The Real . . . and the Phoney

“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (Mark 13:21-23).

In Jesus’ temple speech he warns against the deceptions of “false Christs.” They too will perform signs and miracles and “deceive the elect.” But how were Jesus’ hearers (more importantly, how are we) supposed to tell the difference? If both performed miracles, how will anyone tell the true Jesus from the pretender?

Jesus isn’t coming back to convince anyone he is back, or to spend time trying to “make disciples” or get people to believe. His return will be for judgment. There will be no need for miracles. More likely for us though are those who claim to speak for Jesus, but don’t. It is the responsibility of the elect to know the word of God well enough to tell the difference. And it’s good to remember that, for the most part, what we think is okay with God, without actually consulting God, is most likely, not. The Lord Himself says: “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:7-8).

The uninformed have no chance at avoiding anxiety, deception nor calamity. Being informed requires dwelling in, and on, the word of God. As Isaiah put it: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.”

So . . . how’s your daily Bible reading going? In which Bible class are you participating? Are you “on your guard”?

On Guard Duty

“Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:33).

The longest speech in Mark’s gospel (chapter 13) is the one dealing with the end of the temple and the end of the world.  While the command “Be on guard!” occurs in the same context in both Matthew and Luke, Mark focuses on it, mentioning it five times in Jesus’ speech.

The speech itself is notoriously difficult.  Was Jesus talking just about the end of the temple, or was he talking about the end of the world (or both)?  Matthew and Mark each offer clues. At one point, Jesus says: “This generation will not pass away before all these things take place” (vs. 30).  Some scholars suggest Jesus was not talking about his own generation, but the generation that would see the signs.  But that makes Jesus seem a bit foolish.  Obviously the generation that would see the signs wouldn’t pass until they had seen them. The easier answer is that, everything in Mark 13:1-31 addresses the end of the temple.  Verses 32-37 address the end of the world.

But the timing of neither cataclysmic event was really the point.  The point was that both are coming, and you should “be on guard.!”  For the disciples, and perhaps some of Mark’s early readers, the end of the temple would seem like the end of the world.  Whether it genuinely was or not was irrelevant. The imperative for the disciples was to be watchful with their lives.

There will be (and perhaps, for you, already have been) times when you will think your world is coming to an end. But there is something always more important than what is happening.  Are you ready to meet the Lord?  It’s a lifestyle really, to live every day in prepared anticipation of his coming.

They All Fall Down

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’” (Mark 13:2)

So begins the longest speech recorded of Jesus in the gospel of Mark.

Since arriving in Jerusalem in Mark 11, Jesus has viewed the temple, cleansed it, argued in it, and now, he condemns it.  In the next verse, Jesus leaves the temple never to return.

The disciples, however, like Job’s wife leaving Sodom, do not appear eager to leave. “Look, Teacher” they said, “what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”

And the architecture was magnificent.  Josephus (who saw the building) wrote: “The exterior of the building lacked nothing that could astound mind or eye.  For being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as if looking at the sun.” Another wrote: “He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life.” Herod built it for his own honor, but also to burnish the image of Judea in the pagan world.

Magnificent or not, God was not impressed.  People, and their behavior, are more important than architecture, and in the verses that follow, Jesus makes it clear that the temple is to be destroyed and it will be the judgment of God that does it.

It wasn’t a new value system.  Even in the Old Testament, the orthodoxy of pious people was condemned when their day to day behavior didn’t match the holiness of their calling (see Isaiah 58:1-9 and Jeremiah 7:2-11).  An enduring message is this: There is nothing we should prize more than our relationship with God, a valuing that is reflected in our obedient behavior.  Whatever gets in the way of that, no matter how majestic or noble in our own eyes, is slated, like the temple, for destruction.

All In

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. . . . [W]herever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her”(Mark 14:6,9).

Mark’s story of Jesus is rapidly coming to a close.  There is an ominous feeling in the air.  In the longest speech recorded by Mark, Jesus has pointed to the end of the temple and the end of the world (chapter 13).  Three times the Lord has told his disciples that he’s going to be killed (8:31ff; 9:31ff; 10:33ff).  It would seem, however, that no one was really listening.

No one, that is, except the woman in this story.

As Jesus reclines at a meal on the Tuesday before his death, this woman comes in and pours an expensive perfume on his head.  She knows he is going to die.  She likely would give anything to keep it from happening, but happen it will.  There is nothing she can do and she knows it. Understanding the will of God, and accepting it, she “leans in” with a huge sacrifice of her own, anointing Jesus with an ointment worth nearly a year’s wages.
There were objections of course and unfortunately, the objections usually get the most attention, telling the woman’s story, but ignoring her and the lesson in her action.

Throughout Mark, Jesus has called people to join in his mission, to follow him, to be “all in,” all the way to the cross.  The woman who gave the two copper coins cast in “all her living.” This woman likewise did “what she could” with a huge sacrifice of her own (14:8).  She didn’t do it for the fame.  She did it for the honor of her Lord.

As we think about the resurrection of Jesus this Lord’s day, we might also think about what we are doing to honor him whose death has saved us all.

When Giving is the Greatest

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44)

If you only had the gospel of Mark, you might never know Jesus ever went to Jerusalem until the time of his death. It is not until chapter eleven that he arrives there.

The scene Mark paints of Jerusalem however is not a pretty one. The temple area has degenerated into a commercial trading zone – a poor venue for prayer. The Jewish leadership – mostly religious leadership – has renewed its efforts to murder Jesus (11:18; 12:12) and Jesus has let them know, that he knows, they mean him harm. Chief Priests, Elders, Teachers of the Law, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees all come to debate with him. The Lord not only defeats them, but accuses the most respected among them of taking advantage of some of society’s most vulnerable – the widows.

All of which brings me to this: Why did the poor widow continue to support such a corrupt system with her contributions?

The answer, of course, is that she wasn’t supporting a corrupt system. She was giving to God. God would hold the leaders accountable for their corruption. He would hold her accountable for her faithfulness. The widow wasn’t concerned about giving to a cause. She was concerned about giving to God. She knew that her financial giving could not be divorced from her faithfulness. She was “all in,” and she proved it by giving all she had to live on.

Ironic is it not? The religious leadership was all about taking a life. The widow was all about giving her own life. It is in her example we find Christ-likeness.

Proof of Paternity

In my Vietnam Bible class on Saturday evenings I’ve been teaching the gospel of Luke.  A week ago we looked at the temptation story in Luke 4.
The temptations of Jesus provide an easy lesson.  After all, it has the customary three points: Satan sometimes tempts us to do something good just to get us in his grasp.  At other times he tempts us to settle for less than God intends for us.  Third, he tempts us to doubt God – to challenge God to prove himself.

There are questions though: Why was Jesus in the wilderness in the first place?  He was led there by God for the express purpose of temptation – not that God tempted him, but God placed him in a vulnerable position so that Satan could tempt him.  Why?  And might God do the same to us?
A lesson I’ve often overlooked is why Luke tells us this story in the first place.

He has introduced Jesus as “the Lord,” the “son of the Most High,” the “Savior” and the “Son of God.”  God himself testified to Jesus’ sonship at his baptism.

But was he really?

Luke follows his assertions with a long section (4:1 – 9:50) filled with miracle stories – proofs of Jesus’ identity.  But the first proof is not a miracle.  It is the temptation story.  Satan tempts Jesus twice to prove he is the son of God (the first and third temptation).  Jesus overcomes the temptations by refusing to submit and thereby proves, in an unexpected way, he is the son of God.  Only the Son of God would be able to overcome the devil so decisively.

There is a lesson here for us: We too are God’s children, and there is no greater proof of our relationship with him (or lack of it) than how we too handle and overcome temptation.