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 14:53-65 – Rather than condemning, Jesus is condemned.

Mark 14 records the final hours of Jesus life and the circumstances surrounding his death. Verses 53-65 are the first part of Jesus’ trial. Jesus is presented as being subjected to an unjust trial, and wrongfully condemned to death. Over and over, we have seen Jesus presented as the one fulfilling God’s promises and as the King bringing the Kingdom of God with him. This is what makes this unjust trial and condemnation so shocking. Jesus is the one coming to rescue Israel and rule in justice, yet he is rejected and condemned unjustly. But in God’s loving sovereignty, he works this injustice and the condemnation of his own son to bring about salvation and eternal life for not only Israel, but the whole world!

The trial of Jesus bears all of the marks of a backwards trial full of injustice. Once they arrested Jesus, they lead him to the courtyard of the high priest; it tells us in verse 54. This is not the official place of trial, but the property of the high priest. This trial is illegitimate from the beginning simply because of its location. Verse 55 says they were “looking for evidence…but they could not find any”. They had decided that Jesus needed to be taken out. They determined Jesus was guilty and were going to find him guilty. They weren’t going to let him get away with saying the things he had been saying. There was only one problem with this; Jesus hadn’t actually done anything wrong. He had actually broken any laws; he simply made the wrong people angry. They tried to find witnesses, but verse 56 says no one’s testimony agreed. Twice it says “false testimony” was given. The closest thing they could get too was to charge him with threatening to destroy the temple, but no one could agree on the words he had used. Jesus didn’t threaten to destroy the Temple, but that is a charge brought against him. There is irony in this though; in bringing this charge against him, the Temple will be destroyed. Because Israel rejects her messiah, they invite destruction upon themselves and these leaders are the ones responsible for it. Jesus talked about the Temple being destroyed, but not destroying it himself. He did say that he would rebuild it himself though.

In Verse 58 the word used for “Temple” changes. It’s a different for the word used for “Temple” in the other places in Mark’s Gospel. It might better be rendered “sanctuary”. You may even read that in some translations. This may not seem like much, but it shows the nature of the exaggeration in their accusations against him. –hey don’t just accuse him of destroying the Temple in general; they speak of the “sanctuary” or the inner room where the High Priest met with God on the Day of Atonement: “The Holy of Holies” or “The Holiest Place”. The language is more serious because they speak of him destroying the holiest place. Since they could come up with nothing, the High Priest begins to ask Jesus about these charges, but Jesus remained silent. So, the High Priest asks Jesus very plainly about what the crowds of people had been talking about. Remember they were singing his praises and treating him like a King on the day he rode into Jerusalem only a few days before this. In verse 61, he asks Jesus if he’s the Messiah. The High Priest is careful not to say the Name of God so that God’s name isn’t inadvertently taken in vain, so he says “Blessed One”. He’s precise in observing this custom, yet, he’s manipulating evidence and practicing injustice in the effort to kill Jesus. He is careful to practice his religion, but has rejected Jesus in the process.

This should be a warning to all of us. As important as religious duty is, we must not forget God in our observance of it. Should the High priest have used God’s name loosely and without respect? Absolutely not! But in practicing his religious observance, he neglected to observe what is most important – he did not love God. There are religious duties and moral obligations that Christianity requires of us, and these should not be neglected. Yet we need to always fight the temptation to be more absorbed with religious observance than loving God. Jesus is our model in this, completely sinless but not because he was trying not to sin, but because he loves the Father. The high priest misses this, and he rejects his Messiah in the process.

Jesus has avoided answering questions like this directly, but here he is very specific. He doesn’t make the claim to being the Messiah himself, the High Priest does, but Jesus answers clearly and boldly. At this point in Jewish history, they didn’t expect the Messiah to be literally divine, but when Jesus combines Messiah, with Son of Man, and Mighty One coming in the clouds in verse 62, it’s clear that he’s making a claim to divinity. These are references to Daniel 7:13 and Psalm110:1 which tells of the way the Messiah will Judge. Jesus is saying he is the Divine Judge who will judge the world, but at this moment he’s reversing everything. Rather than judging the world, he is being judged by the world. The high priest is sitting over Jesus the Messiah in judgment and Jesus’ reply to him is a warning. In effect, Jesus is saying, “you may be judging me now, but soon I will judge you in the highest court.” The high priest rips his clothes which is a response communicating the highest outrage. They deem him guilty of blaspheme.

This court called the Sanhedrin was a religious court that ruled on many things, but they needed the Roman procurator Pilate to rule on a death sentence. So in verse 64, they condemn him to death, but they lacked the authority to carry it out. Rather than being proclaimed the Messiah and Son of God being accepted by his people Israel, Jesus is rejected and the proclamation of his titles is in his condemnation and death. They kill him for saying he’s King and Judge and Son of God, when it should’ve been the reason they worshipped him. They put him to death when they should have believed in him. 

The witnesses don’t agree, the high priest asks Jesus to respond to unsubstantiated charges. They are meeting in an unofficial location. They are meeting at nighttime rather than during the day. This trial is a farce. There was not a shred of evidence against Jesus yet they find him guilty. They find Jesus guilty of breaking the Law, and in their claim to uphold the law, it was they who were breaking it. Then in verse 65, they spit on Jesus, their Messiah. They mock him saying “prophesy” as they beat him.  The irony of this is what happens next in the story. He does in fact give a prophecy that is fulfilled.

Sources and Acknowledgments

Review and Reflect on Mark 14:27-52 – Jesus takes our place.

After Jesus shares the final Passover with his followers, they go out together to the Mount of Olives which overlooks the Temple area in Jerusalem. These are the final hours of Jesus’ life and he begins to speak to his disciples about what is going to soon happen in verses 27-31. Jesus quotes a passage from Zechariah 13 and tells his followers they are going to leave him, but he will gather them again in Galilee. The thought of rejecting him must have seemed impossible to the disciples and Peter voices this. He says, “I don’t know about these other jokers, but I won’t leave you.” Jesus replies to Peter giving him an even worse pronouncement. He tells Peter, “not only will you deny me, but you will deny me three times!” But Peter and all of the other disciples say that they are willing to die with Jesus in verse 31. After this conversation, Jesus takes his disciples to the place called Gethsemane in verses 32-42.

“Gethsemane” means “Oil Press” and John records it as a garden. Since it was on the Mount of Olives, it’s most likely this was an olive orchard. So, when you picture this in your mind, it’s probably less like a flower garden and more like an Apple Orchard. When they arrived at Gethsemane, Jesus told his disciples to have a seat while he went to pray. Then, he took, the 3 closest disciples (Peter, James, and John) with him. Verse 33 says after this Jesus began to be deeply distressed and troubled. He tells them in verse 34 that he is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He tells the three to keep watch, or to pray for him. This is something we haven’t seen in Jesus up to this point. He has stood before crowds and before the religious leaders and remained strong. But, at this moment, sorrow and suffering has overwhelmed him. He goes to pray and in verse 36 we are given a glimpse into Jesus’ intimacy with the Father. Jesus is God in the flesh and he is also human. So even though it’s impossible to explain fully how these two aspects of his personhood come together, we see Jesus’ humanity in his agony. In the midst of this struggle, Jesus declares “Everything is possible for you”. In other words, “Father, you are strong enough to do whatever you want, so since I’m going through this you must have a good reason that’s unknown to me.” Jesus sees the circumstances that are coming and he has the opportunity to respond in faith in the Father’s plan, so too, we have the opportunity to respond this way in our circumstances. Some religions and spiritual teachings say that we should suppress our desires because they are the source of our suffering. Jesus doesn’t say this or model this. His desire to live and work is great, but his desire to obey the Father is greater.

For most of us, when we face suffering, we want to escape it. Jesus possessed this desire also. He asks that the cup be taken from him in verse 36. His desire to escape the Cup of God’s wrath is not wrong, and he could have escaped it. But his greatest desire is not that the cup would be taken from him, but that it would be taken from us. So Jesus says, not what I will, but what you will. In other words, Jesus is saying, “Father if there is any other way to reconcile humanity to you, let’s do it, but if there isn’t, then I will drink this cup. If there’s any other way to reclaim humanity, let’s go that route, but if there isn’t, I want your will to be accomplished in my life, even if it crushes me.”

The Cup that Jesus refers to, represents God’s wrath poured out on Evil. The Cup can represent God’s blessing or God’s wrath and cursing. We see this connection between the Cup and God’s wrath in passages like Isaiah 51, Jeremiah 25, and in a few places in the Psalms such as 11:6. The cup represents God’s response those who attempt to undermine his rule and bring about evil. Jesus is in agony here in Gethsemane because he’s beginning to experience what it’s going to mean for him to drink the cup of God’s wrath.

A lot of people don’t like to think of God in these terms. We would much more prefer a God that expresses love rather than wrath. But, think with me please about how love works. Think about the person or people in this world who are most dear to you. Now consider your reaction if someone tries to harm them, or even if they try to harm themselves. Our response is anger precisely because we love that person. God’s wrath is one way that his love is expressed. God opposes evil and sin in his wrath because he knows how it harms his people whom he loves. God’s wrath is also an expression of his holiness. He displays his anger toward anything that might attempt violate his being. When we see evil happening in our world and we see evil people succeeding, we want a God who loves us enough to stop the evil we see. So, when the time comes for God to pour out the cup of his wrath upon sin and evil, Jesus takes the cup from us, and he drinks it himself. We have all opposed God, we have tried to run our own lives and do things our own way. This is sin and a rejection of God’s authority over our lives. It’s not only harmful to us personally, but to those around us, and all of the created order. We are deserving of God’s wrath. But God is not supremely wrathful, he is supremely loving. And in his love, he deals with sin in a way that doesn’t violate his holiness, and it properly exercises his wrath. Instead of me drinking the cup of God’s wrath, Jesus drinks it for me, for us. Because he takes God’s wrath in our place, God’s holiness is maintained and his love is adequately expressed. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 speaks of “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” We must not focus on the wrath to come and neglect the Jesus who delivers. God’s love, goodness, and holiness are at times exercised in wrath, but if we are in Jesus, we are rescued from that wrath.

In Mark 14, Jesus is about to drink this cup of God’s wrath to rescue us, and the physical, spiritual, and emotional weight of it is overwhelming to a degree that we cannot even imagine. Jesus is overwhelmed because he is feeling the weight of bearing God’s wrath and humanity’s sin. In verse 37 he goes back to his disciples and finds them sleeping; not praying. They all have just said that they won’t leave him and would even die for him, but he goes back to find them asleep. They say they won’t leave him, but they won’t even stay awake with him. He tells them in verse 38 to pray so they wouldn’t fall into temptation. He tells them temptation is coming, so pray for the strength to endure it. But their inability to join him in this part of his suffering is pointing to the fact that soon they will also leave him in the next part of his suffering. In verse 41 we see that he returns to them three times and finds them asleep each time. He has already told Peter that he would deny him three times, and in Gethsemane Peter fails him 3 times along with James and John. So, Jesus tells them to get up and meet his betrayer.

Right after Jesus gathers his disciples again, in verses 43-52, a mob led by Judas shows up. Verse 43 says the mob was sent by the chief priest, the teachers, and the elders. These are the people who Jesus has opposed in his teaching and now they finally get him back. Judas identifies Jesus by giving him the kiss of death and in verse 46 they arrest Jesus. One of the twelve, which in John’s Gospel is identified as Peter, lops off a guy’s ear. And Jesus puts a stop to the fight before it escalates. He asks, “Am I leading a rebellion?” in verse 48. His pattern was not one of violence, but one of healing and teaching. They didn’t arrest him when he gave them plenty of opportunities while he was in the Temple teaching over the last few days. But, the fact was, he was leading a rebellion, but not one with swords and clubs. His rebellion was of a much different sort. Judas didn’t understand this which is why his party had weapons. Even the other disciples didn’t get this, which is why one cuts off the guy’s ear. But do you remember Jesus’ message from the Beginning? The Kingdom is coming close enough to experience and the time is being fulfilled. Verse 49 alludes to this fulfillment again. The King is bringing his Kingdom through humility, suffering and death, not through rebellion and military might. God’s promise to rescue his people isn’t about their nationalistic circumstances, but about their hearts that are stuck in sin and destined for death. Jesus doesn’t resist when they arrest him, but he allows them to take him. In verse 50 everyone leaves him and we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ statement to his disciples in verse 27. 

There is an odd statement in verses 51-52 about a young man running away naked when they try to arrest him too. He is not identified as one of the disciples, so we have no idea who me may have been. Some say it was Mark himself who was with Jesus that night, even as a young man. There are several things to read on this passage, but they offer little help in understanding the significance of it. But, something so odd that doesn’t really advance the story or tell us much does have the mark of verifying the historical accuracy of the story. If this was a made-up story, no one would make up something like that and put it in the story, they would leave it out. It seems more plausible to see this story being included to point to the shamefulness of Jesus’ followers in abandoning him in his hour of greatest need. He told them many times that this would happen, and when it happened, no one went with him. The disciples display their shame, by failing to follow their Messiah. But what does Jesus, the Messiah do?

He is arrested, and as we’ll see soon he is treated shamefully, and ultimately killed by crucifixion. Jesus, the Messiah, willingly takes the shame of not only his own followers who abandon him, but the shame of every sinner who has ever lived. Jesus takes our shame upon himself, he bears our sin on himself, and it’s crucified along with him. Because of this, no longer do we have to run from God or try to hide our shame from God, but we can stand before him boldly, because Jesus’ blood has covered our shame. Revelation 7:14 says of God’s people “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This young man lost his robe, revealing his shame. But Jesus gives us a new robe, one dipped in his own blood that covers our sin. He covers us with his love and acceptance, and even in our hour of shame and weakness, he loves us enough to die for us.

If you’ve failed to follow God fully and whole heartedly because of who you have been, or what you have done, let Jesus take on your sin and shame, and give you his love. When sinful behavior or sinful thought patterns are practiced in our lives, let Jesus’ love and grace lead you to repentance. Don’t be afraid to turn from your sin, and turn to the Good News of Jesus.

The Classic Christmas: Retelling the same old stories.

Christmastime is about stories, listening to them and telling them. When we gather with friends and family during the holidays, we tell stories. The reason we do this is because there is something about Christmas that points to a story larger than us. Unfortunately, people often don’t know where to turn to find this larger story, so many people look to temporary and material things to find meaning and satisfaction. Other people try to make their personal story the great story. Everyone else should be concerned with it. The holidays can be the most depressing and loneliest time of year for many people, and part of this is because they don’t understand the larger story. All people can see is their personal stories of heartache, or loss, or lack, so they don’t see how their small story fits into something much bigger and much greater than they realize.

It’s only when we open our Bibles and read the grand narrative of the Lord that we find how we ourselves are caught up into a great and significant role in a story. When we stop looking inside ourselves for significance and look away from ourselves to our Creator, we are able to find meaning for our lives. God is writing an amazing story. He created you and I to be part of that Story as we worship him and follow him. When we join our lives to his, we find forgiveness, purpose, and satisfaction. He gives us each a role to play in the story he’s telling. The Bible is full of people who were seemingly random and obscure people, but somehow they find themselves as part of this great work of redemption that God is bringing about. When we read our Bibles, we see otherwise normal people being used by God.

One of the characters in the Biblical Christmas story is a guy named Zechariah. Zechariah finds himself unexpectedly very near the center of a story much bigger than himself. In fact, eventually he will come to realize that he isn’t just part of a story, but part of the story. He had a major role to play in God’s plan of the redemption of his people. The story begins like any other. In Luke 1:5-10, we see that Zechariah lived in a certain place and time. He was just like the people before him and around him. Verse 5 says he was part of the division of Abijah and he was married. Verse 6 says he and his wife were righteous, walking blamelessly. But, verse 7 says they couldn’t have kids. They did everything right and still didn’t get what they wanted. They followed God devotedly, but still didn’t have the one thing their hearts longed for. So they spent their years simply doing their jobs and living life uprightly before God. Verses 8-10 say that as he doing his job he was chosen to be the one to offer the yearly sacrifice in the innermost room of the Temple. But, all of a sudden, the years of living faithfully before God allow him to be uniquely placed in a position to fulfill a great part of God’s plan. Luke 1:11-25 describe how Zechariah and Elizabeth fit into God’s plan.

In verse 11 when the Angel appeared, Zechariah knew that God was doing something different. This is not business as usual. The angel tells him in verse 12, “do not be afraid.” This is most frequent command in Scripture because seeing an Angel is terrifying. A religious experience of this magnitude isn’t something that makes you elated or joyous, it terrifies you. People often seek after religious experiences where they want to feel God and his presence, but the overarching theme of this type of thing in the scriptures is fear and terror. Our emotions should be engaged in worship, but most of the time when people feel God’s presence in the Bible, it’s a scary thing because God is about to shake things up in an incredible way. In verses 13-17, the angel tells him that his wife is going to have a child and the role John will play in God’s story is to point Israel back to God. It says he’ll work in the Power of Elijah, he’ll turn fathers toward their children, and lead the disobedient to wisdom. He will prepare the Lord’s people. Zechariah had a hard time believing this, so the angel makes him unable to speak. In verse 22 he comes out of the temple and he didn’t speak so the people realized he had a vision. Then in verse 24, Elizabeth gets pregnant.

Since we are looking at the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, let’ skip over some verses. Luke 1 interweaves the story of Mary with that of Elizabeth and Zechariah. This is appropriate because John’s story and work will be tied together with Jesus’ as well. In Luke 1:57-66, Elizabeth has her son, people just expected them to name him Zechariah after his father. But, they said they were naming him John, and as soon as this happened, Zechariah was able to talk again. Verse 64 says that when he named the boy John, he was immediately able to speak. After 9 months of silence, he speaks and of all the things he might have said, he blesses God, he offers words of worship to God. If it wasn’t enough that a lady who was well past childbearing years has a baby, the father is silent for nearly a year and then all of a sudden, he speaks. The people knew now that God was about to do something different. They knew the stories of how God had promised to be with them and to rescue them and in verse 66, they wonder what role this child had to play in this story.

The stories we tell at Christmastime are rarely new ones. We know we’ve told the stories, we know everyone has heard the stories, and we don’t care, we tell them anyway. Why do we do this? Because they matter. They are part of what makes our family our family and we recount them to one another. They ground us in where we come from. Some of them are embarrassing, or boring, but they shape our identity nonetheless. When Zechariah blesses God in verse 64, he is retelling a story that everyone knows. The substance of this blessing is found in our next passage: Luke 1:67-79. Zechariah retells the story of his family, the people of Israel. He retells the promises of God and reminds the people of God’s plan. This story tells the identity of God’s people and that they are part of a covenant and promise.

Zechariah’s Song is often called the Benedictus, which means “blessing”, because it’s what he said in verse 64. These verses are a declaration of God’s faithfulness to his covenant and promises with Abraham and David and extending to all of God’s people. This song is summary of the story of the Old Testament. Zechariah is recounting God’s covenant and promises made to his people throughout history. He’s retelling the same old stories. He’s also declaring that at this point God is fulfilling these promises and honoring the covenant. His son John is the one sent to prepare the way for the Messiah. This is why he quotes these passages in this song. They are drawing on huge Old Testament themes of God’s rescue and redemption of his people. Zechariah was overwhelmed with the knowledge that God was bringing these things to pass. There are probably lots of ways we could talk about this passages, but there are certainly two themes found here.

The first theme of Zachariah’s Song is Salvation in verses 68-75. Verses 68-69 mention God visiting and redeeming his people and raising up a horn of salvation for David’s house. This idea is found in 2 Samuel 22 (also Psalm 18) where David sings a song to God after the Lord delivers him from all of his enemies. In Zachariah’s day, the people of Israel were in their promised land, but ruled by foreigners. Many of them believed they were still in Exile because the Romans ruled them. So, many also believed that the role of the Messiah would be to overthrow Roman Rule. The Messiah was going to be like David and would save Israel from the oppression of its enemies. Verses 70-73 refer to God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12 to make Israel a blessing to the whole world and how the result will be this deliverance. What we eventually see in Jesus’ ministry is that Roman rule is at most a symbol of true oppression. Israel had been exile and remained under the rule of the Romans because they were unable to serve God in righteousness and holiness as it says in verse 75. The least of their problems was Roman oppression, they could never live in holiness. They always failed to live up to God’s standards. Israel’s history is full of stories of God’s people not only failing morally, but running away from God and seeking after anything and everything except God to their own demise. Israel along with all of humanity continually turns away from God toward self and sin. Human-kind is without hope in the face of death, and is guilty of sin it cannot atone for. It’s this oppression that Jesus conquers on the cross, paying for sin, and then rising again overthrowing death. In Jesus, God pursues a people who did not seek him. Jesus pays for the sins of a messed up people. He brings salvation to the people of God because they could never achieve it or earn it themselves. This is the blessing that God promises in the covenants. Zechariah was awaiting this, looking forward; we can look back and find forgiveness and peace in this. Don’t trust in yourself to find salvation. It can never be earned or achieved. Trust in the salvation brought to us in Jesus who died for our sins and rose again. This is where we are rescued from the oppression of our souls. This is why Jesus comes at Christmas, to accomplish this salvation for us.

The second theme in Zachariah’s song is Preparation, found in verses 76-79. God had said that before he returned Israel, there would be a prophet send to prepare the way. In verse 76 we find a reference to Isaiah 40:3, which says, “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The word “wilderness” there is a reference to Israel’s state of Exile. Also, Malachi 3:1 says, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” Zachariah’s son John is this one preparing the people to receive their Messiah. He was to tell the people who God’s mercy is about to be displayed resulting in the forgiveness of sins. Verse 79 says the result will also be light for those in darkness and a guide to peace. No prophet had spoken to God’s people in nearly 400 years, but verse 67 says that Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. God’s messenger had arrived and his Messiah would soon arrive, so it was time for the people of God to prepare themselves.

At Christmastime we celebrate the coming of this Messiah Jesus. As part of our celebration, it’s appropriate to be reminded that we are also to prepare ourselves. Prepare for the Messiah to come to us. Now, we’ve all been preparing, buying gifts, decorating, and planning menus. But this season has a way of getting past us before we know it. If we don’t prepare for this season, we will miss what God has for us in it. Some of us need to stop preparing for Christmas, and prepare our hearts for Christ. We know we have been seeking after things and living for things that are not good for us nor honoring to God. We need to retell the old story to ourselves of what Jesus has done. He has brought us redemption and peace. But grounded in what he has done is what he will do. He will continue to form us into his image. He will continue to work holiness in our lives. He will not abandon us to the grave and he will not count our sins against us.

So, prepare your hearts for Christmas be remembering the Gospel and seeing how in might be infused into your life this season. Be patient with your family. Be generous to those who don’t deserve it. Be humble at those holiday parties. Don’t look for your significance in things that can be bought or things that fade away. Look to the story Jesus is writing in your life and see how he has brought you through trial and loss, how he has blessed you and been gracious to you, all so that you might find yourself in him. The love, peace, joy, and hope that we search for everywhere else is found in him and in him alone. Prepare your hearts so they won’t look elsewhere.

Review and Reflect on Mark 11:1-11 – Jesus brings together the promises God made to Israel.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem with his followers. This wasn’t such a big deal because lots of people were heading that way, because it was almost time for the great feast known as Passover. People from all over came to Jerusalem for Passover. But on his way, Jesus passes through Jericho and heals a blind man. As the crowds going to Jerusalem are increasing, more people are recognizing Jesus and not only going to Jerusalem, but going with him. His reputation as a healer and teacher with great authority was everywhere. Everyone knew him. So now that he was headed to Jerusalem, he heals a blind man who was calling him the Son of David.

David was Israel’s great King. He was a great warrior defeating giants and taking on God’s enemies. In allowing this man to refer to him as the Son of David, Jesus was no longer keeping quiet the fact that he is Israel’s Messiah. In fact, the crowd had tried to keep the man quiet, but it was Jesus who told him to speak, asking him “What do you want me to do for you?” There had been subtle hints and murmurs about Jesus being the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, but nothing this explicit or public until blind Bartimaeus is given his sight. And once the crowd hears this, the momentum of his ministry grows and Jesus continues to Jerusalem.

Jesus had been teaching around Israel for nearly 3 years by now. He has been teaching that the time is fulfilled and God’s Kingly authority was coming close enough to experience. The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. And Jesus has not only taught this, but acted it out in his compassion healing people and feeding people. Now he is bringing this teaching and this action to Jerusalem. This is where we pick up the Story in Mark 11:1-10.

This scene has traditionally been called the Triumphal Entry and is often preached on Palm Sunday, the week before Easter. Mark’s version differs slightly from the other 3 Gospel accounts because they are emphasizing different aspects. Mark is using this story to bring together the message Jesus has been proclaiming which he calls the Gospel, or the Good News – The Time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. In this story we see this same message, this Gospel, presented in another way. Here, Jesus is acting out the Gospel that he is fulfilling the promises of God to Israel and through Israel to humanity.

God is coming to live with his people and rule his people himself. In these few verses, there are a number of Old Testament allusions and references that all point to this one specific truth: Jesus comes to fulfill the promised Time and he does this as the King bringing his Kingdom with him.

Jesus connects his own story with the Old Testament story in several ways. The first reference has to do with where Jesus is, before coming into Jerusalem. Verse 1 says that he was on the “Mount of Olives” which is to the east of Jerusalem. Zechariah 14:4 is a prophetic passage about God rescuing Israel from her exile and her oppressors and doing so from the Mount of Olives. There’s significance in the details here. Jesus is intentional about what he is doing because what he does and what he says are teaching the same thing.  He is bringing together in himself all of the promises of God.

A second Old Testament reference can be seen in verse 2-7. In verses 2-6, Jesus sends his disciples to get a donkey or a colt. Perhaps this was pre-arranged so the people knew that Jesus would be sending his followers to get it. But, kings had the right to commandeer whatever they wanted. So this is meant to be a demonstration of Jesus’ authority to take the colt, use it, and return it. In verse 7 they bring the colt to Jesus and place their cloths upon it for him, and he rides on it. A King demonstrated the position of being a servant of the people by riding on a donkey or a colt during a royal demonstration. This practice is seen around 900 years earlier with Solomon in 1 Kings 1:38-40. Here Solomon rides on the royal mule to demonstrate his claim to the throne of Israel. The people see this and begin shouting and cheering. The scene in Jesus’ day was not so different from Solomon’s.

Matthew includes Zechariah 9:9 in his retelling of this event in Jesus’ ministry, but Mark only alludes to it. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt or a donkey to demonstrate that he is Israel’s King. Just like Solomon and others did, Jesus is showing he is Israel’s King. As Jesus rides this humble animal into Jerusalem, the people lay down their coats and palm branches and other things as a covering for the road.

This is a third Old Testament allusion seen here in Mark 11. In 2 Kings 9 a man named Jehu is made King over Israel by the prophet Elisha. Jehu is talking with some of the officers of the army he’s commanding and Elisha takes him inside a house to speak with him. Elisha tells Jehu that God has selected him as King and he pours oil on him which was the practice of anointing someone as King. Then, in a kind of funny way, Elisha takes off running out of the house and down the road. Then Jehu comes out of the house back to his officers and we read in 2 Kings 9:11-13 that Jehu’s men take off their coats and spread them on the ground before their King.

So, when the people do this on the day Jesus rides into Jerusalem, they aren’t just honoring him as a prophet or religious teacher, the crowd is hailing him as their King. With his actions, Jesus is making claims to being the King of Israel. In verses 9-10, we see the people singing and cheering in response to what Jesus is doing. These phrases they are shouting are also references to Old Testament passages. In verse 9 their words come from Psalm 118:25-26. The word “Hosanna”, means “Save us”, but many translations don’t translate it because it can also be simply a word of celebration or excitement. Kind of like when something good happens, some people say “thank God” but they don’t mean it in the literal sense of thanking God, it’s simply an exclamation. However, this is the reason that Jesus came. He came to save his people. So whether they are simply shouting a word, or not, they are shouting the purpose of their King. God had come to save them.

The other phrase they were shouting in verse 10 points to Jesus’ fulfillment and Kingship as well. In verse 10 they are saying “Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our Father David”. God told David that he would have an heir on the throne of Israel forever. The people are proclaiming that Jesus is that heir who would once again rule Israel and bring in Israel’s golden age of peace and prosperity. In 2 Samuel 7 God tells David “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. ’” This is repeated in 1 Kings 2; 1 Kings 8, and 2 Chronicles 6. In Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah and other places, there is an idea that someone like David, descended from David, is going to do God’s work in rescuing Israel from her oppression and establish a Kingdom like David’s. So, when they say this in verse 10 they are proclaiming that Jesus is the one like David who is establishing God’s Kingdom. They are saying that the Time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come.

There are 5 or 6 allusions to the Old Testament in these 10 verses as Mark tells the story of Jesus riding a colt into Jerusalem. Jesus does this as a way of illustrating that the promised Time is fulfilled and he is fulfilling it. The promises God made to Israel are coming true in him. The Kingdom of God was coming because he is the King and he is bringing it with him. Jesus brings together the Old Testament themes in his teaching and actions. Jesus brings together the promises to God made to Israel. This is what fulfillment is.

It’s important to understand this if we are to understand we mean when we call him “Messiah” or “Christ”. He is the one who is “anointed” in the sense that he receives and fulfills God’s promises to his people. It’s also important to understand this in order to get the most out of reading the Old Testament. We read it in light of who Jesus is and what he has done.

Now, some of us may fail to see how this affects our lives on a day-to-day basis. There are a bunch of random verses, some with funny names and you are wondering how in the world this helps you with the struggles you are facing in your life, your work, your health, your family, or any number of other places. An Old Testament history lesson doesn’t do a lot for you. You’re still stressed and worried. But have you considered how God orchestrates history so that Jesus enters into it at just the right time?

And what do they do? They kill him. He ties all of history up into a neat little bow and they crucify him. But he rises. It looks tragic, but it was his plan all along. He came to fulfill God’s promises to Israel and humanity and it cost him dearly. He suffered and died, but he rose again. So whatever you are dealing with, whatever struggles you are up against, you can find rest and hope in our Sovereign God who is guiding history to its end. We look around and we see some crazy things, some messed up things. We know it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Our world is broken. It’s sad and it’s tragic at times. But Jesus has risen. It’s only a matter of time before our King restores his kingdom. It won’t always be like this, one day he will set everything right and we will only see love, and justice, and mercy. He says he’ll never leave us nor forsake us, he says that we can cast all our cares on him for he cares for us. He gives us promises and we know he will keep them, because we can look back for thousands of years even to the promises he made to Abraham and see that he keeps his promises. He keeps his promises to the point of the cross, and he will keep his promises until the resurrection when we see him face to face.

So, maybe Old Testament history isn’t that exciting or relevant to you, but it demonstrates that God keeps his promises. Jesus fulfills God’s promises to Israel and through him, we are promised eternal life.

After Jesus rides into Jerusalem amid the cheers of the crowd, he goes to the Temple. In Matthew and Luke’s accounts, he cleanses the Temple here, but in Mark, he looks around and then leaves. Why does Mark separate the Entry and the Temple cleansing?

Jesus comes to the Temple and sees commerce and manipulation rather than worship. Here in Mark’s Gospel, his response isn’t rash or abrupt, he takes the night to sleep on it and returns in the morning to set things right in the Temple. Jesus takes the time to inspect the Temple, and observes all that is happening.

There is separation because of what is being emphasized in the passage. Jesus is fulfilling the promises God made to Israel for a King who sits on David’s throne forever. This is the point of verses 1-10. Jesus is also restoring the Temple, this is what will happen next.

Review and Reflect on Mark 9:2-13

Let’s read Mark 9:2-13.

There is great significance to Jesus going to a mountain. This is part of what it means when he says the Time is fulfilled and God’s Kingdom has come. In Exodus 33 God meets with Moses on Mount Sinai. Moses asks to see his face, but he refuses because it would have killed Moses. Instead, God speaks to him out of a cloud. He allowed his glory to pass by Moses while he hid him and even though Moses only saw the remnant of God’s glory, his face shined brilliantly so the people were amazed by it.

In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is hidden in a cave on the same mountain Moses stood on and God passes by him. There was wind, then an earthquake, then fire, but the Lord was not in any of those. Then, there was a quiet whisper, and this was the voice of the Lord. Elijah was the prophet that was taken up into heaven in whirlwind with Chariots of Fire later in 2 Kings 2.

Mark paints this picture for us centuries later: there’s a mountain, a voice out of the cloud, and Moses and Elijah are even there. If you take the time to read those stories you will see that both Moses and Elijah were hidden so that they wouldn’t see God’s face. Moses was hidden in the cleft of a rock, and Elijah was hidden in a cave. But when Jesus takes his disciples up on the Mountain, he doesn’t hide. Instead, he is transfigured. There’s a metamorphosis. A transformation. Verse 3 describes this other-worldliness about Jesus’ clothes because they are so bright white. And Elijah and Moses are with him and they are talking to each other. The presence of Elijah and Moses in verse 4 points the disciples and those who read this story to the Messianic age where God dwells with his people. Both Moses and Elijah met with God on Mount Sinai and now Jesus meets with them on a Mountain.

This scene is meant to portray the place of Jesus in the plan of God, fulfilling a dual role of Moses and Elijah as the long-awaited Messiah. This story unites two expectations which were alive in 1st century Judaism: the coming of the end-time prophet which is like Moses and the appearing of Elijah at the dawning of the end-times. Malachi 4:4-5 says that Elijah would return before the Day of the Lord, when God will appear and make everything right and he includes Moses in the context of this prophecy. It was passages like this that fueled the Messianic expectations of the Jewish people in the time surrounding when Jesus lived on earth. They expected a great teacher like Moses and a great prophet like Elijah in the form of a military leader like David. The disciples see Jesus standing there with Elijah and Moses and they realize that their assessment of Jesus as the Messiah was correct. But, rather than teaching about the role that Elijah and Moses would play in God’s judgment on the nations, God’s deliverance and restoration of Israel, and God’s ruling over his people himself, this is a picture of the roles of Moses and Elijah being fulfilled in Jesus.

Some of the literature that is found from the in-between period of the Old Testament and New Testament fueled these Messianic expectations, but they never foresaw anyone like Jesus coming. God wasn’t going to send Moses or Elijah, he was going to send someone with a much higher authority. He was going to send his Son.

This is another way of displaying that in Jesus, the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. HE is like Moses and Elijah but greater, he is God’s son. This is the point of this passage. All of the prophetic and cultural expectations of the Messiah, and the roles of Moses and Elijah in God’s final act in history are summed up in Jesus. This scene is another way that Jesus depicts the Time being fulfilled and God’s Kingdom coming.

In verses 5-6, Peter is so scared he starts talking and suggests that places of worship be built to honor Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter is so terrified, he has to do something so he suggests constructing some tent or building for worship. Verse 7 seems to interrupt Peter’s babbling. A cloud envelopes the mountain just like in the times of Moses and Elijah and a voice booms from it. “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” The disciples can stop waiting for a Messiah like Moses and Elijah, because the Son has come. This is an echo back to his baptism and a mark of the change in Jesus’ ministry. The Father speaks about his son when Jesus begins his ministry and now the Father speaks about his son as he goes to the end of his ministry. Verse 8 says this whole experience ended abruptly. Then just like that, everything went back to normal.

You can imagine the questions going through the three disciples’ heads: What was that all about?! But before they can ask him, and before he explains it, Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until the son of man rises from the dead”. Just as Jesus has told them to be quiet about saying he is the Christ, he tells them to be quiet here. If they told even the remaining 9 disciples or anyone else, it would no doubt fuel the misdirected misunderstanding of Messiah that were popular in their day. Remember that Jesus had said in verse 1 that some would see the Kingdom of God come in power, well, before the resurrection, James, John, and Peter have had a glimpse of it. But Jesus says, not to say anything about it until everyone gets a chance to see it when he is resurrected.

It’s Jesus’ death and resurrection that will calibrate the disciples understanding of Messiah, and Jesus tells them to wait until then. He refers to himself as “Son of Man” in 8:31 and also here in 9:1. This was a title from Daniel 7 which speaks to God’s vindication of his people through a coming ruler. Jesus had referred to himself in this manner before, but now the disciples have a new understanding of who the Son of Man is. After Jesus tells them to be quiet about what they have seen until he rises from the dead, in verse 10 the three disciples begin to ask one another questions about what Jesus might have meant when he referred to rising from the dead. The disciples still haven’t realized all that was going to take place.

They do know that they have just seen Elijah though, and that meant that Malachi’s words were coming true before their eyes. They were about to witness the “Great and awesome day of the Lord”. They were having trouble putting all of these pieces together, so they ask Jesus about Elijah’s coming in verse 11. Jesus’ explanation is not what they would have expected in verses 12-13. He says Elijah has come and the Elijah that was on the mountain is not the one to which he is referring. John the Baptist has already come fulfilling the Role of Elijah. He worked to restore all things through preaching a message of repentance calling the people of Israel to rightly align their lives. But the puppet king, Herod, had him arrested and later on killed. Jesus says, that this “Elijah” preceded him in ministry and in death, preparing the way. Elijah was the herald of not only the Lord’s coming, but his execution. Jesus again is teaching his disciples that the Kingdom coming has nothing to do with rebellion or military action. But it has everything to do with suffering and dying, and then finally rising. And Jesus will accomplish exactly that. He will be rejected, he will suffer, he will die, and then he will rise. This is how the Kingdom of God will come in power. But it is going to take some time before the disciples can understand this.

We are not so different from the first disciples. They were significantly influenced by their cultural understanding of God and the nature of the Messiah. We are naïve if we think we are not. So it requires vigilance and devotion to the word of God to guard against being led astray by false beliefs. If you remember previously in Mark, some thought that Jesus was a reincarnation of John the Baptist or Elijah or another prophet. On the mountain as Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah, the scene would have spoken vividly to the disciples that he was not a reincarnation, but a new and distinct person from them and possessed a greater authority than they ever did or would. Our culture is going to tell us things like all religions are essentially the same. It will tell us that one idea about God is as good as any other. But Jesus spends much of his ministry explaining through teaching and action the difference between the culture’s understanding of God and the truth. His chief lessons are depicted in the cross and in the empty tomb. And he says following him will cause our lives to look very similar in their death to ourselves and our promised resurrection. We all need the Lord to calibrate our theologies. We all need the Holy Spirit to lead us into true and give us grace to understand how his word integrates into our lives.

Jesus shows his disciples a glimpse of the glory he is withholding and it terrifies them. The time will come when they will see him suffer and die and they will again be terrified. But when they see Jesus risen, they are no longer terrified, instead they worship and they understand. Our understanding of who Jesus is and what difference it makes in our lives grows when we worship. When we read, pray, sing, and listen the Holy Spirit works to bring transformation to our hearts and minds. This happens individually and when we meet together, neither to the exclusion of the other. It takes time and we will grow in our understanding of who God is from now into eternity as we pursue the Lord forever. But understanding who God is, begins with believing that what he says is true, and aligning our lives accordingly. Understanding and even worship begins with belief and repentance.

Review and Reflect on Mark 6:45-56

The early church theologian Augustine is famous for saying in his book “Confessions” (which I highly recommend), “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Jesus shows the crowd of 5000 people what this means. Only he can satisfy and he is the True King, the True Messiah, who shows compassion to his followers. After this miracle, Jesus and his disciples really do need the rest they were seeking. The broad context that this passage is found in is primarily concerned with answering the question “Who is this?” Everyone seems to be asking this question, trying to figure out how Jesus can so these things, teach this way, heal this way, and act with such authority. And his disciples who just witnessed this miracle, are trying to make sense of it all as well and then we get to the next part of this story.

Read the story in Mark 6:45-56.

One thing that stands out in this passage is the comparison or association of Jesus with Moses. This is an association that is seen in other places also. The purpose of this association is to aid in the effort to help us answer the question “Who is this?” in reference to Jesus. When Jesus goes up to the mountain in verse 46, this is a pretty obvious allusion to Moses. One of the great things Moses is known for doing in the book of Exodus is what? Parting the Red Sea. So when we read about Jesus going up on the mountain, it should call to our memory the events of Moses’ life. He is one of the greatest figures of Biblical history. God used him to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt and to bring them into the land of promise. But when we read this story, we see Jesus sending his disciples to the other side of the lake in the boat, and rather than parting the water, in verse 48, we see Jesus walking on the water. Who is Jesus? Well, he’s greater than Moses, and we all know how great Moses was. Moses may have parted the sea, but Jesus walked on it. The disciples don’t seem to be grasping these clues though.

In addition to this association with Moses, the main thing we should consider when answering the question “Who is this?” is Jesus’ care for his followers. In Chapter 6 we see Jesus sending out the disciples to proclaim the Gospel that the time is fulfilled and God’s Kingdom has come. When he does this, he tells them not to take extra clothes or food because they will be provided for. Why don’t they have to take provisions? They are fulfilling Jesus’s ministry so he is providing everything they need to do it. In the feeding of the 5000 Jesus is moved by his compassion for the crowd of followers. Even though the disciples were worried about what it would cost to feed such a crowd, Jesus said, feed them. He took the bread and loaves and provided for his followers. There was even leftover, because he had completely provided and then some. As it says in Psalm 23, the cup runs over.

The primary point of the story of the feeding of the 5000 is that Jesus cares for his followers and this passage is an extension of that. So we read a passage like this one in Mark 6 and we ask, Why is it here and what is it telling us? As we’ve mentioned, it’s here to help answer the question “Who is Jesus?” And it’s telling us that the same thing we have been reading, just in a new way: Jesus is the King who has fulfilled the promised Time and brought his Kingdom because he cares deeply for his followers. He sends his disciples across the lake, but he stays behind to pray. This shouldn’t be seen as unusual since he sent them away in earlier in chapter 6 to expand the ministry of the Kingdom. Jesus comes to them walking on the water. Verse 48, in my opinion, should have been translated, “and he meant to come to them” rather than “pass by”. Why is he walking out to his disciples? Because he saw the difficulty they were going through to get across the lake to the place he has sent them. Jesus sent them to a place and it was hard for them to get there. But it wasn’t too long before he showed up to show his care for them.

I think there is some great encouragement for us here. The place that God wants us to go as individuals and as a church probably won’t be with an easy journey. But Jesus stands on that mountain overlooking the sea and sees his disciples struggling. It got bad enough that he intervened and he went to them walking on the water. God will allow us to go through some struggles. We may have to fight the wind and sail through some storms. But God cares so deeply for us, that we can have the confidence that we are under his watchful care. No trial, no sorrow, not struggle that we go through happens outside of the watchful eye of our Strong and compassionate King. We know he cares for us and when our circumstances SCREAM the opposite we have to hold to this truth.

This is such an important characteristic to grasp about the heart of God, that it is a big deal when his disciples misunderstand it. They don’t get it. The disciples see Jesus walking on the water and they freak out thinking he’ a ghost. Verse 49 says they saw Jesus, but thought he was a ghost. When they see him walking on the water, they have no way of processing this and respond with fear. They should have known that Jesus would be coming. After all, he had already calmed a storm for them. He had already demonstrated his compassion. But they missed it.

I love these stories, because it helps me see that I’m in good company. No matter how many times God demonstrates his goodness to me, or his care for me, I still forget. I mistakenly think at times that God’s purpose in my life should be to make me happy when really it’s to make me holy, like his Son.

So Jesus says, in verse 50, “Guys, it’s me, don’t be afraid” And when Jesus enters the boat, the storm stops, just like in chapter four. So this should have just been a reminder to them of that situation when they asked Jesus,” Don’t you care that we are perishing?” Of course he cares. Have you forgotten already? After that event, when Jesus calmed the storm, they ask themselves “Who is this?” Since then, Jesus has healed people, confronted an army of demons, raised a little girl from the dead, and fed 5000 people with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. And the disciples still don’t get it. They were utterly astounded it says in verse 51. Those two words don’t translate well. What is being conveyed here is a mingling of confusion, misunderstanding, fear, terror, and amazement at what they have just seen. Who is this guy walking on the water? They are terrified and amazed. Verse 52 says the reason they react this way to Jesus is because they didn’t understand the reason he fed the 5000 the bread and fish. What didn’t they understand? They didn’t understand that Jesus cares for his followers. Jesus has compassion on his people and provides for them. Because he is the true King, he protects and provides for those who are his. After all they had seen, why didn’t they understand this? Verse 52 goes on to say they didn’t understand because their hearts were hardened. They didn’t want to believe that Jesus is who he is so they couldn’t believe it. He has been explaining things to them all along. He has demonstrated his authority over and over. He’s done everything from raise the dead to walk on water, and they still haven’t come to the point of believing that he is Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. He’s shown that he’s greater than the prophets, the priests, the kings, and even Moses and yet they still don’t believe that he is the Messiah, the one who would fulfill the time and bring God’s Kingdom to earth. They have even proclaimed this message and they still don’t grasp it. They still don’t understand that there is no reason to be afraid of Jesus, he cares for his people. He has done all of these things and they still don’t get it. What else is it going to take for them to believe that he is the Messiah? Is there anything left that he can do to show them he is the Messiah?

We who know the whole story know what it had to take. Jesus would have to give his life, and die on a cross, and then rise from the dead before his followers would finally understand who he is and how much he loves them.

At this point in the ministry of Jesus though, his disciples are continually missing who he is and what he is doing. They simply don’t understand him. They don’t understand that he is the Messiah, or that he cares for them. There are people everywhere that aren’t so different. Maybe you like Jesus just fine, but you have no understanding of what it means for him to be your King, Messiah, and Savior or you have no understanding of just how much he cares for you. Until you come to the point of believing in Jesus and giving your life over to him, you won’t understand these things. As long as you are content to do your own things in your own ways, you won’t know Jesus as your compassionate King. For a lot of people it’s not a matter being convinced, you know who Jesus is, you know it in your head, but you don’t understand it in your heart. This is why it says we must believe and repent. Believe that he is God who has come in the flesh to demonstrate his great love and care to us. He’s the great King, the creator of heaven and earth. He has authority over storms, demons, and even death. And yet our Great King is no cold and heartless tyrant. He is a compassionate King. One night he saw his disciples struggling to get across the sea, and he walked out to them on the water to help them. Be he would do much more to prove his love. He saw his people struggling, so God took on flesh in the person of Jesus and submitted to death on a cross. Three days later he rose again so that sin and death would no longer have authority over us. And the day is coming when he will prove his love again, and he will return and be our King. We will see him face-to-face and he will set everything right and restore us to our intended place with him. But first, we must believe that our King has come. And we must repent, or align our lives with his Kingdom.

Are you doubting God’s love and care for you today? Do you understand his care for you? Do you know how much he loves you? He has moved heaven and earth to prove it. He told his disciples “Don’t be afraid” and he says it again to us today. Turn from doing your things your ways and give your life to Jesus. If you have already done that, then remember his care for you and align those things that are out of sync with a person who is friends with the King. Repent in your thoughts, actions, and attitudes that are not in line with the Gospel.

He is our compassionate King who has come to rescue us and one day his rescue mission will be finished.