Jun 042011

He has risen!
Mark 16:9-20

Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James & Salome had seen an angel who told them that Jesus was alive.  Now Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene.  She went and told the disciples, but was not believed.

What’s wrong with this picture?  What’s going on?

Didn’t Jesus just spend three years and certainly all last week, telling the disciples about His resurrection?  With the possible exception of John, none of the disciples were even at the crucifixion.  Why were they so willing to believe in His death, but not in His resurrection?

Why were they so willing to believe in His death, but not in His resurrection?  Wouldn’t they want to believe that Jesus was alive?  That He did what He said He would do.  Did they not believe Mary because she was a woman and an ex-prostitute?  It’s not like people rise from the dead every day, but they had seen Lazarus rise up after he was dead.  If God had allowed Lazarus to rise, why couldn’t he do the same for Jesus?  Where was their faith?

Eventually, Jesus did appear to the 11 and He scolded them for their unbelief.  He then told them to go and preach the Good News to the world.  Later, with His earthly work accomplished, Jesus ascended to heaven and His disciples got to work spreading the word — with His help.

As we close this book of Mark, we see that even the disciples had a hard time believing that Jesus did what He said He would do.  It took an appearance to change their minds.  No reports of a “Jesus sighting” would do.  Once Jesus made it clear that He did indeed accomplish what He set out to do, the disciples had no problem spending the rest of their lives spreading the Good News — even to the point of death (tradition has it that only John lived to a ripe old age — and he was placed in exile for his belief.  The other disciples were martyred for their faith.)  The fact that we are here as Christians today is a testament to the work they began, but mostly due to the work God did through His people.  If God wasn’t in it, there is no way that this obscure “Jewish sect” (Christianity) would have spread as it has.

Jesus said: “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.”  Christianity was begun by those who had seen, but spread over two millennia by those who believed.  If you have faith that Jesus did what He said He would do, then you should be spreading the Good News as well.  Jesus’ command to “go” wasn’t just for 11 men, but for all those who know the Truth.  And don’t be afraid — God will help you every step of the way.  He does not sleep, and wherever you are, there He is.  Go for it!

Jun 042011

The Passion of the Christ
Mark 15:21-16:8

With the recent opening of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” this passage of scripture has more meaning than it ever has.  What Jesus went through was a bloody, awful ordeal.  Three years ago when I wrote this, I felt that the reality of Jesus execution had, for the most part, been glossed over, so I tried to explain how horrible it was.  No longer; now I can say, “go see the movie.”  Still, you should read this devotional as a reminder of what Jesus endured for you.  (warning – the following text is pretty gruesome)

After being whipped nearly to death, Jesus was given his own cross to carry through the morning market then outside the city gate.  Due to the loss of blood, Jesus was terribly dehydrated.  Carrying a very heavy piece of wood didn’t help.  Tradition has it that He collapsed three times on the way.  One of those times, a man visiting from North Africa, Simon, was asked to carry the cross for Jesus for a while.  Jesus made it to His destination, “skull hill,” only to have his clothes taken away, and laid bare-back on that rough hewn piece of wood.  He was then nailed through the wrists and the ankles (right where major nerves are) to the cross He carried.  Then, He was lifted up where His full weight was on His arms, slowly pulling his shoulder sockets out of joint.  He couldn’t breathe unless he drew himself up by his nailed wrists and pushed up on the nail through his ankles.  The severed nerves cause great pain.  Pushing up also meant that his shredded back would scrape against the rough-hewn wood.  He had to do all this with every breath.  Some men tried to give Jesus wine with myrrh, a sedative and pain killer, but Jesus refused.

Aside from the pain, Jesus was also being mocked by those around Him, yet that wasn’t the worst part.  Around noon, a fierce storm suddenly came from nowhere.  Turmoil was in the air.  Three hours into the storm, Jesus exclaimed: “My God, why have you forsaken me?”  During that storm, every sin man ever committed throughout time had been placed on Him.  The sight of Jesus with these sins upon Him was so terrible that God looked away from Jesus, and in that moment Jesus was all alone in the universe — separated from God.  Jesus was experiencing Hell.  It was that pain that probably killed Him moments later.

Even at His death, Jesus saved one more person; a centurion who said: “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

Back up the hill in the temple, the veil in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies from the people was miraculously torn from top to bottom at the moment of Jesus’ death, symbolizing a new covenant with God’s people. God would soon vacate the temple and begin to live in the hearts of believers.  And that veil was over a foot thick!

Though the disciples had all fled, Mark records that there were reliable witnesses at Jesus’ crucifixion — Mary Magdalene, and Mary, mother of James the less, Joses and Salome.  These two women will be the ones who go to the tomb to anoint Jesus after the Sabbath, only to find Him missing and an angel in His place.  That angel tells them to go and tell the disciples, especially Peter, that Jesus will meet them in Galilee.  Jesus is not dead after all and He has a plan for His disciples.  Christ has risen!

Jesus suffered greatly for us.  He willingly died so that we might not be separated from Him for all eternity.  He allowed heaven in our future.  Thank Him for that today, and be a part of God’s great plan.

Jun 042011

The trials begin
Mark 14:53-15:20

The trials begin in this passage of scripture.  Jesus is arrested, and brought before different groups who want Him out of the way for different reasons.  Remember, Jesus could have gotten out of his predicament many times, but He chose not to.  He was fulfilling God’s plan for our salvation.

A lot happened from around midnight to 9AM on Good Friday.  Not all of this is covered in Mark.  Once Jesus was taken away from Gethsemane, He was brought to Annas, the father-in-law of Ciaiphas, the high priest who wanted Jesus dead (John 18:12-14).  From there, He was brought to Ciaiphas and the Sanhedrin for the Jewish/religious trial.  They tried to bear false witness against Him, but their testimonies didn’t line up.  By their own laws, they couldn’t get Him that way.  Finally, they asked Jesus if He was the Son of God.  Jesus answered “yes.”  Since the Sanhedrin viewed Jesus as a man, and not God, they tore their clothes (something Jews did when they were troubled) and charged Him with blasphemy.  They sentenced Him to death.  They spit on Him, blindfolded Him, and asked Jesus to prophesy who was going to hit Him next.  Now, I’m a little hazy on why they didn’t stone Him on the spot, but for some reason, they felt they needed Roman permission to kill Jesus, so they shipped Jesus off to Pilot.

Meanwhile, outside on the porch, Peter denies that he knows Jesus three times, then a cock crows, most likely signaling dawn in addition to telling Peter that he had just blown it big time.

So, sometime around dawn, Jesus meets with Pilot, the Roman prefect or governor of Judea who is in charge of this region.  Pilot was already on the hot seat with Rome because he couldn’t control the Zealots.  He was charged with keeping the peace this Passover — or else! (which is why he was in Jerusalem at the time).  Pilot could find no wrong with Jesus (Matt. 27:2, 11-14) so he sent Jesus to the Jewish governor Herod.  Herod wanted to see miracles, but Jesus would perform none, so Herod sent Jesus back to Pilot to have Him put to death (Luke 23:6-12).  Pilot was not happy seeing Jesus again.  There were two groups he had to please — those seeking Jesus’ death, and those who thought Jesus was the Son of God.  Either way, Pilot’s decision about Jesus’ fate would make someone upset.  He tried to appease the crowds by having Jesus flogged, then by trying to release a prisoner in honor of Passover, but neither plan worked.  The crowd released the wrong guy (Matt. 27:15-26).  Why?  The crowd in attendance that morning WAS NOT the crowd that cheered Jesus on His way into Jerusalem a few days ago.  Since the crowd was in the governor’s palace early in the morning, and since most of these events transpired overnight, the only crowd who would have known to show up would have been mostly Jewish leaders and officials.  These were the people who wanted Jesus dead!  Pilot gave this crowd the verdict they wanted to hear and Jesus was sent off to be crucified.

Jun 042011

Mark 14:17-52

It is always a good idea to prepare yourself before a big event.  Being focused on your goal can get you to through whatever hardships come along the way.  Jesus had a huge goal approaching rapidly — His ultimate goal on earth.  It was time to prepare.

It really struck me as I read this passage how swift Jesus’ trial and execution was.  As we begin, Jesus and His disciples are sitting down for the Passover feast.  Jesus will be dead in less than 24 hours from now!  A lot happens between now and then that we know about, thanks to the generous coverage the Gospels give for this 20 hour period.

Jesus knows that He soon will die.  He tells the disciples as much during the Passover meal.  In that meal, Jesus tells them that He is the Messiah that they have been waiting for.  From now on, the Passover will also be a remembrance of Jesus, and a remembrance of what He did in the next 20 hours.

After supper, Jesus and His disciples walked to the garden of Gethsemane while singing a song (Psalm 115-118 probably).  In singing this song, Jesus is praising God even though He knows what is going to happen next.  Wow.  As they walked and sang, Jesus told Peter that he will betray Him three times.  Peter didn’t think so (but he did).  Knowing that the end was near, Jesus took his final “quiet time” on earth to go off to pray.  He took Peter, James and John to wait with Him.  The prayer was difficult for Jesus because He knew that soon the sins of the whole world will be upon Him, yet He remained committed to the cause.  Peter, James and John had fallen asleep during His first prayer.  Jesus woke them up then went to pray again.  This happened three times.  Jesus finally admonished them to “keep alert, lest they fall into temptation.”

It is at this point that Judas comes, kisses Jesus and Jesus is arrested.  A young man wearing a loin cloth is seized.  The man gets away, but without his cloth.  This is our author Mark.  He was there as an eye witness.

If anyone asks you what God did for you recently.  Tell them about what He has already done, once and for all.  And always keep alert.

Jun 042011

Mark 14:1-16

A while back, I told a friend that I tithed.  This was not a Christian friend mind you, so his reaction was: “what a stupid waste of money!”  I’m sure he was thinking that I could better spend that money on the poor, the lottery or myself.  He was actually grieving over my choice; the loss of pure income.  He did not share my priorities.  He thought I was insane.  You would think that after three years, the disciples would have figured out Jesus’ priorities as well.  Guess again.

Jesus and His disciples were spending the evening in Bethany at Simon the leper’s house two days prior to Passover (For some reason, I believe that Simon was no longer a leper).  Anyway, along came Mary of Bethany and she anointed Jesus with an alabaster jar of pure nard.

Nard was worth 300 denarii in those days, equal to 300 day’s wages for the average field worker — essentially, a years wages.  Once the jar is broken, the fragrant oil must be used, and use it she does.

The disciples, lead by Judas Iscariot, saw this as a “waste” of money and complained that it could have gone to the poor — maybe to some of Simon’s leper friends.  Jesus saw Mary’s act as an offering of worship.  She gave her most precious earthly possession to Jesus freely.  Mary had her priorities straight.  Jesus would only be here a little while longer.  The poor would always be here.  Jesus knew that.  Mary knew that.  Jesus was not saying; “don’t give to the poor,” but rather, He wanted people to give their primary focus to the Lord.  In doing so, helping the poor would become an automatic thing because attitudes would be changed.

Two days later, Jesus sent His disciples to Jerusalem find a man with a water jar who would lead them to a huge upper room that had already been prepared for the Passover feast.  Do you think the disciples could find one man in a city the size of Jerusalem, complete with tons of visitors?  Sure — men never carried water jugs!  That was woman’s work in those days.  He would have been easy to spot.  And what are the odds that this non-traditional man would have a huge upper room prepared for no one in particular at a time when rooms were booked months to years in advance?  Most would have bet against it, yet God provided it.

Mary had prepared Jesus for burial with the nard, even while He was still alive.  God had prepared Jesus’ last meal through miraculous, unusual circumstances.  In the previous chapter, Jesus prepared His disciples for life after His departure.  There’s a lot of foreshadowing going on here.  There is definitely a plan in the works, and it’s God’s plan for our salvation.  Thanks be to God!

Jun 042011

Be Prepared
Mark 13

As Jesus and his followers are leaving the temple, one of the followers notes how lovely the temple stones look. This innocent remark sets off a monologue by Jesus. Jesus saw the future of those stones and the future of His followers.  Neither looked pretty.

Jesus saw the future of those stones and the future of His followers. The stones would be destroyed and scattered until not one was standing on another. This would happen in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the temple.

The followers would soon be without their leader, and Jesus knew that too. He told them about the end of the world and what might happen in the in between time (our time). He warned them not to follow the many false prophets who would claim to be Him. Wars, famine and death would occur; Christians would be persecuted; betrayal would be everywhere, yet these would only be a prelude to the coming tribulation. The end times would be the worst, but Christians who stood firm would be rewarded.

Jesus has already told us the ending. All we have to do is look for the signs that He has already mentioned in the Bible. And always watch. Be vigilant. Don’t miss out on Christ’s second coming because you weren’t aware. Jesus knew He was running out of time, so these last words of advice had to be important.  Jesus’ disciples were persecuted for their beliefs, yet they were ever watchful. Only John survived long enough so he could write the book of Revelations — the last word about the last days. Two thousand years later, we’re still waiting, but are we watching? Do we have the conviction to stand firm should these last days occur during our lifetime? If Jesus came today, would you be ready? Do you know the signs?

No one knows when Jesus is returning (DO NOT listen to anyone who says otherwise).  As the Boy Scouts say: Be Prepared. Read your Bible, pray every day, commune with other Christians and discuss these things. Be a part of God’s work so He’ll recognize you when He comes. The end is nearer than you think.

Jun 042011

Where your treasure is. . .
Mark 12:41-44

Jesus now moved over to the treasury at the temple grounds to view people putting in their tithes (which were pretty much mandatory back then) and their offerings.  (A tithe is 10% of all you make, which goes to where you worship.  An offering is anything you give beyond your tithe.)  Jesus and his followers watched as the people put their money in the treasury.  They saw some rich people putting in huge sums.  Then along came a poor woman who put in two pennies.  Jesus, knowing this woman as He knows all people, told the multitude that this woman gave more than all the rest!  How can this be?

This woman had given more than all the rest because while the rich gave out of their excess, she gave all she owned out of her poverty and Jesus knew it.

The concept in this section of scripture is both easy and difficult at the same time.  God asks us to give back to Him a portion of what He has already given us (which is everything).  This should be a joyous event for us.  Giving back some money shows our thankfulness.  Those who do are blessed.  But this woman gave back all she had.  I know, 10% of .02¢ is about the same as .02¢, but the point of the illustration is that in giving all she owned, she became totally dependent on God for her very life.  That’s beyond obedience — that’s faith!

God is not impressed by how much wealth we can give to the church.  The rich will win that kind of race most of the time.  We could say that tithing is all about percentages of our earnings, which is closer to the truth from an obedience/tithe perspective, but tithing is really about the condition of our heart when we give.  Whether we give a little or a lot, how joyfully we give determines the acceptability of the gift.  If we give in joy and obedience (for God does call us to give), then we are storing up treasures in heaven.  That’s where our treasure should lie.

My friend Lori told me a joke the other day that somewhat fits this situation:  A rich man knew he was about to die.  Fortunately, he knew Christ, but he still couldn’t part with all his wealth.  After some haggling, Jesus agreed that the rich man could bring one suitcase with him to heaven.  The man packed it full of gold and jewels.  Not long after, the man died.  When he got to heaven, Peter, who knew about the agreement, asked the man to open the suitcase.  Upon seeing the contents, Peter said to the man: “I know of your agreement — that you were allowed to pack some worldly possessions in your suitcase, but why did you bring pavement?”

God has so much more for us than gold and jewels.  He wants our heart.  Where are you storing your treasures?

Jun 042011

Missed it by that much
Mark 12:28-40

Still in the temple, some scribes now approached Jesus.  These guys knew their scriptures because they spent most of their time copying the scriptures to create new scrolls of the Torah (Jewish Bible).  They asked a straightforward question and got a straightforward answer.  The question was:  “What is the greatest commandment?”  Jesus answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.”  They knew this to be correct, because it said so in the Torah.  Jesus told them that they were not far from the kingdom of God.  But how much closer did they need to get?

Jesus posed a question to the scribes:  “The Bible say that the Christ will be a son of David, yet David calls Him Lord.  How can this be?”  No one could answer, not even the scribes.*  The people were intrigued and listened carefully.

Now that He had the people’s attention, he told them to beware of the scribes who dressed well, and expected to be honored in all situations.  These scribes swindled widows out of their pensions and estates for their own gain and said long prayers with eloquent speech to no-one in particular.  They would be condemned.  Now the scribes too probably wanted to kill Jesus.

Jesus had condemned the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and now the scribes all in one day.  The scribes knew the Torah better than anyone, and expected to be honored for that knowledge.  Even Jesus said that the scribes were close to the kingdom of God because they knew their scriptures, yet they were missing something.  Jesus might as well have been saying: “They got so close to that other cliff wall after they had jumped — missed it by inches.”  Even though they knew the scriptures, they couldn’t answer Jesus’ question about David and the Christ.  If they had all this knowledge, why couldn’t they figure it out?

What they lacked to answer the question was the Holy Spirit — our interpreter and guide.  David had knowledge of Jesus the Christ through the Holy Spirit — it could not have been otherwise.  He received the Holy Spirit because he loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength.  The scribes had head knowledge, but God was not the Lord of their heart.  They had no love for God or for their neighbors.  They had missed the kingdom of God by about 10 inches.

Let God be the Lord of your head and heart today.  Love the Lord with your whole being, and love everyone here on earth as you would wish to be loved.

*The answer is that Jesus existed from the very beginning and David, through the Holy Spirit, recognized Christ as the right hand of God.  Christ eventually came to earth as a descendant of David (see Matt. 22:41-46 for more clarity on this passage).

Jun 042011

When are you guys going to get it right?
Mark 12:18-27

Still in the temple, some Sadducees now approached Jesus.  These guys were much like the Pharisees, who had just left, except that they did not believe in a resurrection (life after death, or the resurrection of the Messiah).  Why then would they ask Jesus about a resurrection?  Yep, it had to be some sort of a trap.

This question was about a woman whose husband had died, and they had no offspring.  In Hebrew tradition, the next brother in line would marry the childless widow so the widow could have children (who would take care of her in her old age – think of it as a Biblical retirement plan).  This particular widow went through seven brothers who all left her childless, then she too died.  The question to Jesus was this: “So, to whom will she be married after she is raised up?”  A modern day translation of Jesus’ response might go something like this:  “Are you that clueless?  You don’t understand the Scriptures or the power of God at all!  No one is married in heaven, but will instead live like angels.  There is no marriage between souls in heaven because no offspring are produced in heaven.  And regarding the resurrection thing, which you don’t even believe; how did you miss THAT in the scriptures?  Didn’t you read where God said to Moses that He IS the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex 3:6); three patriarchs who were very much dead on earth at the time God spoke to Moses?  There was no past tense in that statement.  Abraham, Issac and Jacob were alive with God in heaven!  Their bodies had perished, but their souls rose up to heaven.  THEY WERE RESURRECTED!  God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.  You guys really missed the boat here.”  The Sadducees probably wanted to kill Jesus too at this point.  For once, they agreed with the Pharisees.  Hey, that’s progress.  Jesus wasn’t making any friends on this day, but it wasn’t His fault, the Sadducees and the Pharisees didn’t want to hear the truth.

Truth is, God is very much alive today.  He is not a God of the dead, nor has He gone away.  Our God does not sleep.  He loves us so much that he not only knows our names, but how many hairs we each have on our head (in my case, an ever decreasing number).  God still reigns supreme in heaven.  Wouldn’t you like to meet Him some day “like an angel?”  I sure would.  Give Him your heart today!  Let Him be the God of your life.

Jun 042011

Giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s
Mark 12:13-17

Remember last week when the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus so they could get rid of Him?  Well they’re back again, and with a new angle.  If they couldn’t get Jesus to say something against Judaism, perhaps they could get Him in trouble with the Romans.

As Jesus was teaching in the temple, some Pharisees came up and asked Jesus if He felt they should pay taxes to Rome.  This was an intended trap because one of the burning issues of the day was this:  “If God gave the land of Israel to the Hebrews (Jews), and if God meant them to live there, and if He received their sacrifices and offerings in acknowledgment of His relationship to them, how could they pay tribute to any other power, king, god, or person?  If Christ said that they should pay, they could then charge Him with disloyalty to Judaism; if He said no, they could denounce Him to the Romans.”*

Jesus’ response was to have the Pharisees show Him a Roman coin: a denarius.  Jesus then asked the question: “Whose likeness is on the coin?”  They replied; “Caesar’s.”  Jesus said, “You are right.  Now pay Caesar what is due Caesar but pay to God what is God’s.”  The Bible then states that the Pharisees were amazed.

Well, why were they amazed?  This was more or less what they were doing anyway.  Every good Jew was already tithing and worshipping God in the temple; and whether or not the Jews wanted to pay taxes to Rome, they still did.  What Jesus did was show the proper attitude towards our leaders and towards God.  Jesus’ message was this: God put rulers over us in our lives:  Presidents, Governors, bosses, etc. by His design.  Because God placed these people in these positions, we are to respect them and give them their due — they were hand-picked by God (though you may not want to tell your boss this). In being obedient to them, we are being obedient to God’s will.

More importantly though, we are to give God His due.  Everything we have and everything we are belongs to God — He’s only letting us borrow it for a while.   Our work and our wage is only a subset of what God has given us overall.  All He asks for in return is our obedience and a portion of what He has already given us (a tithe).   If we acknowledge that everything we have was given to us by God, then giving something back should be a joyful and praiseworthy event.  THIS is the attitude that Jesus had in mind when He spoke.

Why did Jesus ask the Pharisees to show Him a denarius? Because it represented a day’s wages for the average worker.  Jesus said to give back what our leaders required from us, but give to God what was due Him.  Who are you going to work for today?

* quoted from note on Matt 22:17, NASB Bible.