Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 13

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“CHRIST AND THE END TIMES—BELIEVERS WILL SUFFER”

One of the most sobering sections in all of Scripture is where the eschaton—the end times—is taught.  It’s sobering because of how the biblical texts describe the horrific events that will transpire.  In this chapter, perhaps the critical verse is (v.31):

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away”

Maybe nothing is steadier to our understanding than the heavens above us and the earth below.  We take these for granted.  Nevertheless, they are preaching something of eternal weight and glory that we ought to heed.  The heavens and the earth were here before we arrived on planet earth and they’ll be here long after our existence is forgotten.  But the one holding it all together is declaring that his words are more solid, more sure than these phenomenal gifts of the heavens and the earth.

Thus what Jesus is prophesying will certainly come to pass.  It’s surer than the earth below and the heavens above.  In response to an observation one of Jesus’ disciples made, he said:

“Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.” (vv.1-2)

Later on Jesus’ disciples asked him to explain what he meant in (vv.3-4) about the last days.  The first words recorded are; “See to it that no one misleads you….”  Jesus said that because many false Christs and prophets will arise and mislead many (vv.5-6, 22).  Several observations warrant their heeding Christ’s warnings:

First, “Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he’ and will mislead many.” (v.6) Deception always lurks in the shadows and no deception is as lethal as religious is manifold.  As in the Garden when Eve was deceived by the serpent, so too Christ’s hearers must guard against the deceiver.  Thus, deception is assured!

Second, wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, and famines will occur (vv.7-8) but these are only “birth pangs”.  Just what is meant by “birth pangs” I’m not sure, but contextually it seems that predetermined fearful events caused by human and divine agency must precede the end—the eschaton.  This also is assured.

Third, religious persecution will manifest, personal suffering will be endured at the hands of Jewish leadership, “you will be flogged in the synagogues…” followed by civic persecution, “you will stand before governors and kings, for My sake as a testimony to them.” (v.9)  This gospel message is costly and must be preached to all nations (v.10).  Arrests await but God’s presence will be there to shepherd the disciples in their interrogations:

“When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.” (v.11)

Thus, for Christ’s sake—His testimony will be heard by all who rule.  This too is assured.  This not only reminds me of Peter, John, and Paul in the Acts of the Apostles under Roman rule, but also of Daniel and his three friends in Babylonian captivity under king Nebuchadnezzar.  These men were severely tested but nevertheless remained faithful to the God of the covenant.

Fourth, the pain will not end with strangers but will “come home” when betrayal occurs via family members, thus showing their hatred of Christ and putting to death his messengers (vv.12-13).  To be hated by enemies is understandable, by countrymen it’s painful though bearable, but to be hated by family—brother, father, children—it’s heart breaking.  This is the cost of discipleship; it’s the cost of loving Jesus, it’s also a mark of a true believer.

Jesus continues, “You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (v.13).  Notice how the amplification of fear comes in degrees: it starts with deceivers, goes to natural disasters, then is followed by persecution form outsiders, and culminates in death from those closest to us.

Recall that Christ’s call to follow Him must trump our dearest relationships—this is true discipleship, this according to Him is what will show our worthiness.  Worthy not because of our smarts, nor our status in life but because of our choice of treasure—His loving kindness is better than life!  No one can compare, he’s Creator, He’s our Redeemer, and He is Judge!

Just as the architect of a house is more glorious then his creation by virtue of essence, so too is God when compared to the creature.  But the idolatrous move of treasuring the creature above the Creator is what dooms us all.  Therefore, whatever it is we do, may it not be treasuring the creature above the Creator.  Thus, death by family members because of the name of Christ is assured.

Fifth, there’s an end toward which history is moving and it can’t be stopped nor avoided.  There’s the Tribulation (vv.14-23) and the Post-tribulation period (vv.24-31) where signs are given to describe it:  “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand)…” (v.14)  Here, there’s an understanding, a knowledge his hearers can grasp and know the point of which is a tribulation unlike any that preceded it (E.g., Flood, Babel, Exodus?)  Consider Jesus:

“For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will” (v.19)

Scripture has recorded some horrible events but here Jesus is saying to us “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”  These future events have no comparison which reminds me of the book of Revelation—God’s last act—where He completes His redemptive plan for those who love Him.  Note how Jesus says these things in advance so that when they are occurring, his hearers will trust his word.

This time will see Christ’s return and the final redemption of the elect, but unlike the first tribulation period, where the hearer is to look for signs and thus act accordingly (vv.14-17), in this second tribulation the time of arrival is only known to the Father, nevertheless, the season does not seem to be hidden from the hearer (vv.28-37).

The doctrine of judgment in Scripture is the first one that came under attack (Gen.3) and continues to come under negative scrutiny.  Recall that in the OT where signs and wonders occur; two things are evident people experience: Rescue from God’s wrath or the Reception of His wrath (E.g., Flood, Babel, Sodom/Gomorrah, Exodus, Possessing the Land, Elijah and Baal Prophets, etc.) so too in the NT (Book of Revelation).  Why judgment? One may ask and Christ would respond,

“because you are bad at the core, your sin has separated you justly from your Creator, but I have come to fix that problem—that’s why I died and rose from the grave.  I’m your only hope, no others can help.”

It’s in light of this that the hearer is to be on the alert!  They are to be anticipating these moments when what precedes is evident to them.  Wow!  Many things did take place already but there are things yet to come, obviously since we are here.  But in view of this text, what manner of life ought to professing Christians live?

Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 12

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“CHRIST’S AUTHORITY REJECTED BECAUSE IT REVEALED HIS DIVINITY”

In this chapter Jesus harshly addresses the scribes and Pharisees.  He uses a parable to expose their wickedness they being the vine growers in God’s vineyard (vv.1-12) who desire to destroy him.  There’s also the account of the Pharisees and Herodian’s testing Jesus with the legality of the Poll tax (vv.13-17); then the consideration of marriage and the resurrection among the Sadducees (vv.18-27); followed by clarifying which is the foremost commandment (vv.28-34); leading into clarifying whose Son the Christ is (vv.35-40); and concluding with the widow’s mite (vv.41-44)

Jesus’ mastery at communicating truth—kingdom truth—was often biting, aggressive and offensive to God’s enemies. For the Pharisees and scribes to receive an indictment by Jesus regarding the motives of their heart came on the heels of their questioning his authority (vv.27-33).  The fact remains they understood who he declared himself to be, and that was the reason why so much tension obtained between the Scribes, Pharisees and Jesus.

Nevertheless, Jesus did not let them off “the hook” when they challenged him.  Jesus pushed back.  Note that the parable points to God as the owner of the vineyard—He’s Creator and thus owns everything—and the Chief priests, scribes and elders are the stewards—they rent the vineyard.  They are the lesser and they still refuse to submit to Christ.

The following section on the poll tax to Caesar is no different really.  Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God (v.17).  What belongs to God?  Everything!  It’s as if Jesus is commanding the community to get things right—meaning they’re off.  The elders and Pharisees are not in touch with who owns it all, but Jesus is.

The account of the Sadducees and their inquiry as to who is rightfully married to the widow after the resurrection is telling: (I.e., they did not believe in the resurrection because of their lack of knowledge).  They lacked scriptural knowledge and consequently of God’s power (vv.24, 27) Jesus said:

“Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God?….you are greatly mistaken” (vv.24, 27)

Notice the progression: not understanding God’s word leads to not understanding God’s power, which means that in order to understand God’s power we must first understand His self-disclosure in particular revelation.  If God is the creator, then he can easily raise the dead; if God can raise the dead, then he can transform our present state of being into a different one from this fallen condition.

As far as marriage goes, there won’t be any between present spouses (Contra Mormon doctrine), but between the Church and Christ yes, there will be!  This seems plain from the passage.

So, what do I make of all this?  I should heed Christ’s authority by recognizing He’s the Son of God who owns everything, who will raise me up on the last day and I must beware of blinding pride which, as with the Pharisees and Scribes, causes us to resist the Holy Spirit.  May this not depict me Jesus, but may your mercy, truth and grace ever keep me.

(SDG)

Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 11

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 “CHRIST’S AUTHORITY REJECTED BY REBELS BUT RECEIVED BY THE HUMBLE”

Christ’s authority while only questioned in the last section of this chapter seems to be what the writer wants to engage.  First, Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a colt (vv.1-11) and the people are shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD, Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David, Hosanna in the highest” (vv.9-10) is a Messianic allusion.

Second, the cursing of the fig tree as it pertains to the power of believing prayer is stunning (vv.12-14; 20-26) and also seems to point to Christ’s authority over nature.  Third, the zeal of Christ for God’s house caused him to get angry at the merchandising of the holy, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the Nations, but you have made it a robbers den”. (vv.15-18)  Jesus is ‘cleaning house’ without permission—from the established religious hierarchy, but this also is a demonstration of authority.  Yet, the authorities upon hearing this wanted to kill Jesus (v.18).

Fourth, the inquiry by the scribes and elders is telling:

“By what authority are You doing these things [meaning his teaching and actions], or who gave You this authority to do these things?” (v.28)     

I think Jesus knew they knew the answer to the question and thus answers with a question concerning the origin of John’s baptism—from heaven or man?  Is this not the principle question to resolve when hearing religious truth claims?  Do they originate in God the Creator or in mankind the creature?

Implied is that the former is greater than the latter and to not submit is madness.  Nevertheless, many refuse to submit as the religious rulers demonstrate.  The age old question Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do men say that I am” remains to be the single most important question to resolve.  Why is this?  The reason is because the extraordinary claims of Jesus’ identity and subsequent works point to us that Emanuel has come—God with us.  That is, the word became flesh, the Son of David, the Light of the world, the Savior of souls, the Suffering Servant, the Triumphant King has come.

Jesus is offensive to rebels but he’s a delight to the contrite of heart.  His authority is what all will eventually come under either willingly—unto joy everlasting, or reluctantly—into eternal doom.

Teach me Lord to submit to your authority in my life, keep my heart from rebelling against you since you are Messiah, and where the “fig tree” is barren of kingdom fruit, use me to awaken said dead souls.

(SDG)

Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 10

th (2)“CHRIST ON DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE” (MK.10)

Several accounts unfold in this section of the gospel.  Jesus addresses the issue of divorce and remarriage (vv.1-12), children are exalted to an unknown status (vv.13-16), the rich young ruler is shocked into reality (vv.17-31), Jesus predicts the crucifixion (vv.32-34), two disciples ask for what can’t be given (vv.35-45), and blind Bartimaeus receives his sight (vv.46-52).

There’s so much in this chapter that I’m going to essentially deal with divorce and remarriage.  This topic has been a point of contention among Christians in the last forty to fifty years in the States and unfortunately the percentage of divorced couples in the country has been matched by divorce in the church.  Why is this?  Because in the church of Jesus Christ, historically there’s been a mixed bag of salt, light and mire.

At times we represent Christ well and then there are seasons of rebellion where we don’t.  We’re no different from Israel, in that way and the key here is whether or not God’s word has a place in our hearts and minds to transform us into Christ’s image.  When the word does not, then the word of the culture commands us and we end up hiding our lamp under the basket—this ought not to be.

This account points to something that must not elude us: “He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan; crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them.”(v.1) May the primacy of the word in the Master’s life and ministry never elude us, but may we emulate it.  It’s this word and subsequent teaching that was authoritative, that had power to heal, to convert and power to harden recalcitrant hearts.

Jesus gives one example concerning the lawfulness of a man divorcing his wife (v.2) going back to Moses and asks, “…what did he command?”  Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.  Here there’s a command/permitted distinction.  Moses did not command it, but allowed it.  Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment” (v.5)

This commandment was probably given so that stipulations and provisions would be in lawful order so the woman might not come into financial ruin—I’m guessing much like today.  But Jesus continues:

6But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (vv.6-9)

Since the creation, the design for male and female relations is for them—male and female—to become one flesh.  In Genesis God said it’s not good for man to be alone…and then came Eve.  Hence, “what God deems good, don’t destroy because of your hardness of heart”, is what Jesus seems to be saying.  Because the disciples did not understand this teaching, Jesus clarified for them that divorce and remarriage equals adultery:

10 In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. 11 And He *said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; 12 and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”   (vv.10-12)

Note here that divorce in Gods view is sin.  It’s a departure from His design for flourishing relationships and it’s also embracing rebellion (I.e., a hard heart).  This sin is not just against one’s spouse, but it’s also against God himself.  Now the Jews just asked if divorce was lawful, but Jesus points to remarriage…why?  I think it’s because Jesus knew, that too often the lot given by God to us we tend to despise—especially in marriage.  So let’s get rid of this wife and get another one, was the sentiment.

What do we do in this culture which treats marriage like a disposable tampon resulting in divorce and remarriage?  How do we follow Christ’s command to walk in holiness?  We do this by grounding our lives in the Scriptures which anchor our tumultuous relationships in the storms of life.  We must submit to God’s precepts in Scripture trusting that God is always out for our best interests, never our harm or demise and here’s where trusting Him and knowing Him meet.

We live in a culture that’s all about the individuals’ convenience and happiness regardless of the cost—but happiness ironically eludes us.  The reason for the aforesaid is because our idols promise bliss and inevitably deliver misery.  These idols banish us from properly and joyously relating to our Creator and to one another.  The result is often divorce and remarriage which is adultery.

Lord, move in this land polluted by adultery and bring a revival of your Spirit where among the redeemed marriage actually mirrors the mystery of Christ and his Bride the Church, rather than the mistress of this present evil age.

(SDG)

Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 9

th (2)CHAPTER NINE: “CHRIST’S IDENTITY FURTHER REVEALED: THE GOSPEL AT A RAPID CLIP” (MK.9)

Mark continues his account of Jesus already giving special attention to his identity in chapters 1-7 the core of which is the Father’s command, “This is My beloved Son, listen to him”.  It’s this experience on the mountain that Peter and the disciples shared with Jesus that he later says:

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Pet.1:16-21)

These are not cleverly devised tales, they’re real, but there’s something more that you believer need to rely on:  the written word of God which is even more real than our own radical experience, it’s weightier than any personal experience you may have.  So trust it as you do a torch in the dark to guide your way.

Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 8

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CHAPTER EIGHT: “THE FEEDING OF 4,000 PEOPLE: THE GOSPEL AT A RAPID CLIP” (MK.8)

 In this chapter of Mark there’s a repeat miracle of feeding the four thousand instead of the five thousand (Mk.6:33-42).  Jesus feeds them spiritual food but also understands their need for physical sustenance (vv.1-9).  Amazingly, the disciples as in the first account repeat their inquiry and their unbelief.

Unbelief, “Where will anyone be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” (v.4). “Hey knuckleheads, remember what Jesus did when he fed the five thousand?” is what you might think or say.  But really what’s going on here?  I think the problem the Pharisees had with Jesus is the same one the disciples are experiencing—they did not understand who he really was.                 UNDERSTANDING JESUS’ IDENTITY IS ONE KEY TO BELIEF IN HIM!

The disciples did not understand his identity as of yet because their unbelief persisted.

Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 7

th (2)CHAPTER SEVEN: “THE MISUSE OF HUMAN TRADITION: THE GOSPEL AT A RAPID CLIP” (MK.7)

This section in Mark records the proper and improper use of human tradition and weighs it’s authority (vv.1-13); the truth of what defiles a person (vv.14-23); and two more acts of healing in Jesus’ ministry.

There’s always a hierarchy in the affairs of men when it comes to worshipping God.  We tend to emulate the Pharisees and scribes when we ignore Moses and Jesus.  Let me explain.  The Pharisees and scribes took offense at Jesus’ disciples when they ate “bread with impure hands—unwashed”.  This was one of many traditions they strictly observed as a means of worship (3-5) but Jesus’ response to their inquisition was an indictment of hypocrisy:

“Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

NOTE HERE: The inscripturated word of God is the base of authority for how Jesus will argue, “It is written”.

Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 4

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CHAPTER FOUR: “THE GOSPEL AND THE WORD AT A RAPID CLIP” (MK.4)

It amazes me afresh how central to Jesus’ ministry was his teaching; He’s seen entering the synagogue and began to teach…crowds were amazed at his teaching because it was authoritative (Mark 1:21-22; 39); when Jesus speaks it’s the word (Mark 2:2); when he calls the twelve it’s for the purpose of teaching with authority and casting out demons (Mark 3:13-19); moreover to do the will of God presupposes the word and determines whether or not one belongs to Christ’s family (Mark 4:35); concerning location Jesus taught the word both indoors and out and often in parables (Mark 4:1-2).

Perhaps the reason Mark is emphasizing the centrality of the word of Christ in his ministry is because without it, no acts of power will come because without it faith in God cannot be birthed.  God is always the object of faith or trust in the ministry of Jesus and thus his eternal word must be sown in order for life to emerge.

In fact we see that the sown word goes into the soil (metaphor for the human soul) which comes under attack and only the “good” soil produces the life of the kingdom, the other three don’t (4:3-9).   The sower sows the word in (v.14) but why?  The word is sown because only it has the power to produce faith or trust in God, nothing else.  So in order to make disciples, central to the task is the word of God.  And I might add: God’s word meaning the hearing and understanding of the author’s intended message as central, not some aberration to the context of the text.

More can be said but here Jesus reveals three enemies of the word.