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(You may want to listen to our teaching pastor’s sermon from which I created these notes.)
What in the world, God? Is this a joke? Are you for real? I’ve tried to do the right thing; I never cut corners. My desire has always been to follow you, but this is what I get.
This was my story. In my second year of Bible college, I was pursuing hard after the Lord, and my family fell apart. It was one of those “you’ve got to be kidding me” moments, which is the intent behind the “comically cruel” title. It’s so bad that only hyperbole can describe it. Perhaps you have a similar story where the temptation could be to think that God is playing a game with you.
Maybe it was your marriage that fell apart shortly after the honeymoon. For others, it was an unexpected miscarriage. As you were ascending the heights of hope, anticipation, and expectations, in a moment and without warning, you’re plummeting to the depths of unwanted despair. It is at those moments where you might say, “Are you kidding me?” You’re so surprised that you instinctively suggest that what is happening to you has to be a joke.
If you want to follow Christ, your expectations must come under the sovereign hand of the Lord’s crushing. There are no exceptions to this rule because none of us can know God the way we must know Him without Him removing the necessary things that might confuse how we think about Him. Because of the love of God, He must reorient how we think about Him, which sets the stage for confusion—our initial response to trouble.
And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits (Mark 6:7).
And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison (Mark 6:27).
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught (Mark 6:30).
Theologians talk about Mark’s writing style, at times, as the “Markan Sandwich.” It’s a literary device that Mark employs to strengthen his points. You see one of his Markan Sandwiches in Mark 6:7-30, where the Lord calls the disciples and sends them out in verse seven. After a stunning time healing and other miraculous works, they return in verse 30 to tell Christ about all they had done.
Between verses 7 and 30, Mark inserts in his sandwich the execution of John the Baptist. It’s a surreal insertion of a horrific story about the greatest man born of a woman (Matthew 11:11). John was on the elite team. He was the greatest of the great and everyone’s hero—except for those in power. His death and the way he died could not be more antithetical to the call and victories of the disciples. What is Mark trying to tell us?
Most Christians have an idea of how things should go if they choose to follow Christ. Nobody thinks about God bringing you to the edge of the precipice to look over into an unhealthy, unpredictable, seemingly unscripted, and terrifying life. But when you consider the death of the greatest man born of a woman, we must rethink how we think about God’s call on our lives.
Can you think of a time in your life when God took you through a trial that felt comically cruel? Many of you have a story about a past trial. Others are in that place today. The challenge is to keep from rescripting God according to our expectations rather than understanding Him for who He is. For John, he was sitting in a jail cell as a drunken king was making an irrevocable promise to a reckless girl.
For the rest of us on the “B Team,” we are confused about what is happening here. What we thought God would do and what He is doing rocks our faith. When these doubts come, we must be honest about how we think about our trial and sovereign Lord. Perhaps what is happening to you does not compare with John the Baptist, but whatever the Lord is working in you is essential for your Christian faith.
Perhaps you’re going through anger, uselessness, placed on the shelf, and other thoughts that crowd out the work of the Lord in your life. Regardless of what is happening to you, the primary thing you must see is that the Lord is suffocating your idols and giving life to your faith. For example, a few of those idols could be the idols of expectations, predictability, control, and certainty.
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Translation: We begin to know what we need to know when we begin to know what we don’t know is what we need to know. We only begin to know what we need to know when we begin to know what we don’t know. There are elements of our idols that must die before we can know what we need to know. We don’t know things; we don’t have categories for the things the Lord wants us to know.
Thus, we begin to know what we need to know when we begin to know what we don’t know. In the Deuteronomy passage, they did not know that they needed to know that they don’t live by bread alone. Of course, this was the passage that our Lord quoted when He was in the midst of His trial, which gives us a clue how to endure our trials—forgetting what you know and learning to know what you must know.
In the Deuteronomy passage, we need to know that we cannot live by bread alone. Translation: We need to know that God will put us in places to break our idols—overreliance on bread, which releases us to know something we did not know. After we finally learn what He wants us to know all along, perseverance ensues. In a word, we must know that we need God and His words more than our daily manna in our respective wildernesses.
The point in Mark 6 is not some random story that appears comically cruel and out of place. Mark is painting a picture of an even more comically cruel act—the foolishness and weakness of God acted out on Adam’s tree. See 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. The cross of Christ stretches every human brain to forget what they think they know about God and learn to know how God operates so that we can be set free.
As you reflect on your life and the broken idols, what did you learn? What are you learning? It is the crucible of suffering where all that we thought we knew goes through a reexamination, redefinition, and relaunching into God’s world. What weird story has the Lord inserted into your life to let you know that you do not know all that you need to know so you can know what you don’t know?
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