Review and Reflect on Mark 14:66-72 – Peter denies Jesus.

As the soldiers brutalize and mock Jesus, they tell him to prophesy. Jesus had already told Peter he would deny him and Peter fulfills Jesus’ prophecy. So in their mocking, again, the soldiers don’t realize the truth of their statements. Jesus tells Peter he is going to reject him not once, but three times, and this is exactly what happens in Mark 14:66-72. Peter is a long way from when he responded to Jesus’ question saying, “You are the Christ”. This passage presents a contrast between Jesus and Peter under interrogation. Jesus is faithful, Peter is not. Jesus is faithful, and the man who is to become one of the most important people in church history is a miserable failure.

Peter first denies Jesus with a small denial, then a large denial, and then a great denial complete with curses and oaths. Sin starts out small, but then grows to something unmanageable. In Psalm 1, verse 1 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers”. There is a threefold progression in the verse. This is something that can be found in several places in Scripture. First we walk with sin, then we stand for it, then we sit in it. Peter’s rejection reflects this. He is minding his own business when someone recognizes him as one of Jesus’ followers. He denies it to the girl and walks away. Then, this same girl, remarks to those standing with her, saying “That guy is one of them”. Peter denies it to the group of people. Then a group of people begins to recognize him. And he calls down curses and swears to them that he doesn’t know Jesus. Verse 72 says, “Immediately the rooster crowed a second time.”  Peter heard it, and he remembers what Jesus said, and he breaks down and cries.

We have all failed God in small ways. Most of us have failed in great ways. Most of us have seen how sin progresses in our lives when we accept it and then get used to it and then justify it. But it’s that destructive pattern of sin that runs its course in our hearts that Jesus died to break us free from. Don’t buy into the lie that we can live comfortably with sinful habits or thought patterns. We will eventually and inevitably reap what we sow. But, as we will see, Peter was restored. Jesus doesn’t condemn us in our sin; he was condemned in our place, for us. His desire is to restore us to proper relationship with God and others so that we love God and others properly. Sin hinders that love, it contradicts and opposes that love. So part of the restoration is removing the sin and sinful patterns from our lives. This can take time, this takes regular repentance on our part, and this takes God’s grace. God’s desire is to forgive our sin and restore us. So don’t run away from him, run to him. Go to him in confession and repentance and let his grace work forgiveness in your heart and life. Whether you need to do that for the first time today, or for the hundredth time, let God work his grace in your life and forgive your sin and restore you today.

God takes the man who publicly denied Jesus three times and uses him to point 3000 people to Jesus in his first sermon. Don’t you think he can use people like me and you?

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 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 9:14-29 (Part 2)

The disciples have witnessed this whole scene and naturally they wonder why they were unable to heal the boy. So they ask Jesus about it in Mark 9:28-29. After the disciples’ failure, they see how this father responds to Jesus in faith, and they wonder why they couldn’t perform the miracle. So Jesus gives them a lesson in discipleship. He teaches them that if they are going to do what he has called them to do, they have to pray. There are going to be times when they can’t just coast. There are going to be times when they are going to have to fall on their face before God. There are going to be obstacles before them that they won’t be able to overcome unless they pray. He shows them that their failure to pray is failure to exercise faith. Prayer is the action brought about by faith. A person who practices faith in Jesus prays. It is a demonstration of dependence upon God rather than ourselves. The reason they failed to perform the work of healing the boy is found in their prayerlessness and faithlessness, not in Jesus’ power. Jesus’ followers will fail, but he won’t. Jesus was willing and able to heal the boy, but when his disciples attempted it in their own power, without relying on God, they failed. If we are going to be involved in the work God is doing in our lives, our church, our homes, our community, and our world, one essential way we involve ourselves is through prayer. If we fail to pray, we fail.

There is a great book called “the Autobiography of George Muller”. He entered into ministry in a round-about way and pastored a small church in England. He was moved to start an orphanage that had only a handful of children. By the end of his life, he oversaw the care of over 1000 orphans. Many times in his morning prayers he would ask God for the food or the rent that was needed that day, and as he rose from praying, a knock would come at the door and a person would be there to provide the need. He would pray for a precise amount of money to pay the rent, or for that day’s food for the children, and it was provided over and over. He put himself in a position where God had to come through for him and over and over he did. He didn’t strategize or market or fundraise or network. He prayed and God moved. If you struggle to trust God with your needs pick up this book. Reading it will encourage you greatly.

Everyone recommends prayer, but few devote themselves to prayer. MC Hammer sang, “You’ve got to pray just to make it today.” Even Justin Bieber has a song called “Pray“. But, we don’t take time to pray because we don’t believe that God would move if we asked him. We don’t pray because we don’t believe it works. So, we work harder, or we worry and we place everything on our own shoulders which cannot bear the weight. We rush quickly to worrying, and stressing, and complaining, and griping, but when it comes to prayer all we say is, “All we can do now is pray”. Jesus showed us a life of prayer and in this passage he is teaching his followers about it. This is crucial to learn for our personal walk with the Lord.

If you want God to move in your life, or your home, or in our church, it begins and ends with prayer. If you want to be part of something great that God is doing it begins and ends with prayer. If you want to see someone in your life follow Jesus, it begins and ends with prayer. If you want God to set your life right, it begins and ends with prayer. Remember Jesus says that the proper response the Kingdom of God coming is belief and repentance. Prayer is one way we demonstrate belief and repentance. If you want God to move in your life, you have to believe in who he is and what he says, and you have to align your life accordingly. And this gives us plenty to pray about. So whatever it is that you see in your life that needs the hand of God to touch it, turn to him in prayer. If you’re tired of doing life your way because it isn’t working out like you expected, turn to him in prayer. If you want to be part of the great and eternal plan of God and what he is doing in redeeming and restoring his creation, it begins in prayer.

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 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.

Review and Reflect on Mark 8:27-30

The disciples are cast in the light of continually misunderstanding and misinterpreting what Jesus has been doing and teaching. But Jesus continues with them, not abandoning them, rather he teaches them and leads them. At this point in Mark’s Gospel, they have travelled to the Northern Region of Israel to proclaim the Gospel there.

Read Mark 8:27-30.

As they walked along the road, Jesus raises a question for his disciples. Several times so far in the book of Mark, we have heard the question “who is this?” asked. Having heard Jesus teach, or seeing him perform a miracle, people ask one another “who is this?” Who is Jesus? Finally, he comes out with it and asks his disciples about what people say. Wherever Jesus goes, his reputation has precedes him. Nearly everyone in Palestine has heard of him at this point. The disciples respond by saying that people believe he is someone like John the Baptist or Elijah. Others equate him with the great prophets. He is not just a prophet, but one of the prophets. People recognize Jesus is different from the other religious teachers and prophets that they have heard about because he has greater authority to perform miracles, to heal, and to cast out demons. Jesus brings the question close to home though, and asks his disciples, “who do you say I am?”

In verse 29, Peter speaks up, presumably as the representative of them all, and says, “You are the Christ”, “You are the Messiah”. They finally recognize that when Jesus has said the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come, that he was referring to his own identity as the one who would fulfill promise and demonstrate God’s authority on earth as King. As Jesus has healed people and cast out demons we have heard him tell them over and over to be quiet and not say anything. He even does it here with his disciples. They finally have a moment of clarity where they understand who Jesus is, and he says, be quiet about it.

Why does he do this?

Well, just because they understand Jesus to be the Messiah doesn’t mean they understand who the Messiah is. Just because you understand who Jesus is, doesn’t mean you know him. People have all kids of beliefs about God, but that doesn’t mean they know him, that doesn’t mean they walk with him or worship him. As I have mentioned before, there were lots of messianic notions and would-be Messiahs in the generations surrounding the time of Jesus (A great read on this is N.T. Wright’s book, “Simply Jesus“). However, there is nothing in the historical record, outside of the Bible, where anyone interprets who the Messiah would be the way Jesus does. Most conceptions of the Messiah involved political and military influence. Many if not most people thought the Messiah would be the King who would come like David, and overthrow the oppressive regime through military might.

Our day is no different. People have all kinds of beliefs about who Jesus is. These beliefs are affected by desires, politics, economics, suffering, oppression, health, and many other factors. We cannot control how our circumstances force our minds and hearts to interpret things. But, we can seek to align our beliefs with what Jesus says about himself, and what his earliest followers say about him. Beliefs we form about Jesus outside of the Scriptures have only our minds and circumstances as a foundation. Yet, with the Bible as a foundation for forming our beliefs, we have a fixed point of truth whereby our belief systems, though they vary greatly, may grow in their proper response to Jesus.

Jesus tells his disciples to be quiet about him being the Messiah because he had no intention of rousing a rebellion or raising an army. But, he certainly could have. Remember he had fed huge crowds of people – 5000 at one point and 4000 at another. Jesus could have raised an army of several thousand people had that been his intention. But it was not. So the disciples finally grasp who Jesus is, but they still only grasp it in part.

It will take time before they fully understand who Jesus is, but as they follow him they will grow in understanding. All of our theologies will be corrected in eternity, but as we follow Jesus, we will grow in our understanding of who he is. Our belief will be clarified and developed. But the disciples understood some basics. Jesus is the Messiah. How it affects our particular circumstances may change, but that fact remains. This is where belief and repentance join together properly. As we follow Jesus it will bring us to points of time where repentance is required. As we believe more adequately and our understanding of Jesus grows, so will our practice of repentance align our lives closer to him as we follow him. This in turn affects our hearts and our actions, our mind and our relationships. This is the road to restoration that will find it’s destination at the resurrection.

Knowing who Jesus is and knowing Jesus are two different things. The former requires historical and biblical knowledge, the latter requires belief and repentance. Knowing Jesus means following him.

Review and Reflect on Mark 6:30-44

If you remember, Jesus was beginning to expand his ministry throughout the region surrounding the Sea of Galilee. He had been working in Capernaum up to this point, but now has gone to Nazareth where he was rejected by the people he grew up with in his home town. So he continues on to the surrounding villages. He also sends out his 12 disciples to preach this message of God’s coming Kingdom. After an unknown period of time goes by, the disciples rejoin Jesus on his mission and the story picks up in Mark 6:30-32. The disciples recount to Jesus their success in preaching throughout the region and it is presumed from their positivity that many people responded to their message in belief and repentance. Jesus has continued in his preaching and healing ministry as well, so when they all get back together, there is a crowd gathered as usual. Jesus recognizes that they all need to find rest and at least find time to eat, so he says, let’s get out of here and go where no one else is.

We live in a fast paced world and we are always moving. Even if we aren’t moving physically, we are moving socially or emotionally. We are under a constant barrage from TV, Phones, and computers. So if we are alone, even then we are not by ourselves because of these devices. Just think about the questions and “what-if’s” that run through our minds if we are to turn off our phones. A lot of people leave their phones on all night, just in case. But at some point, we need to unplug for an hour, an afternoon, or some extended period of time. In our day, perhaps more than any time in history, silence and solitude is difficult to find for extended periods. After these disciples worked and helped people, Jesus saw they needed rest. I wonder how many of us need to rest? In verse 31 Jesus says “Come with me, by yourselves.” We must make time to turn off the phone, computer, and TV and simply be alone and silent with Jesus. It is commonly recognized how taking a vacation will help you return to work more productive. Well, taking time to be alone, and silent and just sit and speak with Jesus is about more than simply relaxing. It’s about allowing him to restore our souls. To inform our perspective on life, and to refresh our minds, emotions, and wills. Some people have called this devotional time, or quiet times. Where you wake up early and read your bible. This a good practice, but we also need to take extended time to be quiet and alone, and unplugged. This is a very difficult thing to do in our day because of our technology. But it wasn’t easy in Jesus’ day either. He tries to go to a deserted place with his disciples, but people find out about it. If he had a phone it would have been ringing like crazy.

Mark 6:33-44

This story and the story of the resurrection are the only two miracles recorded in all four Gospel accounts. All the numerical details are the same – 5000 people, 5 loaves, and 2 fish. One of the reasons for this story is to highlight Jesus’ greatness and authority. There is a similar story found in 2 kings 4 where a man brings the prophet Elisha 20 loaves of bread and he says to give them to the man’s army of 100 men. When he obeys the prophet, all the men are filled and there is bread leftover. If the great prophet Elisha could multiply 20 loaves for 100 men, look how Jesus multiplies 5 loaves and 2 fish for 5000 men. Jesus’ greatness is disproportionate to Elisha’s and he was a great prophet. And if he was a great prophet, then who must Jesus be?!

There are also echoes of Psalm 23. The idea of a shepherd is in verse 34, there is green pastures mentioned in verse 39 and everyone is satisfied or restored in verse 42. As I have mentioned before, in the Biblical times, Shepherd has a royal quality to it. Jesus has compassion on the people because they have no King and they do not yet fully understand that he is their true King. The kings ruling over Israel are false Kings who do not provide for their sheep, their people. This story highlights how the True King, Jesus, will meet every need of his people. We have seen Jesus demonstrate his authority over demons, and weather, and even death. He demonstrates his authority here too, but in a new way. Here, it helps people.

When Jesus says, the time is fulfilled, and God’s Kingdom has come, there is a personal component to it. It impacts all of creation, it overwhelms the dominion of Satan, and it sets the Kingdoms of man in their proper place of submission. But it also affects normal people. These people follow Jesus around the lake so they can be with him. They may not understand all of what he is saying, but they are walking great distances and doing without food to follow Jesus. We should strive to know more about Jesus, but there will always be lots we don’t understand. But look at the lengths these people went through to simply be with him. To hear him. To see him. How uncomfortable are you willing to be to follow Jesus? These people hadn’t even eaten and they were nowhere near their homes. But they were near to Jesus. They were near to their Shepherd. Jesus understood all of this, and having compassion upon them, he fed them. He multiplied the bread and the fish to sustain his people. nd look what happens. The people aren’t merely sustained. They weren’t just kept from starving. Verse 42 says “They were satisfied”. It says all of them were.

Anyone who comes to Jesus on his terms will be satisfied. Psalm 23 says that the Lord restores our souls. People often think they can find satisfaction in so many other things, and then when you add Jesus, it will make it better. But these people had to leave town and find Jesus in a desolate and solitary place. But when they did, they were satisfied. What do you need to leave behind in order to pursue Jesus and be satisfied? Our careers cannot satisfy. Demanding that our marriages and families revolve around our needs and our desires cannot satisfy. Psalm 107:8-9 says, “Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, 9 for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”

On this day around 5000 people found this out. Verse 43 says there were even leftovers. This means there is more than enough for anyone who will come. He fed them in a desolate place that day when they came to him. He will do the same today. He satisfies the hungry soul.

Have you come to Jesus or are you still seeking after the things this world has to offer in order to be satisfied. Only he can satisfy, and he says if you come to him, it must be by belief and repentance. You must come to him on his terms. He is the King and we must align our lives with him. Will you believe and repent today?