Here is a video that organizes a lot of what we have talked about the last few weeks. I didn’t make this video, but I think it brings together many elements in an understandable way:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
When you think of the Classic Christmas, what comes to mind? Thinking about the Classic Christmas, for each of us includes some different elements. Some of these elements include trees, decorations, sending cards, parties, gift-giving, large meals, family fights, and lots of different things. All over the world people celebrate Christmas, and there are differences in our celebrations. But, there are a few things we hold in common. The Classic Christmas for all of us is about traditions, expectation, songs, food, worship, and most of all, Christmas is about baby Jesus lying in his manger.
In a sense, our celebration of Christmas reflects the simplest and most enjoyable aspects of life. We pay special attention to family, traditions, singing, food, and worship this time of year, but if we think about it, these things are what makes our lives worthwhile all year long, there is just a cultural emphasis on it this time of year.
This Christmas, at SCC, we are going to spend some time looking at the “Classic” Christmas bible passages and enjoy this season of celebration with our church, our families, and our friends. In the midst of all the activity, our thoughts will be directed heavenward as we consider all that Jesus’ coming means for us.
First of all, I think it’s helpful to consider the origin of the celebration of the Christmas season. There is nothing about Christmas in the Bible, so why do we celebrate it? There are a lot of mixed reports on how the church worldwide has celebrated Jesus’ birth throughout history. There are records as early as the mid 300’s that talk of Jesus’ birth being in December during the winter solstice. This isn’t to coincide with the pagan holiday observance either. There is an early church theologian that identified Jesus’s birth with the solstice, not because of pagan worship, but because Malachi 4:2 is a prophecy of Jesus saying that the “Sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings”. The winter solstice is the turning point when the days begin to get longer. One might say this is when the sun rises to heal the earth of winter and bring springtime. So for this guy, there was a connection between Malachi’s prophecy of Jesus and the changing of the seasons. God designed creation in such a way as to point to his son, and Malachi 4:2 joins the winter solstice in pointing to Jesus.
There is evidence that suggests that at some points the church began to adopt pagan celebrations during the winter solstice and substitute Christian worship for the pagan worship. In other words, they used culturally appropriate methods to communicate the unchanging message. So, for much of the early church, there was no need to “keep Christ in Christmas” because Christianity was infiltrating the various cultural celebrations from the Middle East to Northern Europe. They weren’t trying to “Keep Christ in Christmas”; they were trying to “Put Christ into all Celebrations”. But sometime between 1000-1500, Christmas celebration was widely established in the western world within the church. Many of the traditions that grew out of the Protestant Reformation opposed celebrating Christmas, and in some places it was even outlawed. The Puritans intensely opposed Christmas celebrations. Between 1659 and 1681, Christmas celebrations were outlawed in Massachusetts. In 1855, the New York Times published an article talking about how Baptists and Methodists didn’t regard Christmas as a holy day, so their churches were closed. As late as 1869, public-school kids in Boston could be expelled for skipping class on Christmas Day. For some believers in America history, the concern wasn’t putting Christ back into Christmas, but removing Christmas from Christianity altogether. The background of Christmas celebrations in the church is varied and sporadic.
But, as the saying goes, “That was then and this is now”. All of us grew up in a place where virtually everyone celebrated Christmas. Even today, the overwhelming majority of people in our country still celebrate Christmas. We know there will always be people who don’t believe like us and celebrate different things than us. It seems though, that our society has more and more people who don’t believe like we do. It seems that understanding Christmas with reference to Jesus is being lost in our culture and many people have no idea about the Christian influence in the holiday.
The celebration that overtook pagan celebrations centuries ago is now being over taken by pagan celebrations. So how do we get it back? What exactly is it that we are trying to get back? Should we put a bumper sticker on our cars that says “Keep Christ in Christmas” or “Jesus is the reason for the season”? I somehow doubt that’ll change much, but go ahead if you want. As Christmastime seems to slowly be sinking back into paganism, talking about the way we celebrate will help very little. What I would like for us to consider is not necessarily the way we celebrate, but the reason we celebrate.
For many people, the reason to celebrate is tradition, gift-giving, or family time. All of these things are fine, but why is that what Christmas is all about? But what does this mean for us today? Why is it that you celebrate Christmas? As we approach Christmas, there are some important ideas that should guide us. Why do we celebrate Christmas? Why should we celebrate it?
First, we celebrate because all celebration points to Jesus. In Colossians 2:16-17, there are instructions to these early Christians about the nature of cultural celebrations. It says these festivals and celebrations are “the Shadow” but the substance is Christ. This passage is written in response to people in the early church who were giving other believers a hard time because some didn’t observe customs in the way others thought they should. It’s talking about how believers participate in the celebrations existing within a culture. How does this apply to Christmas? Christmas is a religious custom in our culture. Religious customs and observances are pointing to Christ. They are not the substance, Jesus is. When we celebrate anything, whether it’s a wedding, a birthday, or Christmas, we should be reminded of the celebration that awaits us when Jesus returns. It’s fine to celebrate, but all of our celebrating pales in comparison to what the Bible refers to as The Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Anything worth celebrating is the result of the blessing of God and points us to the time when we live in his blessing and presence forever. So why do we celebrate? All celebration reminds us of how God has blessed us. And if there is anything to celebrate in our lives, it is because of God’s blessing, as it says in James 1:17, The Father is the source of every good and perfect gift. If we have anything worth celebrating, it’s because our heavenly Father cares for us and gives us good things. So when we celebrate, it should be in a way that honors the Lord because all of our celebrating points to him.
Another reason we celebrate Christmas is to display the Gospel. Philippians 2:14-18 says:
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
The most enduring Christmas tradition is complaining about Christmas. We complain about being so busy, we complain about our family, we complain about the traffic, and the commercialization, and on and on. Christians are awfully good and griping especially when it comes to Christmas. Philippians 2 warns us about this attitude. We have the opportunity to hold out the word of life at Christmastime. People are more open to God this time of year. People who never go to church, will go to Christmas Eve service. People who never think about Jesus will all of a sudden think about him because the holiday is called “Christmas”. Don’t let your Christmas be filled with judgment and complaining, let it be filled with gratitude and worship. Don’t get angry because people don’t say Merry Christmas. Treat them with love and patience. The Christian way of celebrating Christmas isn’t to point people away from Santa, or materialism or saying happy holidays; the Christian way to celebrate Christmas is to point people to Jesus so they find something they can truly celebrate in all of life, not just this time of year. The Christian way to celebrate Christmas is to hold out the word of life, the Gospel, and be lights in the darkness.
We shouldn’t complain about those who aren’t “Keeping Christ in Christmas”. People who don’t know Christ can’t keep him in Christmas. They are doing at Christmas time what they do in all of their lives. They are worshiping other things besides God. Materialism and selfishness are destructive personally and to our society, but the call of the church isn’t to oppose a secularization of what at some points has and has not been a Christian holiday. We proclaim Christ crucified, risen, and coming again. We have the message of the one true God who is worthy of worship. While people all around us are looking everywhere else for fulfillment and meaning this time of year, it is only the church who can say “Look to Jesus”. As people are searching for depth and something real this Christmas, be bold in your faith. Invite someone to church. Ask someone why they celebrate Christmas. Talk about the Lord and how you have found forgiveness, life, and purpose in the Gospel.
Lastly, we celebrate Christmas because there are glimpses of the Kingdom of God everywhere. People decorate. We create beauty. Everyone has a song of worship on their lips as they sing carols. We make plans so we can spend time with friends and family. There are signs of the Kingdom of God everywhere. Radio stations that play the trashiest music all of a sudden burst forth in praise to the Son of God. In the stores where people worship the gods of materialism, there are songs about the Lord being played as if to call people out of their pursuit of lesser things to find what truly matters. And people who never worship God, for no particular reason are moved to go to church on Christmas eve, even if they don’t know why. The excitement and expectation, the songs and stories, the gatherings and gifts are all points of contact where God’s Kingdom of heaven is coming to earth. What we celebrate and enjoy at Christmas points us to the day when God will finally restore his creation and establish his Kingdom. There will be peace on earth and goodwill among men one day.
So this Christmas, celebrate! Celebrate all of the festivities of the Classic Christmas. Give gifts because God has given his Son for us. Gather with family and remember that Christ is our brother and our Father watches over us. Eat and drink and remember that Jesus is the Bread that brings life. Christmas is about baby Jesus, so let’s sing the songs and put up the decorations of the divine baby and proclaim that baby Jesus grew up and he died for us, rose again, and reconciles us to God as Messiah, Prophet, Priest, and King. There was a time when we were far from God, but he has brought us near. This is worth celebrating!
In the final days of Jesus’ ministry, he stands in the temple arguing with the leaders of Jerusalem and teaching his disciples and the crowds of people. You can imagine how much he would have taught so these few passages in Mark’s Gospel might be considered selections from his teaching over the course of the Passover week. Mark 12:35-37 is only a few verses, yet in these few verses is a profound lesson from Jesus. Rather than being asked a question, this time, Jesus raises the question before the crowd listening to him. Verse 35 reminds us that he is in the Temple teaching these things. We have already seen how Jesus’ teaching is reorienting the Temple worship around himself and this teaching continues to do this.
It was believed in Jesus’ day that the Messiah was to be a descendant of David. I’ve mentioned this before and it is an idea reflected in the term “Son of David,” used in the New Testament. This is the title Jesus was called the blind and deaf man he healed in Chapter 10, just before he rode into Jerusalem on a colt where they said “Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our Father David” in Chapter 11. But Jesus is taking the term, and expanding it here in these verses. His question shows a problem with limiting one’s understanding of the messiah to a person from the lineage of David. He’s not denying this, but expanding it.
The Messiah was to come from David’s line, he was going to be a King like David. The popular conception was that the Messiah would be as great as David, but Jesus uses this quotation from Psalm 110 to show that the Messiah would actually be greater than David. He is like David because he is from his lineage and because he is a king. But, he is also not like David because he is David’s Lord. Jesus is teaching that he is both the Lord and the Son of David. The conception of a political messiah that would fulfill Israel’s patriotic and nationalistic hopes was communicated through referring to the Messiah as the Son of David. David was a warrior bringing peace through victory over Israel’s enemies. So the thought was, the Messiah will do the same thing; wage war and achieve victory. But Jesus points to being a Messiah that is greater than this. “Son of David” made the average Jew at this time think of a Messiah who conquers, waging war and overthrowing Rome. Jesus was helping his followers unlearn this.
“Son of David” was a misleading title for the Messiah for Jews, but it was a meaningless title for non-Jews. Non-Jews knew nothing of David, so calling the Messiah Son of David was unhelpful. So Jesus brings in both Jew and Gentile by referring to himself as Lord here. “Lord” was a title the early church would adopt for Jesus and one that we continue to use today. Jesus is Lord. He is Messiah and King together, man and God together. This can be seen in Romans 1 also where verse 3-4 says, “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord”. Romans 1:3-4 shows that understanding Jesus as Son of God and Son of David are complementary truths. Verse 4 also says “Christ” which is the term Messiah in Greek, and he is referred to finally as Lord here.
We understand the Lord Jesus as the Son of David fulfilling God’s promises to his people Israel, and has the Son of God bringing the Kingdom of God through his sacrificial death and resurrection. Paul’s Gospel is the same as Mark’s Gospel: Jesus is fulfilling promises and being King bringing the Kingdom through resurrection.
This is another example in Mark’s Gospel of what Jesus means when he says the Time is fulfilled. He is the one fulfilling the promised Time and keeping God’s promises. He is the one like David that was to come, and he is the one who is God dwelling amongst his people. He is the one who rescues us from our oppression, not a government or a tyrant. Jesus rescues us from the oppression of Satan’s Kingdom of Darkness, and he rescues us from the oppression of our sin and the result of death. As Messiah, King, and Lord he gives us true life eternal and resurrection into God’s presence forever.
He is like King David, but he is greater to an infinite degree. This is how Jesus uses this passage from Psalm 110 to teach his followers here in Mark 12:35-37.