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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and Acknowledgments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is he your king?

 

Sources and acknowledgments

Review and Reflect on Mark 15:1-15

Jesus was condemned to death in a falsely held trial. Rather than worshipping him as the Divine King of the Jews, they condemned him for claiming this. The council that pronounced this judgment lacked the authority to carry out the death penalty officially, so they have to take Jesus to the Romans procurator for a his sentencing. In Mark 15:1-15, Jesus goes before the Roman Procurator or Governor, Pilate. Outside of the Bible, there are historical documents that tell us that Pontius Pilate was not the type of ruler who could be easily influenced or swayed. Jerusalem was not exactly a desirable post for a Roman Governor during this time period because uprisings and small rebellions were breaking out all the time. Pilate was known to have operated on a principal of crushing rebellions quickly rather than diplomacy. The trial of Jesus is seen to be a bit out of character for Pilate from what we know of him elsewhere. So, I think what we see is Pilate responding in this situation in such a way as to avoid another uprising. Pilate was not one to be swayed by the Jewish leaders or by a crowd. But, when he sees rebellion unfolding, he crucifies Jesus as a means of avoiding this rebellion by the crowd.

Pilate asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews and Jesus answers him, saying it is so. From there, verse 3 says the chief priests accused Jesus of many things. When Jesus doesn’t answer, Pilate is amazed that Jesus doesn’t respond to the accusations. Verses 6 and following describe a tradition that Pilate observed where he would release a prisoner during a time of Celebration. Another man named Barabbas was imprisoned for murder he committed during one of the many uprising of the Jews against the Romans. He thought for sure that this man was worse that Jesus, so he asks the crowd to consider whether he should release Jesus or Barabbas. Pilate knew that the chief priests really had no case against Jesus and just wanted him killed because he opposed them. So he tries to find a way out of the mess without making either the crowd or the leaders angry. Well, his plan backfires.

The religious leaders are able to sway the crowd that was there that day, and Barabbas, a murderer, is released. So Pilate, asks what to do with Jesus then, and they cry out, “Crucify him!” In verse 14, it is clear that Pilate sees no reason to do so, yet the crowd calls out, “Crucify him!” So, in verse 15, Pilate bows to the will of the crowd, presumable, to avoid creating the motivation for an uprising by the crowd. The crowd is influenced by the Jewish leaders and Pilate carries out this death sentence. We have seen in other places how Jesus is bringing together Jew and Non-Jew (or Gentile) into the Kingdom of God, and here in verse 1 we see again Jew and Gentile are brought together. This time, though, Jew and Gentile are brought together to show how they’ve rejected the Messiah. Soon, Jesus is going to die for the sins of the whole world, but first, he is rejected by the world, Jew and Gentile alike, and sentenced to his death.

At points in history, some have twisted scripture to show the Jews alone as responsible for Jesus’ death. But in this story, it is clear that all are responsible. The next part of the story illustrates this even more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and Acknowledgments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review and Reflect on Mark 14:12-26 – Jesus gives the Passover as the Lamb

As part of the celebration of the Passover, there was a special meal prepared and shared that told the story of how God acted to deliver Israel from Egypt. The day when everyone ate this meal had arrived, and in Mark 14:12-26, Jesus is going to share it with his followers.  In verses 13-15, Jesus tells his disciples where to go to prepare the meal. It doesn’t say whether Jesus made these preparations ahead of time or not, but it is meant for us to understand in the context of Jesus’ authority. Remember how in chapter 11 Jesus sent his disciples to get the colt and to say “the Lord needs it and will return it”? Well this is similar here. The owner of the house responded to Jesus’ authority and gave him use of the room. Verse 17 says that as evening came, Jesus joined them in the room for the meal. Jesus knew what Judas had done back in verse 10, and he tells all of the disciples that one will betray him. In verses 18-20, Jesus says, this one who will betray me is one of you, eating this meal, sharing life with me.

Judas has always been presented in a terrible light, but he was one of Jesus’ closest friends. He travelled with him and worked with him for roughly 3 years before he betrayed him. That is what makes his betrayal all the more tragic.  Jesus was betrayed by someone he loved deeply.  But even in this terrible betrayal, the plan of God was going to be accomplished, and would not be hindered. Then in verses 22-25, Jesus shares the Passover meal with his followers. We have read that Jesus’ message was that the Kingdom of God has come close enough to experience and that the promised Time is fulfilled. We have seen throughout this Gospel that Jesus continually teaches that the reason this is happening is because he is the King and he is fulfilling the promises. Jesus fulfills the promises of Kingship passed down from David. He fulfills the law passed down from Moses. He fulfills the sacrificial system and the Temple with its religious expressions. He has re-oriented all of the promises and worship of God’s people upon himself. And here in verses 22-25, he now re-orients the Passover toward and upon himself. He says the cup that all drink of now represents his blood. He says that the bread that is broken and is passed out to everyone now represents his body. God delivered Israel from Egypt by killing the firstborn. Now God is going to deliver humanity from slavery to sin and bondage to death through the death of his own son. In Egypt, those who killed the lamb and applied the blood were passed over by death. Jesus is now showing that those who apply his blood to their lives will also be passed over by eternal death. He is the lamb who brings deliverance to the people of God and he is the lamb who takes away the sins of the world. This is a primary reason why since the first days of the church, church gatherings all over the world and throughout history have participated in Communion, Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. We remember our Lamb who is also our King. He rules over the world and he died to take away our sins. He gives his church this meal to share to remember what he has done for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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