Parts of the Bible have been around for nearly 4,000 years. Some parts are very clear and transcend time, place, language, and culture. Instructions to not steal or to not murder generally don’t need a lot of contextual background to be understood.
Other parts of the Bible come from contexts that are very different from our context and certain points can be confusing or easily lost in translation. Galatians 4 uses words like slaves, heirs, and sons. Paul wrote this against the backdrop of the Roman Empire so it is helpful to have a background understanding of civic and family life in ancient Rome to more easily understand Paul’s points in this part of his letter to the Christians in Galatia.
Rome had different categories of persons. To be a citizen of Rome was to be a person of privilege. You had a lot of rights as a citizen: to vote, to run for public office, to get married, to make use of the legal system, to not be tortured or whipped. This citizenship status and the accompanying rights were given to certain men. Women had a lesser status as citizens and fewer rights- they could not vote nor run for public office. Children had no rights, but they came under the protection of their fathers until the time when their fathers released them to become full citizens.
There were other categories in the Roman Empire including Freedmen (former slaves, now free) who had some rights but were not automatically granted citizenship. There were also Client States or allies who had some limited rights as citizens but not full citizenship. Slaves had no rights and were not considered to be persons under Roman law.
Because Paul was a Roman citizen and was writing to Christians who were in the Roman Empire, they would have had a basic understanding of these facts. In addition to being a Roman Citizen, Paul was also a Jew and there were elements of the Jewish faith that would also have been well understood by these Galatian Christians, particularly those who themselves were Jews. Paul also utilizes what is known as an allegorical interpretation of the Bible as he argues his case here. An allegorical reading sees beyond the literal meaning of the story to the deeper symbolism found therein.
With this as a background, Paul is showing these Christians that life in Christ is far superior to life under the Jewish Law. Becoming a Christian is like going from being a slave to becoming a son. To be a son is vastly better in terms of the rights given compared to being a slave. Paul uses this to show the stark contrast between living under the law of Judaism vs. being redeemed by God and granted the spirit and the gift of sonship whereby we are now heirs of God’s coming Kingdom. This should be a no-brainer. And yet, Paul has been facing opposition from those who are teaching that Gentile converts to Christianity must live under the Jewish Law. That is like telling an adopted son that he has to live under the rules of the slave. It’s crazy.
Today, it’s not terribly likely that you as a Christian are going to be bombarded by people trying to convince you to live under the Jewish law. When was the last time someone insisted that you get circumcised (if you are an uncircumcised male), eat kosher foods, strictly observe the Jewish Sabbath, make pilgrimages 3 times a year to Jerusalem and offer sacrifices at the temple (when there is no temple anyway)? We’re not likely to be enticed to enter into the “slavery” of law-keeping. However, we very likely are being invited to enter into the slavery of lawlessness or sin. Far more commonly, Paul talks about being a slave to sin and death. As sons of God, we don’t have to become Jews and follow Jewish dietary and ceremonial laws, but we do have to follow Christ and live godly lives. In Galatians 5 Paul will contrast living by the flesh vs. living by the spirit. Paul wants Christians here to understand that in Christ we are not slaves but free. We are not slaves we are sons (and daughters). We should use that freedom wisely and not misuse it to be enslaved again whether it be to the law or to sin/the flesh.
Questions for Discussion:
1. How does seeing yourself as a son or daughter rather than as a slave change how you live?
2. How have you misused your freedom? What parts of slavery do you find most tempting?
I don’t know about you, but to me, it feels like the world is really divided right now. More divided than we’ve been in a long time. Liberal vs. Conservative. The liberals call the conservatives Fascists or Nazis, the conservatives call the liberals Communists. We are divided between theists and anti-theists, or some would divide us as racist or anti-racist. Still, others would divide us as binary or non-binary, pro-live or pro-choice. Living in perpetual states of division is stressful, painful, and exhausting. In the words of Rodney King during the L.A. racial riots of the early 1990’s “Can we…can we all get along?”
That’s kind of what Paul was saying to the Galatian Christians. There was division going on in their Church. Paul taught them that we are saved by putting our faith in Jesus Christ as the son of God who died for our sins and whom God raised from the dead. This salvation is open to everyone who believes, young or old, male or female, Jew or Gentile (non-Jew). As Paul was traveling on his mission to other places in Asia and Europe to share the message of Jesus Christ and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God with as many as he could, he received reports that people had come into the Churches in Galatia insisting that Gentile believers must begin practicing Jewish law in order to be saved.
Paul was pretty angry with the Christians there who were being led astray by the teaching of these “Judaizers” (people who insisted that Gentile Christians must practice Jewish Law in order to be saved). Paul calls them fools and victims of witchcraft for allowing themselves to be taught something so clearly contrary to the gospel that he preached to them previously.
Paul goes back and shows from the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) that even back in the time of Abraham God made his plan very clear. God always planned to bring salvation not only to the Jews who were descendants of Abraham but also to Gentiles who were not biological descendants of Abraham. Paul shows that God called Abraham long before the Ten Commandments and Ceremonial Laws were given to the Jewish people. As Jews, they were always recipients of God’s grace. The Law was never a precondition to them being chosen as God’s covenant people. Paul wants it to be clearly understood that for the Gentiles they are brought into God’s chosen family not on the basis of observing Jewish ceremonial law or even moral law, but on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ.
In Christ, old barriers and divisions come falling down. We all become a part of the one family of God through Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter our nationality, our age, our sex, our citizenship status or our righteousness according to the law. What matters is that we come to Jesus Christ and have been clothed in Jesus Christ.
Later in Galatians Paul will talk about what it means to crucify the flesh and to live according to the spirit and produce virtuous actions by the spirit, but the fruit is a result of salvation, not the precondition to being saved.
The only true way to end division in the world is by becoming one with Jesus Christ through faith.
Questions for Discussion:
1. What are the kinds of things that divide Christians and Churches today? What action will you take to help remove divisions where you worship and serve?
2. Why is it important to understand virtue as a result of salvation rather than as a precondition to salvation?
The following story is based on a Poem by Loren Eiseley called The Star Thrower:
Once upon a time, there was a man walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead, he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.
As he got closer, he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?” The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I guess I should have asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
“The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.
“But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!”
How do you save the world? One starfish at a time. That seems to be how God does it. When you look at the history of salvation as revealed in the Bible, God often begins the work through a single person. When God decided to create one special nation who would enter into a personal, covenant-based relationship with Him, He began with one man, a man named Abram (later Abraham). God entered into a special bond with Abraham and promised to make him into a great nation that would eventually bring blessing to all the earth. Abraham was the father of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. Israel’s mission as God’s people was to be a light to all the nations of the world.
Israel struggled to fulfill that calling from God and became very inward-focused. They elevated their unique relationship with God and emphasized their “set apart” status, worn as a badge of superiority. They lost the mission imperative that God first gave to Abraham.
God always had the heart to reach all people, not just descendants of Abraham by birth. When the time came to expand his relationship with all humans and open the doors of salvation to the nations not descended from Abraham, God again started small. Through one man, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s only begotten Son, God would open the doors of salvation to people from every nation.
It was difficult for many of Abraham’s descendants to grasp that in Christ, God was extending his saving hand to all people. One of the issues the early church wrestled with was “what is necessary for one who is not a descendant of Abraham, not from the nation of Israel, to do to become a member of God’s chosen people?” The church agreed that they needed to be baptized into Jesus Christ and be obedient to Christ as their Lord and observe the basic commandments to not worship idols, not steal, kill, commit adultery or misuse the name of the Lord. But still, for many of the descendants of Abraham who had lived separated lives, eaten special kosher food, and not shared meals with Gentiles, it was very difficult for them to imagine embracing those Gentiles, whom they had previously considered to be nothing better than dogs, as equals in the sight of God.
While Peter, James, and the other Apostles continued to make their primary focus on sharing the message of Jesus Christ died and risen and coming again as King with their fellow Israelites, the Apostle Paul was called by God to bring that same message about Jesus to the Gentiles. Through Paul’s preaching and missionary work, God’s kingdom was expanding to include people from every nation, and language on earth. God made it clear to Peter in a vision that the dietary laws that they followed as Jews and the physical act of having all males circumcised were not to be a requirement for Gentiles coming into the Church. You didn’t have to become a Jew in order to become a Christian. But this did not sit well with many Jewish Christians who found it challenging to let go of those old prejudices and barriers.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written to correct his fellow Jewish Christian and convince them to change their attitudes and practices in relation to Gentile Converts. When they tried to make the Gentiles become Jews when they became Christians, Paul called this a “different gospel”. They were creating unnecessary barriers to salvation.
Do we today put up unnecessary barriers to salvation for people who are outside of the Church? Sometimes we place our cultural preferences and traditions in the same category as the message of Jesus Christ and require others to jump through those hoops in order to be accepted into the Church. When we create extra requirements beyond the basic teaching of the gospels and expect people to meet our cultural expectations in order to be saved, we are preaching a different gospel and keeping people away from Jesus and his saving love.
Questions for Discussion:
1. What can the young man in the Star Thrower teach us about going about the overwhelming task of rescuing the world from sin?
2. What are some unnecessary barriers to salvation that you have observed in church or in your own witness to unbelievers?
Like most people, I enjoy stories about people being rescued. There is a universal appeal to a story where it’s life and death on the line and the hero comes to the rescue. Sometimes, it’s an ordinary person with “a particular set of skills” like the father Liam Neeson played in the movie Taken. Sometimes it’s a group of people who pool their talents to do a heroic deed and defeat evil powers or existential threats. Think, Lord of the Rings, Armageddon, or Independence Day. Sometimes it’s a hero with otherworldly powers who is willing to put his own life and safety on the line, like Superman, the Man of Steel. Many people have noted that Superman can be viewed as a kind of allegory of the greatest hero of all, Jesus.
As Paul opens his letter to the Galatians he leads with Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead by God, the father. God raised Jesus from the dead after Jesus “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.”(Galatians 1:4). There it is, the heart of almost every hero story. This is the story of Jesus, God’s chosen one who gave himself to rescue us from evil. This is not only the overarching story behind Paul’s letter to the Galatians, but it is the big story of the Gospel, the story of the Bible, and the story of life. This is the story that is God’s story, it is history, and we are part of that story. What I just wrote is called a metanarrative. The post-modern worldview which has come to predominate our culture rejects metanarratives which are grand stories that explain the truth in clear terms. There is no place in post-modernism for things like objectivity and universal truth. You have “your truth” and I have “my truth” and “no one should impose their truth on someone else”. Of course, this is not actually practiced by those who preach it and who are working to impose “their truths” on others as if they are right and others are wrong. If you don’t follow “our truth” we will work to get you canceled.
Paul has no patience for those who reject the Truth and listen to the voices of those who are trying to throw the followers of Jesus Christ into confusion by preaching a “different gospel”. I’m sure Paul would have a lot to say about what is happening in our world today. The loss of Truth, of metanarratives or big coherent stories around which we organize our life. As Christians, we are part of God’s Big Story and that story is Truth. Jesus said of himself that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” The Bible speaks in binary terms: good and evil, right and wrong, light and dark, male and female, lost and found, etc… The evil one has always tried to sow seeds of doubt and contradict such clear thinking. The evil one prefers to operate in the realm of “50 Shades of Gray.” Ever since the serpent tempted Eve by causing her to question and doubt God’s word introducing confusion and chaos into the world, there has been a war on the truth. Jesus told Pontius Pilate “The truth will set you free”. That was true 2000 years ago in Jerusalem, and it is still true today.
Jesus is a True Hero sent by God to rescue us from this “present evil age” which he did by laying down his life for us. That’s a hero worth believing in and following. Let’s not fall for the trendy lies of post-modernism, the lies of the evil one.
Questions for Discussion:
1. What is your favorite hero/rescuer story? What is it about that story that you find most appealing/inspiring?
2. How does Jesus as a hero/rescuer stack up against others (fiction or non-fiction)? How can you share the big story about Jesus with others effectively?
After numerous chapters devoted to preparing for the death and subsequent sacrifice of Christ, we finally reach the glorious reward of the Resurrection! Mark chapter 16, compared to the other gospels, is quite sparse in descriptive details of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. However, what it does depict breathes a message of hope and love for the future of the church, as well as a final instruction.
When Mary and Mary were given the message to tell the remaining disciples that Christ had risen, the disciples couldn’t believe it. “When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.” Mark 16:11. In fact, it seems like one of the things the disciples are best at is not believing something until they see it. They did not have faith that the thing they had been listening to Jesus predict for the past several years would come to fruition. Don’t worry because Jesus rebuked them for not believing when he found them again. Do you struggle to believe what Jesus has promised us? Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine a world where we all get along, where there is no longer pain. But without faith, we will never see this world; not because it won’t exist, but because we lack the faith to see it. Have faith!
The final message Jesus gives the disciples is to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15. That is our grand mission! What are you doing today to increase the Kingdom of God? Some of us are not called to verbally preach the word, and some of us are blessed with such a gift. But not being good at public speaking is no excuse to not spread the word.
Actions can speak significantly louder than words. In fact, that’s often the best way to spread the word; by living it out. To speak the message of Christ with empty words whilst living a life completely contrary is almost worse than to have never spoken a word at all. It is by watching the lives of those who follow Christ that we will be living examples of the love he provides us. In your joy, in your struggles, in your sadness, and in your blessings, praise God that you have been given this life to live. Focus on becoming the people that God has instructed us to become and devote your successes to Him. Live your life with the purpose of praising and worshipping Him, and He will reward you. As Christ commands it, do not simply speak the word; live it. Amen
2 witnesses are better than one! Today we have TWO writers for you – so below is your second devotion on Mark 16. Thank you Mason AND Jeff for writing for today. Keep sharing the good good news! Jesus is Alive!
Have you ever been a witness who was called on to testify in court? I have. It was an interesting experience. I had seen a crime committed, I reported it to the police, the criminal was arrested, I was asked to give a written statement to the police and I was later called on to testify at their trial. I will say that when you witness something that causes excitement, gets your heart pounding, and puts you in “fight or flight” mode, it affects your thinking and perspective. Everything seemed to be going faster than it really was. Normally it’s more believable when several people give their eyewitness testimony. Of course, no two witnesses agree on every detail. Each person sees different things from different vantage points. Each person remembers different details. Each person recalls the sequence of events in a slightly different order. These variations in detail are actually normal and good. If every witness testified exactly the same details in the same way the lawyers for the other side would be arguing that they were unreliable because they obviously got together and rehearsed their testimony, which is a big no-no.
When people read the Gospel accounts of Jesus they are seeing the story of Jesus unfold through the eyes of a variety of different witnesses. The Spirit of God is the inspiration behind each of the writers, but God works through human beings and through different witnesses. So it should come as no surprise when we read the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and also the writings of Paul, Peter, James, and others, that while they are telling basically the same story, they do so from different perspectives. The Gospel writers are either reporting what they themselves witnessed or what other eyewitnesses reported to them. They tell the same story with different perspectives and often emphasize different parts of the story or place the events of the story in slightly different orders in keeping with the overall theme of their account. Each story has different audiences in mind, different themes, and is not carbon copies of each other.
One very important rule that is repeated throughout the Bible is that there must be a minimum of two or three witnesses. (See Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16, John 8:17, and several other passages). We’ve already noted that there are four Gospel accounts in the New Testament which fulfill that important principle.
It is also interesting to note the background of who is qualified to be a witness. Jewish law has a list of different types of people who are not permitted to be called as witnesses: “women, slaves, minors, lunatics, the deaf, the blind, the wicked, the contemptible, relatives, and the interested parties (Yad, Edut 9:1).” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/witness . The Talmud, which is a Jewish Commentary from ancient times gives more details about who the “wicked” are who cannot testify. At one point in ancient Jewish history, shepherds were included in the list of people disqualified from witnessing. “As a class, shepherds acquired a bad reputation as being lawless, dishonest, and unreliable, above all because of their habit of trespassing on other people’s lands to graze their flocks.” https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2015/20-february/regulars/out-of-the-question/shepherds-character-reference.
Here’s what I find very interesting: two categories of people who were not permitted to act as witnesses were shepherds and women. I’m not interested in debating the fairness of those exclusions, but simply note that at the time of Jesus’ birth, life, and death, some of the people who were not accepted as reliable witnesses were shepherds and women. Why is this important? Consider, who were the first eyewitnesses who heard the angelic announcement about the birth of Jesus? Luke says it was “Shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8). It was to these “unreliable witness” shepherds that the angels appeared. And it was these unreliable witness shepherds who went and reported to Mary and Joseph all that they had seen and then went out and “spread the word” about all that they had seen. (Luke 2:17)
Now, maybe that was just a fluke… but maybe not. In today’s reading, Mark 16, we fast forward to just after the death of Jesus. Who is it who first go to the tomb after Jesus died? Once again, it was to “unreliable witnesses” – this time it was women. To whom did the angel appear announcing that Christ had risen? “Unreliable witness” women. Maybe it wasn’t a fluke after all. Maybe it’s a part of God’s deliberate plan to choose people to be witnesses of these important saving acts of God, which the world normally rejects. Does God choose to reveal His great acts of saving to the lowly people the world rejects? It seems He does. In fact, now that you know to look for it, pay attention when you read the Gospels and notice how many times the witnesses God uses come from the ranks of the supposed “unreliable witnesses.” How many times does God use women, or tax collectors (another category of unreliable witness) or slaves, the blind, the deaf, or just plain sinners to be His witnesses? You’ll find that from beginning to end, the Gospel is filled with “unreliable witnesses” who turn out to be very reliable. And in a giant flip-flop of societal expectations, it is the lawyers and religious professionals from the reliable witness class who are the ones who bring false charges against Jesus.
But the real question that each of us needs to ask ourselves today is, am I a reliable witness for Jesus? Am I willing to tell the truth about what I have seen, heard, and known firsthand about Jesus in my own life? Am I willing to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” about Jesus?
Questions for Discussion:
Why do you think God chose “unreliable witnesses” to be the witnesses to Jesus’ birth and resurrection and other key events?
When was the last time you told someone else “witnessed” what you have seen, heard, or experienced about Jesus?
Chapter 15 of Mark reaches the climax of the story of Jesus, but of course not the end. It’s the pivotal part where the prophecies he had been teaching of his death and sacrifice for our sins will come to fruition. No doubt, you’ve heard this story a thousand times, and for good reason. This event, the sacrifice of the lamb, is the only reason we are allowed to undeservingly reach salvation. What’s more impressive is that this story, just like virtually every other parable and sermon Jesus gave, can be interpreted to apply multiple lessons to our lives.
For instance, when bombarded by accusations and insults from the chief priests, Jesus stood firm in his teaching of remaining non-confrontational. “But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.” Mark 15:5. Jesus is able to remain non-confrontational when all he had to do was respond with a single truthful testimony. He refrained, knowing that all of humanity needed his sacrifice, as God willed it. Could you remain truthful and non-violent when the worst of life is hurled at you? How about when what’s being said is so obviously false, yet they won’t back down?
“’What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked them. ‘Crucify him!’ they shouted. ‘Why? What crime has he committed?’ asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’” Mark 15:12-14. Here, the people are accusing Jesus only on the basis of rage. There is no reasoning behind their decision, only malice. They refuse to listen to any voice of reason, as they are blinded by their own lust for destruction. Don’t be deceived by the masses and be sure to think critically for yourself. Never take someone else’s words as absolute truth without a grain of salt.
Nowadays, especially with the internet, people are more connected than they have ever been in all of human history. We see news quicker, respond quicker, think less, and react according to what we think other people would want. Whose opinion is the only one that ultimately matters? God’s, of course. Just like the members of the court who accused Jesus in an effort to please themselves, we lose sight of the only thing that matters. What’s worse is that we mock Jesus in our stupor as well; just like the court of those who crucified Jesus.
“They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’” Mark 15:17-18. They mock him for they do not know who they mock. Do you mock Jesus with your words or actions?
Mark 15:31-32 says, “In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” They mock the power of Christ because they do not believe what they cannot see. Even other people condemned to die with him are heaving insults at him because they cannot see beyond themselves or their own understanding. And look what it did—it sent our only hope of salvation into the most miserable state a person can physically endure.
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’—which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Mark 15:34. They sent Jesus into this state, and it is by their actions that they will be condemned. Jesus was blameless and had every right to scream from the depths of his soul at the nature of his torture. Do you ever feel that God has forsaken you? Sometimes it seems like He has left us because we don’t see His guiding hand. Be thankful for the things that you have and do not need and be thankful for the things you do not have but do rightfully deserve as a result of your sins.
Mark 15:39 says, “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the son of God!’” Only after seeing it can they believe, because although they see, they do not look. Remember not to be led in your thinking by the masses, for they do not know the manner of which the things they speak. Take heart in your suffering, for the true prize still awaits.
How are you at staying truthful and non-confrontational when you are wrongly attacked?
It’s a story we’ve heard a thousand times – Mark chapter 14. Jesus predicts that one of his disciples will betray him, one will deny him, and they feast for one last supper. He’s arrested and, in the face of threat of death, commits to remaining non-violent; even going as far as to heal those who oppose him. The archetype of betrayal, prophecy, and endurance coming together in one of the final chapters of Jesus’s time on earth. So, what more could we take away from these things after hearing it repeated our entire lives? There is always something new to be learned or applied if you’re willing to try to find it.
Starting at the beginning of the passage, a woman approaches Jesus with an exorbitantly expensive container of perfume. She takes this jar of perfume and dumps it all over Jesus, to which she receives backlash. Those in the company ridicule her for not utilizing the perfume for something better, like helping the poor. Admittedly, this would be a very honorable thing to do. But surprisingly, Jesus stands up for her and tells them to not shame her for doing a good thing to him. “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.” Mark 14:7.
This is an interesting thing for Jesus to say, as I would imagine him having the mindset of ‘do everything to help those in need,’ but this circumstance seems to be different. There will always be the poor and needy, there will always be the hurt and the wicked. Jesus is the light in darkness, as darkness is the default state, only interrupted by the presence of light, not vice versa. If we spend all of our energy trying to eliminate the darkness, we will lose sight of the light that sustains us incipiently.
Jesus is well aware of this, as the light that sustains and empowers him is God. He cries out “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36. Jesus is crying out in the most passionate and sincerely affectionate way imaginable to his father, begging that his death be made unnecessary, that this burden will be taken from him. However, he takes the proper mindset of being able to accept that what he wants may not be what God wants. When you pray to God for an answer, are you able to accept what He responds with in the same faith Jesus could? It’s no mere feat, but then again Jesus is no mere man.
Not only does he accept what needs to happen, but he also stands firm on what he teaches. If you remember from yesterday, Jesus specifically said to not be afraid when we are brought before the court for our faith, but to answer as the Spirit guides you to, as it is the voice of the Spirit that will talk for you. When they had arrested him and grilled him with questions, “… Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.” Mark 14:61. He needed not respond to their trickery but waited until he knew what he was saying to tell them the truth. For this, they killed him. Could you stand for truth until the end? Could you stand with what you believe and know to be true even if every person would hate you for it? If so, you would be stronger than Peter. He lacked this ability, and defied Jesus 3 times—to which end it destroyed him.
“Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” Mark 14:72. Have you ever gotten to the point in your sin where you don’t even recognize who you are anymore? For Peter, he had been spending the past couple years of his life devoted to following Jesus to the end. And yet, when it mattered most, he denied even knowing him. He had become so distraught by his sin that he had nothing else to do than weep at what he’d done.
Sometimes, when we recognize that we’ve fallen so far from the righteous path laid before us, and become so wrapped up in our sin, all we can do is weep and pray that God can forgive us. In fact, it’s often in these moments that we convince ourselves that there’s no way God could possibly forgive us for what we’ve done… but that would be missing the whole point of the story! Jesus died so that even in the midst of our most egregious pain from sin, we have the opportunity to be forgiven. Even Paul, who was a Christian-slaying murderer found salvation! Do not waste this opportunity that Christ has given to you, but rather repent for your sins and devote your life toward serving his purpose. Amen.
Even if you’ve read Mark 14 many times before – what stands out to you today?
How can you extravagantly love and honor Jesus?
What does it mean to pray, “Not my will but yours be done”? What do you need to surrender and give up to God?
In the past, how have you deserted or denied Jesus? Have you accepted Jesus’ forgiveness?
In comparison to the previous several chapters, Mark chapter 13 takes a rapid shift into a different topic. Recently Jesus has been responding to the trickery of the Sadducees and corrupt chiefs and priests, but as he and the disciples leave Jerusalem, he begins to speak on the nature of the end of times. Other than the fact that several of the disciples specifically questioned Jesus on the matter privately, I am assuming that this is sparking the point at which Jesus is coming to some sort of terms with what is about to happen. He has been warning the disciples of his death in somewhat cryptic manners, but I would imagine that seeing the state of the city and the leaders who were about to crucify him only made him feel worse.
Now of course, as is always the case, it is important to be able to read the Bible with discernment between literal and poetic/prophetic verse. Interpret with great caution for yourself what makes the most sense in the context of what is being said, so that we don’t confuse literal for metaphor or vice versa. For this reason, I will go through some of what Jesus is about to say and without completely putting a definitive interpretation to it, as much as I can (as is so difficult to do with revelational scripture), I will provide objective fruit for thought that is applicable regardless of your interpretation.
Alright, Jesus begins answering four of the disciples’ questions on what will happen at the end of days, when the stones and buildings will be thrown down. Jesus starts explaining the things that will happen, presumably in order although that is not clarified here, in detail. He first says, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.” Mark 13:5-6. Already he explains that false prophets will come claiming to be the Messiah, and that we are not to believe them. This is the main delineating difference between Christians and the Jewish beliefs; they still await a Messiah. This first point is fairly simple; we must be careful that we do not accept or invite another Messiah, for the one and only has already come. Let’s continue.
“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” Mark 13:7-8. Is this not incredibly applicable with what’s going on in the world right now? The news, 24/7, is pumping us with the prospect of potential growing war as the war in Europe is expanding and tensions between America and China heighten day after day. Increased frequency of earthquakes and constant food shortages around the world as farmers are told to stop planting their farms… But remember, “Do not be alarmed.” Have we not already won the war? Our battle is not in the flesh but for the salvation of our souls. The world will always be a bad place, as it is destined to be, but we aren’t put here to worry and cower in fear.
The passage continues with, “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” Mark 13:9-10. This is a tale as old as time, but ever more important to be prepared for as rights and freedoms around the world are being slowly and quietly removed or revoked in the heat of terror. Not only that, but believers will be brought forward within the church to be punished for the truth. We’ll be thrown in jail and persecuted for his sake. But again, we are told not to worry. What better cause is there to not worry about ridicule than the unquestionable word of God and truth? We have won the war with God on our side, have no fear in the face of adversity.
But what should we do in light of these things? Sure, we can say that we should have no fear, but it’s much easier said than done when facing the edge of tyranny’s sword against faith that is coming. Let’s continue reading to find out. “Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” Mark 13:35-37. Be prepared! Fortify your heart and soul with the truth of the word and watch for the second coming of Christ! Don’t wait until tomorrow to finally start that Bible reading plan, or tell your family you love them, or volunteer to work at that homeless shelter. We know not when Jesus is coming back, so we must be prepared at all times for when he does.
Remember, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Mark 13:13. Our battle is already won, in the face of all worldly adversity, so be prepared for his coming.
How many times in Mark 13 does Jesus warn to watch, watch out or be on guard (or whatever terms your translation uses)?
Why is this important to Jesus? Is it important to you?
What will it look like for you to be diligently watching for the owner of the house to return?
Do you sometimes find yourself worried about the condition of the world or the end times events? What would Jesus say? What can we do to overcome these fears?
Jesus, over and over again in Mark chapter 12, both evades the entrapment of those who wish him harm and enlightens his followers concurrently. In this chapter, men of simultaneous hypocrisy and high standing as well as the Sadducees attempted to either ask Jesus a question to bait him into testifying against the law of Moses or deny his Christhood. He first tells a story of a vineyard and its owner, then corrects hypocrites in their mentality on taxes, and catches the Sadducees in their deliberately poor interpretation of the word.
I highly suggest that, before reading further, you go read Chapter 12:1-12 for yourself because it caught me off guard! But anyway, the chapter begins with Jesus laying out a parable of a man who purchased a vineyard and put effort into making it a fruitful investment. He put a wall around it, bought a winepress, and even built a watchtower for its protection. Having invested this much of himself into it, he went on a rightful journey as he rented it out to some tenants. However, in their stupor, the tenants got greedy and refused to pay the vineyard owner what was due. The owner sent man after man to collect the money, all of which were returned either beaten or dead (not good). After the man had sent all his servants to collect the money, he was left with only his son. He hoped that, since it was his only son whom he loved dearly, they would finally respect him. But rather, they saw this as an opportunity to take the owner’s inheritance for themselves, and they killed the son too! Jesus then says, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this scripture: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’”
The chief priests, teachers, and elders who had questioned Jesus’ authority wanted so badly to persecute Jesus for telling this story, because it was clear that Jesus was talking about them. You see, the owner of the vineyard represents God, who built a beautiful place for the tenants, us humans, to live. He put effort into creating this world, and when He sent his only and beloved son to talk to us, man killed the son of God. But it does not end there. The scripture that he quoted stands as a retribution for the murder of Jesus. ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone, the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’ For those who don’t know, the capstone is the stone to surmount all other stones in a wall or pillar. That is, God took the stone that man rejected and elevated him to a position above the rest, and it is marvelous.
This also acts as a warning to us. Although that part is not as fun to think about, to ignore it would be doing injustice to the passage as a whole. The owner of the vineyard is to come and kill the tenants, because they killed his son. God has every right to put those who desecrate His son in their place. When Jesus comes to you with an answer or a question, do you push him away or do you welcome him?
In this passage, the son coming to the tenants is a final gift from the owner of the vineyard, that he may still have mercy on them after all that they had done. And yet, they squander this gift by killing him. Are you squandering the gift that God so graciously gave you; this life on earth blessed by salvation through the blood of Christ? We must not be overcome with greed and selfishness of the pleasures of this world that are only here because God put them here in the first place. If gratitude can be seen as a parent of all virtues, (by this meaning that we can’t truly express any other virtue without first being gracious for the current state in which we preside), then we need to be gracious for what God gave us. We are blessed to have this time on earth that we may spread the word and increase the Kingdom of God, as is our mission.
What do we learn about Jesus from this parable?
Do you accept that God has sent His beloved Son for you? How do you receive him?
What does it mean to you that, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (or capstone); the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes”? (Mark 12:10&11 – quoted from Psalm 118). Do you give Jesus the place of capstone/cornerstone in your life now? What does/would that look like?
Chapter 11 of Mark is so saturated in beautiful parables and stories that it can be difficult to draw one single lesson from each separate part. The chapter contains Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the colt, him cursing a fig tree, driving heretics out of the temple, and providing a puzzling dilemma to those who wish to destroy him. From this, however, we’ll try to draw something coherent.
The story begins with Jesus and the disciples entering the city of Jerusalem. Like the confusing things Jesus asked the disciples to do that we were discussing yesterday, He asks several of the disciples to go into town and mysteriously grab a tied-up colt. What could the meaning of this possibly be? Why would Jesus have them specifically say that the Lord needs it, and it will be back shortly? My best assumption is that this was partially meant to draw the attention of the townspeople that the Christ was coming. Additionally, simply because he called for it to happen, it was so. This is a very similar archetype to what Jesus does with a fig tree the next morning. But just keep in mind, Jesus said for it to be so, and it was.
The next morning “Jesus was hungry” (Mark 11:12) and went to find figs on a fig tree he had seen. As it wasn’t the season for the fruit to bear, there were no figs. Because of this, Jesus curses the tree itself: “[May] no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Mark 11:14. This made me audibly laugh out loud when I read it because it seemed so out of place and random for Jesus to get mad that he was hungry and then curse a tree. It is not explained at first but keep this in the back of your mind for later; it’s foreshadowing.
Jesus then entered the temple and saw that people were committing heathenish and blasphemous acts in the temple of God. “He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.’” Mark 11:15-17. This is one of the few instances that makes me believe that anger as an emotion is not a sin, but unrightfully acting upon your anger trespasses into the bounds of sin. It has been referenced as ‘righteous anger.’ In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes “In your anger do not sin.” Ephesians 4:26. In this circumstance, Jesus became rightfully angry at the desecration of his Father’s home and rightfully drove the sinners out who were blaspheming the house of God.
After doing this, as they were leaving the city, they saw that the fig tree Jesus had cursed the day before had wilted and effectively died. They were astonished by this, and Jesus replied, “Have faith in God, I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:22-24. I’m sure it would be hard to believe at first when Jesus cursed the tree that anything would happen so suddenly, but because Jesus said so in total belief and had patience, the tree wilted as He commanded. When you are praying for something that God would ordain to happen, do you believe in your heart without doubt that it will be given to you? If not, you have not the faith that is required for any reward to be manifested. Have faith that God wants the best for you and be ready to see the answer that God gives you.
Just as Jesus had faith in what he ordered and committed himself to an effort to do what is right (protect the house of God), he was rewarded. It is our goal to emulate this pattern of faith, prayer, and work to glorify God in the belief that He will reward us for our good efforts.
As Jesus entered Jerusalem what did the people expect? The disciples? Jesus? Have you ever misunderstood God’s plan or Jesus’ purpose? What were you focusing on? What is Jesus focused on?
Have you ever been angry enough about sin and unrighteousness to do something about it? Did you sin while doing it? How do we ensure that in our anger we do not sin?
Not having enough faith is indeed one reason your prayers may not be answered. How would you go about boosting your faith? What are other Biblical reasons for prayer not being answered?