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 14:27-52 – 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.

Review and Reflect on Mark 12:35-37 – How is Jesus the Son of David, Messiah, and King?

In the final days of Jesus’ ministry, he stands in the temple arguing with the leaders of Jerusalem and teaching his disciples and the crowds of people. You can imagine how much he would have taught so these few passages in Mark’s Gospel might be considered selections from his teaching over the course of the Passover week. Mark 12:35-37 is only a few verses, yet in these few verses is a profound lesson from Jesus. Rather than being asked a question, this time, Jesus raises the question before the crowd listening to him. Verse 35 reminds us that he is in the Temple teaching these things. We have already seen how Jesus’ teaching is reorienting the Temple worship around himself and this teaching continues to do this.

It was believed in Jesus’ day that the Messiah was to be a descendant of David. I’ve mentioned this before and it is an idea reflected in the term “Son of David,” used in the New Testament. This is the title Jesus was called the blind and deaf man he healed in Chapter 10, just before he rode into Jerusalem on a colt where they said “Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our Father David” in Chapter 11. But Jesus is taking the term, and expanding it here in these verses. His question shows a problem with limiting one’s understanding of the messiah to a person from the lineage of David. He’s not denying this, but expanding it.

The Messiah was to come from David’s line, he was going to be a King like David. The popular conception was that the Messiah would be as great as David, but Jesus uses this quotation from Psalm 110 to show that the Messiah would actually be greater than David. He is like David because he is from his lineage and because he is a king. But, he is also not like David because he is David’s Lord. Jesus is teaching that he is both the Lord and the Son of David. The conception of a political messiah that would fulfill Israel’s patriotic and nationalistic hopes was communicated through referring to the Messiah as the Son of David. David was a warrior bringing peace through victory over Israel’s enemies. So the thought was, the Messiah will do the same thing; wage war and achieve victory. But Jesus points to being a Messiah that is greater than this. “Son of David” made the average Jew at this time think of a Messiah who conquers, waging war and overthrowing Rome. Jesus was helping his followers unlearn this.

“Son of David” was a misleading title for the Messiah for Jews, but it was a meaningless title for non-Jews. Non-Jews knew nothing of David, so calling the Messiah Son of David was unhelpful. So Jesus brings in both Jew and Gentile by referring to himself as Lord here. “Lord” was a title the early church would adopt for Jesus and one that we continue to use today. Jesus is Lord. He is Messiah and King together, man and God together. This can be seen in Romans 1 also where verse 3-4 says, “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord”. Romans 1:3-4 shows that understanding Jesus as Son of God and Son of David are complementary truths. Verse 4 also says “Christ” which is the term Messiah in Greek, and he is referred to finally as Lord here.

We understand the Lord Jesus as the Son of David fulfilling God’s promises to his people Israel, and has the Son of God bringing the Kingdom of God through his sacrificial death and resurrection. Paul’s Gospel is the same as Mark’s Gospel: Jesus is fulfilling promises and being King bringing the Kingdom through resurrection.

This is another example in Mark’s Gospel of what Jesus means when he says the Time is fulfilled. He is the one fulfilling the promised Time and keeping God’s promises. He is the one like David that was to come, and he is the one who is God dwelling amongst his people. He is the one who rescues us from our oppression, not a government or a tyrant. Jesus rescues us from the oppression of Satan’s Kingdom of Darkness, and he rescues us from the oppression of our sin and the result of death. As Messiah, King, and Lord he gives us true life eternal and resurrection into God’s presence forever.

He is like King David, but he is greater to an infinite degree. This is how Jesus uses this passage from Psalm 110 to teach his followers here in Mark 12:35-37.

Acknowledgments and Sources

Review and Reflect on Mark 11:27-12:12 – The old is fading away and something new is coming

In Mark 11:27-33, Jesus has entered the Temple and the Temple leaders confront him. They ask him where he derives the authority that allows him to say and do the things he has been saying and doing. Had they understood the significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, they wouldn’t have had to question him about his authority for doing what he did in the Temple. As it was, either they denied that he was presenting himself as King, or they simply didn’t understand it. Jesus sees that they are trying to catch him in a trap, so he responds with a question about John the Baptist that’s a trap for them. If John’s baptism was a godly thing, they should have followed him, like the masses of people in Israel did. If John’s baptism wasn’t from God, then the people would take issue with the leaders because they followed John. It’s a trap, so the leaders respond by saying they don’t know. So, Jesus won’t tell them his authority is from God either.

Here again Jesus links his ministry with that of John the Baptist. John was the prophet that came before him to call Israel back to God in repentance. Jesus continues that ministry, but he also heads toward the same end as John. The leaders are going to have him killed. Because of their response and because of their desire to kill Jesus rather than believe and follow him, he tells a parable to them in Mark 12:1-12.

This parable is an example of why for centuries Jesus has been considered one of the greatest storytellers and teachers to ever live. It is told with incredible skill and drama. Even though it is great literature, its content is even more incredible. This parable is an allegory against Israel’s leaders which teaches that those who have rejected God and his messengers will themselves be rejected so that others will inherit their promises.

It’s likely that Jesus borrows some symbolism from Isaiah 5 here. Isaiah 5 is about Israel being God’s vineyard that didn’t produce fruit and Jesus’ audience would have certainly been reminded of it when he told this parable. This passage plays on certain elements of Isaiah 5, but it is also different. The heir is not mentioned in Isaiah 5 and that is a main part of Jesus’ story. Jesus is the heir sent to bring order and justice to the vineyard. God has sent dozens and dozens of prophets and men and women of God to call his people back to him for centuries. Finally Jesus has come on the scene. His message is that the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. All the things the prophets spoke about are coming true in him. And in this parable, what does Jesus say will happen?

The heir will be killed.

He knew the leaders were plotting to kill him, but he comes to them anyway. He speaks this parable against them. Just as there has always been a remnant of believing Israel, there has also always been a group of those who reject God. Jesus is accusing the leaders of the Temple of being the one’s entrusted with the vineyard, but have rejected the landowner’s authority to the point of killing his messengers and even the heir. In the last passage in chapter 11, Jesus quoted Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7 when he taught the crowds after cleansing the temple. He quotes from two passages that talk about God including foreigners in his plan for his people. His intent was always to include Non-Jewish people in the plan he had for Israel. Yet, in Isaiah and Jeremiah’s time, the Jewish people did not follow his plan. Then, in the NT we read how the Jews of that time didn’t follow God’s plan either.

In verse 9 Jesus says in this parable that the vineyard will be given to others. This is another hint that the Gentiles are going to be included in God’s plan. He hinted at this when he fed the 4000 in non-Jewish territory as well as when he healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. Now he is speaking about it again. Jesus will be killed by these leaders in Jerusalem, but he will die for the world. This is why Jesus can be Israel’s Messiah yet speaking of him, John says for God so loved the World that he gave his son. His death is the sacrifice for sin for anyone who comes to him believing and following him; anyone, regardless of race or nationality.

In Verse 10 he ends the Parable and begins to teach, just in case it wasn’t obvious to the religious leaders that he was speaking this parable against them.   He quotes a passage from Psalm 118:22-23. He speaks this against them saying that in their rejection of him, God will establish something new upon him. Out of the broader context of Jesus cleansing the Temple in the previous passage, teaching that the vineyard will be handed over to new tenants points to the fact that true worship is now centered on the Heir, it is centered on Jesus, not on the Temple in Jerusalem. Israel’s leaders reject their King, yet Jesus rises from the dead to be the beginning, the foundation, the cornerstone of a new people of God, those who follow him. Christianity is born out of Judaism, but very quickly it begins to differ with Judaism. Many of the NT books talk about this transitional period where Jews who believe in Jesus are seeing this new way of living as increasingly different from their Jewish religion. The reason for this divergence is Jesus fulfilling what God had promised and bringing the Kingdom in his sacrificial death and his resurrection. No longer is a Temple necessary for prayer, sacrifice, or worship, we can now approach God anywhere through the work of Jesus on the cross. For Jews who followed Jesus, Judaism faded away into following Jesus, or what would later come to be known as Christianity. So, when Jesus quotes this verse from Psalm 118, he is speaking again about what Israel’s religion had become and how in its rejection of him, something new was coming. We will see this illustrated again when he talks about the temple being destroyed and rebuilt it in 3 days. The old is fading away and something new is coming. Another important part about Jesus quoting Psalm 118, is we just heard it in chapter 11 when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt. The people were shouting from Psalm 118:25-26. The crowd who came to Jerusalem with Jesus was quoting this verse in their acknowledgement of Jesus as Israel’s true and rightful King. This is what terrified the religious leaders. Now Jesus is quoting from this same passage a couple of days later.

But what does verse 12 say? They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid. The crowd loved Jesus. The leaders didn’t want to have to answer to them so they leave him. After they leave, on another occasion, whether the same day, or another day, we can’t tell, but on another occasion something similar happens. Some different leaders are sent to try to trap Jesus.

Acknowledgements and Sources

 

Review and Reflect on Mark 10:13-16

It seems a little odd that the story about children in Mark 10:13-16 is sandwiched between teaching about divorce and wealth. Jesus welcomed the children and the occasion provided for an illustration. He did the same thing at the end of chapter 9 when the disciples were arguing who would be the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. Here he uses the children not only to teach about dependence and humility as in chapter 9, but to teach about the Kingdom of God.

Children have no status, no influence, and no wealth. Children are dependent upon others for their well-being, their security, and their care. Jesus says this is how we are to receive the Kingdom. This is how we are to approach the Kingdom. Those that belong to the Kingdom of God recognize that they can’t earn entrance. We have to recognize, we are completely dependent upon our King for our well-being, our security, and provision. Jesus’ parable here opposes the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Children can’t help themselves. His parable opposes the modern attitude that says, “I will pull myself up by my own bootstraps.” Children can’t even tie their shoes. To possess the Kingdom, we have to recognize that our position is not one of pride, self-sufficiency, and authority. In other places something similar is seen as the root of all temptation – the world, the flesh and the devil. In this little parable about children Jesus instructs us to accept and believe the way they do. We are to trust the way they do. We are to hope the way they do. Children approach life with innocence, raw faith, expectation, and dependence. Jesus says we are to approach the Kingdom that way.

So why is this story in this spot in Mark’s Gospel?

This story is here as a point of contrast for what the Kingdom of God is like. Jesus has just finished talking about hard hearts resulting in sinful outcomes such as divorce. And now in the next passage he is going to talk to a young man about finances and eternal life. Citizens of God’s Kingdom have hearts that are clean, humble and self-giving, not hard and self-absorbed. Citizens of God’s Kingdom completely trust in their King for life, security, and for any provision. They don’t concern themselves with trying to leverage for position, or to find or maintain wealth and success. So this story is a good contrast to what we read about divorce in verse 1-12 and what is coming in verses 17-31.

 

Acknowledgements and Sources.

Review and Reflect on Mark 9:30-50 (Gospel-Centered Greatness, Part 4)

Jesus points us to the cross to gain proper perspective of greatness. He lays out the path to greatness before us in terms of humility and service. He also teaches that greatness is diverse, being found in different places and in different people. But there is something that hinders us from becoming great. Something that corrupts our desire to be great in God’s eyes and makes us desire to be great in our own eyes. The obstacle to greatness demands a serious response, and Jesus describes this response in Mark 9:42-50.

Here we have strong and confusing words from Jesus. I think it’s best to understand this passage as a parable in the context of Jesus teaching his disciples about greatness. Of course Jesus doesn’t literally mean that we are to maim ourselves. This would go against so much of what he teaches elsewhere about the role of the heart rather than mere external adherence to religious standards. Jesus teaches here that following him means forsaking this world’s understanding of what is great, and also forsaking the things that prevent us from living like people who belong in the Kingdom. In verse 42, Jesus has strong words for someone who would lead children or those who are easily influenced into sin. This passage builds on the previous verses in the overall context of Mark 9:30-50. Those who work in Jesus’ name will have their reward, but if they falsely proclaim Jesus and lead people into sin, their judgment awaits them.

When we consider some of the most horrifying things that we hear about on the news, verses like this give us confidence in the justice of God. But very quickly, Jesus moves to individual application in verses 43 and following. His instruction is that his followers would take serious action regarding our sin. Sin will hinder us from becoming great in the Kingdom of God. Sin hinders us because sin is regarding ourselves not just as important, but as the most important person. So, Jesus gives this parable on how his followers are to purify themselves. Some things must be destroyed so that the more important things can be preserved. This is how salt fits into the context. Salt played an important part in the preservation of food in our world until only recent history. Jesus is saying that purification and preservation are required to enter the Kingdom of God. Drastic measures should be taken to remove the obstacle of sin in our lives so that we might be pure and holy citizens of God’s Kingdom.

Our main obstacle to becoming truly great is our own sinfulness. This applies to those who have already risen to status in life and it applies to those who have very little status in this life. Our own sinfulness twists our desire for greatness and makes it self-centered not others-centered. Our sinfulness causes us to desire wealth, fame, influence for our own pleasure rather than to leverage for the weak, innocent, and downcast. For some, it causes us to avoid becoming great and instead becoming lazy. For others, it causes us to strive for a greatness at all costs leaving chaos in our wake.

The worst part about it is there is nothing we can do to overcome our sinfulness, we need someone to help us out of it. We can’t become great in the Kingdom of God without dealing with our sin and we can’t deal with our sin alone. This is why Jesus has come. His purpose was not to make his followers great in this world, but in the world to come. He subverts the world’s understanding of become great, what someone who is great does, and what hinders greatness. Our sin calls for a serious response. God responded to it by sending his son to pay the penalty for it. God calls us to respond to our sin with repentance. Rather than becoming great, our sin will destroy us, but God makes a way for us to be preserved. Though he is the great King of heaven and earth he humbled himself and went to the cross. He was destroyed for our sin and by our sin, in our place, so that we could be preserved and have life in God’s eternal Kingdom.

God calls us today to believe in this, to embrace what he has done for us, and to align our lives in repentance with him. We will only achieve greatness properly when we understand it in terms of the Gospel: A Gospel-Centered Greatness. We all need to consider who Jesus is and what he has done and how we have responded in our hearts and in our actions. He is the Great King, and he makes a way for us to be great in his Kingdom by believing that he has come and aligning our lives accordingly.

Acknowledgments and Sources.

Review and Reflect on Mark 9:1

Chapter 8 is a turning point for the story of the book of Mark. Up to this point, we have seen the concern has been over Jesus’ identity. Who teaches like this, heals like this, has authority like this? And in 8:29, we see the question finally answered by the disciple Peter when he says “You are the Christ, the Messiah”. Yet, their understanding of Messiah wasn’t necessarily the type of Messiah Jesus was and is. Popularly, the scribes and religious teachers taught all kinds of things about the conquest of the coming Messiah. Jesus is leading his disciples away from that type of understanding of Messiah to something quite different. The focus is now changing from identifying Jesus’ identity to identifying Jesus’ purpose. He says he must be rejected, he must suffer, he must die, and he must rise again.

This is very different from the way in which the people of that era were speaking of the Messiah. But, this is what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah. We finished chapter 8, but the context spill over to include 9:1. It’s anyone’s guess as to why the chapters are divided this way here, but let’s review the context and include 9:1 this time: Read Mark 8:34-9:1.

Jesus is speaking to the crowd, not only his disciples, and he says that some of them are going to see God’s Kingdom come with power. He is using military oriented words in 9:1, but he is not talking about rebellion. He is going to show that the Kingdom of God will come in power, after it has come in humility and weakness. This is where its power lies. The King submits to the kingdoms of this world and is rejected, suffers and dies. But, the Kingdom of God has such power that its King cannot remain in the grave. He is speaking here of the crucifixion and Resurrection.

The King will triumph over all the power that this world and the Kingdom of Satan has to muster in putting him to death. He will prove the Kingdom of God victorious when he triumphs over the grave. This is what it means for the Kingdom of God to come with power. It means resurrection. Many in that crowd remained to see Jesus rise from the dead. The resurrection is the demonstration of the power of God’s Kingdom. Bringing the dead back to life can only be done by the one who gives life. Jesus gives his life over to death and demonstrates his power by taking his life again. In doing this, he also demonstrates his authority to raise up all who believe in him.

He applies this understanding of the power of the Kingdom of God to his followers. He says triumph is found through dying to ourselves and pursuing the cross. The power comes when we realize that we can let our lives rest in the hand of God and live for the glory of God because even if we lose everything we can gain in this life, we will see our King at the resurrection.

In a time of turmoil and tragedy, we find hope in Jesus’ resurrection because we know that when we identify with him in his death, we also identify with him in his resurrection. Dying to ourselves, means living with Jesus. We have hope for this life and the life to come in Jesus.

 

Review and Reflect on Mark 8:34-38

Read Mark 8:34-38.

Wherever Jesus went, crowds gathered to see him perform miracles and to hear him teach, but this time he explains to them, that following him is not a spectator sport. Jesus says if you want to follow me there are two things that need to be done: 1) deny yourself, 2) take up your cross. This is one of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture. This discipleship Jesus calls people to, is not half-hearted or easy. Denying yourself is a refusal to be guided by your own interests and a decision to NOT attempt to control your own destiny. Jesus says, discipleship means you give up control of your life to him and it means that your destiny is not what makes you influential or great in this world, but our destiny is a cross.

Practically speaking, this may not cause all of us to live the same way, but it does call all of us to a radical manner of living. The comfort and prosperity of cultural Christianity in our age must constantly be compared to Jesus’ call for us to deny ourselves and set his sacrificial and humble death on a cross as our prize to attain. We cannot explain away the intensity and the seriousness of this call to discipleship. We’ll continually be tempted to placate this call and find balance or moderation, but this is not a message of moderation.

Most of the 12 disciples followed Jesus to their death literally. There are disciples all over the world who have followed Jesus to their deaths in recent history. Our situation in America may not lead us to martyrdom, but we cannot ease the sting of these words to our lifestyle, our motivations, and our goals. Jesus explains further what this means in a few different ways.

For clarity’s sake in this passage, the words “life” and “soul” are the same word translated two different ways. I don’t know why a translator would do that, but they did, so when you read this passage, reads the word “soul” as “life” because that’s what it says. He describes discipleship, or following Jesus, with three different concepts.

First, discipleship is related to what we lose and gain. We can lose our lives to this world and gain the next, or we can live for this world and lose the next. Secondly, discipleship is related to profit. We can invest ourselves in this world, and our return will be at most, gaining the things of this world. He asks in verse 37, “what can a man give in return for his life?” What can a person invest his or her life in and not lose their investment? The glaring answer that is unspoken is the same Kingdom of God that Jesus is ushering in, and will bring about through his death and resurrection. The third aspect of discipleship is where we place our pride and our identity. In verse 38 jesus tells us we can shrink back from identifying with him and his message or we can follow him. There are two roads before us. One leads to merely the potential for prosperity and success and comfort in this life but being rejected by the King in the next. In choosing the other road, you may lose prosperity or success, but you gain the Kingdom of God. Whichever road we choose, we experience hardship and injustice in this life. But by refusing to pursue the “ideal life” here, and instead pursue the Ideal Savior, we’ll have a constant companion in this life and a promise for the life to come. And if in God’s grace you do experience physical prosperity in this life, you will understand it’s temporary nature and you won’t place your how in those things, but your hope will remain in the Messiah. Jesus says in verse 38 that he will come in the Glory of the Father and with the Angels. The day will come when he will set everything right, but he calls us to begin to set our hearts and lives right today. Jesus’ call to discipleship in this passage is a description of what he means when he says the proper response to his message is belief and repentance.

This is what repentance looks like. It looks like denying ourselves and pursuing the life of the cross.

Lest we think this isn’t practical and applicable, let’s think about it. Are you denying yourself in your marriage or pursuing your own pleasure and your own rights? Are you denying yourself at work, at home, in your friendships, in your neighborhood? This may look different in each of our circumstances, but the Gospel is more practical than we like to admit. It’s easier to give 3 steps to a healthy marriage, or 5 ways to raise kids, or 2 ways to be successful at work. But Jesus says deny yourself and pursue the life of the cross.

Do you believe Jesus is the Messiah who came to die and will one day return to set everything right? If you do, then repentance is mandatory for we who call ourselves disciples, Jesus followers, or Christians. And that repentance looks like dying on a cross in every circumstance, decision, motivation, attitude, and relationship in our lives.

This is immensely difficult, but this is the life he’s leading us to, and when we believe and repent, it leads us to a life better than we can conceive in our minds. It leads us to heaven.