Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 16

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“DON’T BE AMAZED THAT JESUS ROSE FROM THE GRAVE!”   As in every Gospel account, the grave could not keep Jesus bound, but he’s risen from the dead as the angel testified:

And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’”They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

The command “Do not be amazed” from the angel is odd in light of the death of Christ.  No one has ever risen from the dead.  But perhaps the reason for the imperative is because the LORD of life can be trusted to do what he promises (I.e., Jesus told them these events would occur).

The unbelief of the disciples recorded in this account and in the rest of the Gospels shows a bent all humans possess when it comes to trusting God’s word—we don’t!  Their unbelief actually shows us all that we’re more prone to trust the creature over against the Creator.

This unbelief is first seen in the Garden of Eden, exemplified in the history of Israel up to the 21st century.  “Don’t be amazed” was the command to the woman—that Jesus was alive—because Christ’s word can be trusted!  Even death is ruled by the author of life.

Thus, as we go about our day, the challenge to trust God remains.  When we are anxious about life we ought not fret but trust he who is faithful to keep his promises.  And yet unbelief is ubiquitous ready to beat us down.  We will only vanquish it as Jesus did, “It is written…”  We must remember God’s promises are true and they will be fulfilled because he can’t lie.  As one writer has said, “Let God be true, and every man a liar”.

(SDG)

Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 15

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“THE PASSION OF CHRIST WAS PUBLICLY DISPLAYED: CRUCIFIED INDEED!”

Nearing the end of Mark’s gospel, there’s the exchange of Barabbas a murderer for Jesus the preacher to be crucified as demanded by the Jewish people before Pilate (vv.1-15); Jesus is then mocked and beaten by the Roman soldiers (vv.16-21); he is crucified (vv.22-41) and finally Jesus is buried (vv.42-47).

This section is deeply moving to me, and yet I sense a hard heart within as I wrestle to engage the text intellectually and with passion, with my mind and heart. There’s much to reflect on but the following observations are what caught my eye.

What first intrigues me is Pilate’s amazement at Jesus’ silence before his accusers (vv.2-5).  The tense situation had even Pilate rattled, not wanting any more unrest in the region.  And now this ruler has to deal with THE KING OF THE JEWS who has been harshly abused.  Lord, you kept silent because you entrusted yourself to the Father who judges all men justly, and though you kept silent it was heard loud and clear in the soul of this ruler.

Second, I’m amazed that your accusers preferred to release Barabbas—a murderer—and chose to brutally murder you—the giver of life.  Their hatred was deep, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”(vv.6-15), but the irony is that in order for murderers to be truly set free, you had to die in their place.  As the hymn reflects, “Why should I gain from His reward, I cannot give an answer, But this I know with all my heart, His wounds have paid my ransom”.  What a savior!

Third, the way you were mocked by the soldiers through; spitting, punching, robing you with royal attire, and giving you a crown of thorns before being sent off to be crucified is difficult to consider.  As their mocking continued, “Hail King of the Jews”, it’s as if the Roman soldiers were saying, “Yeah, you’re a king all right, of a defeated people who know they’re conquered evidenced by us killing you today!” (vv.16-21). The irony here is that you actually were the king of glory, and only through your death would death finally put away.  You are the King of glory who pursues us with your love.

Fourth, the inscription for why you Jesus were put to death, “The King of the Jews” is true.  This inscription is loudly proclaiming, “Do you see, do you hear, do you understand?!”  This is no ordinary monarch you are killing, but the One who rules not just the Jews and the Romans, but all the nations the reality of which will be completed in the eschaton.  What is he accomplishing through his death?  Jesus is gathering many sons and daughters in order to have table fellowship with them.  Who knew?!

Moreover, the manner in which he was crucified fulfilled the scriptures—he was numbered with the transgressors (Ps.22:7) and his last cry (Ps.22:1) demonstrated God’s promise revealed to be faithful.  How is his faithfulness shown?  It’s demonstrated by the Father forsaking His own Son for our good, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?!” (v.34). The answer is so that many sons and daughters may be gathered by grace alone into the kingdom of Gods mercy and grace.  God will never leave nor forsake his redeemed children.

Fifth, this last cry convinced the centurion standing by that Jesus was the Son of God indeed (v.39).  What manner of emotion did he hear, what sound from the gut did he hear?  It was the sound of Jesus, the Lord of Life, breathing his last.  This culminated the day’s events where both his enemies and friends witnessed Jesus die (vv.34-39).

Sixth, Jesus was definitely dead and they lay him in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (vv.42-47).  As the stone was rolled over the opening, one can imagine that life stood still for those who hoped in Jesus.  Their dreams and aspirations were now dashed to the ground.

Jesus was born to die as God promised long ago in the prophets.  He fulfilled everything the Father intended Jesus to do and while the plot line is both painful and glorious, it is nevertheless true.  Many years later I sit writing at my table, reflecting on these incidents which came about at the fullness of time penned in Mark’s gospel.  It’s as if time stands still and I’m able to peer into the wonders of God’s amazing grace.

(SDG)

Reflection’s From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 14 “PETER HAD TO DENY JESUS” Part 3

th (2)“THE PASSION OF CHRIST IS WEIGHTY: PETER HAD TO DENY JESUS” Part 3

            As previously mentioned, God assures his word of promise will be fulfilled—come to pass.  Many of us doubt God’s word can be trusted.  If that is you, consider how often Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  This means for those that are yet to be fulfilled, we can trust because they’ll eventually come to fruition.

            Perhaps you doubt the second coming of Christ.  In the apostle Peter’s day, this doubt circulated among many, but he reassured his hearers that God’s patience had a purpose for delaying and thus they should not lose heart.

            While Jesus is before his accusers, none of their testimonies corroborated but contradicted each other (vv.53-59).  Jesus is on trial not for his good deeds—which would be absurd—but because of “who” he claimed to be (which could seem even more absurd); the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One!  Interestingly Jesus affirms his identity before his enemies and points to another future fulfillment of this age:

“…and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (vv.61-62)

Here again is the double edged sword of prophecy being fulfilled: rejoicing for God’s friends, but doom for his enemies.  Always, and I mean always, God’s enemies oppose his word, but those who love God and trust him, bank on what he has promised.

            God promised Messiah would come, but he did not come in the way the Jews anticipated.  Why?  The reason is because their Jewish theological system prevented them from grasping who Christ was.  This is instructive for us who are settled within a particular theological camp.  Sometimes our theology is wrong and needs to be discarded otherwise we won’t be able to see what God has spoken, and we might even become God’s enemies.  Christ’s accusers were blind to texts that support the promised Messiah.  Thus many of them missed the hour of their visitation.

It’s bad enough his accusers are lying about him, but now the text shows Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends denying him (vv.66-72).  This is both embarrassing and heart-breaking.  It’s embarrassing because this is one of Jesus’ disciples.  If he denies Jesus, why shouldn’t any of us?  It’s heartbreaking because there’s a betrayal of friendship here, it’s deep.

            To tell Jesus: “You’re wrong”, by saying that, “I (Peter) will never deny you but even go to death with you”, is a foolish stance that proved to be Peter’s downfall.  For God’s word of promise can be trusted—even if it means that you will deny him.  Another sobering thought is when the final denial leaves Peter’s lips, according to Luke’s account (22:61-62)     Jesus:

“…turned and looked at Peter.  And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had told him, ‘Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times’”.  “And he went out and wept bitterly.” 

Peter’s denial has been replicated time and again over the past two millennia in the experiences of God’s frail and yet real children.  Pride is ever prowling to pounce on us like a lion overpowers its prey when we don’t trust Gods faithful word, when we don’t watch and pray that we enter not into temptation.

            The silver lining here however is that unlike Judas whose grief drove him to suicide, Peter’s heartache produced repentance to life.  He turned back to Christ in his lowest moment, not away from him.  We’d do well to follow his example friends.

(SDG)

Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 14 Judas Had To Betray Jesus

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“THE PASSION OF CHRIST IS WEIGHTY: JUDAS HAD TO BETRAY JESUS” Part 2

            Everything Jesus predicted is increasingly being fulfilled.  Recall at the Passover Meal he told the disciples about their betrayal, his death, and resurrection.  We’ve seen in the garden of Gethsemane where the disciples failed their first test: they did not watch and pray with Jesus (vv.32-34).  The second failure is Judas’ betrayal of Jesus with a kiss (vv.43-46).  How could one do that?  Judas elsewhere is called the son of perdition for a reason.  Jesus did say that “the Son of man must be betrayed but woe to the one allotted this dark task.”  Somehow in God’s sovereignty and Judas’ will of choosing, he became hardened toward the Lord of life.  He was one of the twelve, no mere stranger or acquaintance, but part of the ministry team.  We know elsewhere that Judas committed suicide (Mt. 27:1-10) and his body was placed in a nameless grave in the “Potters Field”.

It’s as if Judas lost himself, never to be remembered again except for this infamous occasion recorded in the gospels.  Never to be remembered is as if one never existed.  That’s a dark, clammy, chilling thought.  To be more dehumanized, I haven’t the words.

Why did this happen?  Jesus said that his betrayal was in order to fulfill Scripture.  That is, God said it would happen, and was faithful to watch over his word to perform it.  This necessarily had to happen plain and simple.  Sometimes for Scripture to be fulfilled gloriously hope-filled events occur (E.g., Christ’s birth), but as in Judas’ case, it’s a painfully somber reality.  The fulfillment of Scripture always points to God’s truth and faithfulness to bring about what was previously promised.

We can trust his word but often don’t because we have bad hearts, darkened minds, bent toward self rather than towards God.  LORD, continuously work on my soul so that you are its song and delight, its reason for reading and writing, the purpose for which I attack each day.

(SDG)

Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 14 “The Weighty Passion of Christ”

th (2)“THE PASSION OF CHRIST IS WEIGHTY: HE LOVES HIS BETRAYERS” Part 1

            Jesus’ teaching of the end times now progresses into Jesus’ passion.  His enemies were looking for an opportune time to kill him (vv.1-2); a woman anoints Jesus for his burial (vv.3-9); and Judas plots Jesus’ betrayal (vv.10-11).  In the last Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus predicts his betrayal (vv.17-21):

“For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” (v.21)

That statement must have ruined the disciple’s appetite!  Imagine being one of the twelve and hearing these words from the Masters lips.  Perhaps someone’s stomach turned (Judas?) or even fear gripped them that a cold clammy sensation rushed through their bodies?  Yes, perhaps.  Nevertheless, Jesus knowing this continues to break bread with them (vv.22-26):

22 While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.” 23 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.24 And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (vv.22-25)

Notice that Jesus accentuates this final hour as the end of the old covenant and the inauguration of the new, not through the blood of bulls and goats but with his own blood, which was to be shed not for all but for many. 

This text seems to be pointing to some kind of “limited’ atonement which goes along with (Mk.10:45) and accentuates the personal nature of Jesus’ death; “he laid down his life for his friends”—the disciples—those who will abandon all to follow him shortly (vv.26-31), the thought of which at best must have been unnerving and at worst perhaps horrific.

Jesus tells his trained men that: “you will all fail me tonight; you will all show yourselves to be cowards, just fare weathered friends”.  I can’t imagine how difficult that was for the disciples to hear.  How often do I deny Jesus by my life that tends to stray from the truth?  Don’t I emulate the disciples here when I willfully rebel against my Master?  Sounds like a horribly true contradiction.

What an incredible Savior who knows we will deny him and yet chooses to die on our behalf.  What an amazing illustration of love’s extent: even in betrayal Jesus would still die to ransom those he came to rescue.  Amazing!  Now Mark’s account transitions from the table to the Garden of Gethsemane where unlike in Eden, the second Adam demonstrates a resoluteness to do the will of the Father (vv.32-52).

Here, Jesus’ love for the disciples is evidenced by his invitation for them to enter into his pain by toiling in prayer with him:

32 They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” 33 And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. 34 And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.”35 And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. 36 And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” 37 And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 Again He went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. 41 And He came the third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”

Jesus’ prediction of betrayal and death were about to be fulfilled.  The gravity of the moment increasingly intensifies step by step.  First, the adjectives of his temptation: “very distressed and troubled”, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death”.  Physical pain is, and can be unbearable, but the pain of soul who can measure, its magnitude is difficult to fathom, and often seems impossible to cure, much less endure.

Second, its stunning Jesus would ask these weak men to enter into his pain, to struggle with him in prayer, but he does.  Here we see the Master telling them to, “keep watch”.  What vulnerability, what a friend!  Solomon writes that it’s better to be in the house of mourning then in the house of feasting.  Why?  Perhaps it’s because grief and trouble alarm us out of the stupor that so easily engulfs us.  Perhaps it’s because on this side sorrow reminds us that things are not the way they ought to be.  Perhaps it’s a reminder of our own mortality and that we too must face death and God who awaits us.

Jesus here invites the three disciples to peer into his darkest hour of mourning, but they could not grasp its gravity—they fell asleep.  So, at table the disciples are informed that they will betray him, in the Garden they are invited to suffer with him, but Jesus had another source for comfort in anguish.

Third, Jesus cries out to God as “Abba, Father”.  He acknowledges his Father in the midst of this horrible experience.  The intimacy revealed in this cry is hard for me to swallow.  Here, Jesus’ relationship to the Father is unveiled for us to see that it’s unlike any other relationship recorded in human history.  The Son in whom the Father is well pleased is crying out to Him.  I’m stunned!  Here’s an ineffable moment for me.

The request of the Son to the Father, “Remove this cup—of God’s wrath—from me”  But Jesus remains faithful even to deaths door, “…yet not what I will, but what You will.”  Note that what results in this most intimate painful encounter is utter submission to Gods plan and desire.  A Godward life of prayer always produces God honoring submission to the /father, not rebellion.

Fourth, the disciples failed to pray three times for Jesus but he did not hold that against them.  Instead of retaliating he gave his life for them.  What manner of love is this?!

(SDG)