Jesus told the disciples that they would all abandon him. It was bad enough that he knew the agony he would endure on the cross, but the emotional sorrow of the betrayal of his closest friends would be gut-wrenching. All of the disciples were saying they would never leave him, no matter what. Peter insisted, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” (14:31) Jesus told Peter that not only would Peter abandon him, but that very night he would also deny him three times.
Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks the disciples to keep watch and pray. They keep falling asleep. I imagine the impending situation has them exhausted from worry and dread. Jesus acknowledged that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (14:38)
When Judas comes to betray Jesus the tension is at an all-time high. The disciples want to fight, but Jesus stops them. Apparently, they immediately realized they were overwhelmed and that’s when fear kicked in. They all ran. One was slow enough that he was seized, but that fear was coursing through his veins so strongly that he left his clothing and ran away naked. That was better than sharing the fate of Jesus. We might see this as utterly shameful. How could they? And how could Peter deny Christ three times especially after Jesus said he would? Did he not remember Jesus’ words after the second denial?
Fear is such a powerful thing. It can be crippling. Fear can shut our mouths, stop us from going and loving others, and keep us from fulfilling God’s will for our lives. More often I see that fear holds God’s people back, but it can also provoke us to act as we shouldn’t just as the disciples did. The naked man and Peter are a clear warning to us. Let’s not let fear have the power to encourage us to expose ourselves shamefully or deny Christ even. In I John 4:18 we are told “perfect love casts out fear.” Let’s pray for perfect love. When we feel fear creeping in, let’s pray for our love to be stronger than the fear.
In Mark 13 we see Jesus telling his disciples that things are going to get bad. Before Jesus comes back there will be trouble politically, physically, and even spiritually. This isn’t what anyone wants to hear, but it is the truth.
Politically- verses 6-9
- Leaders will arise in his name saying “I am He” misleading many.
- We will hear of wars and rumors of wars. (Isn’t this already the case? My sister is in the navy and they are always preparing for a possible war. Right now the concern is Iran.)
- Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. (We see this, too.)
- You will be delivered to the courts. (You may find yourself in trouble for standing up for God’s commands. These persecutions do happen already. Check out the Colorado baker. He was “delivered to the courts” for not wanting to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage couple and recently again persecuted because he didn’t want to bake a cake celebrating someone’s transition from male to female.)
Physically- verses 8-9 and 12 and 14-18
- There will be earthquakes and famines.
- There will be floggings and betrayal that could lead to death.
- Some will have to leave their homes to run and hide.
Spiritually- verses 22 and 33-37
- There will be false Christs and prophets trying to lead people astray.
- Some will be found asleep.
Jesus says in verse 23, “I have told you everything in advance.” We shouldn’t be surprised when we see things getting rough politically or physically. God will help us with this. If we find ourselves speaking in the courts, He will send the holy spirit to help us (verse 11). If we find ourselves physically dealing with tribulation, we can find assurance in the fact that God “shortened the days” of disaster (verse 20). Jesus puts extra emphasis on the spiritual trials though. Here it is our responsibility to “take heed” and “keep on the alert”. We can’t get lazy about our devotion to our Father. If we are alert and on guard, we shouldn’t be led astray. This is why Jesus warned his disciples and it’s a warning for us, too. We don’t know when Jesus is coming back. We do know that he is and that we will want him to find us alert and ready!
A scribe goes to Jesus and asks what the foremost commandment is. “Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31.
It’s easy. Know who God is, love Him with all your heart, and love others. Well, when it’s put like this, it seems easy anyway. It’s interesting to note that if we are loving God with all our hearts, then we are keeping the first five of the 10 commandments. (Honoring our fathers and mothers is a way we honor God as well, because He put them in authority over us. Although you could say that this fifth commandment could go with the last five and loving others.) Likewise, if we are loving others, then we are keeping the last five of the 10 commandments.
How can we love others as ourselves? We can strive to think of others before we think of ourselves. If we can make our lives more about others and less about “me”, then we are on the right track. How do we love God with “all”? Well, we must love God with every part of who we are and outwardly it shows because of how we spend our time and money. At the end of this chapter Jesus points out the widow who gave very little, but gave “all she had”. That took a serious amount of faith. God is always pleased when we act out of faith in Him.
In Mark 11:12-14 we see Jesus appear to get upset and curse a fig tree because he was hungry and there was no fruit on it.
“On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening.” Mark 11:12-14
About a month ago, when our family was reading together, we came across this passage. My kids thought it was funny that Jesus was hungry and looking for food. It tickled them that he got “hangry” and cursed the fig tree because there wasn’t any food to be had. But this is a misunderstanding. Notice that the Scripture says there were leaves. Usually when a fig tree has leaves, it also has fruit. Jesus saw the fig tree from a distance and it looked like it was flourishing. It looked as though it should have fruit. Upon closer inspection, it did not. Jesus found this situation worthy of cursing.
Later, in 11:20-21 Peter mentions to Jesus that the fig tree he cursed is withered (dead). Jesus’ response is interesting. He says, “Have faith in God.” He tells him that if you believe God can do amazing things through you, without doubting, He will! There will be good fruit. And what does this mean for us? We need to be careful about how we are presenting ourselves. Do I look promising? Do I look like a tree that’s healthy with lots of foliage, but in reality I’m not bearing any fruit? If so, I need to understand that this won’t be enough. Jesus finds this worthy of cursing and death. May we all be faithful, flourishing, and bearing fruit for our Father.
There are many things that man has come up with that God really didn’t create us to do. The Pharisees loved to bring the complicated subjects up to Jesus and see what he said. They were always comparing his teachings to the teachings of Moses. So the Pharisees go to Jesus and start discussing divorce. Jesus says for them to go ahead and tell him what Moses commanded. They say that Moses said it was okay “to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Jesus admits that this is true, but reminds them that the Hebrews Moses was dealing with were a rebellious and ungrateful people. This was not the best way. In the beginning God wanted man and woman to “become one flesh” and stay that way. In Mark 10:9 Jesus says “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Jesus’ disciples wanted to make absolutely sure that they understood Jesus on this subject. So later they bring it up again. In verses 11 and 12 Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” They knew without a doubt that adultery is wrong. It’s one of the ten commandments. “You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14
We might ask “Why is this so?” Ultimately we have to trust that God knows what is best and wants what’s best for us. We can look at divorce in our society and see some of the ramifications of it and see for ourselves that it’s hard on families. Does God want us to be happy? Without a doubt, YES! Read Psalm 37:3-5 God wants to give us the desires of our hearts. We need to trust Him, be committed to Him and His ways, and do good. Our Father will take care of the rest.
When I realized later that I had volunteered to write a blog over this chapter I winced. Oh, dear. There is so much confusion out there about the transfiguration. Some say it confirms the “deity” of Christ. Some say it confirms that there is no “soul sleeping” because if there were, then Elijah and Moses could not have been there. I don’t have all of the answers, of course, but I would have a couple rebuttals to each of these assertions.
I don’t see the “deity” of Christ at all for two major reasons. It’s true that Jesus is transfigured and is shown in a new and powerful way on that mountain. He is glorified, radiant and shining, and wearing shockingly white clothing all of the sudden. However,
- Peter had just previously acknowledged who Jesus was. In Mark 8:29 Peter says, “You are the Christ.” The Matthew account of this has Peter saying more, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16) It seems very unlikely that Peter, James, and John thought Jesus was God.
- Then there is the cloud and the voice out of the cloud saying, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” (Mark 9:7) They didn’t think Jesus was in the cloud. And the voice in the cloud did not say, “This Jesus is also your Father in heaven.”
I still don’t have a problem believing in “soul sleep” either. I believe Elijah and Moses were resting in peace (RIP) and were awakened for this transfiguration.
- We are told in Deuteronomy 34 that Moses died and was buried. And we see at the end of Hebrews 11 that Moses, and many others including Elijah, have not received what was promised yet “so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.”
- In 1 Samuel 28 we see that Samuel was “disturbed” after dying and being buried because Saul wanted to chat with him. In that chapter we see that he came “up out of the earth.” There is no mention of his soul floating down from heaven to meet his body coming out of the earth. And he would need his soul to have a conversation with Samuel. Just as Elijah and Moses appeared with bodies and souls.
What I would like to know is what Elijah and Moses were talking to Jesus about! And another thing that I find interesting is that Peter, James, and John seemed to recognize Elijah and Moses right away. It doesn’t look like Jesus introduced them. I suppose this is how it will be in the kingdom. 🙂
Have you ever thought about how imperfect the disciples, that Jesus himself chose to follow him, were? They have already seen Jesus feed the 5,000 (back in chapter 6). Here there are about 4,000 hungry folks and compassionate Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “We can’t let them leave here hungry, can we?” Immediately the disciples say, “We can’t feed all these people.” And the excuses come out… “There are too many.” “We are out in the middle of nowhere.” “We only have 7 loaves.” The reality of the situation has them seriously doubting that they can do anything.
Now let’s think about ourselves in the church. Are we full of compassion and faith or do we also look at the reality in front of us and let doubt convince us that we are unable to do what seems too hard for us? I know the excuses I can find myself making. “Someone else can do a better job.” “I have a lot on my plate already. I can’t take on anything else.” “I can’t do this. I have no experience with it.” Excuses can even come with negative attitudes… “Why doesn’t someone else do it?” “I’m not good enough.” “I’m not smart enough.” Or even, “I just don’t want to.” Where did the compassion and faith go?
Jesus makes a good point later on in Mark 8:34-35. He says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
So it turns out that it wasn’t about the disciples and what they thought they were capable of. Just like it’s not about me and what I want my life to be like or even what I think it is already. Let’s not overanalyze things, but let compassion and faith move us.
(There is a short book by Thom Rainer called I am a Church Member. I recommend it. It changed my attitude on things about church that I was a little grumpy about.)
There has been a lot happen on the way to Rome, but Paul is still a prisoner. What, I wonder, were all the other prisoners doing? Were they mainly sitting around and only doing something when told to? We can see from chapters 27 and 28 that Paul couldn’t just sit by if there was something he could do to help. Paul had a servant’s heart. He served during the storm by encouraging the other 275 on the ship. He served by convincing them to eat and not give up. When they are shipwrecked on Malta, Paul immediately continues serving. He gathers wood for the fire. The natives are doing this, too, but I bet Paul is tired like all the others who had to swim for safety. He doesn’t let exhaustion stop him from serving. Paul serves again by going to see Publius’ father who is sick. He prays, lays hands on him, and heals the man. In a sense he has served everyone he came in contact with. He serves his own crew by serving and healing the natives because they, in turn, supply them for the next part of their trip! Paul was a blessing to everyone around him and he blessed them by having a humble and serving heart that prompted kind acts.
While Paul is serving and blessing, God is providing protection and opportunity. God gets Paul an audience by protecting Paul from the snake bite. God also gets Paul an even larger audience by giving him the ability to heal “the rest of the people on the island who had diseases.” Later, we see that God protects Paul in Rome from a miserable prisoner’s existence by providing a sizable rental property and a simple guard to watch over him. It seems sizable because this allows him to testify about the kingdom of God and Jesus to “large numbers.” God has provided Paul with suitable accommodations and the opportunity to witness to Gentiles and Jews while imprisoned in Rome for the next two years! For “two full years” he was “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.”
There seems to be a correlation between Pauls’ serving and God’s providing. What could this mean in our own lives? I personally would love to be a blessing to others as Paul was. Wouldn’t you? And what could be better than knowing God is protecting you and providing opportunities for you to make a difference for Him?
On a side note, I would like to point out that while it isn’t mentioned in this chapter, Paul did speak to Caesar. According to Philippians 4:22, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” Obviously, there was some success there for God among some Gentiles, some Jews, and some among the kings at least! This was Paul’s purpose. (Acts 9:15)
I love this chapter! It reads like an exciting adventure novel full of rising suspense, anxious expectation, unfortunate loss, and desperate hope. Now I don’t know a lot about sailing, but it sounds like as soon as they board the Alexandrian ship things don’t go so well. In verse seven we see that they had to sail slowly for a “good many days and with difficulty.” They arrive at Cnidus with difficulty and then they arrive at Fair Havens with difficulty. This voyage is a lot harder than it should have been and they have lost a lot of time. Verse nine clues us in on the time of year it is by saying “the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over.” Matthew Henry’s commentary says that it was now late September. They knew they would need to stop soon for the winter because it wasn’t a good time to sail anymore. And Paul warned them to stop, but they weren’t listening to a prisoner’s advice at this time. The captain wanted to get around to a better location for spending the winter.
Isn’t this nice plot development? There is some nice character development, too. Let’s consider the nameless centurion for just a minute. He was in charge of the prisoners and he had already previously “treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care.” Sure, he didn’t listen to Paul’s warning that they should stop travelling, but it seems reasonable to think that the centurion knows a fair amount about Paul. He probably went to the hearing Paul had with Agrippa. He saw the faith, love, and determination of a prisoner unlike any other prisoner he had ever been in charge of I would wager.
The storms get worse. The despair rises and Paul speaks up to assure everyone that God will save them, but not the ship. He tells them to be courageous. Soon, it looks like land is approaching and, while this is good news, a new threat is upon them. Can they safely make it to land? Some try to jump ship and this time it seems like the centurion listens to Paul when he says the men must remain in the ship in order for everyone to be saved.
We are approaching the climax of the story and Paul tells the men to eat and strengthen themselves. He encourages them and thanks God in front of all of them during a time of intense uncertainty. When day breaks will they see land? Will they be able to get to it? The next day finds the ship stuck and being torn apart by forceful waves. The soldiers think they need to kill the prisoners so they don’t go free. This seems like a reasonable plan, but the centurion steps up to protect Paul. What a climax! The ship is tearing to pieces, death is perilously near, and everyone must jump overboard. And the story ends just the way I love for a good story to end; with a happy ending! All 276 on the ship “were brought safely to land.” Was it all just physical salvation? Is there a future salvation for some who witnessed firsthand the power of God? Here is where the reader must speculate and come up with his/her own assumptions.
There are two reasons why it’s interesting that Paul makes his case to King Agrippa. First, it really wasn’t going to do him any good because he had already appealed to Caesar and knew that meant he would have to go to Rome. Of course, he had been told that Rome was where he needed to go anyway. (Remember Acts 23:11) It seems that Paul’s defense before Agrippa was all for show. Agrippa wanted to hear Paul and Paul wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to share God’s message. We can’t forget Paul’s purpose given to him from Jesus. In Acts 9:15 we see that Paul is to bear the name of Jesus “before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” Paul knows what he is about! He is to share the message with not only Gentiles and Jews, but kings! So we can see why Paul is considering himself fortunate to get to speak directly to Agrippa. He is fulfilling his purpose.
Secondly, it’s also interesting to think about who this King Agrippa really was. Agrippa’s great-grandfather had tried to kill Jesus as a baby, Agrippa’s grandfather had John the Baptist beheaded, and his father martyred James, a disciple of Jesus and one of the sons of Zebedee. Why would Paul care to make his case to a man of this lineage? Could he really expect Agrippa to care about Paul? Paul understands that God still wants Agrippa no matter what he or his family has done. He knows that Jesus died for Agrippa, too. Paul could have thought, “It’s a waste of time to speak to him.” But Paul shows us that NO ONE is a waste of time.
Agrippa is almost persuaded to become a Christian. Paul makes sense and his intense concern for all to hear and accept the truths he shares is compelling. But there are so many watching. And there is Bernice and Festus there too. Festus has already declared Paul to be out of his mind. Agrippa would be putting his standing and esteem in a predicament if he agrees with Paul. He cannot do that. However, he can’t say that Paul has done anything worthy of death or imprisonment either and he seems regretful that he can’t let Paul go. It’s such a shame to see someone have understanding and yet be so comfortable with the way they are living that they refuse to accept salvation.