Have you ever noticed that sometimes there are single events in life that have a way of changing the entire direction of your life or even of a nation? For example, an accident that you have, that leaves you handicapped. We all think, "oh I'm always going to be healthy, always going to be able to walk around, be mobile," and then somebody goes through a red light, hits your car, breaks your ankle, and for the rest of your life, that ankle, you can't run like you used to run, and it hurts. Something in your life changes because of an event. Or the birth of your first child. Talk about changes. Or perhaps you're offered a new job in another city. Another place, another group of people that you will have to grow used to. And your life takes another turn because of that. Sometimes the event is one that changes the character or the course of history for an entire nation, not just a person. How different things would have been without Pearl Harbor, for example, or the election of John F. Kennedy, or even, here at home, the changes in our own city and how the rest of the world perceived us since the Oklahoma City bombing; for which we have just had the anniversary a few days ago. How about the 9/11 attack in New York City, how that has changed life in America, travel in America, so many things have changed, one single event. And so, single events have and continue to change the direction of our lives.
There is one event, however, that has not only changed the direction of society, but actually became the turning point for all of mankind, forever. The event is recorded in Mark 16:14-16, when Jesus was with his Apostles after His death and subsequent resurrection; and he said to them,
14 Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. 15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:14-16
This command of Jesus, to His Apostles, was the turning point in the history of mankind. After these words were pronounced, nothing would be the same anymore. With these words, some things ceased to be forever and others would begin to change the world from that point on. So this evening I'd like to share with you four things that changed forever when Jesus said these words.
Change #1 – The history and purpose of the Jewish nation was completed at this point.
In Genesis 12, God selects Abraham to become the father of a special nation, through whom God promises He will send His Son. From this point, in the Old Testament, to the end of Malachi, the various writers chronicle the growth of that people from a single family, to twelve tribes, to a nation with its own land and its own king. We observe how God formed them, protected them, blessed them, and punished them, but all the while preparing them to produce, one day, the Messiah that He would send to save the entire world.
And so, the Savior had to be a human being. He had to have a human identity. He had to have a culture. He had to have a language. God was not just going to appear as something, had to be a type, a culture of some kind. And instead of borrowing a culture that was already in existence in order to create a body, a human body for His Son, He created a brand new culture, a brand new nation, a brand new people, in order to provide for His Son a history, and a nation, and a language.
So as I say, instead of borrowing a culture and a history from existing nations, He chose to create a completely distinct people, culture, religion, for the Messiah to inherit. All of it, tailor-made for Him. You could say that the Jewish nation was an historical stage upon which God would send His Son, in order to play out the plan to save man and reconciled the world to Himself. However, with these words in Mark chapter 16, Jesus signals the end of the preparatory role of the Jewish nation.
After these words, the Jewish nation had to take their place alongside all other nations in receiving the good news of Jesus Christ. They would be first in line, of course, the first ones to hear the good news because of the nature of their role in history, but grouped with other nations of the world. From now on, all nations had equal access to God through Jesus Christ and were to respond to Him in exactly the same way: belief, repentance, and baptism.
Of course, it's interesting to note that history shows that the Jewish nation rejected Christ. And they continue to actively do so today, in the large part. If you look at books produced by Jews throughout history, you will note that a large portion of them have to do with identifying themselves. It's as if they have an identity crisis that they're trying to solve. This is understandable. I mean, where do you go and what do you do once you have played your part in history, but refuse to accept the conclusions about your role. They were given a role to play and they refused to play it. They refused to fulfill it. And so since that time they have searched to find an identity. Their identity was determined for them from the very beginning. They were to prepare the way for the Messiah, but they rejected the Messiah when He came. And so for 2,000 years they've searched to find out who are we? What are we supposed to be doing?
The nation that had the greatest religious insights, the most beautiful and elaborate traditions and Temple, has now gone full circle with the words of Jesus in Mark chapter 16. Never again will there be a chosen race based on culture or tradition. From now on, all the ones who follow Jesus Christ, will be God's chosen people. And I make a kind of a political aside, here. Aside from the political ambitions that are going on in the Middle East, their fight over religious differences is really futile, because the religious solution is Jesus Christ. They're going to keep on being at war until the end of time or that they accept the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Savior and no one else.
Change #2 – Man's vision of God is changed forever.
Up until this moment there were thousands of religious cults and mystery religions and nature and state religions developing their own ideas about the supernatural. Now, God reveals Himself to man in a way that there can be no mistake or confusion as to His character, His will, and His purpose for mankind. For the first time in history God has revealed Himself to all the nations. God takes on the nature of a man and as that man performs miracles, provides revelation in a way that no mere man could duplicate. God, as a man, doing what only God can do. God has come to live among mankind as a historical fact, along with eyewitnesses and written historical records to serve all future generations.
All of the world has seen and heard God in Jesus, on the stage of Jewish history. The Jews were given special insight into God's nature, but now the Gentile nations would no longer have to guess or speculate about God. They could now see and hear Him in the person of Jesus Christ. No more cultural barrier. You didn't have to understand Jewish religion in order to know who Jesus was. And so, in Mark 16:14-16, Jesus is telling the Apostles to proclaim the new dawn of possible religious certainty to the entire world, something that had never been done before.
Change #3 – A final solution to life's problems has now been offered once and for all.
In Mark 16, Jesus is telling the Apostles to preach the "good news", but what exactly is so good about the news that they are preaching? Well, the good news is that God has offered all men or all mankind a solution to two of their greatest problems: sin and death. Until this time, the only solution man has figured out was to either indulge the flesh or deny the flesh.
If you take all the philosophies and all the religions and you boiled them down to what they were actually trying to do in dealing with sin and death, they had only one of two solutions: indulged the flesh or abstain. One or the other. I mean, you're imperfect. You're going to die. So forget about it and have a good time until you go. That was one of the philosophical positions. You're going to die anyways. Eat, drink, and be merry, because you're going to die anyway. That's one solution and that solution was wrapped up in all kinds of different philosophies and practices; but basically that was it. The other solution, you're imperfect. You're going to die. So deny yourself all pleasure and beat death at its own game by dying ahead of time. Total denial. And so you have no feelings. In other words, you're getting ready for death. One way to get ready for death, take it all in, chew on it, absorb as much of the world as you can. That's one solution. The other solution, well, get away from the world as much as you can and die ahead of time, so that when the actual death comes, you won't feel so bad about it.
Those were the best solutions that human beings had come up with for the problems of imperfection, sin and the consequence of sin was death. Then Jesus comes along and His words offer a dramatic new solution to these very old problems. To the problem of sin, the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus pays the moral debt that we owe to God, because of our sins. There's the solution of Christianity. We don't have to be ashamed or guilty or deny ourselves to pay for our sins anymore, as if we could. What a futile effort that was. Jesus pays our debt in full with His cross. Our sins are simply taken away in baptism and we have a clear conscience (I Peter 3:21).
The power of death and its finality is overcome by Jesus's resurrection. And Jesus's resurrection defeats death in three ways: First of all, death has always made man afraid (Hebrews 2:14) and the resurrection takes away that fear by showing men that death is not final. It shows that resurrection is possible.
What is so great about resurrection? Why did Jesus have to resurrect? Well, would we actually believe that there is life after death if someone didn't come along and actually demonstrate it? I mean, what if Jesus died on the cross and then just, kind of, went straight to heaven. Paid for our sins, went straight to heaven, and the Apostles went out and said, you know what, your sins are paid for, you're all good. Now you're all going to live forever. And somebody says, yeah, but what happens after we die? Well, then you resurrect. And the crowd would say, well, how do we know we resurrect? Oh, just take our word for it. Anybody for baptism now? I don't think there'd be too many takers. So what does Jesus do? He actually resurrects. He actually shows Himself to people, hundreds of people, after His resurrection.
Also, life after death gives man hope (Job 14:12). Knowing that the resurrection exists gives man hope and courage to live a good and faithful life, because he knows there is a reward. Let's face it, sin makes us weak. And part of the weakness is, we have trouble believing. And part of that weakness is, we don't always do the things we ought to do for the most noble reasons. We don't always do what we ought to do because it's the right and good thing to do. That's the highest ideal. God is so merciful that He will accept from us the idea that we do what is good because He has promised us a reward. That's not the highest ideal, but you know what? It'll work. He will accept that from us. Why? Because we are weak. Otherwise we'd be in despair and live foolishly, thinking that this is all there is.
I keep think of the president of Syria. How could a man, who himself has children, sleep at night when the day before he gave the order for his Air Force to go and drop barrel bombs full of nails and ball bearings on a hospital, on children? How can a guy like that sleep knowing that he's dropped poison gas and killed little children and babies and they experienced a horrible death? This man who has children, how can he do such a thing? Because he thinks this is all there is. When this is all there is. You're amazed what you can do. Because this is all I got and if this is all I've got, then I'm going to protect it. I'm not going to let anybody take it away from me. And I will do what I want to do. And I will do what it takes, no matter what, to protect what I have. Because there is nothing else after this.
But if you know that there is a judgment and there is a punishment and there is a reward coming, that kind of makes you think twice. And that's okay. It's meant for us to think twice. Skeptics are persuaded by power, not love. Our faith, our message, has no power without the resurrection. That's what gives it its power. The promise and the evidence of the resurrection is what wins over the nonbelievers.
In Mark 16, a resurrected man is telling His disciples to go and tell the world that their two oldest problems have been solved once and for all. That's pretty good news. This was a message never heard or ever imagined before. No one ever heard a message like this. No other religion promised this. No other prophet or religious leader or guru ever promised their followers that if they believed in him he would give them resurrection. He would resurrect them from the dead and then went ahead and demonstrated his power. Nobody ever did that. That message and that power, that was, we say today, a game changer. That was a world changer. Nothing had ever been said or done like that before and never would be promised ever again. Two thousand years have gone by, have we had a religion or a philosophy that has promised anything better than that? No. The only promises we get, in the last 2000 years, are what? Well, you either live - eat, drink, and be merry, because you die or you abstain from everything and die ahead of time. We haven't come up with a better philosophy even.
Change #4 – Once and for all, mankind has a clear choice.
For the first time in history, mankind had a clear choice over life and death, which could be made personally. Before it was fate, or it was your master, or it was the age, or it was whoever was over you, they were the ones that decided about your life and your death. Whether you were man, or old, woman, rich, or poor slave, free, whatever, this decision over life or death was now yours to make. A personal decision.
The good news to a guilty sinner is that his two worst problems: sin and death, have been solved. And now God offers him a choice.
Choice #1 – Those who believe Jesus and are baptized will be saved.
Interesting, if we get into a little grammar here, the word saved in english comes from the Greek word "sozo," which has an interesting background. When a person comes under the influence of another person or a thing, to a point where he can no longer exercise his will, or this person is in a situation where his strength or his resources cannot free him from his situation or his obligation - think, for example, you're crossing the Atlantic on a ship and you fall overboard in the middle of the night, with no life jacket and the ship sails away and your only option is to drown or to swim to England. What do you think's going to happen to you? Your situation is greater than your resources. Your situation is greater than your ability to get yourself out of trouble. You know right then and there you will not make it. Why? Because you can't swim a thousand miles.
In other words, a situation where a third party is needed to come in and save you or rescue you. When that was the situation, the word "sozo" was used. And that's the word that is used in Mark. Suggesting that humankind or human beings are in a situation that they have no power to free themselves from. Basically, the word means to rescue, to save, or to free.
So Jesus is promising that those who believe in Him and are baptized as a result, will be rescued, they'll be saved. They'll be freed from the power of sin and the sentence of death over which they have no power. That's the point. And how? Well, at baptism their sins will all be forgiven and they will receive the Holy Spirit, who will give them the power to overcome sin in their lives and raise their bodies from the grave, just like the spirit did for Jesus Christ, when they die (Acts 2:38, Romans 8). If you choose to obey, then Jesus will save you.
Choice #2 – If you disbelieve you will be condemned.
So you have a clear choice. And it's written in a very simple way. If one chooses to disbelieve, to reject, to postpone and consequently refuse baptism, which is part of that disbelief, those who refuse to be baptized are really saying that they don't believe and they don't believe enough to be baptized. This is the same thing as disbelief. These people, Jesus makes the promise to them, that they will be judged and the outcome of their judgment will be condemnation. What's significant about this, for the first time in history, mankind could deal with life and death on a personal basis and have some control over it. From now until the end of time, mankind could choose to live forever in joy, or suffer forever in hell. I mean, has there been, in history, any other decision more important than this, for any human being? Of course not.
The Hinge of History
And so, I call Mark 16:15-16, the Hinge of History. It was the turning point for the Jewish nation. It was the turning point for religion and philosophy in general. It was the moment when Satan and his fiercest weapon - death, were both defeated. And it was also the time in history where mankind gained control of its eternal future.
This verse continues to be the hinge upon which each one of our lives can change forever, because upon this hinge is attached the door that opens into the eternal kingdom of light, or closes, leaving one in the eternal kingdom of darkness. And every single one of us has made a choice based on these words. We either believe then and have been baptized, calling on Jesus to save us and to give us eternal life. Or we have disbelieved, and postponed, and been unfaithful, and are presently awaiting His judgment, while we live out the few remaining years of life that we have here on Earth.
And some people say, "you people in the Church of Christ, you make things so simple, black or white." Well, I'm ready to acknowledge that not everything is black or white, there are some things in the Bible that are difficult to understand:
- Who is the man of lawlessness?
- When will Jesus come?
- What is the significance of some of the imagery that we see in the book of Revelation?
It's not all evident. A lot of the things in the scriptures require teaching and understanding and study, of course, but there are some things that are quite clear. And purposefully so.
What if you were God and you were offering to mankind the choice between eternal life and eternal death. Wouldn't you make the conditions pretty clear on that? What if everybody had to understand calculus in order to be saved. What if everybody had to have perfect pitch? To sing perfectly, every note in order to be saved. We would all be in trouble. When God makes the choice unmistakable. Those who believe and are baptized, they'll be saved and those who disbelieve, will be condemned. That's at the heart of the message.
Jesus provided ample proof of who He was. He provided miracles and teaching. And, of course, His resurrection, to demonstrate that what He said was, in fact, true. That He was from God.
And so, in this lesson, I merely go one step further. This is the conclusion of the message: those who believe and are baptized will be saved. Those who disbelieve will be lost. Preachers often say, let's get the message out and let's proclaim the message to our community. You can't win souls unless you sow seed. The message is not that we're a friendly church. That's not the message of Christ. The message of Christ is not, we've got a great youth group. We do have a great youth group, but that's not the message of Christ. The message of Christ is, that those who believe and are baptized will be saved and those who disbelieve will be lost. That's the message we need to get out of the building and into the community.
That may not make friends with some people who will call us names. And accuse us of being any number of things. But it'll represent life to those who believe that message. It'll be a great cause of joy for those who understand and say, "Ah, that's it! That's what I've been missing. This is the answer to my question." Those people will be happy. They will rejoice with us.
If there is anyone reading this who has not believed and been baptized, then I encourage you not to delay and to be baptized this very day, so that you may be saved this very day. Or if you have already done that and perhaps have neglected your faith, been unfaithful to Christ, perhaps living in a way which is not a witness of your faith, and you need to repent of that, you need to change that, then make that decision now and return to Him and allow us to pray for you and to encourage you back into the fellowship of the saints.