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Mark 13 – Context and a Pattern

Jesus starts out talking about the Temple and how it will be destroyed.  The Apostles ask when it will happen.  In response, Jesus goes on to warn the Apostles about trials and suffering they will undergo.  He also tells them, using apocalyptic prophetic style, what the signs are that this is about to pass.  Since we don’t ever use that style of speaking in grand images and pictures to depict things, especially God’s judgment, we often think this must mean the end of time.  However, verse 30 says plainly that all of this will come to pass before that generation passes away.  The reference to the abomination that causes desolation is from three different passages in the book of Daniel.  The mention of the sun and moon being darkened are from Isaiah.  Following on the criticisms of the Jewish leaders in chapter 12, Jesus is showing that they will not escape their failings.  God’s judgment will come as the prophets foretold in the past, and in that generation’s present.

…or is it?

Even though I understand that passage to refer to Rome’s eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, it does still have value and significance for us today.  Daniel, Isaiah, and now Jesus all speak of times when God judges people and cultures who fail to be faithful.  These examples show us that God often works in patterns, doing in this day what he has done in times past.  But even those who are faithful will undergo trials, as Jesus plainly tells the Apostles in this chapter.  He tells them that they will be arrested, tried, and go through persecutions.  What’s important is to know that God is in charge.  He will take care of the Apostles when they undergo persecution.  Jesus is providing warnings to care for his people during the time of judgment to come.

God is in control.  Even when it seems like he isn’t, we have to know that he is.  He ends this section with a simple instruction, “Watch!” With all the questions currently circulation about the end of times, the wrong questions are being asked. It isn’t a question of “When” but of “Are you ready?”

I am comforted by v31. All kinds of things come along in life that demand your attention and we feel often demand our loyalty, this verse helps keep things in perspective. Heaven and earth, and everything in them, will pass away. All of your stuff will be kindling for the great big bonfire at the end. God’s Word will never pass away. If you find yourself being pulled this way and that by the things of this world that demand your attention, keep them in perspective.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Mark

 

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Mark 12 – Them r Fightin’ Words

You can ask any kid who has grown up in church, “Why did Jesus die on the cross?”  They will almost certainly respond, “To save us from our sins.”  And this is a true answer, and one of great theological significance.  But sometimes when we read the Gospels, perhaps a more accurate answer to the question would be, “Because he ticked off the wrong people.”  

I can only imagine that there were times when somebody pulled Jesus aside and said, “Look, I like your stories and lessons as much as the next guy, but if you keep saying things like that to people like them…well…its things like that can get a guy killed.”  I can honestly say that I have never had opportunity to make somebody so mad at me that I could actually see in their eyes a burning desire to kill me.  I imagine it to be a very uncomfortable feeling.  Jesus felt that all the time.

This chapter begins with Jesus telling a story about a master who rents out his field and then sends his servants to gather the rent.  There are a lot of Jesus’ parables where he is subtle and has to explain them when he finishes.  This is not one of those.  Everybody knows what Jesus is talking about and who Jesus is talking about.  God left Israel as his steward in this world.  Among Israel were leaders who were made stewards of what God had entrusted them.  When God sent his servants (read prophets here) to collect what was due him, they abused and killed them.  Finally God is sending his son and you are going to kill him too.  Then God will come take away everything you have and give it to somebody else.

There’s no subtlety here.  YOU wasted what God gave you.  YOU refused to give God his due.  YOU abused and killed the prophets.  YOU are now going to kill God’s own son that he loves.  And God will take everything away from YOU and then kill YOU.

It should come as no surprise that the Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law now launch a full campaign to destroy Jesus’ reputation first, and when that fails they begin trying to trap him legally.  Eventually they will just arrest him, make up charges, and use the force of their political influence to push through his execution.

So having just been told God was going to take everything from them and kill them, they begin an attempt to trap him.  Look who the religious leaders send here: Pharisees (loyal to Israel and God) and Herodians (loyal to Herod and Rome).  They ask if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar.

Jesus has several options here:  1.  He can say you should pay the Temple tax and not Caesar.  This would obviously land him in trouble with the Herodians and the Roman authorities.  Jewish leaders who opposed paying taxes were generally treated badly by Rome.  Hint: This can get you killed.  2.  Jesus can say they should ignore the Temple tax and pay Caesar.  This would discredit Jesus’ ministry.  You can’t very well claim to be the Messiah when you disregard the Temple, God’s authority, and cow to Rome.  And it would certainly upset those who hold the Temple and its leaders in high regard.  Hint: This can get you killed.  3.  Jesus can suggest paying both, but to the poor huddled masses who he so often had compassion on, this would be a huge burden.  One they could not bear.  4.  Jesus can brilliantly reply that they should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

In doing so, Jesus first instituted the separation of church and state.  Just kidding.  I think.  Mostly it functioned as great rhetoric.  Imagine if you were a Herodian, who supported Rome.  You would hear Jesus’ words and think, “That’s right.  Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s…but wait…he just made it sound like what is owed God is of greater significance.”  You would be disarmed and yet be left scratching your head.  On the other hand, if you were a Pharisee who despised Rome, you had no argument against Jesus’ response.  You couldn’t say that the money wasn’t Caesar’s; his face was on it and you had brought along his supporters who would willingly turn on any opposition.  Jesus shows his great political and rhetorical acumen in this situation.  Certainly, Jesus sprung the trap but only the religious leaders got caught in it.

He proceeds to do this over and over again throughout this chapter, culminating in a poor widow who placed two small coins in the Temple offering.  Jesus praises her for her radical generosity.  One can’t help but notice the contrast between the petty and self-righteous faith of the religious leaders and the genuine and sacrificial faith of this poor woman.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Mark

 

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Mark 8 – You HAVE to Get This!

So In Mark 6 Jesus fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish.  There were twelve baskets leftover.  In Mark 7, they panic when Jesus walks by their boat (on the water) during a storm.  Mark says that they clearly haven’t learned the lesson from the bread.  Apparently the Apostles are supposed to be learning to put their faith in God and quit paying so much attention to the obstacles.  In Mark 8 Jesus decides to give them another chance to get the lesson and he now feeds four thousand with seven loaves and a few fish and has seven baskets left over.

So after a quick argument with the Pharisees Jesus and the Apostles get on a boat and they realize that the Apostles forget to bring lunch and there is only a single loaf of bread.  As Jesus begins teaching the about how they need to be different from the Pharisees and Herod, he uses leaven as an illustration.

At this point, some Apostle says to another, “What’s he talking about with this leaven of the Pharisees

BREAD? BREAD? You think I am worried there isn’t enough BREAD!?!?

stuff?”  Somebody replies, “I think he is upset we forgot the bread.  I mean, how can this many of us eat with only one loaf of bread?”

At this moment Jesus’ head explodes.  I can’t even imagine what went through his head in that moment.  He cannot fathom that the Apostles are failing to learn the lesson of the bread.  So now we review:

Jesus:  Remember when I fed five thousand with five loaves?  How much was leftover?

Apostles:  Twelve baskets.  (This is one thousand people per loaf)

Jesus: Remember when I fed four thousand with seven loaves?  How much leftover?

Apostles: Seven baskets.  (This is only 571 people per loaf.)

Jesus: If I wanted us to eat, don’t you think I could come up with something out of that one loaf?  I mean, on my worst day that’s enough to feed 571 people so that should cover the dozen or so of us.

Jesus knows that he is eventually going to leave this group of men and women to trust that God will provide for them no matter what their eyes tell them.  They must learn to trust God to overcome any obstacles.  As it stands, all they see is obstacles.

Perhaps thats why, immediately after Peter professes his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, that Jesus tells them that he will be taken to Jerusalem and killed and resurrected on the third day.  Of course, Peter only sees the obstacle in this.  Jesus, however, tells Peter that he is thinking only of human concerns and not the things of God.  

One of the hardest things for me to do is to see things God’s way and not my way.  I always want plenty of time to plan, to count the cost, to trust in my own ability to overcome what obstacles are ahead of me.  And there is value to that, even in scripture.  But there is something to be said for trusting always that God will help me overcome whatever obstacles are placed before me.

Like the Apostles, I desperately need to learn the lesson of the loaves if I am going to be a part of growing his Kingdom and doing his work in the world.  I need to trust in his power and not mine.  I need to put my confidence in God ahead of my fear of whatever the world puts in front of me.

 

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Mark

 

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Mark 7 – What I Do and Don’t Know

I wish I had more time to actually study all of the complexities of this chapter, but unfortunately I don’t.  There’s going to be a bookmark in my Bible on this page until I sit down soon and try to educate myself out of some of my confusion here.  But I still won’t pretend that I think I understand everything going on here.

Here’s what (I think) I know:

Mark has to actually explain in detail why the Pharisees are upset because he thinks its so ridiculous that it won’t make sense without explanation.  It’s also important that they question why Jesus doesn’t follow “the teachings of the elders.”  It’s clear that the rules Jesus’ followers aren’t adhering to are man-made regulations.  On the other hand, Jesus responds by saying, “You don’t even follow the teachings of Moses and the laws of God.”  Nice rebuttal.  He goes on to talk about how cleanliness of heart, mind, and soul is what matters to God, not dirty hands or dishes.

In the story of the woman in Tyre, most of it confuses me and will be in the “things I don’t know section.”  Following up on Mark 6, I wrote there about how Jesus gave and gave and gave to other people to what had to be the point of physical and emotional exhaustion.  We see the result of that here as he tries to slip unnoticed into a house, but of course, he is found out and must go back to healing.

Jesus then goes to the area of the Ten Cities, or Decapolis, where he heals a man who is deaf and unable to speak.  Jesus heals him.  Fun fact: the Decapolis is the same region that Jesus sent Legion to go evangelize after he got rid of his demons.

Here’s What I Don’t Know:

When Mark is writing about Jesus’ comments on how nothing outside of the body can make you unclean, Mark specifically says that in saying this Jesus was calling all foods clean.  The food codes were part of the Old Testament law.  It would seem that Jesus was negating part of the law.  However, in Matthew 5:17-20, it is clear that Jesus did not come to destroy the law and that he intended none of it to fall away until everything “is accomplished.”

My best theory: Mark is writing this Gospel in the time after the church has learned that the food laws no longer apply to Christians.  As he is writing, he is trying to show that Jesus’ comments here apply to the new Christian understanding (given to Peter by God) that the food laws no longer applied.

Jesus has healed Gentiles before without insulting them or calling them dogs.  However, in this case he seems to do so.  When the woman acknowledges his comment but replies in faith, Jesus is impressed and grants her request.  I am not sure why Jesus would say what he said to the woman, even though it is true.

In the story of the deaf and mute man, I have no idea what Jesus is doing.  Just a few verses ago he cast

Instructions for a “wet willie” or “How to heal a deaf man?”

out a demon long distance without even being told which direction the girl was.  Now he sticks his finger in the guy’s ears, spits, and touches his tongue in order to heal him.  In another situation Jesus said that there was a demon that could only be cast out by prayer.  Is this some kind of illness or demon that could only be cast out by poking and spitting?  Is Jesus simply demonstrating something?  I don’t know what that would be.  It’s an odd moment that is right up there with the time Jesus used spit to make a mud pie to place on a man’s eyes to heal his blindness.  I don’t know what’s going on, but it is completely clear that Jesus does know what he’s doing.

Honestly, I think it’s important to recognize that the Bible isn’t always straight forward.  Sometimes it’s weird, complicated, or difficult to understand.  Usually not.  But sometimes.  And we shouldn’t always feel the need to say, “Well I know exactly what that means and there is no question about it.”  Sometimes we need to recognize that God is bigger than us and does things differently than you or I would.  And that’s okay.  It’s part of what makes him God and us…well, not God.  And we need that humility.  I know I do.

On the other hand, if you know exactly what’s going on in any of these stories, please let me know.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2013 in Mark

 

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Mark 6 – A Disappointing Chapter

Jesus’ life was hard.  And I am not talking about how he didn’t have a wife, kids, a home, or a comfy job with a steady income.  And we all know that the Jewish leaders disliked him and were always picking fights with him and criticizing him.  This chapter shows that even the “good guys” were a drain on Jesus.

Chapter six starts with Jesus’ homecoming.  After travelling around and preaching in different places, he heads home for some time with friendly faces.  Sometimes you just want to go where people know, where people are all the same,  you wanna go where everybody knows your name.  And yet when Jesus goes home he finds one of the least receptive audiences of his entire ministry.  And its almost understandable.  Its one thing to be told that a stranger from way over yonder is the Messiah.  It’s another thing to be told that the guy who used to cause mischief with you as a kid and who learned Torah with you in Sabbath School is now telling everybody he is the Messiah.  It’s a tough pill to swallow.  But since there is no faith in Jesus, his ministry almost stalls out, so he sends out the 12 to go into the villages and see that the work of the Kingdom is still done.  But Jesus’ visit home wasn’t a great homecoming.  They weren’t putting up any signs that read, “Nazareth: Home of Jesus of Nazareth.”  Redundancy aside, they weren’t proud and they didn’t have any faith.  And it amazed Jesus (not in a good way).

Disappointing.

In the middle of this chapter John the Baptist is beheaded by Herod as a party-favor for a dirty dancer.  This passage is gut-wrenching.  John was in prison and was brought out to give speeches to entertain the court.  And his life is taken only to further amuse the court.  One of the greatest prophets in history is killed and not even for a good reason.  It certainly doesn’t reduce the great value of John’s life or his ministry, but it’s a painful story to read.

Disappointing.

Now the disciples come back from their mission trip and report of all the great things they have done.  They have had great success and can’t wait to tell Jesus.  And remember, that by success I mean that they preached a message of repentance while casting out demons and healing people.  Serious success.  Miraculous stuff.  But before they finish their mission report they are interrupted by great crowds and Jesus turns to the Apostles and says, “Feed them.”

Does Jesus think that Peter, James, and John secretly have a year’s supply of food hidden in their coats?  Or perhaps some outrageous amount of money.  But even with the money, there aren’t Walmarts or food trucks back then.  There’s a serious supply problem.  Clearly Jesus is instructing them to do something miraculous.  Keep in mind, they are in the middle of telling Jesus about the miracles they performed on their mission trip when Jesus interrupts them with these instructions.  Their response shows nothing but a lack of faith and an unwillingness to open their minds to what God is trying to do through them.

Disappointing.

After some time in prayer, Jesus is walking on the water and is about to pass by the Apostles (apparently he didn’t want to rejoin them just yet but planned to meet them on the other side…awesome).  He gets in the boat and calms them down because they are all riled up and scared.  The waves are stilled.  The winds are calmed.

Then Mark tells us “The didn’t understand about the loaves.”  Huh?  What does bread have to do with storms at sea?  The Apostles continue to see obstacles instead of opportunities.  They see fear where they should see power.

Disappointment.

And then come the crowds.  They were sick, broken, exhausted, hopeless.  Then Jesus comes and gives them healing, wholeness, life, and hope.  Jesus gives and gives and gives.  Can’t you just imagine him yelling “Take, take, take!  I can’t keep giving.  I am out.  I have nothing left.  Leave me alone for one day!”  But he doesn’t.

Mark shows us in this chapter that Jesus truly was a fount of living water and that all of those who came to him could drink forever.  He never stopped giving love, compassion, patience, life, health, wisdom…he gave, and gave, and gave.  Until people took it all.  And even then…he gave up his spirit.  Even in the face of a seemingly endless line of disappointments, even from the ones who should have been there for him the most.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Mark

 

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Mark 5 – The Contagious Messiah

In Jesus’ day there were some people you just didn’t touch.  They were “unclean.”  And if you touched somebody who was unclean then you became unclean.  Their vileness was understood to be contagious.  Much of this was set up the in priestly codes of the Old Testament and was still faithfully practiced in Jesus’ time.  Unclean people couldn’t touch other people or touch food that other people would eat.  Some had to live outside of the city (lepers and dangerous demon possessed madmen).  And certainly none could enter the Temple.  They were outsiders who were locked out of every social group, often with little hope of becoming a fully functioning member of society again.  Others, like a woman on her period, were only unclean for a short time and were then clean again.  That is, unless she bled for years.  You don’t touch pigs or dead people.  They are all unclean.

And there was one thing that all good Jewish people knew, if you touch an unclean person (or sometimes even touch something they touched) then you “caught” their uncleanliness.  It was extremely contagious.  And then you would suffer a short period of being unclean, often a day, before you could be made clean again.

And yet what do we find in Mark 5?  Jesus is in the presence of a demon-possessed madman.  And what’s worse, dangerously close to pigs (most unclean animal ever).  Jesus is touched by a woman who has been bleeding for years, an exile because of her illness, and she is healed.  Jesus goes into the bedroom and touches Jairus’ dead daughter and she wakes up.

In each of these stories, Jesus comes in contact with the unclean.  As a good Jewish teacher, he should have shoo’d them away while turning up his nose and chastising them for not warning him in advance of their unclean state.  He should have run to the nearest wash basin and cleaned his hands just because they were close to him.  After all, that’s how others would have acted.  But not Jesus.  The most striking of these stories has to be the woman.

For 12 years she had been bleeding.  Blood outside of the body was always unclean.  She would have lost everything.  She couldn’t prepare food for others.  She couldn’t hold hands with her family.  Nobody could have embraced her or even gently comforted her during her illness.  She couldn’t go to Temple to worship, even during the festivals when everybody went.  She gave everything she had to try to get better and had only gotten worse.  There was no hope…until she saw Jesus.  Suddenly hope emerges.  Maybe he could heal her and she could have her life back.  But could she risk asking?  What if he refused to touch an unclean woman like every other person had for a decade?  Perhaps she could just touch his outer garment.  He might not even notice.  Of course, if he noticed he might be enraged to find out he had just been made unclean.  But she had nothing left to lose.  She had to try.  She couldn’t let hope pass her by yet again.  And as she pushed through the crowd, making many unclean and frustrated, she reaches out, touches his cloak and feels her body become whole again!  She was healthy!  She could actually live again!

Then she hears his voice yell out, “Who touched me?”  Fear.  Anguish.  Shame.  Could she run?  No.  She had to tell the truth to the man who had given her hope.  He had given her life back.  So she clings to his feet and tells him the truth.

And waits for his response.

“Dear woman, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace.  You are freed from your suffering.”

Joy.  Gratitude.  Hope.  Life.  Health.  Peace.  Joy.

You see, where the world saw people who were contagiously unclean, Jesus reach out and touched them.  But what is really remarkable is not that Jesus didn’t “catch” their uncleanliness.  What is remarkable is that Jesus was so full of life and goodness and God that when he touched them they “caught” what he had.  They became clean.  He wasn’t just immune to their brokenness, but his contagious goodness and wholeness infected them and healed them.

We live in a world today where too many Christians won’t touch the unclean people because they fear they are contagious.  We might catch what they have.  So we build barriers between ourselves and them.  We live in sterilized worlds where we don’t even come in contact with the unclean.  We are safe.  The problem is that God has put Jesus’ goodness inside of every one of us through his Holy Spirit and he has told us to go touch all of the unclean people so that they can be infected with his contagious goodness that lives in each one of us.  And if we won’t go out and touch them and give them the life found in the contagious Messiah, then they will live for years like Legion, fighting against the chains in the cemetery.  They will be like the woman who gave everything trying to find hope for a decade.  They will be the man who is losing his daughter and doesn’t know where to turn.  They need a contagious Messiah.  And that hope, joy, goodness, life, and salvation lives in us.

Will you take the risk to touch the dirty people and infect them with the love of Christ?

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2013 in Mark

 

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