Give Me The Bible — Part 2

You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

Our daily Bible readings brought us to this passage last week. It seems straight forward enough:  Proof that a prophet is really a spokesman for God is that his words come true.  But questions arise: What if his words are not fore-tellings of future events?  After all, the main function of a prophet was not to reveal the future, but to call people to holy living.  And what if he has proven himself as a spokesman for God in the past by prophesying events that have come true.  Does that mean everything else he says is the word of God?

An interesting text occurring five chapters earlier speaks to these questions.  First, it doesn’t matter if the person closest to you tells you “this is what God wants.”  If it is not what God has revealed in his word, don’t listen to them. Even if a whole city (popular opinion) speaks in favor of something contrary to God’s already revealed will – don’t follow them.

Preceding all these is a comment about the prophet.  Even if he has been confirmed a prophet by the truthfulness of his fore-tellings, if he contradicts what God has already revealed, pay him no mind (see Deuteronomy 13).

To emphasize the seriousness of this instruction, anything contrary to it was a capital offense.  This is why the Bible is so important.  It contains the confirmed revealed will of God.  Anything contrary is not his will, no matter who says it, how dear they might be, or how many hold their position.  In the words of Isaiah “Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” (Isaiah 8:20).

Give Me The Bible — Part 1

They almost wiped me from the earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts (Psalm 119:87).

In his longest Psalm, David says to God: “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.  I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”  The Psalm, all 176 verses of it, extols the role of the Word of God in our relationship with the Lord.

It’s difficult to explain the power and nature of the Word of God.  Peter said it is living and enduring, powerful enough to grant humans re-birth (1 Peter 1:23-25).  Implanted in our lives, the brother of Jesus said God’s word can save our souls (James 1:21).  It carries with it such intangible qualities as goodness (Hebrews 6:5) and seems to have a mind of its own as it judges the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).  It is the power of God, resident in His word that holds the universe together (Hebrews 1:3).  It has the power to make things holy (1 Timothy 4:5), to cleanse us from sin (Ephesians 5:26) and is one of the weapons God provides in our battle against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:17). God never undertakes to explain how all this works.  He just assures us that it does.

The word of God never originates with humans, but was written by humans as they were carried along by God Himself (2 Peter 1:21).

David tells us the Word of God should not be neglected, but learned, followed, meditated on, hidden in our hearts, and kept.  When it is, we will be empowered to make good decisions, find direction for our lives, and have hope even when almost “wiped from the earth”.

Make Him Known!

“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” (Mark 16:15-16).

For the past two years, I’ve been writing about passages in the gospel of Mark.  We are now at the end and just here it’s worth noting that Mark ends his book much as he began: As the book opened, Mark described it as the beginning of the gospel.  He ends with Jesus’ command to go preach the gospel.  Chapter one described John the baptist dressing like Elijah.  As Jesus cried out on the cross, people thought he was calling for Elijah.  The first miracle Mark mentions is Jesus casting out a demon.  At the end, Mark mentions Mary Magdalene out of whom Jesus cast seven demons.  Jesus is baptized in chapter one.  At the end, Jesus commands baptism for all who would be saved.  At Jesus’ baptism, God proclaimed that Jesus was His son.  At Jesus’ death, a centurion proclaims Jesus to be the son of God.

I find it interesting that throughout the book, people have had trouble understanding and accepting that Jesus was God’s son (the Jewish ruling council made this the cause of Jesus’ condemnation).  And yet, at the end, the person who “gets it” is not one of the disciples.  In fact, Jesus is critical of the disciples for their lack of belief (16:14).  The person who “gets it” is not a Jew.  The person who “gets it” is a gentile centurion – perhaps the least likely of anyone we might expect to come to faith.

You never know who will respond to the good news about Jesus. But our task is not to decide who will respond.  It is simply to make the gospel known.

How Will You Respond?

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).

A good many folks believe the Gospel of Mark should end right there.  Yes, I know you have eleven more verses in your Bible, but even your Bible will have something of a question mark about them.

I will turn to the long ending next week, but for today, let’s grant that Mark ended with verse eight.  What might have been the purpose of such an odd ending?

The women mentioned in this verse had been told to go tell the disciples, and Peter (probably “especially Peter”), to meet Jesus in Galilee.  Mark says they don’t.  But just here you should see a connection with the beginning of the book. At the end of chapter one, Jesus heals a leper and “sternly commands him” to tell no one.  But the leper does anyway.

Written for Christians, the Gospel of Mark addresses the call to discipleship.  Those who read Mark for the first time knew that the story didn’t end in disobedience.  The disciples changed, made the message known, and began a movement that spread like fire across dry prairie. But to keep it spreading would depend on new people in succeeding generations faithfully following Jesus.

Perhaps Mark’s readers are being given an invitation: They can believe the story is over and go back to their lives.  They can believe the story continues with a call to them – but never respond because of fear.  Or they can, like the women and apostles did, get on with following Jesus.
If I’m right about Mark’s intention here, we are being given an invitation too.  How will you respond?

Resurrection

And when [Pilate] learned from the centurion that [Jesus] was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph” (Mark 15:45).

The resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the gospel, for it is the resurrection that settles forever the identity of Jesus. The first sermon preached by the disciples after Jesus’ death mentions the resurrection three times. It is mentioned twice in the second sermon (Acts 3) and once in each of Peter’s two speeches before the Jewish ruling council (Acts 4 & 5).

Paul wrote that the resurrection is the declaration (the proof) that Jesus was the Son of God (Romans 1:4).

Of course, all that, and the total of Christianity, becomes but a lie if in fact Jesus didn’t really die, and over the years several theories have been offered. One is that Jesus didn’t really die, but just fainted – after all, no one died from crucifixion in just three hours. It was usually a long painful death, lingering for days before dying from exposure, thirst, or asphyxiation. In the cool of the tomb he revived and made his escape (though how he got past the guards is left unexplained).

Mark tells us that when Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus, Pilate was surprised Jesus had already died. He sent an officer to make sure – someone experienced in the death business. The report was “yes.” Jesus was dead.

But he didn’t stay dead, and that’s the power behind the “good news” of the Jesus story. His resurrection provides hope for our own. “Through Christ you believe in God, who raised Jesus from the dead and glorified him, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21).

A Special Invitation

I wrote last week about the tearing of the curtain in the Temple at Jesus’ death and suggested its significance was that of an invitation: an invitation into the presence of God.

It’s a really big deal, speaking volumes about God’s grace.

Note that, normally, the only person who could enter the Most Holy Place was the High Priest of God’s people. He had to be a descendant Levi, the son of Jacob. He had to be a descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother. He could only enter once a year, and when he did, it had to be with an offering of blood. To enter any other time carried a death sentence. For anyone else to enter was unthinkable.

But Jesus was not of the tribe of Levi. Though he was a High Priest, he was not a descendant of Aaron. Though his priesthood was much older than Aaron’s, entering into that Most Holy Place still cost him his life, for the blood of his admission was his own.

In doing this, God opened the way into His presence not just for one man, but for all. In doing it, God changed everything. He changed everything for us. Oh yes, the change was all a part of God’s original plan. But the plan was to involve a demonstration of the lengths to which God would go to give us fellowship with Him. It was a demonstration of His grace and love for us.

Consider what God has done for you. And then, consider what you can do for God.

An Open Invitation

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:37-38).

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all write about the tearing of the temple curtain – the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (the place of God’s dwelling).  Other than the fact of its tearing, they make no other point.

In the days of Moses, the curtain was made of “blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman” (Exodus 26:31).  That curtain was replaced by Solomon when the temple was built and described as “made of blue, purple and crimson yarn and fine linen, with cherubim worked into it” (2 Chronicles 3:14).  The Jewish historian Josephus described the curtain in Herod’s day as ninety feet high and thirty feet wide.  It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and made with marvelous skill.  On the curtain was an image of the heavens.  That last part is important.

The writer of the book of Hebrews noted that Christ at his death entered the Most Holy Place with his own blood to obtain redemption for us all.  It is by that same blood that we too  enter into God’s presence (Hebrews 10:19).

I find it interesting that when the gospel of Mark begins, the heavens are torn open and God proclaims about Jesus: “This is my Son.”  At the end of the gospel, a curtain with the heavens depicted on them is torn open and I imagine the significance was not to announce Jesus’ divinity nor even to receive Jesus back, but to call all of us into God’s presence.

Fear Turns To Confidence

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36)

Jesus knew he was going to die.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree that at least three times, Jesus told his disciples he was going to be murdered..
But Mark makes plain Jesus did not want to die.

More vividly than the other gospel writers, Mark describes Jesus’ panic in the garden.  In Matthew Jesus prayed “if it be possible, let this cup pass.”  Luke has it “if you are willing, remove this cup from me.”  In Mark, however, Jesus is more direct.  First, he leans heavily on his relationship with God calling him “abba Father” (or daddy, father).  It’s the only time Jesus uses this most familial of addresses.  Then, he says “all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.”  It’s not a request, but a cry of desperation.

You have to see all this to appreciate what follows.  They don’t forcibly drag Jesus away, kicking and screaming.  Jesus willingly goes to meet the mob, and then goes with them.  And though the story that follows is shorter in Mark than the other accounts, it’s obvious Jesus is in charge all the way.  He criticizes the mob for their hypocrisy.  He refuses to answer the High Priest except to warn him of impending judgment – a judgment Jesus himself will inflict.  He refuses to answer Pilate except to affirm that he is king of the Jews.

Jesus will go to his death in control all the way, because he had, in the end, entrusted himself to God.  In days of difficulty we pour out our hearts to God for deliverance.  Sometimes it is received.  Sometimes not.  Either way, life is to be lived under His hand, and that means there comes a time when prayers for deliverance stop.  Not because we lose faith, but because we have resigned ourselves to the will of God, and trust Him to see us through.

What Would You Do WIth A Second Chance?

But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead” (Mark 15:11).

Barabbas had been imprisoned for participating in a revolt in the city. Mark actually refers to it as “the revolt,” implying it was a memorable incident – at least for the time. Mark and Luke tell us he was a murderer, and Luke tells us the murder happened during the revolt.

Jerusalem, a large city, built on a hill, home to a great temple, was always in need of fresh water. Pilate determined to build an aqueduct to provide additional water, and who better to pay for it than the single greatest user, the temple? Every year Jews from all over the world sent money to pay for the administration of the temple and Pilate, rather heavy handedly, took that money to build the aqueduct. A revolt ensued and all this about the time of Jesus’ death.

Two things capture my attention:

First, Mark says the two crucified with Jesus were “revolutionaries” (though the word sometimes means “robber”). I’ve wondered if those two were Barabbas’ accomplices.

Second, it’s interesting that the name Barabbas, reduced to its parts, means “son of the father.” It’s even more interesting that some manuscripts give a fuller name: “Jesus Barabbas.” So here we have two men named Jesus, both called the “son of the father.” One was guilty of sedition and a murder. The other, innocent of any crime. And yet, it was the innocent who took the place of the guilty on a cross. What became true for Barabbas has become true for us all: Christ has taken our guilt, borne it Himself, and given us a new start. I wonder what Barabbas did with his?

What are you doing with yours?

He Did Not Flinch

Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (Mark 14:42).

I think I’d have said it differently.

One word.

“Run!”

The disciples would run of course – but not Jesus.  Years later, Peter described the unfolding scenes of the following hours this way: “When they hurled their insults at him [Jesus], he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23).

Jesus didn’t want to die.  No serious reading of Mark’s Gethsemane account can miss the terror that tore at his soul.  Running would have made absolute sense.  But when Judas arrived with his unruly band of brigands, Jesus stayed.  He rebuked the crowd for treating him like a criminal, rebuked his disciples for adopting the same posture as the mob, and healed the wounded.
He may have been led “like a lamb to the slaughter,” but he was no pushover.

Before the High Priest he demanded witnesses be brought to substantiate the charges against him.  When criminally assaulted for insolence, Jesus demanded proof he had spoken improperly. Before the Jewish council and Pilate he admitted his identity as the Son of God and king of the Jews.  He did not flinch.

Christian people are called to “show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, and honor the king.”  But it doesn’t mean we roll over and play dead in the face of opposition.  We must speak out in favor of the oppressed, against injustice, and against sin, bringing light to the darkest of places – even if they are high places.  But we cannot adopt the weapons or vocabulary of the powers of darkness.  Never denying who we are, we follow the one nailed to a cross, entrusting our lives to Him who judges justly.