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Monday, August 30, 2010

8/31/10 Mark 16:15- 20 Belief is the Key to Share

15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 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." 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Thoughts: It is easy to focus here on the extravagant signs of the gospel in verses 17-18 and stop there.  When I lived in Asheville, NC there would be a story every other year about snake handlers in the mountains.  But there is something far deeper and more applicable to all of us here.  We are all called to go into all the world and preach the gospel not just to all people but to all creation.  The gospel brings peace to all creatures and creation.  But the definition of salvation here is belief.  Belief is the key that opens the door to heaven.  If Christ rose from the dead, but no one believes it, then the good news of life after death dies.  If God loves us, but no one believes that, then the world lives in loneliness in the midst of the love of God.  All are called to hear, and we are called to tell all about our Lord.  When the disciples beleived and spread the news, signs would accompany them and God would bear fruit through them. 
Prayer: Give me grace, O Lord, to believe and spread the good news to others.

John Calvin abridged: The meaning is this: that by proclaiming the gospel everywhere, they should bring all nations to the obedience of faith, and then seal and ratify their doctrine with the gospel. Leadership in the church is not an empty title used for luxury, but it is a working office. Christ here removes the distinction between Jew and Gentile by indicating all should hear.  When Mark says, "all creation" it means the same as Matthew's "all nations" for when the gospel is spread to those who believe, it brings peace to those around them (Eph. 2:17,19).  Mark links baptism and faith, indicating that one cannot just have the outward sign of baptism and expect salvation.  Yet, baptism is not a requirement of salvation in and of itself, but should be done as a testimony of the obedience of faith (so that those who have faith but not the opportunity for baptism may be saved).  "These signs..."-As the Lord ratified their faith by his miracles, so He passes His power onto His disciples that they may know that the Gospel did not depend on His bodily presence.  Believers will be ministers of the same power which had formerly excited admiration in Christ, so that during his bodily absence the sealing of the gospel would be secured. Christ does not say whether these special gifts are to be temporary during the newness of the Gospel, or to remain perpetually in the Church.  While there are false imitations of miracles today (as in teh reign of the Anti-Christ-Mt. 24:24), miracles are certainly not as common (perhaps because of our ingratitude), but the least we can say is that the frequency of miracles vary from age to age.
     Mark indicates Jesus ascended to a place of glory and power (the right hand of God).  Mark confirms in one sentence what Luke says in Acts, that the disciples indeed preached.  One would have thought that after the crucifixion the name of Jesus would be silenced or mentioned in a shameful way.  The disciples had deserted him and were in hiding.  But this was not a human work- Mark confirms the "Lord was working with them."  It is not that they (or we) add anything to God's grace by our work; but God assists us in His work.  We are called God's fellow-workers (1 Cor. 3:9) because God makes use of us as His agents- so that our planting and watering does no good except by His Spirit. 

8/30/10- Mark 16:9-14 Jesus' appearances

9 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. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. 12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. 14 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.

(Mary Magdalene and Jesus- William Hole 1846-1917)

Thoughts:  Jesus' resurrection confirms his teachings not only about love and forgiveness, but also about who he was- the messiah- and the son (or essence) of God.  Most scholars say that the ending of Mark (16:9-20) was not with the original manuscript, but was added very early on (as it was quoted early by other writers writers).  His appearances affirmed that the tomb was not just empty because something happened to the body, but what the angel said of his resurrection was correct.  This passage affirms Mary Magdalene as the first to see him.  It affirms the two who saw him on the way to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35).  Then Jesus appeared the disciples.  Jesus is not another dead philosopher, but a living Lord.

Prayer: Lord, strengthen me with the power of your resurrection this day.  May my faith in you energize and empower me today to follow you.

John Calvin abridged: Mark names Mary Magdalene alone, because she was the first to see the risen Christ, but her companions also saw him in their time and way.  This is an astonishing instance of goodness, that Christ should show his heavenly glory first to a wretched woman who had been possessed by seven devils (Lk. 8:2).  By this example Christ shows how generously he desires to continue the growth in grace in us, and to destroy the pride of the flesh.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

8/29/10- Mark 16:4-8

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.  6 "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. 7 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.' " 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

(Pictures: Rolex in MS Mud-Gary S Chapman; Houston Astrodome filled with refugees; looters; PDA in front of relief camp)

Thoughts: There are many physical images of the resurrection- a caterpillar turning into a butterfly; new grass and new leaves coming back in spring; tulips popping up from the ground; Yellowstone Park after its huge fire coming back even healthier and greener.  Perhaps this today a good image would be the Gulf Coast coming back five years after Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil spill.  When disasters happen, evil becomes clear- human nature is seen transparently, but also good and the power of the resurrection is seen as well. 
The things that do not last are seen for what they are.  One lady noted that she thought she was safe in her big house with her education, savings account and nice job, but Katrina humbled her.  She called Katrina "the great equalizer."  Isn't that what death is called?  Katrina was like death- and people are facing it like they are facing death.  I remember going to Biloxi, Misssissippi on a relief trip a few months after Katrina.  The casinos put up big signs of how they were going to stay with the people of Misssissippi- but some left to go to St. Louis, and the ones we saw showed little care for their employees and only wanted to rebuild their buildings (we helped fix the house of one of their employees who lived a block from the casino).  I remember seeing new cadillacs full of mud.  Or the picture above of a rolex in the mud.
Some of the haunting images of Katrina was the looting.  People just going into Walmart and walking off with a TV- even though there was no electricity or cable for it.  Some became violent.  Even rescue helicopters were shot at by thugs and drug dealers. There was a huge rise in violence that came with a deterioration of order, no lights, and not as many police.  The historic failure of the local, state, and federal government (especially FEMA) is very public. Yet, the $105 billion allocated by the federal government helped some.
There was also good.  The mother who ricked her life to save her daughter.  Thousands were rescued by the coast guard, volunteers (like the Cajun Navy) and others. The man in Mississippi who swam over to his neighbor's house in the height of the storm to get him out of his flooding attic. The people of Houston welcoming refugees despite their own problems.  So many hundreds of thousands of volunteers going to Mississippi and Louisianna to clean out muck, and rebuild houses.  One of the hidden stories I have not seen are how the Christian groups went by the tens of thousands from Iowa, Florida, Michigan, South Carolina and all over to help.  The Salvation Army cooked 5.6 million hot meals and made 8.5 million sandwiches for relief workers, volunteers and residents.  Habitat for Humanity rebuilt 2,200 new homes. 
There will always be crazies on extremes who think because Hurricane Katrina hit there is no God;  Or those who say Katrina's purpose was only to punish the wicked.  The wounds are still raw with Katrina. But if we look with eyes of faith- you can see an empty tomb and new life coming out.  I love Presbyterian Disaster Assistance's motto: "Out of Chaos- Hope." 

Prayer: Today, Lord, we pray for those who are still hurting from Katrina. Those who are grieving today over the loss of a home, income, a way of life, or a loved one.  We ask that you would be a refuge and a strength to them.  That they would turn to you and find strength, courage, and hope.

John Calvin abridged:  Mark says the women were expressly asked to carry the message to Peter; not because he was a higher rank than others, but because hie crime was so disgraceful that he needed particular consolation to assure him that Christ has not written him off even though he had fallen wickedly.  Peter had already entered into the tomb, and saw traces of the resurrection of Christ; but God denied him the honor, which he conferred on the women of hearing the angel say that Christ has risen.  It appears that Peter tried to hide himself and fled in fear while Mary sat down to weep at the grave.  It cannot be doubted that she and her companions, in beholding the angel, obtained the reward of patience.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

8/28/10- Mark 16:1-3 Faithless Faith

1 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. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"

(Women at Jesus' Tomb William Adolphe Bouguereau 1825-1905)

Thoughts: In the Jewish reckoning in the first century AD, the new day began at sunset.  So the Sabbath was over at sunset, shops opened up, and they could buy spices.  These women were dedicated to Jesus.  They were doing a risky thing bringing spices to the tomb.  They began their journey to the tomb very early probably trying to stay cool, waiting for enough light to make their way, and probably hoping to avoid the authorities.  Things were bleak.  Jesus was dead.  They were not expecting a resurrection.  They were expecting a huge stone, and they had no idea how to roll it away.  The disciples, were weak, depressed, and scared.  They had all run away.  No one was willing to go with them to roll the stone away- they were just trying to mentally deal with the sad events.  Jesus had predicted his resurrection, but these women did not speak about that.  There is no indication that a resurrection was even in their thoughts.  Too many Christians only like Jesus.  We like his kind manner and words about love.  We like that he helped people, taught about love, but we forget or downplay his power and ability.  We don't pray to God as if He is able to do anything/much.  We don't want to take a risk in the way we live or pray to God.  We make too many excuses for God, as if we don't want to be disappointed in God.  Today, the greatest need for Christians is to live their faith.

Prayer:  Lord, let my faith not be dead but alive.  Give me grace to take risks for you.

John Calvin abridged: One evangelist names two women, another adds Saloome, Luke implies many women came.  But it is the custom of the evangelists when there are many to name only a few. It is also probable that Mary Magdalene ran ahead of the others.  The Jewish religion allowed the anointing of the body to indicate that there was hope that out of dust and putrification would come hope and life.  The Egyptian religion was also consumed with the afterlife and embalming. 
     The women remained in perplexity and doubt about rolling the stone away until they discovered that the hand of God [through an angel] did the work.  We should learn from this that because of their zeal they did not give their work due consideration.  They had seen a stone placed before the grave to hinder anyone from entering.  They were seized with fear and astonishment so that their thought and memory failed them even when they were at home resting.  But because it was holy zeal that blinded them, God does not charge them with a fault.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

8/27/10- Mark 15:42-47 Burial of Jesus

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 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. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 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. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

(Interior of Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem- built around the site of the tomb of Jesus given by Joseph of Arimathea).

Thoughts: The burial of Jesus is important.  Ironically, it wasn't the disciples who buried the body, but Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Council that condemned him to death.  Joseph was boldly protesting their decision and also Pilate's sentence when he went to claim the body.  At this point he was not hoping for a resurrection, but was caring for a good teacher who had died.  That is a strong faith- faith without hope of reward and yet willing to face danger.  Yet, it is incomplete faith- for the reward and resurrection is real.  Today the tomb of the Holy Sepulchre (the tomb Joseph gave to Jesus) is the holiest site in all Christendom.  Millions visit it. His generosity and boldness is blessed.  See the tour at
But the tomb is empty.  Christ is alive- and hopes have a real basis. You may feel your hope is buried too.  But in Christ all are alive.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the faith of Joseph of Arimathea and of Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of Jesus.  Give me grace to have faith when hope seems lost.

John Calvin abridged: The burial is more than a transition between death and resurrection.  It attests to his real death.  But it also is a sign that the cursing is beginning to be removed.  His body was not thrown into a ditch but hnonorably laid in a stone-carved tomb. There is great temptation for the rich to not be bold in faith lest they lose the respect of the people and their status.  But Joseph shows us what the Spirit of God can do.  If riches and honors do not aid us in our worship of Christ, we utterly abuse them. We should learn from Joseph's boldness.  Only the women saw where Jesus was placed.  Their boldness brought them honor later [at the resurrection].

8/26/10 Mark 15:33-41 The Death of Christ

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" (which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah." 36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!" 40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 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.

(Crucifixion Rembrandt 1633- Note: he painted himself as one of those who crucified Christ)

Thoughts: The One who had ultimate and final trust in the Father felt forsaken of God.  He was forsaken that we might have fellowship with God.  When we feel forsaken- it is okay- it is part of our humanity.  The ultimate aloneness is death and eternal separation from God.  Calvin talked about Christ's descending into hell for us when he died on the cross.  Yet we should always look at the cross in the light of the resurrection.  We know "the rest of the story."  The forsakeness of Christ (and us) does not last.  The covenant love of God and the power of God to help raise us up lasts forever.

Prayer: Lord, when I sink down, strengthen me for my journey.  When I feel forsaken, help me to have faith in your power to raise me up.

John Calvin abridged: Although the death of Christ concealed his glory, and showed his humility (Phil. 2:7), yet there were hints about his power and future state even then.  The darkening of the sun, the earthquake, the splitting of rocks (Mt. 27:51), and the splitting of the veil testify to the majesty of Christ.  It was almost as if heaven and earth were worshiping Christ. The darkening of the sun was to arouse them to consider the astonishing design in the death of Christ. It is amazing that the scribes and priests could be blind to this darkening. I do not think this was a universal eclipse (as some say).  If it was universal people would say it was a natural occurrence. His cry of forsakeness showed the depths of his anguish and also that he was bearing the judgment of God that we deserved.  Christ's faith remained strong despite his human feeling of forsakenness.  He still called out to God and relied on Him for aid. As they perverted Christ's words in the Syriac language (given so we might hear Christ's anguish clearer- yet they thought he called for Elijah), so the enemies of Christ can also pervert and misunderstand our words. The rending of the veil (meant to keep the people from entering or seeing the Holy of holies) was meant to show the law had been abrogated and that heaven was open and we may freely advance into the presence of God.  The centurion's words (surely this was the Son of God), were given that we might note that even an irreligious soldier was inspired both by Christ's persevering strength combined with the miracles.  The women's presence at the cross means there were witnesses to these events, but also it is a rebuke to the apostles and men who lacked the courage to be there. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

8/25/10 Mark 15:21-32 The Crucifixion

21 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. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means "the place of the skull"). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. 25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27-28 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29 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, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!" 31 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! 32 Let this Messiah, 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.

Thoughts: The Christian church was integrated at the very beginning.  Simon was from Cyrene in North Africa, and his children were with him, Alexander and Rufus.  Perhaps the Romans thought picking Simon to carry the cross was a disgrace, but this clearly wasn't a momentary indignified service for them, but a great honor they remembered the rest of their lives- a life changing experience.  How do we know?  Alexander and Rufus are mentioned in Romans 16:13 as leaders in the early church.  The lesson for us is that the inconvenient interruptions in our life- the trials and crosses- may turn to be life changing experiences for us- for our good.
Prayer: Lord, give me grace to take up your cross daily and willingly.
John Calvin abridged: Christ was taken outside the city in keeping with the Old Testament law that indicated that the atoning sacrifice should be taken outside the camp (Ex. 29:13; Lev. 16:27; Heb. 13:12).  Our Lord was offered vinegar and gall before he was placed on the cross (and offered sponge vinegar later- as recorded in John).  "Dividing up his clothes"- The Son of Man was stripped of his clothes that we, through his nakedness, might gain eternal clothing (Ps. 22:18). "Third hour" means not the beginning but the end of the third hour.  It is probable that Christ did not hang on the cross longer than three hours.  "crucified two rebels with him"- Mark says this in reference to Isaiah 53:12 in which Christ is numbered with transgressors.  Christ who is eternal justice is ranked with robbers.  We see Christ's love for us here.  In order to admit us to the holy society of angels, he permitted himself to be classed among the wicked.

8/24/10- Mark 15:16-20 Dishonoring Christ

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, "Hail, king of the Jews!" 19 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. 20 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.

Thoughts: The soldiers of the greatest army of the world mocked Jesus as a king and as a God.  For the Romans, there was no real difference between king and God (Augustus had instituted emperor worship).  It is one thing to not believe, but it is another to actively persecute.  What had Jesus done to these Romans?  He did not (despite the encouragement of some) lead a rebellion against them.  He paid his taxes.  He submitted to their judge even though he was accused and convicted falsely.  He never cried out against them in bitterness or fear.  Certainly the crown of thorns represents how people honored Jesus in this life.  Coming to earth to claim his crown cost him pain and death, not the real honor He deserved.  The Church and its people should not expect or crave the honor of the world.  Rather, we should seek the applause and honor of God- the one who truly counts.  No one knows the names of any of these soldiers.  The Roman empire they sought so hard to protect is long gone.  But God's award for the risen Christ and his followers continues on.

Prayer: May my life, O Lord, not bring you dishonor but honor this day.

John Calvin abridged: We should see in this mocking what we deserve and what the Son of God took upon Himself for us.  Our filthiness deserves the angels to spit upon us, but instead Christ allowed himself to be spat upon and face every kind of dishonor and reproach.  His disgrace on this earth allows us to have favor with God. We should also learn from this that the kingdom of Christ should not be estimated by the way the world views Him, but by faith.  So even now if the world mocks Christ let us rise above it by faith.  We should not focus on the unworthy opposition to Christ and His followers, but rather focus on the true crown and scepter so that he is raised above every man and even above every angel.

Monday, August 23, 2010

8/23/10 Mark 15:6-15 A Loss of Fairness

6 Now it was the custom at the Festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. 9 "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. 12 "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked them. 13 "Crucify him!" they shouted. 14 "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" 15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

(Jesus Before Pilate- Van Renesse 1626-80- Bob Jones Art Gallery- Greenville, SC)

Thoughts: Human injustice and fairness is here in so many ways.  Barabbas was a rebel and a murderer.  Christ was the Creator and innocent.  The crowds were fickle.  Gone were the ones who shouted "Hosanna" and now the praise had faded to a cry for torture. The cross was reserved for slaves and rebels not for the King of kings. To put our trust in human justice and courts- expecting them to not be corrupt or fickle would be folly.  Yet Jesus did not even now rebel against the authorities.  Jesus did not teach us to rebel, but rather to submit to the ultimate authority- God Himself. 
Prayer: Lord, give me grace to put my life and reputation in your hands.  Let me be true to you and the truth as Christ was- even when fairness and justice seem lost.
Calvin abridged: Pilate chose Barabbas who was very wicked in order that the people might be shamed into releasing Christ.  Yet even this did not satisfy the cruelty of those who wanted Christ dead.  In God's providence, there can be no doubt how low Christ was placed- below a robber and murderer.  Christ was sunk into the depths of ignominy in order that he might be lifted above the glory of the angels- and we with him.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

8/22/10 Mark 15:1-5 Jesus and Pilate

1 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. 2 "Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate. "You have said so," Jesus replied. 3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, "Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of." 5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

(Ecce Homo- Antonia Ciseri)

Thoughts: Pilate was not concerned if he was God or not, but if he was a king or not.  It was a secular question.  Today, many are like Pilate- they don't care about this spiritual stuff, they just want to know about human power, money, and titles.  Jesus made no reply (in keeping with Isa. 53:7).  But it is likely that Jesus thought that no reply would be good enough or make any difference.  John records that Jesus said only 3 things: "My kingdom is not of this world" and "You are right in saying I am a king-all who want truth listen to me" and "You would have no power if it were not given you from above" (Jn. 18:36,37; 19:11).  Pilate refused to recognize he is subject to the king of kings.  He also refused to recognize any truth (ironic for a judge who is trying to determine if someone is guilty or not).  Today many in our postmodern age have a hard time recognizing truth when they see it.  We much prefer to focus on the gray than the black and white, and prefer to focus on this world than include the reality of the spiritual kingdom of God- present both now and in the world to come. 
Prayer: Lord, help me to recognize that you are the truth and worthy of hearing; and the king of kings and worthy to be obeyed.

John Calvin abridged: The Son of God chose to stand bound before an earthly judge, and there to receive a death sentence, in order that we, delivered from condemnation, may not fear to approach freely to the heavenly throne of God.  We should remember how dreadful is the judgment seat of God and that we would never be aquitted there unless Christ had been pronounced guilty on earth- and therefore we should not be ashamed to honor his chains.

8/21/10 Mark 14:66-72 Pride before the fall

66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus," she said. 68 But he denied it. "I don't know or understand what you're talking about," he said, and went out into the entryway. 69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." 70 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." 71 He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about." 72 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.

(Rev. Pat Griffin at courtyard outside Caiaphas's house 6-2010)

Thoughts: When Jesus needed support most, Peter flinched and denied him.  Peter, unlike the other disciples was bold enough to follow him right up to the courtyard outside Caiaphas's house. He may have had some pride that he boldly went where others would not go.  The courtyard is a medium sized patio and can hold a hundred or so.  It was clearly a dangerous place to be with guards right there.  One of the lessons of temptation is to see ourselves as stronger and bolder than most and therefore we can give in.  It is like stopping running in the race three-fourths of the way because we are ahead of everyone else.  In our day when so many are fleeing away from Christ, it is too easy to give up in the tough times.  We may say to ourselves- "I go to church and read the Bible more than any of my friends"  and therefore we find an excuse to drift away into the night, or to stop following God altogether.  The really great news is that though Peter denied him and this haunted him the rest of his life- Jesus restored Peter (Jn. 21); and he can restore us.  But let us learn a lesson from Peter's denial and heartache.

Prayer: As school starts, as the summer ends, let me not deny you but be faithful to the end.  Keep me from thinking I am better than others, Lord.  Give me humility that I may not have pride and fall. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

8/20/10- Mark 14:53-65 Jesus the Mediator before the High Priest

53 They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law came together. 54 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.
55 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. 56 Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. 57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.' " 59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree. 60 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?" 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62 "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." 63 The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. 64 "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65 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.

(Group from LMPC inside Caiaphas's house holding cell)
Thoughts: Those who were supposed to know better, who were to point people to the Messiah were trying to find Jesus guilty.  They, like all of us, are schooled to keep the status quo, and to hold onto their pride.  This is a lesson for all of us that religion can get in the way of God.  The ironic thing is that the high priest, who was to represent the people of God, was rejecting God.  This is a struggle for power.  Peter succombed to the power of the Sanhedrin and denied Him.  Jesus' body could not withstand their trial and cross, but His spirit lives on. 

Calvin abridged: The Jews had lost the highest jurisdiction to the Romans, but still maintained some judicial authority under the high priest.  They could not pronounce sentence, but they could give their decision to the governor.  Caiaphas was also named Joseph and was appointed high priest by Valerius Gratus the governor when Simon son of Camithus was deposed.  The high priest was a symbol of the only mediator between God and human beings; those who sat with him represented the whole people of God; yet all of them conspired to extinguish the only hope of salvation. The false witnesses did not create something new, but twisted his words.  Christ admits that he is the son of the blessed One (God).  Though they judge him now in his humble state, he will come again in royal majesty as the ultimate judge. The face of Christ that was dishonored by spitting and blows has restored the image of God in us that had been disfigured and effaced by sin. 

8/19/10- Mark 14:43-51 Betrayal of trust

43 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. 44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." 45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. 46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48 "Am I leading a rebellion," said Jesus, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled." 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled. 51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

Thoughts: People are in shock today about the South Carolina woman who is indicted for killing her two young children (Shuquan Duley).  We do not want to believe that humans are capable of this kind of evil- a mother betraying the two children entrusted to her care.  We also have a hard time believing that one of Jesus' own trusted disciples should betray him with a kiss; or that Jesus' own people should reject him.  Or for that matter, that people would persecute and betray their neighbors or family members for just being Christian (  The betrayal of Jesus reminds us of the depths of human evil.  But we also should remember (as Calvin points out) that even this terrible evil was used by God for good and is under His control.

Prayer: Lord, help us not to betray you or neighbor- but to truly love you and our neighbor.  Lord, today we pray also for students and teachers who are going back to school.

John Calvin abridged: Jesus had just predicted that his betrayer was coming (14:42).  It is clear that the secret purpose of God was carried out by wicked men.  So even in his arrest the disciples had a confirmation that 1) nothing occurs by chance, and 2) Christ showed his divinity even as he submitted to his arrest. They had such a great force in arresting him because they were afraid of his divinity.  This also should show us that when people rage, they do not hesitate to take up arms against God. Judas was restrained in this arrest by his reverence for Christ and the shame of his deed to portray himself as a friend and not an enemy.  Judas' tried to conceal his deceit by soothing words- calling him "Rabbi" and a kiss. We should know that the Church always sustains traitors in its own bosom, as Jesus sustained Judas. We are all called to "kiss the son of God" (Psalm 2:12).  But we should be sure that it is not a traitor's kiss. 
47- When one of the disciples struck the servant it showed that we tend to take up arms quicker than to take up the cross.  Why did Mark include this passage about "the young man fleeing naked"?  Probably the young man was close to Christ and came wearing nothing but a sheet- in a hurry.  But those who arrested him showed no modesty or morals so that they stripped the young man of his clothes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

8/18/10 Mark 14:32-42 Gethsemane's Sorrow

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch." 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." 37 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? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." 39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. 41 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 delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"

(The Garden of Gethsemane- Ben below; Jean Gregory at the entrance to the Church of all nations there)

Thoughts: "Gethsemane" means "Olive press"- and doubtless Jesus was feeling the pressure- the weight of the world on his shoulders. There are times when we can sympathize with Jesus, but our troubles pale in comparison to his upcoming mocking, torture and death.  It is a pitiable cry- "Abba Father"- "Abba" is a cry like "Daddy."  In his agony, facing his betrayal and the spiritually excruciating pain of his rejection by his own people, and the physical pain of the cross, Jesus still recognized God's power (everything is possible) and still submitted to his will.  In our easy day of air conditioning, lights, easy access to information, we give up on faith and God too easily.  The disciples kept falling asleep- their spirits were willing but their flesh was weak.  In our day in which we choose comfort over God so often, I wonder if our spirits are even willing.  When we went to Israel this year, Gethsemane was one of the most moving places.  This passage reminds us why.

Prayer: God, give me the grace to have a willing spirit.  Keep my faith strong in the midst of trial and temptation.

John Calvin abridged: "stay here"- By leaving the disciples at a distance, he shows concern for their tiredness; as if a man, perceiving that he would soon be in extreme danger in battle, were to leave his wife and children in a situation of safety. Thus Christ's grief and sorrow begins in earnest.  Some commentators shrink from talking of his trembling and sadness. But if we are ashamed that Christ should experience fear and sorrow our redemption would be lost.  Ambrose justly says, "There is no instance in which I admire more his kindness and his majesty; for he shows how much he has done for me by taking my feelings upon himself.  He grieved for me, who had no cause for grief before he came to earth.  Laying aside the delights of the eternal Godhead, he experiences the affliction of my weakness.  He took upon himself not the appearance, but the reality of incarnation. It was therefore necessary that he should experience grief, that he might overcome sorrow."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

8/17/10 Mark 14:27-31 Prediction of Falling Away

27 "You will all fall away," Jesus told them, "for it is written: " 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' 28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." 29 Peter declared, "Even if all fall away, I will not." 30 "Truly I tell you," Jesus answered, "today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times." 31 But Peter insisted emphatically, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the others said the same.

(Jesus predicts Peter's denial)

Thoughts: This event was so engraved in the thoughts of the early Christians that it became a saying, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (I  Cor. 10:12).  We are precariously and dangerously on the edge of the place of faith.  We are on the balance beam of faith with only the net of God's grace beneath us.  Peter thought he was beyond falling, but he was not.  The greatest, strongest Christian needs to watch over their faith each moment. 

Prayer: Lord, I dare not boast in my own ability to be faithful, but plead with you to give me the strength today to be strong and faithful for you.

John Calvin abridged: "Strike the shepherd" (quote from Zech 13:7) Zechariah refers to the deprivation of leaders (shepherds) during the time of Anitochus. Yet it is a general principle that the Lord is able to gather his sheep even without good shepherds. Jesus was the ultimate shepherd, but God's grace showed in that even after his death his dispersed sheep were gathered. 
God does not cease to recognize as his sheep those who are driven out and scattered in every direction for a time. There are times when the government or the Church is bereft of leaders, but God, in order to prevent the minds of the godly from being overwhelmed with despaire by the extreme distresses at hand, declares that despite the confusion and miserable dispersion, the grace of God will be victorious. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

8/16/10 Mark 14:22-26 Blood of the covenant

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." 23 Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. 25 "Truly I tell you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." 26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

(Dali 1955)

Thoughts: Mark says, "The blood of the covenant which is poured out for many."  The covenants of the Old Testament were sealed in blood (much like the old American Indian "blood brothers" pact).  Christ sealed the promises and relationship of God with us who believe by his death on the cross.  The Last Supper is a remembrance of this, but it is also a re-enacting of the covenant making.  We are reminded of the bond with have with God- sealed by His blood- every time we take the bread and cup.  In this hyper-cyber-age, we are reminded we cannot be Christians alone- but the Lord's Supper is to be celebrated together.  We are together in covenant with God- the covenant of love sealed with his sacrifice. 

Prayer: Today, O Lord, remind me of your covenant- your bond- with me.

John Calvin: "Take eat"- Christ instituted a supper, which the disciples partake in company with each other. It is a diabolical invention, that a man, separating himself from the rest of the company, eats his supper apart.  There is no room for a private celebration [in Calvin's day a priest would distribute bread to all but only the priest would eat it; there were also private masses- both of which Calvin condemned].  We do not offer Christ's body, rather we are invited to take it as He offers to us.
"This is my body"-  The bread, when consecrated is a symbol of Christ's body, but we must also understand what "consecrated" means.  It is consecrated to us, so that bread (which nourishes the body) becomes our spiritual food, not by the whispering and breathing of some, but by the faith of the ones who partake of it.  The consecration is the "conversion" referred to by the ancient doctors of the church.  It is not a change in substance, but a change in purpose (physical to spiritual food).  The thing symbolizing the reality takes on the name of what it symbolizes (metanomy).  Thus baptism is called the "laver of regeneration" (Titus 3:5); the rock from which water flowed is called Christ (1 Cor. 10:4); a dove is called "the Holy Spirit" (Jn. 1:32). Why can we not apply the same sense to the Lord's Supper that is applied to the other sacraments? 

8/15/10 Mark 14:17-21 Judas' bad example

17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me." 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?"
20 "It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 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."

(Conscious Judas, Nikolaj Nikolajewitsch 1891)

Thoughts: There is some silly scholarship based on old gnostic texts written at least 200 years after Jesus died that indicate Judas as a hero for releasing Jesus' power.  That would be like lifting up John Wilkes Booth for making Lincoln a martyr.  Jesus words recorded by eyewitnesses is that Judas, the betrayer, would be a person of woe.  This gnostic attitude toward Judas is a sign of our times- in which evil is lifted up as good (after all if tolerance is our god, then evil disappears and what we call evil is much better than we thought).  Betrayal is evil, especially if it is betrayal of the best, the innocent to undeserved torture.  Let us not be afraid to humbly call evil wrong; in so doing we will cast ourselves on God's help. Judas is not an example of good to follow, but an example of evil to avoid.
Prayer: Lord, may I never betray you, but may my heart be true and innocent to you. 
John Calvin abridged: To render the treachery of Judas more detestable, he points out the aggravated baseness of it as Judas was planning the betrayal while he was eating the holy supper with him.  If a stranger had done this, it would have been easier; but as one of his close friends should design the betrayal for a fee while he was present at the sacred banquet was incredibly monstrous.
Each one of the disciples sought to declare their own innocense.  Our Lord sought to encourage his followers of all ages not to be discouraged or depressed over close friends who betray them.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

8/14/10 Mark 14:12-16 Preparing for Jesus

12 On the first day of the Festival 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?" 13 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. 14 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?' 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." 16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

(Upper Room- Crusader Church built on site- taken by Ben 6/2010)

Thoughts: The disciples were concerned about getting things ready for God.  What they didn't realize is that God had already gotten things ready, and all they had to do was some asking and following. Isn't that the way it is with us today?  We feel like we MUST do this and that for the kingdom of God, but God is the One in charge.  I am continually amazed and surprised at how God has so often made the way smooth when something is clearly His will.  Yet, it is still important that we ask God what can we do for you, and then follow His directions.

Prayer:  Lord, today, help me to give up my perceived control over things and give them to you. 

John Calvin thoughts: Jesus' unusual and miraculous way of preparing for the Last Supper was a way to encourage the disciples.  It was necessary so that when they saw Christ weak (a few hours from when he said this, he died) they would remember this miracle.  The Passover was a sign not just of an ancient deliverance, but also a future deliverance.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

8/13/10 Mark 14:10,11 The Tearing of the Church

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

(Judas agreeing to betray Jesus- with devil at his back- Giotto di Bondone 1304-6)

Thoughts: Judas thought Jesus was wasting money, and the Lord's ministry was not going the way Judas wanted it to go.  So Judas was convinced Jesus was not the messiah, and was willing to betray Him. This is a parable against divisiveness and lack of submission in the Church today.  So many churches split apart today because someone's ego gets in the way, and they want the church to go their way or no way at all.  Some would rather see the church die or split apart rather than lose their ideal.  Some of the idealism about homosexual ordination is in a similar vein. If a million leave the church and the church dies, so be it if it means that their homosexuality is not approved.  I would be for ordaining homosexuals if scripture did not forbid the act outright in both testaments and very strongly (an abominaiton to God in Lev. 18:11 and a cause for not entering heaven in I Cor. 6:9 or a sign of God's wrath Romans 1:24-27).  In any cause and case, we should always be more careful to listen to God speaking through scripture rather than try to twist it or make scripture (or God) bow to us.  In a similar vein, people should be very, very hesitant to leave or divide the church.  It is not just a matter of taste, for it is a sin to divide the Church.  Judas divided the church when he chose to betray Jesus. 

Prayer: Lord, give me a submissive spirit to listen and obey you. 

John Calvin thoughts: It was amazing and prodigious stupidity, that he considered himself to have found, in the expense of the
ointment, a fair excuse for so heinous a crime; Luke portrays Satan entering fully into Judas when he did this deed motivated by greed.  Satan enters into the reprobate, when he takes possession of all their senses, overthrows their fear of God, extinguishes the light of reason , and destroys their feeling of shame.  We should take care, therefore to repent early when we are tempted. 

8/12/10 Mark 14:1-9 Spending on God

1Now 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. 2"But not during the Feast," they said, "or the people may riot." 3While 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. 4Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume? 5It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly.
6"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."

(Mural in Bethany of this event- taken by the author 6/10)

Thoughts: What is a waste of resources?  In a finite, limited world especially in a recession, this is a great question.  We need to set priorities, and as believers we need to think about how God would have us to give.  To the secular world (and to those in the church who are always trying to win the world's approval) giving to the poor justifies the existence of the church.  There have been times when the Church has justified extravagance and ostentation on itself making people sacrifice.  There are many huge ornate churches in very poor areas.  Yet this passage allows for prioritizing spending on God above spending on the poor.  Jesus was being anointed for his burial- it was special.  While certainly Christ cared for the poor, the sick, and the left out- he also allowed for these special exceptions. 

Prayer: Lord, give me grace to be a good steward of the gifts you have given me.  Let my heart for spending be as your heart.

John Calvin abridged: Christ again predicts his death, but this prediction shows how willing he offers himself to die. He shows that he was willing to offer himself in order to reconcile the world to God and also that he was not caught merely in a trap of human violence from which he could not escape.  So he declares that he comes to Jerusalem expressly for the purpose of dying there.  We are able to see, as in a brigh mirror, how boldly and cheerfully he comes to Jeruselem to blot out the world's sins and then be victorious.  This is the same narrative in John (12:1-11) as in Matthew (26:6-13) and Mark.  She anointed his head so extravagantly that the oil ran down to his feet.  John relates that Judas began the murmuring and the others joined in.  We should be careful of following those who lead in wicked complaints and murmurs.  Christ who was an example of temperance and frugality here defends the woman for this single instance of extravagance.  The Spirit led her to anoint him.  We should find comfort that often what is condemned by those on earth is blessed by heaven.  Christ does not defend the anointing as if we should all imitate it, but assures us it pleases God on this particular occassion while Christ is still on earth.  This is no excuse for religious extravagance as Christ has ascended into heaven.  "The poor you will have with you always"- means that God has placed the poor around us to give us an opportunity to respond and sacrifice to their need.  "Through the world"- The Gospel should be preached through the whole world, and this incorporates the Gentiles (cf. Mt. 24:14).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

8/11/10 Mark 13:32-37

32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with an assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 "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. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!' "

(Parable of the ten bridesmaids who did not watch for the coming of the groom)

Thoughts: Is it possible that Jesus would say that the Mayan Doomsday prophecy (end of the world 12/21/12), is doomed to fail?  No one knows the day or hour- not even the angels or even Jesus himself! The point of Jesus is not to ignore the end of the world, for he tells us to watch and be ready (36,37).  The point is to not be consumed with the exact day, but to live your life in a way that would glorify God.  Each moment is a gift, and any moment could be our last here (we take our mortality very much for granted, but life is fragile).  When Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he knew Jesus would come back tomorrow?  Luther replied he would plant his garden like he planned.  The point was we should seek to be faithful in our daily tasks, glorifying God, as a way to get ready. One other small point.  The Day of the Lord is a day of woe to many, but to the believers we do not fear it.  One of the last words of the Bible are "maranatha" (come Lord Jesus!- Rev. 21:20).  Our hope does not lie in the pain or comforts of this earth but in Christ.
Prayer: Come Lord Jesus.  Come to me today to strengthen me with your grace.  Come Lord Jesus.  Give me a future and a hope.

John Calvin abridged: First Christ tells us to be alert (as opposed to lazy) then to keep our lamps burning (as opposed to the darkness of ignorance).  We are to pass through this life as pilgrims not looking for a fixed resting place except in heaven.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mark 13:26-31 The Word that does not fade

26 "At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 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. 28 "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. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

(Michelangelo Last Judgement)
Thoughts: Many try to ignore the second coming of Christ as if it is unimportant.  But the mention of Christ's coming back is found in every book but two in the New Testament, and the prophesies are numerous of the messiah's coming in glory and power in the Old.  Jesus ends his words by talking about timing and what will last.  It is important to recognize that Jesus' prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 70 AD was within a generation (40 years) of his death.   But it also is important to remember that Jesus was also speaking of a long time away (heaven and earth passing away, but his words not fading away).  This is a reminder to us 2,000 years later that His words are still relevant.  How so?  Jesus stands at the end of history as the King of kings, and Lord of lords (great power and glory vs. 26).  He tells us to look for signs (28,29).  I believe many of the signs of the end are near.  For example, the ability to destroy the whole world, and the gospel being preached to every nation within our generation; and Israel being restored- tremendous signs (not just wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes).  The good news is that though the very foundations of earth are destroyed, God's Word is not destroyed.

Prayer: Help us, O God, to believe and rely on your Word.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

8/9/10- Mark 13:6, 21-23 False Christs

6 Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many.21 At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Messiah!' or, 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

(Sergei Vissarion Christ of Russia)
Thoughts: The problem with those who say it does not matter what you believe, is that there are really false prophets out there.  Like Jim Jones who got his group to commit mass suicide.  Or the Heaven's gate conspiracy in which 39 people tried to "evacuate earth" to catch a UFO behind a comet.  Then there's David Koresh who claimed to be the Lamb of God; Sun Myung Moon who claimed to be Jesus; Sergei in Russia- an ex-traffic cop (see picture) who claims to be Jesus; Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda of Puerto Rico who claims to be the real Jesus; and Lord Maitreya who put a full page ad in every newspaper in the country thirty years ago that said the messiah is alive and on earth today.  Jesus said many will come saying "I am he."  Miracles do not necessarily mean someone is the messiah.  Remember Pharaoh's magicians could imitate Moses' miracles.  Jesus' words to watch out, are words for us to be careful not to believe anything.

Prayer: Lord give me a discerning spirit and follow you truly. 

8/8/10 Mark 13:5-13 The End of Time

This is a fresh devotional written each day.  This summer we are going through the gospel of Mark.

5 Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 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. 9 "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. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 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. 12 "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved.

(Destruction of Jerusalem David Roberts 1850)

Thoughts: "The end" (vs. 7) is "still to come" obviously.  But Jesus is saying here that history is not circular- that this world will not go on forever- or at least humanity will not go on forever.  A hundred years ago and all the years before it, it was a dream that people could possibly destroy themselves.  Now there are biological weapons, chemical weapons, nuclear weapons- "weapons of mass destruction" and now there are terrorist nations (South Korea, Iran is close) who have little conscience of using them- and a deterrent (that worked in the cold war) means little to those who are willing to be suicide bombers.  The Doomsday Clock has moved up since the cold war ended in 1989 to 6 minutes til midnight.  There is huge interest in the mayan doomsday date of 12/21/12, and tons of movies coming out about the end of time (eg. "The Day After Tomorrow").  Understandably, lots of people will be seeing the end before it comes, and some see the end from a totally secular point of view saying it has nothing to do with God or spirituality (perhaps the ultimate separation of God from real life- making God basically toothless/useless).  Jesus links here spirituality with real life.  He did this in the shadow of the prophets who predicted the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 AD because of spiritual problems.  He was making his own prediction of the temple's destruction again, but saw this as a foreshadowing of the ultimate human destruction at the end.  I am sure in 586 BC and 70 AD many thought their world was coming to an end.  Some of the signs Jesus gives are the preaching of the gospel to all nations (accomplished basically by 1990), the persecution of his followers (hundreds of thousands now- think of 10 doctors on Afghanistan yesterday), brothers betraying brothers; children rebelling against parents; and our responsibility is still the same- in every generation- to stand firm to the end. 

Prayer: God be our refuge and strenght an ever present help in trouble.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

8/7/10- Mark 13:1-7, 14-18 Destruction of the temple predicted

1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" 2 "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?" 5 Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come...14 "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. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

(My 5'4" daughter at a temple stone; rt. stones from temple still torn down from Romans 70 AD- walls above and beyond more modern)

Thoughts: This is one of the most remarkable passages.  This passage is one reason many Jews consider Jesus a prophet- he prophesied the destruction of the Temple- which was destroyed in 70 AD.  Mark in particular is said by most scholars the earliest gospel written 55-65 AD (Eusebius dates Mark 43 AD  during the reign of Claudius- when Peter came to Rome).  There are many liberal scholars who do not believe in predictive prophecy who therefore automatically place the date after the Temple's destruction (but such reasoning is circular- "Jesus can't predict so despite other evidence Mark must be later"- supporting their assumptions by their own dating).  It is said vss. 14-18 caused the early Christians to flee Jerusalem and escape harm- for they saw the Romans in Jerusalem with the insignia of a pig.  So even though the church was small, every indication is that the church escaped the terrible seige of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  Today you can go to Jerusalem and see the huge temple stones literally torn down (see picture above) in fulfillment of the prediction of Jesus.  There was a sense of some at the time that the Church had died- as the temple was destroyed.  Yet when the Temple was destroyed the gospel spread more quickly throughout the world as the apostles were scattered.  Most Christians can learn to trust in scripture and above all in God from this passage.  The temple was burned by the Babylonians on August 10 586 and by the Romans on August 10 70 AD.

Prayer: Lord, kingdoms come and go, but the gates of hell will not prevail against you. 
John Calvin abridged: The disciples thought that Christ was paying his last adieu to the temple.  Christ was going to erect a new temple far more magnificent- that would produce a more flourishing state of the kingdom.  But the disciples could not believe that the magnificent splendor of the temple would give way to Christ.  Because the temple was so prodigious and costly their eyes were dazzled by the mass of stones which would have to be removed in order for Christ to reign.  This threatening doubtless kept the apostles from taking part in the rebellion against Rome.  This is a warning not to follow pomp, luxury, pleasure or false Christs.  This is a warning to remove every obstacle that hinders us from a right faith. 
For fuller detail on the temple's destruction (including Josephus' first-hand recording of it) see:

Friday, August 6, 2010

8/6/10 Mark 12:41-44

41 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. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

(James Chistensen- the widow's mite)

Thoughts: Jesus had just talked about the false and showy religious leaders devouring widow's houses out of greed.  But then he shifts this to talk of the blessedness of the widows who give to God- even if that gift is abused.  The widow is blessed anyway for the way she gives- out of whole-hearted devotion to God.  In our day of economic recession churches need to downgrade their budgets and peoplhave  need to see the blessing of giving that this widow saw. 
Prayer:  Help us to have hearts that will give to you, O Lord as this widow had. 
John Calvin abridged:  Whatever people offer to God should not be judged by its apparent value.  It may seem that the poor do not have the power to do good- but here our Lord speaks of the value of their gift.  It also is not enough for the rich to compare the amount they give to the poor and be satisfied with that. 

8/5/10 Mark 12:38-40

38 As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely."

Thoughts: Religious pride and show are too common in a day when religious heart is missing.  It was true in Jesus' day and in our day as well. 

Prayer: Lord, may my heart be as your heart- prompt and sincere. [John Calvin's motto-prayer]

John Calvin abridged: The word of God did not receive any stain by the wickedness of the teachers, nor should their wicked examples be used as an excuse to sin.  Christ was not afraid to offend and expose the ungodly teachers as they deserved.  Only Christ was good enough to not bring any offense to the gospel in his ministry. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

8/4/10- Mark 12:35-37 Son of God

35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, "Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 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." ' 37 David himself calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?" The large crowd listened to him with delight.

(Angels and apostles bowing before Jesus- Nikolai Kharlamov)

Thoughts: Peter had already been blessed by Jesus for declaring "You are the messiah (Christ) [the Son of the Living God!]" Mt. 16:13; Mk. 8:29.  So when Jesus was talking about the Messiah, he was talking about himself.  Jesus was quoting from Psalm 110:1 in which David appeared to call the coming messiah "Lord."  Most prophets were called or called themselves "the Son of Man" which emphasizes their humanity.  Jesus, as a prophet called himself this.  Yet, here Jesus is staking a larger claim.  His ministry was climaxing with this claim that he was more than a man, but the lord of even King David, one of the most respected of all the people of God.  This is a reminder to us that human pride and human power pale in comparison to the messiah's power.  Our day lifts up human wealth, ability, and power- but it fades and is nothing.   In the end every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!  May as well confess Him now too!

Prayer: You are Lord.  I lay all my abilities, my strength, by crowns at your feet today.

John Calvin abridged:  Matthew and Luke are clearer that Jesus' words are in response to the scribes' error that the messiah was only of earthly origin.  Jesus did not attest directly to himself.  However, since the hour of his death was approaching he was bolder in making the claim of his divinity so that people would know they should rely on him.  Psalm 110 says that David acknowledges himself as part of his people and subject to the messiah as the sole King. The Christ is not a mere man taken out of the ranks of men, but is the supreme head of the whole Church possessing the majesty of God and ranks higher than angels. We need to remember this passage when the Church is oppressed.  Whatever the madness of people, they shall not destroy the kingdom of God which God has set up. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

8/3/10 Mark 12:28-34 The Main thing

28 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?"
29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
32 "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 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."
34 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.

Thoughts: Having one focus, one goal is so important in life.  When I was a boy at my uncle's house in Maine, I played around with a row boat in the bay.  I got too far out in the bay, and I was not going straight. It was a simple thing- but when I finally figured out to focus on one object while I pulled both oars, I would go straight and not waste my strength.  The main focus of the Christian faith is love of God.  Martin Luther used to say, "Love God and do what you will."  In our very very busy world- hardly slowed by the terrible recession- it is still important to know that "the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."  We do not need to let the idols of this world- beauty, fame, athletic ability, money, acceptance by others, feelings become the main thing.

Prayer: Help me, Lord to grow in love for you and to focus on love for you.

Monday, August 2, 2010

8/2/10 Mark 12:18-27 Marriage in Eternity

18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 "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 raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?"
24 Jesus replied, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob' ? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!"

(Bride and groom praying at LMPC on their wedding day)

Thoughts: Many today envision marriage when it is going well- lasting into eternity and beyond.  But when marriage is going bad, they hope it will not last another day.  Marriage is a gift from God given to us in this life.  It is a commitment to live together and love each other "til death do us part."  It is true that human love may last forever, but it changes when we get to heaven for we are not the same creatures then that we are now.  A good marriage, like a good life, I believe, will be rewarded in heaven.  When in heaven we see the person we shared so many memories with we will be able to rejoice together and the bond between the two will be truly great (less forgiveness needed and more wonderful memories shared).  This contrasts with the Islamic view of heaven which appears to be unlimited sexual pleasure for the male (72 virgins for the martyrs- I've wondered if the virgins thought they were in heaven).  Marriage is one of God's greatest gifts- and it is to be treasured and honored- by all.  Yet even this great human love pales in the face of God's eternal love, and the gift of the love and bond we will have in heaven with Him and with each other.
Prayer: Lord, help me to honor marriage today.  But also give me a longing for heaven. 

John Calvin abridged: The Saducees, who did not believe in the resurrection or immortality of the soul (so that we do not differ from beasts), were trying to trick Jesus.  They still maintained that God was the Judge of the world and that He controlled life through providence, but the reward of God was found only in this life.  They were appealing to Moses (Deut. 25:5) who allowed a widow to be re-married by a near relative if no children were granted by the previous marriage. "You err not knowing the Scriptures"- Christ appeals to the scriptures.  When we err, this is the usual source of our error- ignorance of the scripture. "Like the angels"- Not that we will be angels in every respect, but that we will be free from the frailties and desires of this life. Luke expresses that they will no longer die- thus not needing the propogation of their species, as on earth.