This week’s Sermon…Why Jesus died.

Leading up to Easter, we are wrapping up our sermon series we have been preaching through which is entitled, “Watch Your Life and Doctrine”. To conclude this series, in these three weeks we are focusing on the Gospel from both a theological and practical viewpoint. Last week, we talked about Jesus’ life and the reasons he came and will come again. This week, we will see several reasons the Bible describes why Jesus died. This is an essential aspect of the Gospel and much of Christian ethical and moral teaching is related to this. So, in a sermon series focusing on how Christian doctrine and Christian behavior are worked out practically, the cross is the center-point of all that we have been talking about. Make plans to prepare your hearts and invite someone to come with you on Sunday.

Also, don’t forget, after the service this week, we will share a meal together. See you Sunday!

This week’s Sermon…Why Jesus came.

When we speak of the Gospel, in one major sense, we are talking about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. There may be more to the Gospel than this, but there cannot be any less. All of Christian doctrine and practice hinge upon this. This week, we are going to see a picture of why Jesus says he came. Opinions abound on why Jesus came, but unless those opinions are also stated in Jesus’ words in the pages of Scripture, they have no authority or merit. Make plans to be at church this week and invite someone to come with you so we can see the reason Jesus came.

Review and Reflect on Mark 15:40-16:8 – Jesus died and rose again.

Mark 15:40-16:2 is the story of Jesus’ death on the cross. Compared to the other Gospels, Mark presents a brief account. In this passage, he mentions several people by name. One of the first questions I have when I read this is, Where did these people come from? They are not mentioned anywhere before in the book, and now here they are. Most of the named characters in the story leading up to this, besides Jesus, are the disciples. Jesus did have other followers though. And when Jesus was arrested, the disciples all left him. Jesus has been killed and his disciples are nowhere to be found. So, some of his other followers, have come to take care of his burial. Another reason Mark mentions these names is because his original audience would have known some of these people. In effect he is saying, you can go and ask these people and they will confirm what I have told you. At the time Mark wrote this Gospel account, most, if not all, of the disciples were still living, and he says these other people will tell you the same thing as well. Jesus’ death is confirmed by several women who knew him, by Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, by a Roman centurion who was an expert in capital punishment, and by Pilate the governing authority. Jesus was dead, lots of people saw him die and when the first churches were reading this letter, they could go and ask these people and hear that their stories agreed with Mark’s story.

Joseph of Arimathea is referred to as a disciple in Matthew’s Gospel. He’s described as wealthy, and he must have been in order to have a prepared tomb available in which he could lay Jesus. Verse 43 says he “took courage” to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. The fact that he was able to obtain an audience with Pilate also suggests that he was quite influential. It took courage for him to ask, because Roman law forbade a crucified criminal to be taken down and buried. Local rulers were allowed to make exceptions though, and on this particular day, Pilate obliged and made the exception probably because of Joseph’s influence in the community. 

In Chapters 8, 9, and 10 Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to die, and then rise on the third day. On Friday, Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus in a tomb wrapped in a cloth. They were forbidden to prepare the body for burial on the Sabbath, so on Sunday, three days later, two of the Mary’s and a lady named Salome go to the tomb with burial spices to prepare Jesus’ body. Although Jesus had told his followers on several occasions that he would rise, they never understood what he was talking about. And really, how could they? Resurrection doesn’t exactly happen every day. So, they did what they normally did when someone died; lay him in a tomb and treat the body with embalming spices. They had no idea what was about to happen in Mark 16:3-8.

The three women approach the Tomb and find the stone rolled away. They enter the tomb and there is a man sitting there, and they were “alarmed”. So he says, “don’t be alarmed”. Jesus was crucified and has risen. Then the angel tells them to go tell the disciples and Peter to meet Jesus in Galilee. What is their response? Trembling, astonishment, and fear. Verse 7 refers to the disciples and Peter. There is special attention given to Peter throughout the Gospel of Mark, but the last time we saw Peter, he denied Jesus 3 times complete with curses and oaths. So the angel says, make sure you tell Peter too. Verse 8 describes their reaction in spite of being told not to be alarmed. They run out of the tomb terrified. They don’t say anything to anyone.

Many textual scholars say this is where the text of Mark’s Gospel ends. We have early manuscripts that point to this and some of the early church fathers talk about a longer reading of Mark’s Gospel, but they say the best manuscripts end at verse 8. This ending does seem a bit abrupt and unpolished. In Mark 1:1 he writes that this is the “beginning” of the Gospel. He ends in 16:8 with the resurrection confirming that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and true King and leaves it to the church to determine what this now means. Verses 9-20 give us a good glimpse at how the church at an early stage came to understand the implications of Jesus’ resurrection. The other Gospels apply the resurrection in the context of the early church differently than Mark does. So, since the best manuscripts end with verse 8, the nature of the text seems to be complete here, and the other Gospel writers give instruction where Mark does not. I think it’s ok to say the book ends here. Matthew leaves us with the Great Commission – Go and make disciples in all nations baptizing and teaching them. Mark leaves it hanging out there for us. “Now what?” is the question. Now that Jesus has fulfilled the promised time and the Kingdom of God has begun to come, the same response to Jesus remains: repent and believe and follow me.

Throughout history there have been many that have tried to undermine the historical fact of the resurrection. But the eyewitness accounts and the existence of the church are primary arguments for the resurrection. Why would Mark point to several women as eyewitnesses if he were trying to provide evidence for something that didn’t actually happen? Largely women were not regarded as credible witnesses, so if Mark was making up the story, he most certainly would have made it up with male witnesses. But, he casts the 12 closest follower of Jesus in a very negative light. The witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were initially women, and Mark records it accurately. If it didn’t happen, how does one explain the radical following of disciples? All but one of them stood before their murderers and proclaimed Jesus as the risen Messiah when denying it would have saved their lives. How does one explain the rapid expansion of the church?  Within a generation of Jesus’ resurrection, there were Christians all over the known world. The Jesus-religion didn’t spread through killing either, but under oppression and persecution. If the resurrection isn’t well enough documented, how do you believe anything happened in history? Documents, movements, and eyewitnesses are enough for anyone to believe something happened in history, so why would it not be enough to give evidence of the resurrection?

Now, did you see Jesus rise? No, but you can read about lots of people who did. You can see the church thrive from the moment of the resurrection until even today. There is enough evidence for those who will believe. Also, there is new language for what happens to Jesus. The Resurrection was spoken of much differently before this time. Many or even most didn’t believe in it. Those who did believed in a general resurrection at the end of time. Jesus redefines resurrection making it personal and individual as well. The early Christians invent new language to describe what happened to Jesus. They see Jesus alive again but in a transformed way. There are substantial reasons to believe the resurrection of Jesus actually and truly happened the way the Gospels tell us it did. If you haven’t come to terms with believing the resurrection, don’t blame on a way of thinking that says it couldn’t have happened.

The Apostle Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 that for Christianity to have any truth in it, the Resurrection must be true. If it did happen, then Jesus isn’t just a good moral teacher, he isn’t just an historical figure or a religious prophet. He is the fulfillment of the story of Israel and in the resurrection he shows that he has begun to tell a new story. This new story begins with God fulfilling his promises to Israel, but it will end with him finally establishing his Kingdom and renewing and transforming all of creation. This renewal and transformation begins with those who have come to his Kingdom, those who have believed and repented and are following Jesus. This transformation causes us to live differently. Our conduct should point to Jesus. Our manner of living should be changing so that it’s being transformed into a way of living that resembles how we will live in eternity forever. Jesus lays before us the command to love God and people. He says we are to deny ourselves and take up the cross, we are to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel.  Love and humility and sacrifice are not just a moral code for us to live by, they are qualities of living that endure from this life into the next life. We can begin to learn how to live this way now by following Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus changes the way we live today and in the final years of our lives we will still be being changed, and when we die he’ll raise us up to complete the work in us. This type of life causes us to treat people around us differently, not because we are supposed to, but because we are being changed to look like Jesus. This type of life causes us to work to establish peace, justice, and prosperity in our lives and the lives of those around us because this is what the Kingdom of the Risen Jesus is like.

Sources and Acknowledgments

Review and Reflect on Mark 15:16-39 – The King has come and although he was dead now he is alive.

When the soldiers who are responsible to crucify Jesus take him into custody, they reject and abuse him. The Roman soldiers were more than happy to be able to abuse a Jewish man on this day. There was a strained relationship between Jews and Romans, and the soldiers expressed their feelings of racism and disdain for Jews by torturing this supposed criminal. Since he was accused of being the King of the Jews, in Mark 15:16-20, they mock him like a defeated king. They put a purple robe on him and place a crown of thorns on his head. They bow before him. Can you imagine dancing around like an idiot mocking someone who had been sentenced to death, only to find out that they are actually the King and you are going to answer for your actions? Jesus is mocked as King, but that doesn’t make him less of a King and soon we will see him claim his throne. After beating him, they lead him out of the Praetorium, which is kind of like the Barracks, to take him to crucify him in 15:21-39,

In verse 34, Jesus quotes a line from Psalm 22. Mark records it here in Aramaic and then translates it. Some who were standing there must have misunderstood what Jesus was saying, so they think he is crying for help from Elijah. They decide to wait around to see if Elijah would come to help him. But, Jesus’ words were a biblical reaction to bearing the sin of God’s people. The Father turns away from the Son in a moment where the Son must bear the weight of God’s wrath upon sin. God himself takes on human flesh and enters into history in the person of Jesus. God himself suffers, he’s betrayed, he’s abused, and he’s crucified. He experiences what it’s like to feel that God has abandoned you. He does this to show his great compassion for us and to reconcile us to himself. We may experience suffering and struggle in our lives, but one thing our suffering does not mean is that God has forsaken us. Jesus was forsaken so that we would not be. So in your moments of darkness and struggle, you can ask all kinds of questions about what your suffering means, but Jesus makes sure we know that it doesn’t mean God has abandoned us. Jesus’ resurrection proves that even when death comes to us, that does not even mean he has abandoned us. The Father raised the Son, and if we believe in the Son, he will not abandon us to death, but we will be raised also.

Then, at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil in the temple is torn. It’s torn from top to bottom showing that it’s God who has torn it. The veil is torn, and this means no more sacrifice, no more temple, no more holy place. Jesus is the sacrifice, the temple, and the holy place. He fulfills what the Temple was supposed to accomplish but couldn’t. We can now approach God through Jesus, but not anything else. He was forsaken and given over to death so that we would be received. He was the recipient of God’s wrath upon sin so that our sin could be forgiven and we could have eternal life instead of death.

The first part of what Jesus’ death means is the Time has been fulfilled. God has fulfilled his promises to Israel. The Law is satisfied. The Temple is replaced. God’s promises to rescue his people have come true. The Second part of what Jesus’ death means is that God’s Kingdom has begun to come to earth. Compared to the other Gospels, Mark’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion isn’t very gory. He doesn’t emphasize the bloody details of Jesus suffering because he is emphasizing the reason Jesus suffered. Jesus is asked by Pilate if he is the King of the Jews in verse 2. In verse 9, Pilate addresses the crowd and refers to Jesus as the King of the Jews. In verse 12, Pilate asks the crowd what he should do with the “King of the Jews.” In verses 16-20, The soldiers mock and abuse him as the King of the Jews. They even bow to him. Verse 26 says that the notice written above his head on the cross is “King of the Jews”. In verse 31-32 the chief priests and teachers of the law mock him on the cross saying, “Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross”. In verse 39, the Roman centurion who was guarding him, confesses, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

Over and over, Mark wants to show us that Jesus was convicted by the Jews and crucified by the Romans because of his claim that he is Messiah and King of Israel. The priests and teachers, the Roman leader Pilate, the soldiers, and the crowd all deny that Jesus is this Messiah and King, and they kill him for claiming to be him. In chapter 11, Jesus is hailed as King by the crowds when he enters Jerusalem. He goes to clean the Temple and teaches in it. In Mark 14:3-9 he is anointed. In Mark 14:61, the High priest identifies him as King. In 15:9 and 12 he is proclaimed to the people by Pilate as King. In 15:17-19, he is saluted as King by the soldiers. In 15:20 he is enthroned on the cross. Throughout the narrative of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, Jesus’ enemies unwittingly proclaim the truth about him.

Jesus is the King. They all recognize that this is who he is claiming to be and that’s why they kill him. This in itself isn’t so shocking, it happened several times in the decades before and after Jesus. What makes it shocking is what happens next. Those other so-called messiah’s and would-be kings were heads of movements. They had lots of followers. And all of the them fizzle and fade. But Christianity doesn’t fizzle; it explodes! In less than 250 years, the entire Roman empire will be declared Christian reaching from India to England. Jesus rises from the dead. In his resurrection, his claim to be Messiah and King and Son of God are all proven to be true. And since this is true, it changes everything. He suffered because of his claim to be messiah and King, and he rose from the dead to prove that in fact he is Messiah and King. He has fulfilled God’s promises and now God’s Kingdom is coming because the King has come. The King came and died, but he rose gain. This means that it is only a matter of time before his Kingdom comes in all of its fullness and completion.

The response that we are told we should have throughout Mark’s Gospel is belief and repentance. The King has come and although he was dead now he is alive. His resurrection proves he is King so we should believe he is our King. If he is our King, everything about our lives changes. We no longer live for the Kingdom of this world, but the Kingdom of the Risen Jesus. It changes our thinking, our actions, our motivation. We live in the in-between time though. So even though we believe this Kingdom will finally come, we still wrestle against the sinfulness in our hearts that fights against his Kingdom. So our belief and repentance isn’t something that happens once and then we live however we want until Jesus Comes. We must remain in this belief and repentance. We continue in this Gospel, practicing it daily. It requires more than mental adherence. It is more than an intellectual agreement. The Gospel demands our lives. Our King has come and will come again and we must prepare ourselves even today.

Is he your king?

 

Sources and acknowledgments

Review and Reflect on Mark 14:1-11 – You always have the poor with you

During the Passover celebration week, Jesus spent a large part of that time teaching in the Temple and arguing with the religious and political leaders. The time for Jesus to heal and teach concluded and in chapter 14, preparations are being made for Jesus’ final duty of his ministry. In Mark 14: 1-11, the Jerusalem leaders are waiting for an opportunity to kill Jesus. He has said and done the wrong things and opposed the wrong people and they are going to make him pay. The people, however, are strangely faithful to Jesus, so they have to be careful how they go about capturing him. Verse 3 says that Jesus was spending time with his disciples at the house of a guy named Simon. As they are sitting there, along comes this woman with a very expensive bottle of perfume and she pours it on Jesus’ head. Verse 4 tells us the disciples were shocked because this woman had “wasted” something so valuable. The perfume could have been sold and better allocated to help the poor they say. In verse 6-8, Jesus says that there are lots of ways and lots of time to help the poor, but the woman poured this perfume on Jesus in order to prepare him for his burial. This is the final time Jesus will speak of his soon and coming death in Mark’s Gospel. And, because of the lack of commentary, it appears that the disciples still don’t understand that Jesus is going to die. We do see a response to this though. For Judas, this was the straw that breaks the camel’s back. He simply couldn’t stand to see such a misuse of funds and he leaves to make a deal with the chief priests so that Jesus can be captured and killed.

In this story, preparing Jesus for burial was more important that helping the poor so the woman did the right thing. What is remarkable about the story is that the disciples didn’t understand this. That is why they focus on the poor. Just because Jesus says that we will always have the poor, he isn’t allowing a loophole to avoid helping the poor. Quite the contrary. Effectively what Jesus is saying is that all of our resources all of the time are available for the poor, so don’t pick on this woman when she is doing the right thing. The application from this is not “help the poor when you get around to it”, but “help the poor as often as you can”.

In our day, there are a numerous ways to help the poor. There are systemic problems that some people might be able to address. If you are a builder or developer, what efforts are you making to provide affordable housing? If you own a business, are you able to find ways to both increase profits and hire unskilled workers? If you can’t make money, you can’t give it away, but you might be able to find ways to increase your bottom line and hire unskilled workers if you are willing to consider it.

How do you as an individual approach helping those who are poor and destitute? Giving to an organization is certainly one way. Having a principle of how you approach beggars on the street is important. Do you give them money or not? Do you get them food or help, if so how? Even if you are at the bottom of the ladder in your workplace and are simply a worker, there are still ways for you to make a difference. You can contribute to microfinancing projects, volunteer, or donate goods to organizations that help the poor. In your retirement planning and investing, do you have any money in socially conscious investments? What are you doing about human trafficking and how are you contributing to it with the way you live? What does your church do from a missions perspective to help the poor abroad? How can you personally get involved?

The plight of the poor is timeless, systemic, and massive. The overwhelming nature of it often discourages us from getting involved. Also, the thought that so many are “taking advantage of us” often prevents us from helping. I am thankful that Jesus doesn’t look at us that way. While we were sinners, he died for us. This is what this story in Mark’s Gospel is about: Jesus preparing to die for us. Though we daily “take advantage” of his grace and mercy, he still gives it generously and freely. How is his generosity to you, a poor sinner, affecting the way you are extending your influence, resources, knowledge, and ability to others who do not have their own to rely upon? If we aren’t properly applying the Gospel, perhaps we haven’t properly understood it?

Review and Reflect on Mark 8:22-26

Read Mark 8:22-26.

Jesus comes to a town called Bethsaida on the shore of the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. In typical fashion, he meets someone who needs him to heal them. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus. He took the blind man away from the village. Similar to the story of the deaf and mute man in chapter 7, Jesus speaks to him in a way that he can comprehend. The man cannot see, so Jesus touches him. He spits in his eyes, as disgusting as that is, and then puts his hands on him. He takes the man away from the crowds and Jesus leads him through a two-stage progression of regaining his site. We should again be reminded of Isaiah 35:4-6, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened…”

Jesus is demonstrating what happens with the Kingdom of God comes. The deaf hear, the mute speaks, and the blind see. This story is certainly illustrative of the disciples’ blindness in a figurative manner. In verse 18 it says their eyes do not see and their ears and do not hear, but this is a sign that soon they are about to begin to regain their sight. It won’t be immediate, but will come progressively. But more importantly, this passage is teaching us who Jesus is. All through Mark’s Gospel we have learned different aspects of Jesus’ character and identity. In chapter 7 and here in 8 we are learning in a new way that Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God with authority because he is the King. Because he has come, the Kingdom has come. Because he has come, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the blind see. But he didn’t just come for this. These physical signs are pointing to the time of redemption and restoration that Jesus is bringing. Very soon in Mark’s Gospel, we are going to learn, that this restoration doesn’t happen through Jesus overthrowing the Pharisees, Herod, and Rome to take their throne. Jesus does not overthrow them, but submits to them, and they kill him. The King dies at the hands of his usurpers. But, Jesus rises from the dead, to take a heavenly throne, higher that Rome or any other Kingdom. In his resurrection he works redemption for all who believe and repent and makes a way for us to be included in his heavenly Kingdom. For those who believe and repent, we wait for him to finish his work, and we pray, your will be done on earth as in heaven.