a new kind of kingdom.

Instead of trying to save himself or take life, he submitted to his Father’s will and took appropriate steps to give up his life so that sinners like us could enter his eternal kingdom.

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.


How the Gospel Shatters Our Parental Comparison Wars

Comparison wars in parenting are brutal and leave nothing but destruction in their paths.

My wife and I have already learned how tempting it is to unnecessarily compare your children to others. Instagram pictures of our kids’ development plastered in creative fonts on a chalkboard leads us to stand our little ones side by side to see how they compare. It inevitably causes us to question parenting decisions we have made. Guilt and shame often prevail in our comparison discussions.

“Oh, your son started walking at 11 months? Well, mine started walking at 10.”

“That’s cute your five year-old just learned to swim. Mine has been swimming since she was one.”

“Your son played a great game in the rec league. We would play there too if my boy wasn’t already committed to his elite travel team.”

The worst version of comparison is directed at children themselves. Prolonged childhood trauma is produced from parents who have scolded or even punished children for not performing academically or athletically in comparison to their peers. Children who are constantly trying to earn approval from their parents develop a habit that will continue into adulthood. Children who stress over impressing their parents will struggle to find security in future relationships.

It happens when we are upset with our children’s performance in school or sports because they fall short of their classmates. It happens when our pride in our kids skyrockets when they outperform others, yet plummets when they don’t.

It takes many forms, but the temptation to measure our children up against their peers is pervasive.

Such comparison is dangerous for both parents and children. We will be tempted to try to boost our children’s confidence by showing them how they are superior to others in academics, sports, or physical characteristics. However, when we compare our children to others, we teach them their identity and value is found where they stand in relation to their friends. We also may unintentionally teach them that our our love for them and joy in them is conditionally based on their performance.

Gospel-centered parenting shatters our comparisons.

  • The gospel teaches us that we are loved unconditionally based on God’s grace, not our performance.
  • The gospel pushes us to compare ourselves to the perfection of Christ and then cling to him as the only basis for our righteousness.
  • The gospel compels us to love others selflessly.
  • The gospel helps us walk humbly, and to see ourselves as worse, not better, than others.
  • The gospel gives us a new identity rooted in the historic and eternal person and work of Jesus.

How does the gospel inform our parenting in light of the temptation to compare?

1. The gospel helps us show our children their worth and identity are not rooted in their performance.

Our children are special simply because God created them in his image and because they belong to us. While their performance and development fluctuates in comparison to others, their God-given identity never changes.

2. The gospel helps us show our children their need for a Savior.

When we compare our kids to others, we either demean their worth, or more commonly, we boost their confidence in themselves and their own abilities. If we teach our kids they are awesome based on their performance, we are leading away from the cross.

3. The gospel helps us love our kids no matter what.

The gospel is the good news that God has loved us in Christ not because of our goodness, but in spite of our badness. God loves us because he chose to love us. It is an unconditional love that we cannot lose.  Since we have received such unconditional love, we should parent our children in such a way that there is no doubt our love for them is rooted in who they are as our children, not what they do in their lives. Such unconditional love is counter cultural and will require diligent inner fighting against the desires of the flesh.

Because of who we now are in Christ, we have both an example in him and power through him to parent our children free from the chains of comparison. Don’t teach your kids to live their lives looking at what others are doing to see how they measure up. Instead, teach them to see their inherent worth as image-bearers, your children, and point their eyes to Christ as their only hope to save them from themselves.

Resolve to teach your kids in both word and deed that their security and identity is not found in what they do, but in who they are. This is the essence of gospel-centered parenting as it will till the soil of our children’s hearts for the gospel to be planted and grow. My hope for your children and mine is that God’s love for them in Christ will not surprise them because they have learned similar unconditional love from their parents.

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Victory in a Garden of Agony

The Bible talks of two primary representatives for mankind. Each represented us in a garden.

Many, many years before Jesus entered Gethsemane, Adam was placed in Eden. He was created without sin. He had a perfect heart, a perfect relationship with God, and he lived in a perfect environment. Yet, Adam failed to keep covenant with God. He was faced with a choice to submit to God’s will, and he bowed to his own. When Adam sinned against God in Eden, he was cursed, banished, and defiled because of his sin. Paradise was lost and the entrance to Eden was guarded by a flaming sword. From that point forward, Adam and all of his offspring would be under the righteous wrath of God.

Friends, outside of faith in Jesus, this is where we all stand—under the righteous wrath of God. God’s wrath can be defined as God’s righteous response to sin. Wayne Grudem calls it his “intense hatred of sin.” Because God is holy, he is wrathful against all that is unholy. In John 3:36, Jesus says that the wrath of God remains on all who do not believe in him. The author of Hebrews understood the wrath of God when he wrote, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). But I especially love the way C.S. Lewis communicates God’s wrath in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Mr. Beaver said, “Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Here is the toughest reality that is naturally offensive to the human mind and heart: We deserve God’s wrath because of our sin. We deserve to face what caused Jesus to sweat blood and be so close to death that an angel had to come to his aid. We deserve the horrible, terrible, and terrifying wrath of God not because our sins are particularly egregious, but because God is infinitely holy. It is the greatness of God, not the degree of our sin that puts us under the wrath of God. This means that no matter how small or big you think your sins are, you stand under the flaming sword of God’s wrath.

But there is good news for you and me. There is news in this passage that gives purpose, hope, and joy in the midst of all suffering. While Adam disobeyed in a garden of paradise, the Last and True Adam obeyed in a garden of agony. It is no coincidence that Jesus agonized over his impending death and submitted to God’s will in a garden. It was in a garden that we began, in a garden where we fell, and it will be in a garden where we begin to find restoration and redemption. Charles Spurgeon observed this. In one of his great sermons, he said,

“May we not conceive that as in a garden Adam’s self-indulgence ruined us, so in another garden the agonies of the second Adam should restore us? Gethsemane supplies the medicine for the ills, which followed upon the forbidden fruit of Eden. No flowers which bloomed upon the banks of the four-fold river were ever so precious to our race as the bitter herbs which grew hard by the black and sullen stream of Kidron.”

As our perfect representative, Jesus is prepared to take on the full wrath of God that we deserve. We do not have to sweat blood in agonizing torment before the wrath of God, because Jesus faced his Father’s wrath for us.

We see this in Jesus’ request for the cup to be removed from him. The word “cup” is a metaphor that specifically refers to God’s wrath. Psalm 75:8 says, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.”

What Jesus communicates in this agonizing moment in the Garden of Gethsemane is that his journey has reached its climax. Jesus takes the cup of God’s wrath out of your hands and drinks it down to the dregs. Not because he is wicked and deserving. But because he is willing and able to bear your guilt, your wickedness, your failures, your unbelief, your hypocrisy. Jesus takes the cup reserved for you so that you never have to drink from God’s wrath. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath, so that you may drink the cup of God’s salvation. In the words of theologian Michael Horton, “The same cup that was filled with judgment for the Messiah is now drunk by those who, united to his death and resurrection, receive from it only forgiveness and life.”

But I think Keller says it best: “In the garden of Gethsemane, [Jesus] turns to the Father and all he can see before him is wrath, the abyss, the chasm, the nothingness of the cup. God is the source of all love, all life, all light, all coherence. Therefore exclusion from God is exclusion from the source of all light, all love, all coherence. Jesus began to experience the spiritual, cosmic, infinite disintegration that would happen when he became separated from his Father on the cross. Jesus began to experience merely a foretaste of that, and he staggered.”

In the garden of Eden, Adam cried, “Not your will, but mine be done.” But in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus cried, “Not my will, but yours be done.” With this cry from the second Adam, Jesus paves the way for us to return to Eden. Jesus entered a garden of agony and suffering, so that we might re-enter a garden of pure bliss, harmony, joy, and eternal paradise.

C.S. Lewis famously said, “There are far better things ahead than what we leave behind.” If you would trust Jesus today, you would be united to the one who suffered more than you ever will, and through whose suffering all suffering will be undone. You can find genuine hope and true joy because Jesus took your place. This is only true for those who believe in the one who suffered in Gethsemane and later on Golgotha for them. For all who trust can say with hymn-writer Charles Gabriel:

“For me it was in the garden, He prayed: ‘Not my will, but Thine.’ He had no tears for His own griefs But sweat drops of blood for mine. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be, How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!”

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Extravagant Devotion

It’s really difficult to determine the worth of anything. Do we really know how much an iPad should cost? We know they probably cost too much! But there is no way of knowing exactly what something is worth. Companies set prices not based on what something is actually worth, but based on what customers believe it is worth. Customers and economies give products value. But determining the actual, inherent value of something is nearly impossible.

Mark 14:1-11 is all about the value and worth of Jesus. This passage contains an example of extravagant love for Jesus sandwiched between deliberate and diabolical schemes to destroy Jesus. The religious authorities and Judas Iscariot serve as foils to an unnamed woman as their treacherous and cowardly plans to arrest Jesus are contrasted with her sacrificial and lavish love for Jesus. The actions of each person in this passage either miss or match the worth of Jesus. The worth we ascribe to Jesus will be mirrored in our responses to Jesus.

Some of us, like the chief priests and scribes, will respond to Jesus with outright hostility. The religious leaders were threatened by Jesus’ power and authority and wanted no part of him. We are naturally rebellious, so we must guard ourselves from wanting a different Jesus. There may be some aspects of Jesus’ person, work, or teaching that you don’t like. In this sense, you may be tempted to be hostile toward who Jesus actually is and prefer a Jesus of your own making. If so, resist and repent.

Some of us, like Judas, will respond to Jesus with slow, yet sudden betrayal. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was unexpected and sudden, but it was the result of slow rebellion. Judas was spiritually privileged. He walked with Jesus religiously. He had more intimate contact with Jesus than nearly anyone else in Palestine during Jesus’ life. He received special revelation from Jesus about the kingdom. He witnessed his divine power and deep love on a regular basis. And yet, at the end he fell away and turned his back. He abandoned Jesus. Judas is a sober warning to us. We can be around Jesus and never be connected to him. We can attend church regularly and never be in the Church. We can betray Jesus through repetitive, unrepentant sin. May we never publicly follow Jesus, while privately betraying him, The payoff for betrayal is never worth it.

Some of us, like the group in the home of Simon the leper, will respond to Jesus with comfortable discipleship. When the unnamed woman in Mark 14 poured out an entire jar of incredibly expensive perfume on Jesus’ head, his disciples and others at the dinner party were disgusted. They rebuked the woman for what they considered a very foolish act. To this group, it was a sweet gesture gone wrong. Honoring a worthy guest like Jesus with an anointing was customary. But, she emptied what would amount to a $30,000 jar of perfume. It was a fine gesture, but seemed fool-hearted. While their reaction is reasonable and understandable, they gave their view of Jesus away. They loved Jesus. They thought he was worthy of their lives. But they placed a limit on his worth. He may be worthy of much, but such extravagance was silly in their eyes.

We are prone to fall in this group. We know Jesus is worth much, but we place limits on him. Sacrificial devotion to Jesus is difficult for us. But for we who have received extravagant love from Jesus, should be quick to respond with extravagant love for Jesus.

The goal and standard for discipleship is found in the spontaneous and sacrificial devotion of the woman in Mark 14. She isn’t named, but Jesus says her action will never be forgotten. While everyone else was either opposing Jesus or enjoying the benefit of his presence, she recognized that communing with Jesus was a unique and special gift. She made the most of the opportunity by giving the most that she could. Do you view discipleship in this way? Do you follow Jesus with similar reckless abandon, ready and willing to sacrifice all for Jesus?

Jesus’ worth is infinite. There is no measure or end to his worth. May our lives declare his worth. We cannot love Jesus too much and we cannot devote ourselves to him too extravagantly.

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Kill Him or Crown Him

There are really only two ways to respond to Jesus. You can fully submit to Jesus by faith, or you can fully reject Jesus through pride. Throughout the course of Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders who should have welcomed the Messiah with open arms and bowed heads, were threatened by him and sought a way to kill him. Tradition had taken the place of the Scriptures for the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees. Their minds were so clouded by tradition that they couldn’t recognize the Messiah even when he was standing two feet in front of them.

Following Jesus’ ominous cursing of a fig tree and condemnation of the temple and its leaders, the chief priests and scribes were seeking a way to kill Jesus. They were threatened by his authority and what its implications could have on their own authority. Jesus had essentially pronounced the end of the temple and sacrificial system. It was clear, even to Jesus’ opponents, that something new had arrived in Jesus. And the religious leaders didn’t like it one bit.

In Mark 12, Jesus begins to interact with his religious counterparts by telling them a story. Jesus frequently utilized parables in his teaching, but this is the first parable his opponents clearly understand without explanation.

Jesus’ parable consists of a man who owns a vineyard. He goes on a trip and hires farmers to tend to the vineyard in his absence. When the time comes for fruit to come in, the man sent a series of servants to gather the fruit from the farmers. Instead of handing over the owner’s fruit, the farmers assaulted the servants and sent them back to the owner empty handed. Finally, the owner decides to send his own son to the vineyard. Surely, the owner reasoned, the farmers will have too much respect for me and my son to bring him any harm. To the contrary, the brutal and greedy farmers killed the owner’s son in hopes of snatching his inheritance. Their plan backfires, however, as the owner destroys the farmers and gives the vineyard to others.

The chief priests and scribes immediately recognized that the parable was directed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus. They wanted him dead. All because they recognized what Jesus was saying.

Jesus was comparing the religious leaders and Israel as a whole to the wicked tenant farmers. They had been given the privilege to tend to God’s people and kingdom, but they rejected God and his will for selfish gain. Their lust for power led them by the hand into destruction because of their rejection of God’s Son. The chief priests and scribes wondered where Jesus’ received such authority, but Jesus gave them no answer. Why? Because the answer lied in their reaction to Jesus. They wanted to kill him because his divine authority was a threat to their own.

Both the parable and the reaction of the religious leaders reminded Jesus of a Psalm. He quoted Psalm 118. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” But it wasn’t marvelous in the eyes of the religious leaders. And it isn’t marvelous in the eyes of anyone who does not humbly submit in faith to Jesus.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day rejected Jesus. They cast him away like an unwanted stone. But the stone they rejected is actually the cornerstone. They rejected the foundation and tried to build a faith of their own. But a faith built on anything other than Jesus will crumble. And rejecting the cornerstone not only means your faith is destroyed, but also that you will be destroyed.

Jesus has thrown down the gauntlet. From this point forward, his opponents will be seeking any way to shut him up forever. In the words of Tim Keller, you can either crown Jesus or kill Jesus. There is no middle ground.

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Living For God’s Will In 2018

One of the most confusing and difficult aspects of living the Christian life is the ongoing struggle with sin. Christ has set us free from the penalty of sin. Christ has overthrown the power of sin. We who find refuge under the blood of Christ are free men and women sojourning in the dangerous land of the in-between. Our freedom from sin actually creates a paranoia in our hearts when we are tempted to sin.

Before Christ, we did not consider God’s ways or God’s will when making decisions or life choices. We considered our own wants and needs and possibly the wants and needs of those close to us, but God’s desires mattered not. But now we know better. Ignorance was bliss. Only now are our hearts tormented by the disparaging struggle we endure.

We feel the perpetual guilt and agony of our spiritual schizophrenia and hypocrisy. We claim freedom, yet walk as slaves. Sin still holds a prominent place in our hearts. It is a confusing and frustrating reality. We wish it weren’t so.

Recognizing the presence of an ongoing battle with sin is the first step to begin waving a flag of victory. But what’s next?

Peter tells us that in order to defeat sin and overcome temptation, we must “arm ourselves” with a certain kind of thinking. Arm yourselves, Peter says, with the thought that Christ suffered in the flesh. What a strange weapon! Slay sin by pondering suffering. Slay sin by thinking about the Lamb who was slain. What could this mean?

The key is in the rest of the phrase. “For whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” Think about the suffering of Christ because whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.

In other words, think about Christ’s suffering because his suffering is yours. In Christ’s death, we died to sin. Sin has ceased to point a finger of guilt in our direction. Sin has ceased to reign in laughable power over our chained hearts. Thinking much on the suffering of Christ helps us make sense of our struggle with sin. And it helps us trample over sin as we walk in righteousness.

Rejoice in the suffering your fight against sin produces. Christ suffered and died for this. He suffered and died to usher in a new age of life. Through his suffering and death, human flourishing is finally truly possible. Christ’s death has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for those who believe. It’s a world where sin is present, yet powerless. It’s a world where Satan tries to lure us away from a feast with a piece of candy.

What are your goals for 2018? I pray living more for the will of God is among them. How can we live for God’s will in 2018? We must no longer live for human passions. How is this possible? We must remember who we are in Christ. We are alive to him and dead to sin. How can we walk in our new identity in 2018? By thinking. Think much this year about the suffering of Christ in the flesh. He suffered much to deliver you from sinning. Jesus suffered and died to give you not less, but far more pleasure than sin or Satan ever could.

For 2018…

  • Think about Christ’s suffering and death for you
  • Remember you have died to sin in Christ
  • Live for God’s will by rejecting sinful human passions

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

The Key to Eternal Life

In the past five months, I’ve preached three funerals. One for a stranger in my city. Two for my grandparents. Funerals for Christians are strange floods of emotion. When a saint dies, family and friends are left in an emotional lightning storm. Sorrow and joy collide. Tears fall with grief of loss, but are wiped away with hope of gain in Christ.

Every person handles death differently. Some are inconsolable. Others are more stoic. Some prefer to grieve in groups. Others would rather weep alone. Though everyone may respond differently to death, everyone is uncomfortable at a funeral. Whether a body or urn is displayed at the front of the room, we all cringe at the sight. It causes us to face the unavoidable reality that we are all on a crash course with death. The older and weaker we become, the more real the situation sets in–“one day that will be me.”

Death is coming for us all. Naturally, though unwillingly, we are faced with the question of all questions: what happens after death? And if we believe anything happens after death, we want to know what we can do have a pleasant, pleasurable afterlife.

Once in Jesus’ life, a man approached him with a question about life after death (Mark 10:17-31). He asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s a question we only ask or think about when we are acutely aware of the inevitable. Our life will end. This man believes in an afterlife. He wants to know how his afterlife can be good. He wants to know how his afterlife can be spent in peace and pleasure. He’s asking how he can spend eternity with God.

The question, “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” is natural. Surely there is something we can do in our life to earn reward after death. Maybe if we are good, kind, and moral people, we will earn some browning points with God. Maybe if our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds, we will inherit eternal life. Heck, maybe we’re off the hook and everyone inherits eternal life. Jesus creatively clarifies things for this man and for us.

He walks the man through half of the Ten Commandments. He asks the man if he has kept the Law. The man responds, “Yep.” With eyes rolled, we doubt his sincerity. But he was probably thinking in terms of degrees of obedience and disobedience. His affirmative response is probably more like, “More or less, I’ve obeyed the Law. I’ve been a pretty good person. I have my faults, but I’m a pretty decent guy.” On the surface, I’m sure many of us would consider ourselves closer to law-keepers than law-breakers.

Then Jesus drops the bomb. He says, “If you’re a law-keeper, then you only lack one thing to inherit eternal life.” We can see the man’s eyes widen and his palms sweat in anticipation. Just one thing? Jesus says, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me” (Mark 10:21). That’s it. Just give up your self-sufficiency and depend on me. Give away all your earthly treasure and follow me, then eternal life will be yours.

Just one thing. But he couldn’t do it. The incredibly wealthy man was devastated because he knew he couldn’t give up his financial security. He couldn’t give away his treasure, not even to gain the one thing he was looking for.

In this story, Jesus does what he does best. He exposes this man’s heart. In one simple proposal, he digs down past all of his self-sufficiency and self-righteousness to show him his need. The man’s greatest need was to recognize his need. Jesus later uses this to teach that it is difficult for those with wealth to enter God’s kingdom. This is because wealth creates a false sense of security. This rich man had everything he needed and wanted, yet he was spiritually bankrupt. He was a slave to his possessions.

What is the key to unlock the deep mysteries of eternal life? A humble recognition that we don’t have it all together. A child-like dependance on Jesus to provide for all of our unrighteousness. The key to facing death with sorrowful joy and deep hope is to hold all that we have loosely, discard our self-sufficiency, and cling to Jesus. The key to inheriting eternal life is to become like a needy child. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15).

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

The Greatest Tragedy of Divorce

There are many examples of faithlessness in our world. We see it in something as trivial as the lack of loyalty in a professional basketball player leaving one team for another. We see it when people quit teams, schools, or jobs when they become difficult. But the most prominent and public version of faithlessness is in the realm of relationships. Few things cause pain, heartache, and long term emotional distress like faithlessness in a relationship. This is true of relationships between friends, among church members, and within families. The most tragic, and sadly the most common, form of relational faithlessness is in marriage.

Witnessing divorce and its consequences in my own immediate family has given me a front row seat to the devastation it causes. My brother, sister, and I know full well the brutal pain divorce inflicts. But as bad as the emotional consequences of divorce are, the greatest tragedy in divorce is the horrible picture it paints of the gospel.

Paul taught that the mystery of marriage is that it was created to show the world a picture of God’s relationship with his covenant people (Eph. 5:32). Marriage is the primary metaphor in both the Old and New Testaments of God’s relationship to his people. Marriage is the means of raising up a new generation of disciples. When a husband or wife leaves, mutually or otherwise, they paint a picture of relational faithlessness and God-forsakenness. We tell a story of the gospel in our marriages. Divorce horribly distorts the story. When we quit in our marriages, we tell a lie about the gospel because God will never quit on his people.

This is the heart of Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and remarriage in Mark 10. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. Also, if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). As one author has strongly said, “Divorcing your spouse without biblical grounds is an assault on the Lord’s plan of redemption.”

If you have either witnessed or participated in marital infidelity, your trust in relationships may be shaken. You have likely brooded with bitterness. Seeing my parents dissolve their marriage, regardless of reasons, was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life. If you have walked through a divorce, either as a participant or spectator, I would encourage you to press in on your feelings of hopelessness and issues with trust. Deal with them. Talk about them. Write about them. Weep over them. Do anything but ignore or hide from them.

It’s a great tragedy that our society has become comfortable with divorce. It’s almost expected. Don’t run from that uncomfortable, sick feeling that overcomes your heart when you hear of another marriage imploding. Christians more than anyone should mourn divorce because of the false narrative it tells of God’s covenant faithfulness. Mourn the sight of couples making and breaking promises to one another in marriage.

I cannot continue this post without a word of caution. The context of my call for covenant faithfulness in marriage is rooted in our quick and easy divorce culture. However, if you or anyone you know is in a truly physically or emotionally abusive marriage, proper authorities must be contacted. Using God’s design for and declaration through marriage to justify or neglect abuse is morally reprehensible and evil.

Hope and motivation for faithful living rests in God’s faithfulness, which always overcomes our unfaithfulness. In light of rampant relational faithlessness, God enters into an eternal covenant with us through the blood of Christ. In light of a culture of quick and easy divorce, we are motivated to remain faithful to our spouses because though we deserve to be abandoned by God for our idolatry, he remains faithful to us and even pursues us in our adultery (Hosea 1-3).

The greatest tragedy of divorce is the lie it tells about Christ’s faithfulness to his Church. A desire to proclaim God’s covenant faithfulness to his people in Christ motivates covenant faithfulness in marriage. Pursue permanence in your marriage because God pursues permanence with you.

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Not To Us, O Lord

At the heart of every kind of sin is a root that provides constant demonic growth in every human heart.

Pride is sin that is the root of all other sin. It was the pride of Adam and Eve that the serpent tugged in the Garden.

Pride is the essence of all idolatry, dishonesty, immorality, dishonor, covetousness, and discontent. Pride in the heart says, “I know best. I am best. I know what is best for me.”

Pride always expresses itself in sin and knows not how to hide. The office, the classroom, the church sanctuary, the kitchen, the dugout, and the nursery are all camouflaged outposts of the kingdom of pride. Because of the fall and our union with Adam from birth, pride is the natural expression of our hearts.

As a result, rebellion is the natural action that flows from the broken cistern of pride. In our pride we desire self-exaltation and glory apart from God and even above God.

The greatest hope for our pride-poisoned hearts is the antidote of the absolute sovereignty of God. God’s sovereignty cripples our pride and destroys the mountain of glory we have built in our hearts.

Self-exaltation crumbles at the foot of the mountain of God’s sovereignty. Self-righteousness is laughable in the face of a sovereign and righteous God. But there is also grace immeasurable and love unknown in the God who sovereignly does all that he pleases (Ps. 115:3).

While we stand as our own “sovereigns” doing all that we please, we learn that autonomy as an end leaves us powerless and empty. Only when we walk in the shadow of the wings of the all-satisfying Sovereign who reigns in the heavens in majesty and rightful glory will our rebellious hearts be cut down and filled with the joy we all so crave.

The question we all want to ask Jesus is, “Who is the greatest?” What we mean is, “Who among us is the greatest?” According to Jesus, greatness is found and expressed in humility—realizing we are not great. Our answer to the question, “Who is the greatest?” should always be, “not me.”

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1). It is through this humble disposition that is so contrary to our sinful inclinations that we will find joy in communion with God. While pride is the root of all sin, John Chrysostom once remarked, “Humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue.”

God’s universal rule and reign over all crumbles our pride. The glory of God is an eternally satisfying well we taste in Christ. Our self-exaltation and self-proclaimed glory is a joy-killing falsity. Glory and honor are not found in pride and self-exaltation. Trusting self is not the path to glory. True and lasting glory is ultimately found in the humility of Christ on the cross.

Pride is dethroned as the one who possesses universal power bows his head in humiliating, crucifying defeat. Through his death and resurrection, Christ delivers a powerful death-blow to all phony sovereigns and satisfiers. True greatness and true joy are found only in the cross-empowered, self-renouncing humility that God in the flesh embodied on the tree.

May the song of our hearts each morning be “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1). The sovereign God who is abundant in steadfast love and faithfulness is worthy of our complete, uninhibited trust. Fight pride today by humbly trusting the God who reigns in power, freedom, love, and grace over all.

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Do You Know the Real Jesus?

In the Gospels, the apostle Peter comes across as a dimwitted, well-meaning, overly self-confident, zealot with a foot-shaped mouth. Those of us who always seem to speak before thinking find a kindred spirit in Peter.

He is presented at minimum as the vocal leader of the twelve, and finds himself on both the right and wrong side of history. He confesses Jesus as the Messiah, but then tries to stop him from accomplishing his mission. He confesses willingness to die for Jesus, but flees when he had the chance.

Peter is a testament of the slow, but sure progress of God’s grace in the life of a fallen, yet redeemed saint. In Peter we have a vivid picture of simul justus et peccator–“at the same time righteous and sinner.”

In Mark 8, we see Peter make a stunning confession that he believed Jesus to be the Christ, or the Messiah. Which was huge! Because Jesus didn’t really look like a savior or a king. There were moments when Jesus appeared to be a Savior-King possessing even divine power. But there were other moments when Jesus seemed rather ordinary. The mysterious hypostatic union of divine and human natures in Jesus caused his disciples, especially Peter, to be confused about his identity.

Peter saw enough in Jesus to confess his belief that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Warrior King who has now come to deliver his people from their enemies and bring with him the dawning of a new age of peace and righteousness that will last forever. Peter’s confession is followed by Jesus’ claim that he would soon suffer and die. Peter rejects this idea as preposterous and rebukes Jesus. Foot. Shaped. Mouth.

We can laugh, but have you ever paused to consider how alarming Peter’s rebuke really was? Why couldn’t Peter just believe Jesus? Ya know? Why couldn’t he just take him at his word? Jesus would foretell his death and resurrection many more times, but Peter and the disciples just couldn’t seem to understand or believe him.

You see, Peter had some strong preconceived notions and ideas about what the Messiah would do. Some of these ideas were rooted in Scripture. Others were rooted in tradition. Peter sounds an alarm to us that it’s entirely possible to have a right confession of Jesus without actually understanding that confession. Even though Peter was granted knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, this knowledge did not lead to faith—at least not yet.

There are many people in our country, many people in our churches in fact, that may have correct confessions of Jesus without correct understanding of Jesus. If we are not careful, like Peter, our traditions can dominate our understanding of Jesus.

If you asked yourself the questions, “Who is Jesus? and, what is Jesus’ mission?” would your answers be based more on what Jesus actually says about himself or based on what you have heard about Jesus. Peter’s understanding of the Messiah was partially true. But his traditions and culturally-informed views of the Messiah caused him to miss the mission of the Messiah entirely. So much so, that he openly opposed Jesus when something he taught contradicted his own traditional beliefs.

At this point in the Gospel story, Peter is actually walking step-by-step with the real Jesus while missing him entirely. Which is the last thing I want for my faith family. I don’t want us to sing about a Jesus, pray to a Jesus, take communion in remembrance of a Jesus, baptize in the name of a Jesus that is only partially real. I don’t want us to believe in a Jesus that is based on cultural traditions rather than biblical truth.

So how can we know whether or not we are worshiping the real Jesus? How can we know if we are actually growing in the likeness of the real Jesus?

We have to see the real Jesus. Peter was given a full vision of the real Jesus for the first time on Mount Hermon when Jesus was transfigured. We need to behold this real Jesus just as Peter did. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” We must behold the glory of the Lord to become the glory of the Lord. We need what Peter would receive on Mount Hermon when the ordinary looking Jesus burst into a glorious light.

In the Transfiguration scene, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain to give them a vision of himself they would never forget–a vision that would confirm his identity, clarify his mission, and convey a future kingdom that will one day come in glorious fullness.

The transfiguration of Jesus gave Peter what he (and we) need to have not just a correct confession of Jesus, but a correct understanding of him– a glorious and comprehensive view of Jesus the Christ. In the transfiguration, we see Jesus in his unsurpassable majesty and beauty. On this “holy mountain” we see Jesus in his gritty resolve to take a death march to Jerusalem to deliver his people and conquer their enemies.

We see Jesus in his transcendent otherness and his immanent closeness. We see Jesus on a mountain radiating boundless light only to treck down the mountain into the darkness of sin, suffering, and evil. We see Jesus’ identity and mission as the eternal God in flesh resolving to suffer and die with and for his people. The transfiguration of Jesus and his subsequent journey down the mountain into a valley of darkness is so full and grand and clear that it confronts our preconceived notions and traditional beliefs with the real and raw Jesus who shatters what we thought we knew about him. That is the power of revelation.

But we will not receive a face-to-face vision of Jesus in all his splendor until he returns or takes us home. But take heart, because Peter himself shows us that the reliability of the Word of God is greater than even visual experiences:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” –2 Peter 1:16-21

Peter tells us that the Scriptures themselves contain power and light comparable to Christ’s great and glorious transfiguration we are about to consider. In order to have both a correct confession and understanding of the real Jesus, we must behold the King in his beauty.

Do you want to see the real Jesus in the splendor of his transcendent glory and immanent substitutionary suffering? Open your Bible and look.

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.