Mark 16

Greetings!  This reading is Mark 16 – the last chapter of Mark.

Mark 16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Three of the most magnificent words the world ever heard are, “He is risen!” Jesus had a bodily resurrection, just as He had predicted.  The death and resurrection of Christ is the central even in human history.  The tomb is still empty.  I am not aware of any historians who claim that the body was found. 

There are some fanciful speculations about the Disciples stealing the body, but these make no sense given that teams of Roman guards staked their lives on the ability to protect the body.  Also, these were the same Disciples who fled during the crucifixion.  What would motivate them to risk their lives to steal the body?  And why would the Disciples endure suffering, poverty and painful captivity and deaths for something they knew to be a lie?  His physical resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1) completely transformed the lives of his followers from being confused and scared to being clear thinking and bold. 

The truth is that He is indeed risen!  That is a fact you can stake your life on.

Mark only mentions one angel at the tomb, but Luke mentions two.  This is an example of a Bible difficulty that seems like a big problem at first, but is easily and logically explainable.  When two people describe a situation there will always be differences in the accounts.  But the accounts, if truthful, are complimentary, not contradictory.  This is the case here.  Mark doesn’t say there was just one angel.  He just mentions the angel that spoke.  If Mark had claimed there was only one angel, then that would have been a contradiction.

The other Gospels – Matthew, Luke and John – plus the book of Acts contain more information about the post-resurrection appearances of Christ and what the Apostles did next. 

Note: The earliest manuscripts of Mark do NOT contain this last section, verses 9-20.  These verses and the passage in John about the woman caught in adultery might have been inspired by God, but the latest consensus in scholarship indicates that they may have been added after the original writings.  It is important to note that neither passage makes major doctrinal statements or contradicts other teachings.  In fact, these are examples that the system works and that we can rely on the Bible as an accurate reflection of the writings originally inspired by God.  There are thousands of manuscripts dating back to the early centuries after Christ that were recovered from around the world.  By comparing them closely scholars can determine what the originals said. 

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. He said to them, “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. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

One of the best of Bible reading tips I have heard is “Never read a Bible verse” by Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason.  The main point is to always read a verse in light of the whole passage.  Otherwise, you may read something into the passage something that was never intended.  Sometimes people make points that are true, but they use the wrong verse to back it up.  This can be confusing and unnecessarily impact someone’s credibility.  In addition, it is useful to let the clearer verses help you to understand less clear verses.

I saw another blogger who had some really good messages on his site but also took part of this passage and made a broad claim about it.  He insisted that all believers should “speak in new tongues” as noted in verse 17 above.  This has a couple problems.  First, it ignores other more specific and reliable teachings about tongues in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14.  Second, using this logic, we should all be picking up snakes and drinking deadly poison without dying, as the following verse notes.  I have picked up a few snakes in my time, but this was always done (A) with a hoe and (B) after they were really, really dead. 

I hope you got a lot out of our study of Mark!  Please join me as we begin a study of Jonah.  There is a lot more to it than just a big fish. 

Reflect on what stood out to you in this reading and share your comments and questions if you like.

The next reading is an overview of Jonah.

Mark 15

Greetings! This reading is Mark 15.

Mark 15 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Pontius Pilate was a Roman leader in charge of this area.  He was very sensitive to potential uprisings by the Jewish people, who severely resented Roman occupation of their land. 

Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. “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!” Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Democracy’s not-so-finest moment: The people chose Barabbas, a murderer over Jesus, God in flesh and the perfect, innocent human being.  Interestingly, Barabbas was literally saved by the substitution of Jesus in his place.  We too are saved by Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, which is the fancy way of saying that He died in our place. 

The Bible is an extremely accurate historical book.  It does describe dramatic moments, but usually in a matter of fact way.  Mark simply notes that “He had Jesus flogged,” while he could have gone into incredible detail on the unfair punishment Jesus endured.  Flogging meant 40 lashes with a whip, which was often embedded with bits of bone or other objects.  People could have their organs exposed due to the flogging and could die from it.

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 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!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

As Romans 14:11 says, every knee of believers and unbelievers will bow before Jesus.  The soldiers did it in a mocking way, and they will do so again in all sincerity..

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

The dividing of Jesus clothes was predicted in Psalm 22:18. 

It was the third hour when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” 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.

It is useful to read Psalm 22 to get a better understanding of the crucifixion and some of the related prophecies.

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 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?” When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

John 19:30 notes that Jesus said, “It is finished,” meaning that the debt of our sin had been paid in full.  Jesus’ work was complete.  Jesus was in control at all times and willingly gave himself up for us.  Again, the Bible spares us graphic descriptions, but crucifixion was the most painful and humiliating method of execution ever devised.  Nails were put in the criminal’s hands and feet and they hung naked or nearly naked for all to see.  Death could take hours and came about by a slow and painful suffocation.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 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!” Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

The tearing of the temple curtain carries great symbolism.  This is the curtain to the “Most Holy Place” where only the temple priest could go once per year to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people.  Once Jesus paid the ultimate price, the system of sacrificing animals was no longer needed.  We could now approach God directly.  See Hebrews 9 for more.

Note all the women who were there at the gruesome crucifixion.  All of the disciples except John had already fled.

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

This was a big risk for Joseph of Arimathea.  He was a prominent Jewish leader who was obviously taking sides at what appeared to be the worst possible time.  Jesus was dead, and Joseph was publicly caring for his body.  Are we so bold as to declare to the world whose side we are on?

Reflect on what stood out to you in this reading and share your comments and questions if you like.

The next reading is Mark 16.

Mark 14

Greetings!  This reading is Mark 14.

One of the main Jewish celebrations was Passover, where they remembered how God miraculously led the Israelites out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery.  The religious leaders had hundreds of their man-made laws that they tried to make people obey, yet they plotted to murder Jesus.

Mark 14 Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or the people may riot.” While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  

Jesus was right – people are still talking about what this woman did!

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

The bread represents Jesus’ body and the wine represents his blood. 

I wonder what hymn they sang? 

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.

One of the powerful evidences for the resurrection of Jesus is the transformed lives of the Disciples.  After Jesus was captured, they scattered.  Only one (John) viewed the crucifixion.  The rest went into hiding in various places.  Yet a couple months later they were boldly preaching the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  All of them but John were eventually killed for their faith and could have escaped death by saying that Jesus hadn’t risen.  If Jesus stayed dead, their behavior would make no sense.  People will die for a lie if they think it is true, but they won’t die for something they know to be a lie. 

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”  

Note how Jesus prayed, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  Praying that God’s will be done instead of mine can be a hard thing to do, but always works out for the best.  In this case, there was only one way to save people from their sins, and it was for Jesus to die in their place as a substitute.  When people say there are multiple paths to God they ignore that the Bible has 100 passages noting that Jesus is the only way.  If there were other acceptable paths, his death would have been unnecessary.

Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

As noted yesterday, tradition holds that it was John Mark, the author of this Gospel, who fled naked.

They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’” Yet even then their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.

Jesus claimed to be God, which meant that it was either true or that it was blasphemy. 

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said. But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway. When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” 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.

It is easy to criticize Peter for denying Jesus, but how many times do we deny Jesus by our actions and lifestyles?  And consider the amazing redemption of Peter.  After denying Jesus three times he becomes a leader in the early church and boldly preaches the Gospel, even though it eventually gets him killed. 

Reflect on what stood out to you in this reading and share your comments and questions if you like.

The next reading is Mark 15.

More about Mark

I heard a good sermon by David Moore about failure that dealt a lot with the author of this Gospel, so I thought I would add some additional thoughts to the Overview of the Gospel of Mark

Mark’s real name was John.  Mark was a nickname, and it apparently wasn’t very complimentary. 

Tradition holds that this passage refers to Mark: 

Mark 14:51-52 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

He was a cousin of Barnabas and started on Paul’s first missionary journey.  Then things went badly.

Acts 15:36-40 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted themin Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.

At this point Paul had no use for Mark.  Yet see what happens years later as noted by Paul:

Colossians 4:10-11 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. . . . These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me.

2 Timothy 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.

Philemon 23-24 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

Mark was also a traveling companion of Peter, who lovingly referred to Mark as “my son.”  Mark became a scribe and documented Peter’s sermons, which became the Gospel of Mark. 

What a remarkable turnaround!  Mark goes from fleeing Jesus naked and being considered a deserter to being a trusted companion of Peter and Paul and the writer of one of the Gospels!  God can do amazing things in your life regardless of what failures you have had to date. 

Mark 13

Greetings!  This reading is Mark 13.

This is a challenging chapter, as it deals with predictions of Jesus’ return and other prophecies.  As with other Biblical prophecies, there can be a mix of near-term and long-term predictions.  Jesus predicted that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed, and it happened in 70 A.D. (roughly 37 years after Jesus ascended into Heaven).  The Bible doesn’t record the destruction, which is a fairly strong argument that virtually all of the New Testament was written before that time. The temple was the focal point of Jewish worship and its destruction was a huge issue for them.

Once again Jesus warns about false teachers and the potential costs of being his disciple. 

Mark 13 As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 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.

“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. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

When Jesus returns, there will be no mistaking it.  Be very wary of those making predictions about when Jesus is coming back.  Yes, we should watch for signs, but countless people have made themselves and Christianity look foolish with their false predictions.

“But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “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!’”

Jesus is God, but He divested himself of certain rights when He humbled himself and came to earth.  That is why he didn’t know the exact time of his return.  But He warns us to keep watch and be ready.  You may live 50 more years, or 50 more days or just 50 more minutes.  Jesus may return before you die, or He may not.  Either way, that will be the time of judgment. 

We shouldn’t be so focused on his return that we withdraw from society, though.  Jesus taught us to be “salt and light” and to share his truth with the world. 

Reflect on what stood out to you in this reading and share your comments and questions if you like.

The next reading is Mark 14.

Mark 12

Greetings!  This reading is Mark 12.

The first section is a parable that deliberately angered the Jewish leaders because it exposed their hypocrisy.  God is the man, and the vineyard is Israel.  The servants are the prophets God sent to the Israelites.  The son is Jesus. 

Mark 12 He then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

“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’?” Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.

Next up is the famous line “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  The Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus again.  The Israelites hated the tax collectors who took advantage of them.  The Pharisees were trying to get Jesus to take sides with Caesar, the Roman Emperor (which would make the Jewish people mad at him) or to oppose Caesar (which would get Jesus in trouble with the Romans). 

Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

The Sadducees were another group of Jewish leaders.  They did not believe that our bodies will be physically resurrected some day, so they tried to trick Jesus with a question.  Jesus points out to them that our souls live forever and that the Sadducees misunderstood the concepts of marriage and heaven.

Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

The next question appeared to be sincere.  Jesus summarizes all the 10 Commandments and all the laws from the Old Testament into two commandments.  These commandments may be easy to memorize and repeat, but think how hard it is to truly love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to always love your neighbor as yourself. 

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight.

As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”

The chapter closes with a powerful true story about rich people donating money out of their abundance while a poor widow gave all she had.  No matter how much we give out of our wealth it is hard to imagine the faith of this woman.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Reflect on what stood out to you in this reading and share your comments and questions if you like.

The next reading is Mark 13.

Mark 11

Greetings!  This reading is Mark 11.

Mark 11 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

When Jesus rode in on a donkey it fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.  Of course, this could have been a self-fulfilling prophecy as Jesus could have used some of the prophecies as a sort of script to follow.  Yet most of the predictions from the Old Testament about how He would be born, live, suffer, die and be resurrected could not have been controlled by him if He were faking it. 

Some people point to the irony that crowds praised him here (“Hosanna in the highest!”) and later yelled “crucify him!,” but I am not certain that these were the same people.  Perhaps some were in both places, but not all.  Still, not many people stuck around to defend him when he was being flogged and crucified. 

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. 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.’ The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, they went out of the city.

This is an example of Jesus’ righteous anger.  Anger is not always a sin.  Vendors were taking advantage of those who had to convert their money or to buy animals to be sacrificed at the temple.  Note that Jesus said it was to be a house of prayer “for all nations,” not just for Jewish people. 

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “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. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Jesus taught here about how to pray.  We need to pray for God’s kingdom to be fulfilled (He won’t answer prayers that aren’t for the long-term good of his kingdom or for us).  We should pray with confidence.  We need to forgive others to cleanse our hearts. 

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’….” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Here is another trap the Pharisees set for Jesus.  If He said his authority was from God, they would accuse him of blasphemy (irreverence towards or cursing of God) and if He said it was from himself they would say he was crazy.  They wanted to trick him, but as usual He asked them questions back and turned the tables.  He wasn’t bashful about explaining who He was, but it was part of his plan to expose certain things at certain times. 

Reflect on what stood out to you in this reading and share your comments and questions if you like.

The next reading is Mark 12.