Sermon Prep in Mark 1 – Part 3 Featuring BibleWorks

“The Gospel is not an invitation to be RSVP’d—it is a command to be obeyed.”

I’m working on a series of sermons in Mark chapter 1. And as I mentioned some time ago, I will be using BibleWorks, the premium software for studying the biblical languages, and featuring BibleWorks in a series of posts blogging through my sermon preparation. The nice folks at BibleWorks provided me with a complimentary copy of the latest version of their software, for which I am very grateful. The new features in version 8 are not only helpful but a lot of fun to discover and work with. For more on BibleWorks and where to get it, click here.
Software for Biblical Exegesis and Research 

The third step in my sermon preparation, normally, is to examine any and all unusual or “loaded” words and phrases in the text. In BibleWorks the highlighter tool makes this easy; I still prefer to export the Scripture section I’m working with to Open Office (the word processor and office suite I use—http://www.openoffice.org—it’s free!) and mark it all up there. I save a copy in my sermon notes folder but that way I don’t see too much marked up text the next time I read that passage in BibleWorks. Then, using first the “search on form” tool, and then the “search on lemma” tool, I spend a fair bit of time looking to see how the more unusual or theologically significant words are used throughout the Old and New Testaments (the nice thing about working with the BibleWorks versions is that you can use the “BGT”—BibleWorks Greek New Testament, a combined LXX Greek Old Testament and Nestle-Aland27 Greek New Testament—so your word searches can yield results in Greek from the whole Bible at once). Looking then to see how specific words were translated into the Greek LXX (Septuagint) from Hebrew often leads to further study of particular Hebrew words and how they were used. 

While studying the text of Mark 1 in preparation for my sermon on verses 14-15, using BibleWorks, I noticed the connection between Jesus’ commands: to all, “repent and believe”; to the disciples, “follow me”; to the demon, “be silent and come out” and to the leper, “be clean”. All of these are commands to be obeyed. All are in the imperative. That led me to this early conclusion: The Gospel is not an invitation to be RSVP’d, but a command to be obeyed. The ultimate effectiveness of the Gospel in saving the hearer has no more to do with the ability of the hearer to respond than the presence of light in the Universe has to do with the will of photons to obey the command of God, “Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3) “…And there was light”– not because the light chose to obey God, but because the will of God commanded it. In the same way, the disciples came when Jesus called; the demon was silent and came out; the leper was cleansed. 

I noticed though that the word used to describe what Jesus said to James and John in verse 20 is the word, kaleo, “to call”. The Friberg lexicon in BibleWorks notes that this word can carry the idea of naming something, summoning something, addressing something, assigning to a task, or inviting. Well, if it should be taken as an invitation to be accepted or rejected—Repondez s’il vous plait—then my conclusion about the imperative force of the Gospel would be wrong. I noticed however, that the only occurrences where kaleo is really interpreted in the New Testament as an invitation are in the extreme minority: Matthew 22, Luke 7, Luke 14 (except see Lk 14:24!!), John 2. In all the 148 occurrences of kaleo it most often describes the naming of something or a command to be obeyed. And sometimes there is a close relationship between naming and commanding. 

In Matthew 2:15, referring to Joseph’s escape to Egypt with Mary and the child, Jesus, the writer says, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called [kaleo] my son.’” What’s interesting about that verse is that the word kaleo is used by Matthew to translate the Hebrew word qara in Hosea 11:1. Qara has a very similar range of uses in the Old Testament to kaleo in the New Testament. Also similar to the New Testament usage of kaleo, the uses of qara as merely an invitation are hard to find (21 times out of 880). One passage stood out to me, however, in which qara is used both in the sense of naming someone and in the sense of commanding him and appointing him to a particular task. 

“Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed:  2 “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron,  3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.  4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me.  5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me,  6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.  7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.  8 “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it.  9 “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?  10 Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?'”  11 Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: “Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?  12 I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.  13 I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,” says the LORD of hosts.  14 Thus says the LORD: “The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush, and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over to you and be yours; they shall follow you; they shall come over in chains and bow down to you. They will plead with you, saying: ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other, no god besides him.'”  15 Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.  16 All of them are put to shame and confounded; the makers of idols go in confusion together.  17 But Israel is saved by the LORD with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity.  18 For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other.  19 I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the LORD speak the truth; I declare what is right.  20 “Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save.  21 Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.  22 “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.  23 By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’  24 “Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him.  25 In the LORD all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.”  (Isa 45:1-25 ESV) 

Cyrus, future king of Persia, wasn’t even born yet when God both called and appointed him. But notice how calling and naming go together; equipping also. Notice even how God compares His calling of Cyrus to the way He created light and dark! (See my comment above about light not being able to obey God’s command in Genesis 1.) Notice how God claims meticulous sovereignty over good things and over calamity—He does them all. And notice how Paul’s argument on God’s sovereignty in election and the problem of “free will”, in Romans 9, seems to be drawn in part from this passage: “Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?” (c.f. Romans 9:20-21). All of which is to say that in Mark 1, I think the accounts of Jesus’ miracles are there to illustrate His power to enable people to obey His command to “Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Like he caused Cyrus to obey His call, like He caused light to exist when He told it to, like He gave life to a dead girl so that when He commanded, “Get up!”, she was able to respond (Mark 5:41), when He preached saying, “Repent and believe the Gospel”, no one would have been able to obediently repent and believe the Gospel had He not enabled them. The Gospel is not an invitation in the sense that everyone has the same ability to believe it. It is a command which requires the hearer to be “born again” in order to obey it. 

” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”  10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”  (Joh 3:5-10 ESV)