Reformation theologian John Calvin has
some wise words about the cost of following Christ: 'Those whom the Lord
has chosen and honored with His intercourse must prepare for a hard,
laborious, troubled life....Having begun this course with Christ the
first-born, He continues it towards all His children....Hence it affords
us great consolation in hard and difficult circumstances, which men deem
evil and adverse, to think that we are holding fellowship with the
sufferings of Christ....How powerfully should it soften the bitterness of
the cross, to think that the more we are afflicted with adversity, the
surer we are made of our fellowship with Christ; by communion with whom
our sufferings are not only blessed to us, but tend greatly to the
furtherance of our salvation.'
If you were looking for a missionary to
take the gospel to India and Sri Lanka, you probably wouldn’t start by
searching taverns of Paris! If you looked into one these raucous
establishments in the 1530s, you might have seen a strikingly handsome
young philosophy professor who liked to gamble and drink. Born in Spain,
this brilliant young man eventually made his way to the University of
Paris. His name was Francis Xavier, and the Word of God changed his life
forever. The pursuit of pleasure and success eventually left Xavier empty.
He sought the company of a good friend, who quoted Mark 8:36 to him. It
completely redirected Xavier’s life–he left his teaching position and
joined a small group of missionaries. Xavier began ministering in
northern Italy, but later traveled between India and Japan, even
ministering on South Seas islands. Even though he could not speak the
language where he ministered, he would memorize entire sermons in that
language so that he would not be hindered in sharing the gospel. This
verse that impacted Xavier fits into a larger section in Mark about
denying oneself for the gospel.
One day an Austrian peasant spotted three men in hunting garb. Thinking they
looked tired, he offered them a ride in his cart. The men accepted and
struck up a conversation. “Who are you?” the driver asked one of the
“I’m the king of Saxony,” was the reply. The peasant nodded and asked the
next man the same question.
“The king of Bavaria,” said the second passenger.
“And you,” the peasant went on skeptically to the third passenger, “I
suppose you’re the emperor of Austria?” The amazing thing is that it was the
emperor of Austria! The man was Francis Joseph I, emperor of Austria from
1848-1916. Would that peasant have acted differently if he had known that we
was addressing his sovereign? Of course!
In his classic devotional My Utmost for
His Highest, Oswald Chambers remarks about servanthood:
'If we are devoted to the cause of humanity, we shall soon be crushed and
broken-hearted, for we shall often meet with more ingratitude from men
than we would from a dog; but if our motive is to love God, no ingratitude
can hinder us from serving our fellow men....[N]o matter how men may treat
me, they will never treat me with the spite and hatred with which I
treated Jesus Christ. When we realize that Jesus Christ has served us to
the end of our meanness, our selfishness, and sin, nothing that we meet
with from others can exhaust our determination to serve men for His sake.'
When pioneer missionary Hudson Taylor
started the China Inland Mission (CIM), he decided not to make any public
appeals for funds. Among other reasons, he believed this policy would be
an example that God provides for those who obey Him. Hudson's faith was
stretched many times in this area, yet he stood by his conviction and God
always supplied. At one point, donations had decreased due to political
controversy between China and England. Just prior to this, God had spurred
George Muller, founder of orphanages, to increase his support for the work
in China. He sent a letter and eleven checks one for each of the CIM
missionaries whom he didn't already support. This encouraging letter
arrived in China at precisely the moment when money was most desperately
needed! Hudson Taylor knew a truth found in today's reading: the prayer of
faith is always granted.
Exams are an unavoidable part of
students' lives. There are the SAT and ACT for college entrance, the GRE
and others for graduate school, and the TOEFL for foreign students,
besides typical weeks of final exams at the ends of semesters. Ideally,
such exams serve as objective criteria for admissions or grading, or as
measures of achievement or progress in a particular field of study.
Students and teachers know, though, that this is not always the case. Some
students 'test well,' higher than their true knowledge or ability, while
some teachers have trouble creating and grading exams in ways that
accomplish those ideal purposes. In today's reading Jesus is given an
aggressive 'final exam' by a group out to see him fail, the Pharisees, but
He passes with flying colors! In His final teachings, Jesus addresses
several different subjects.