Mark 13 | No One Knows the Day or the Hour

There are two questions that Jesus’ begs from his teachings in Mark 13:  What will the end of the world look like?  and When will this end come?  Since the dawn of the church, these two questions have been debated in unhealthy and unhelpful ways and have spawned controversies that have led many to the extremes of overzealousness and apathetic ruin.  For some have claimed that Jesus has already returned since the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and that there is little to worry about in terms of judgment.  Others insist that modern day events are the direct fulfillment of Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings in the Gospels and the Book of Revelation and that bomb shelters and supply hoarder is in order.  But the Author of Life and the Creator of all things urges caution right on the heels of his most terrifying predictions.  Only the Father knows the day, and as we have seen, his legendary patience endures as his Gospel continues to be carried to the nations of the world.

The sober approach to Jesus’ prophecies is to first admit that though we do not know the day or the hour of his return we can rest assured that he will return.  For even now we have earthquakes in various places, wars and rumor of wars from every part of the globe.  We have false messiahs rise claiming that they are the Christ with usual regularity. Christians are being murdered in increasing numbers for their faith around the globe and persecutions are rising even in countries that were formerly friendly to Christ.  Even more noteworthy is that in just a few generations, America has not only grown more evil, but indifferently depraved to gratuitous violence and sexual immorality – even to the point where the celebration of evil acts that were once thought abhorrent even behind closed doors are now encouraged and sought after.  Since these signs persist it is reasonable then to conclude that Jesus Christ will no doubt one day return to judge the earth according to his holiness and righteousness.

When considering the celestial prophetic signs foretelling God’s judgments to come, we do well to remember that God does not judge in a corner.  For some have attempted to explain recently that certain lunar and solar eclipses point to this fulfillment or that and others have taken the entirety of prophecy and attempted to force-fit God’s timing into historical events.  However, neither approach aligns with Scripture.  For on numerous occasions we have God’s direct, visible and unmistakable interventions on the earth, the first being his destruction of the entire world through a global flood.   Additionally, we have several other examples where God judged human beings openly and on a massive scale.  Consider the fire and brimstone rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah, the 10 plagues that brought terror, horror and death upon the stubborn Egyptians and the Red Sea waters that ended her great army. Consider the 185,000 slain Assyrians at the gates of Jerusalem and the 70,000 Israelites who were struck down by plague for David’s evil census taking.  

 If God did not act covertly when he unleashed his wrath in ages past, why would we assume that he will quietly go about the business of executing his judgment, particularly when the Son of God warns such as this: “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!Pray that this will not take place in winter,because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.  If the horrors that found the Jewish people under the invasion of the Romans in A.D. 70 were exceeded by the European starvations, Pacific brutalism and the Jewish holocaust that occurred during World War II, then we have great reason to reflect on the implications.  For if Jesus’ warnings were not intended for the destruction of the Temple, but the end of the age, then it means that humankind will not only endure such a coming atrocity but will see the worst of all-time.  And if both of these awful ages were insufficient to equal the horrors to come at the end of the age, should this not give us pause for the great and gratuitous sufferings to come?  For Jesus’ prediction that the distress to come will be worse than the worst of atrocities the come before – and it will be a time that will come quickly and on a day that we do not know.  Jesus tells us to watch, but we must watch with Christ’s sense of urgency to drive ourselves and others from our sin and into the arms of the Savior who will save his people from their sins.

Mark 12:38-44 | The Widow’s Offering: Two Pennies from Heaven

While Jesus is watching the offerings of the day deposited in the Temple treasury, a widow with nothing but two copper coins to her name offers them both up to God and a readymade Sunday school lesson is born.   And here is the account’s beautiful and simple lesson:  Jesus honors those who give both gladly and sacrificially from the heart.  For it was not the size of the gift given or even the lack thereof that impressed Jesus.  Jesus was impressed by an old widow, a woman who in this day had exactly zero prospects and hopes of being cared for, who was willing to offer the last hope of her life up to God in her whole and willing trust of him.  In first-century Judea, there were no state sponsored welfare programs.  The Jews were an occupied people and largely despised by the Romans.   More importantly, ancient Israel operated under a patriarchal society structure that had only limited means to care for its poor, and so the elderly were primarily cared for by either living off their own wealth or by their children – usually a surviving son.  And so this old woman, with no family to care for her, in essence laid down the last of her worldly hopes and prospects out of her full trust in God.

Though Jesus does not care about the size of a gift but of the heart behind it, he does remark about the magnitude of the widow’s gift.  Note carefully his words to his disciples:  “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.”  Jesus isn’t just saying that the widow has contributed more than any of the rich before her, but has contributed more than all of them combined.  In giving her last two pennies, she has offered to God a treasure that is of infinite more worth.  For it is not the pennies themselves, but the treasure from her heart she has offered that is of true and infinite value.  Because the widow offered this money from her heart in complete and total surrender, they were two pennies from heaven, they were two pennies from a heart that already had grasped an inkling of the depth and breadth of the heart of God.

It is also important to notice the setting of this account.  The retelling of the widow’s gift comes right on the heels of Jesus’ warning of the scribes:  “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”  Note the juxtaposition of this behavior going on within Jesus’ warning and the heart and actions of the widow.  The evil scribes that Jesus describes obsessively seek wealth, even steal for it in order to spend their ill-gotten wealth to bring glory to themselves.  But the widow seeks to give away all she has to bring glory to God.   The former use God to absorb his glory for themselves, but the widow uses what little glory she is given to offer it wholly up to God.   For the widow’s secret is that the joy she possess is beyond the bound of earthly wisdom and power.  Her secret lies in knowing the love and grace that God has for her.  Her glory rests in the joy she has for God in her heart – a heart that no matter the age can accomplish feats and overcome difficulties no other can overcome – even if such a great feat is offering two pennies to heaven.

Mark 6 Commentary

Mark 6 Commentary

Mark 6:1-6

Fresh off a string of successes in Capernaum, Jesus returns to his hometown to preach with the same wisdom and authority that had amazed the neighboring towns in Galilee. But Nazareth’s amazement at Jesus’ preaching soon faded into bitterness as they began to judge Jesus solely on external observations.  Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?  Aren’t his siblings and mother here with us?  What are these miracles that we’ve been hearing about but haven’t seen with our own eyes? The people of Nazareth were unable to ‘”stop judging my mere appearances and make a righteous judgment” (Matthew 7:6) and Mark then tells us that their unbelief prevented Jesus from doing more than heal a few sick people.

Envy is never far from sibling rivalries and many jealousies begin at home.  The Nazarenes looked on Jesus through unspiritual eyes.  They judged him based on his family ties and his unremarkable former vocation.  They had seen him grow up before their eyes and watched him serve a carpenter with his father while not taking note of his humility and his righteous character.

Now at this time, there were other social forces at work that were clouding the people’s judgment.  It was expected that among a family of carpenters you would rise no higher than carpenter yourself.  Sons followed closely in their father’s footsteps, and unless they were truly remarkable, they were expected to take up the family business.  Jesus broke convention and abandoned the comfortable and conventional life for a path of hardship.

Like today, children with special gifts and abilities were detected at an early age.  Though Jesus had amazed the rabbis at the temple in Jerusalem at the age of 12, his great wisdom and learning went unnoticed in his hometown. For Jesus to suddenly to reveal a transcendent wisdom and preach with an authority at the age of 30, he caught the townspeople off-guard.  Given that the people’s insults that flowed so freely, it is clear that their amazement had given way to jealousy and doubt.

The apostle Paul once wrote: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Cor. 10:12).  This is the standard that the Nazarenes employed to judge Jesus. They used past history and applied a standard of comparing themselves with themselves and judged him unjustly. And when Jesus’ great wisdom and gifts were put on display, they still could not see past mere outward appearances – they could not even look at their own hearts and make a reasonable comparison.

The reckless and stubborn defiance the people exhibited in the face of God’s wisdom and power astonished Jesus.  The people of Nazareth dismissed the Good News and did so not on its merits or because of its obvious power, but because in their jealousy and pride they refused to accept the Messenger based on their evil preconceived notions.

Mark 6:7-13

When Jesus sent the disciples out it was like a trial run for the great missions they would embark upon after Pentecost. Following that Great Day, when the Holy Spirit would crash into their hearts and give them power, the disciples would come to know first-hand what the life of faith and carrying nothing but the Gospel would be like day after day.  On their mission, the disciples would come to intimately know the power of God and receive a taste of it.  They would begin to realize that the power of God is more fulfilling than any pleasure and more precious than any treasure this world can offer.   But on this occasion, Christ sends his disciples on a shorter and relatively friendlier mission to preach the Gospel to their fellow countrymen. The report back is largely good and the hearts of people were tilled to receive the confirmation of the Good News that would follow Christ’s resurrection.

God’s joy and power was given to the disciples to preach and heal and to spread the Good News.  The disciples went out with the instructions to take only a walking staff, their trust in God and to stay at the house they first entered.  They preached repentance in Jesus’ name, drove out demons and healed the sick. And the disciples were now tempered by experience to better understand that the Rabbi who had called and sent them out was not a mere prophet but the Son of God.

Mark 6:14-26

Herod must have felt hell’s breath on the back of his neck when he learned about the amazing things that Jesus was doing.  So terrified was he after hearing about Jesus’ miracles that he superstitiously believed that John had been raised from the dead.  Guilt and confusion lingered on into Herod’s life long after the bizarre and evil ways he had dealt with God’s herald and prophet and it apparent here that the sins that led to John’s beheading were still haunting Herod.

Herod liked hearing John preach in the same way some people love to be entertained by a historical novelty, like the way some people enjoy watching reenactments of famous battles or great moments in national history. Herod had been amused by the Elijah-like John, but his amusement was always shallow and short lived.  In every case, his warm feelings for John’s preaching never led him to the repentance that John preached and always dissipated when he forced to choose between his crown and God.  In fact, the tetrarch was infuriated when John’s preaching began to touch his heart on account of his adultery, so much so that in his anger he jailed the prophet for simply preaching what the Scriptures had stated since they were first written down centuries earlier.

Despite his rage and the order to have John imprisoned, the Scriptures also tell us that Herod respected John and had, for a time, protected him from his wife’s grudge.  Herod knew John to was a holy and righteous man and there was something about John that always perplexed Herod.  But there was also still something about him that delighted him at the same time.  The Gospel attracted Herod from a distance, but it never was able to draw the foolish king close to the repentance and faith it offers.  When it touched his heart, Herod chose his sin over repentance and faith.

Chief among Herod’s sins was his slavery to the approval of others.  His ambitions for power and the lust of his brother’s wife each also played into this sin too.  His downfall came at a fateful dinner party.  Granting his step-daughter a virtual blank check after dancing impressively for him and his guests, Herod’s happy evening turned into a crisis of conscience when his step-daughter asked for John’s head.  At last, his wife’s vengeance was complete and the tetrarch was trapped.  Would Herod lose face in front of his dinner guests or would an innocent man die because of his rash decision?  Though Herod was distressed briefly, the greater fear won out.  Losing the approval of his guests was a greater fear than having an innocent man killed for telling him the truth, and so Herod chose to execute John rather than face embarrassment in front of his influential guests.

Mark 6:30-44

When many Christians read the Gospel and come across a miracle, they often look no farther than the miracle itself. They read about how Jesus performed some great feat and think about wonderful it must have been to see it, but then go away thinking that they understand all there is to know about the story without reflecting on what it teaches us about him and how we should put our faith in Jesus. So when these Christians read an account about how Jesus had compassion for people who ended up chased him around the Sea of Galilee, they only see the story in the context.  The only think about how Jesus took a small amount bread and two fish and then fed 5,000 men and that these men then became excited and chased him around the sea to get more.  To many, this miracle is the beginning and end of the story.

Jesus’ miracle in that lonely place does show us the greatness of his power and that our God has a very deep love for needy souls.  It also shows us that the finger of God was indeed at Jesus’ command.  However, we learn a much more personal and profound thing from the miracle than simply that Jesus possessed great power and loved others.  We learn that miracles are always signposts to deeper spiritual realities about the heart and nature of God.

When Jesus said to his disciples, “You give something to eat” everything in the story changed.  Until this point, the story had been about the disciple’s return from their long and successful journeys and about how they were unable to find rest due to the clamoring masses.  But now the disciples, who thought they were finally going to get that rest, are seemingly burdened with the task of how to feed a virtual army so late in the day.  Their reply was incredulity and confusion.  What are we to do? Do we go into the neighboring towns and try to buy all this bread?  Do we really want to spend so much money?

The disciple’s questions demonstrated that they had all but forgotten what Jesus had just tried to teach them. They sought a human answer to a divine problem.  They sought a self-reliant solution rather than God dependence.  For many days prior to the miracle the disciples had relied on God’s power and protection to see them through the preaching and miracle working they had performed on Jesus’ behalf.  But now, even though they had returned to the Source of this great power, they showed how little of his teaching had actually sunk into their hearts.

Unfazed by his disciple’s weakness, Jesus gave thanks for what the Father had provided.  He broke the food into pieces and then miraculously distributed so much bread and fish that the crowd ate all that they wanted.  Even twelve basketfuls of food were left over – which in and of itself was many times more than the original amount.

God is sufficient for all things.  He is able to overcome any obstacle and nothing is too difficult for him. Christ, who is the Bread of Life, distributed the bread to the crowd in the same way he would distribute himself through the hands of these very same men.  These weak and doubting souls, souls who are no different than us, were shown symbolically how they would carry the words of their Master’s sinless life, his death and resurrection to the ends of the earth. And even after the disciples lives were spent distributing his Gospel, there was still more than enough of his mercy and grace leftover for us.

Mark 6:45-56

When Jesus put his disciples into a boat to cross the Galilee he wasn’t trying to keep them ahead of the crowd.  He was trying to teach the disciples crucial lessons that had escaped their sensibilities during the miracle.  The loaves and fish were distributed to thousands, the disciples were amazed, but their amazement wasn’t the central point of the miracle.

Christ’s objective was to show his disciples that he was the Bread of Life who had come down from heaven. Jesus’ goal was not to stir up large crowds and to have many followers.  His goal was to show how he would mercifully give himself up for his people and save them from their sins. First, the Lord needed to teach his disciples that they were to be the distributors of his Good News because the lesson wasn’t sinking in – and so the stakes were raised an even greater miracle was performed.

Scripture tells us that when Jesus climbed into the boat that his disciples still didn’t understand who he was or the significance of this miracles.  Mark tells us that the disciple’s hearts were hardened and that they did not understand the lesson from the loaves and fish. They hadn’t understood when they went out with his power to preach in Galilee. They didn’t understand now that they had returned to witness even greater displays of power.

Had the disciples understood who Jesus truly was there would have been no reason for them to be amazed. They would have understood that the same God who granted them power to go out and preach, and who turned a few loaves into several bakeries worth of bread, was the same God who walked on the water, calmed the seas and then climbed into the boat with them.

The disciple’s hearts were not sensitive to spiritual things.  Their minds hadn’t been honed to process and understand the spiritual realities that were unfolding around them. So the disciples found themselves in a boat to be taught the same lesson all over again. The great storm came up to test and teach them again that Jesus is the Son of God.  The wind and waves rose so that they would understand that God is with them and will provide for all their needs. And then Jesus walked on water.

There are few accounts in the Gospels that are more mind-bending than this one. For Jesus didn’t walk on water to glorify himself.  He walked on water to meet the disciples in their time of need and to show them that no barrier, whether it would be hell’s grip or an inland sea, could keep them from the mercy of Christ.

Mark 5 Commentary

Mark 5:1-2

The demons were right when they addressed Jesus.  He was indeed the “Son of the Most High God” and served as an immediate threat to their well-being.  And this is why the possessed man ran to Jesus instead of running from him.  With but a word, Jesus could have easily cast out demons from a distance (just as he had healed the Centurion’s servant and the Canaanite woman’s daughter remotely) and so seeing Jesus, the man ran quickly to him to beg for mercy on demons’ behalf, hoping to negotiate a favorable exorcism.

What happened next was symbolic and just and beautiful in many ways.  From one vantage, we see Jesus granting the demons (Satan’s servants) the ability to destroy themselves through their attempts at self-preservation.  We also see a prophetic microcosm as to how God would soon allow Satan to destroy his own kingdom when his servants nailed Jesus to a cross.  And another vantage shows us how the demons were allowed to enter into ignorant, unclean animals that were running headlong and over a perilous cliff to show how those who love the world and embrace the devil’s values race blindly to their own destruction.

Regardless of what symbolic image we would prefer to take away from the perishing pigs, the final result is amazing.  The once possessed man is free, and through his freedom we are shown how salvation comes upon the once captive soul.  We are shown how the redeemed are sobered once they are released from the devil’s grip and reminded that every soul released from hell is released by God’s command.

At the apex of this wisdom is found most prominently a picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The One who brought glory to his Father and redeemed his people from a fallen world, used a legion of demons found in one man to demonstrate his great mercy for us.

However, we see the core motivations of the people emerge in their response to Jesus’ miracle.  The people’s real care is over the loss of wealth from the drowned pigs and not for the healed man.  This once pitiful man who roamed around graves, cutting himself,  unable to be restrained by chains, was found by his neighbors sitting at Jesus’ feet with a sober mind.  He had lived alone in solitary torment and unspeakable misery, yet now he was healed and the people barely noticed.

The people grew terrified at  Jesus’ power, but their fear did not inspire them to glorify God or rejoice that a once raving lunatic was made well.  Instead, the people were fearful that Jesus might do even more damage to their wealth and property by performing another miracle.

Now the pigs did represent the loss of a great deal of money, and the town’s economy most likely felt the lost revenue that the pigs would have brought in from the market or at slaughter.  But the loss also revealed the hypocrisy of their owners.  These pigs couldn’t have been intended the pigs for Jewish use, as Jews were forbidden to touch the animals, let alone eat them (Leviticus 5:2).   Yet here are Jewish farmers raising the animals as livestock to be sold. And to whom would the people sell them?  In all likelihood, these animals were to be raised and sold to their Roman occupiers.

Now even more ironies arise. The demon possessed men and the townspeople suddenly take on reversed roles.  The people asked Jesus to leave them because they were afraid of losing more of their possessions, even though those possessions kept them more dependent upon those who enslaved them.  Yet here at Jesus’ feet is a man that had been enslaved by a host of demons (a Legion) who was now free.  So the man’s freedom was disregarded by people fretting over the death of a heard of pigs (that held them chained to their earthly captors) and yet it was the possessed man, the one who had just been out of his mind, who could clearly see what Jesus had done.

That Mark would highlight only one of the possessed men should in no way cause us alarm.  The details of Matthew, written hundreds of miles from where Mark was penned and in a completely different language, are otherwise well aligned with Mark’s account and give us great confidence that these events did indeed take place. Mark’s focus on just one of the two men leads us to conclude that it is his response to Jesus’ merciful act that captured his interest. And to Mark, this possessed man did do something highly significant in response to Jesus’ command:

“Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19, emphasis added)

And with a smile we realize that this is exactly what the man did, even as Jesus was trying to deflect praise from himself to his Father:

“So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” (Mark 5:20, emphasis added)

Mark 5:21-43

A synagogue ruler falls at Jesus’ feet to beg for his daughter’s life, while a ceremonially unclean woman silently stalks Jesus to touch his garment as he passes by.  A young girl is critically ill and about to die, while an adult woman, who had lived with her ailment for 12 years, is healed first – though she was in no immediate danger of dying.

When the woman touched Jesus’ cloak, we would have expected Jesus to ignore the incident as he rushed to the bedside of the dying girl.  Besides having the more urgent need, the synagogue ruler had come to Jesus first and the unclean woman hadn’t even asked Jesus if she could touch his robe and delay his work.  Instead of moving on, Jesus stopped and turned around. We are even told that he was distracted by the touch of this seemingly presumptuous woman who had had the audacity to reach her unclean hand for the ceremonially clean rabbi.

Sensing her deep offense against Jewish ceremonial laws, which had potentially serious civil and social repercussions, it was now the woman’s turn to fall at Jesus’ feet.  But Jesus doesn’t even rebuke her.  Instead, he praises the woman and commends her faith, and in spite of all the years she had spent on useless doctor’s remedies, it was out of her desperation when she came to the end of herself that her faith in Jesus was born and made her well.

The tension of our story rises as the grim news about the girl’s death reaches the ruler just as Jesus finishes speaking to the woman.  The ruler’s daughter is dead and according to conventional wisdom, nothing more can be done, and so the unhelpful messengers tell the father not to trouble the rabbi any longer.

But Jesus again defies expectation and reassures the ruler: “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”  And this reassurance is meant not only for this terrified father, but for all of us who place our hope in Jesus.  For there is no need for any who fear God to fear anything in this world because God himself is always near and he is always ready to help us in our time of need.

The ruler took Jesus’ words to heart because moments later we read that Jesus is raising the little girl from the dead while scornful mourners are wailing outside thinking that nothing else can be done for her.

There are many lessons for us in these two miracles but I would say that two particularly stand out: God’s timing is always right and faith is the true currency of the Kingdom of God.  A woman who wasn’t permitted to enter the synagogue on account of her condition was put ahead of the synagogue ruler. A dying girl was permitted to die in order to show the world to see a greater miracle in the greatness of God’s power – and to also do so to strengthen Jarius’ shaky faith.  The suffering woman was permitted to suffer 12 years to bring her soul to its knees so that she would reach for Jesus and teach us to be patient in our own trials, no matter how long they last.  This girl was permitted to live 12 years to be placed in Jesus’ path to bring glory to God and salvation to her family.

Most remarkably, we see God’s sovereign and providential hand at work, for it is no coincidence that these lives collide.  A woman who had suffered greatly for 12 years and a girl of 12 years dies at the exact moment of their greatest need and just as salvation arrives.  The year that the woman’s suffering began was the same that the girl was born.  The moment the girl dies is the same that the woman’s suffering has ended.  Notice also the parallels of these realities to the life of faith and the new birth that is found in Jesus.  The girl is born and woman’s suffering arrives.  The woman suffers to display her faith at the very moment the girl dies in order to be risen again to life.  Faith is Christ is a thing born and suffering comes, yet in death all suffering ends and new life is found through resurrection.  God’s wisdom and perfect timing is here on full display as he rescues the lives of both young and old in order to show the magnificence of his glory.

Mark 12:35-37 Commentary

Jesus’ question to the Pharisees was meant to strike hard at the their preconceived ideas about the Messiah.  If the Messiah is David’s son how could David call his son ‘Lord’ and do so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?  Or in other words, how could a son be greater than his ancestral father?

What Jesus’ question ultimately did was challenge every convention the Pharisees held because they were looking at the coming of the Messiah in purely humanistic terms.  What the Pharisees should have contemplated was how all aspects of Old Testament meshed with their understanding of Messiah.  So they should have looked at their pre-conceived notions and asked how does keeping all these commands, performing all these ritual animal sacrifices and looking for the coming of this conquering hero all mesh in a cohesive and coherent way?  How does the shedding of a bull’s and ram’s, and its symbolic representation of the removal of sin, tie in with this conquering hero?  How does the keeping of commands and ceremonial laws work with the coming of a King who would set captives free, restore sight to the blind and give hope and mercy to the poor and downcast?  And even more, how could the greatest King of the sacred Old Testament be subservient to a Lord who was honored by the Lord is such a way (sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool) that this person would be a co-equal with the Mighty God himself?  These questions would have led them far closer to the Truth that they had so badly strayed from.

What Jesus did with this single question was not only silence and humble his accusers by pointing out what was likely a profound and troubling mystery to them, but he exposed the depth of their ignorance about basic and general spiritual realities.  Though we cannot blame the Pharisees for not having foreseen  mysteries that were hidden from the beginning of time, we can see how God will hold them accountable for having so cavalierly assumed that were wise and in tune with what the coming Messiah would look like, what he would be, what he would want and  how he would conquer.  For on every point, the Pharisee’s failed to understand God’s great plan.  They did not understand that sin, not foreign occupation, was the great enemy and captor.  They did not understand that outward holiness was nothing compared to that authentic holiness best represented in a love for the poor, the vulnerable and the oppressed – and even so far as one’s enemies.    And so instead of having hearts of understanding and in tune with God’s desires (which would enabled them to see the connections between Law, Sacrifice and Messiah) the Pharisees fashioned a Messiah out of a value system built on their moralistic traditions borrowed from enough Scriptural truth to insulate themselves from God and rules of self-dependency that puffed up their imaginations and self-esteems to such heights that they were incapable of seeing the Truth.

Instead of seeing God, the Pharisees abused God’s graces which then led to Christ’s rebuke of their hypocrisy, and put them in great danger of being made into a leg of the footstool that the Father will eventually put under his feet.

Mark 12:28-34 Commentary | What God Wants from Us

The Law accomplishes two things.  First, it tells us who God is and then it tells us what God wants from us.  When the Pharisee challenged Jesus by asking which command was the greatest, he did not sin.  Jesus did not rebuke him or become indignant.  Instead, Jesus answered his question directly because his question was of the utmost importance. If the Law tells us who God is, then the greatest command is going to describe God best.  If the Law tells us what God wants from us, then the greatest command is going to best describe what it is that we can do to please God.  So Jesus appreciated the question and answered it by showing both the heart of God and what he wants from us.

Jesus first answered the Pharisee’s question by first quoting The Shema.  He said the greatest commandment was this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29-30)  But then Jesus quickly added:  “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” (v. 32).  The Pharisee had heard the Shema thousands of times, he likely recited it daily.  But what was surprising here was in the way Jesus clarified the great command. It was this second command, to love your neighbor as yourself that took the greatest commandment to love God with all your being and brought it down to the simplest, most practical level. Jesus brought the theoretical down to the practical by demonstrating that love for God must manifest itself outwardly and not by nice thoughts or kind words.

And so you can see the progression of Jesus’ answer flow something like this:

Jesus, what is the greatest command?

To love God with all your being.

What does it mean to love God with all my being?

Love your neighbor as yourself.

But what does it mean to love my neighbor?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

In his answer, Jesus is directly tying love for one’s neighbor as love for God himself, which was a distinction that was not lost on the apostle John when he wrote in his first Epistle:

 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in himto make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him – 1 John 2:9-11

You are not Far

To the Pharisee’s credit he affirmed Jesus’ answer by saying that to love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself is more important than any monetary or material offering, and to this Jesus commended the wise answer by replying, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” (v.34).

What’s remarkable about this response is the possible double entendre.  The man was not only close to the Kingdom of God in his understanding of the Law, but in proximity.  In a real sense, the Kingdom of God stood in human flesh right before this Pharisee, who was the embodiment of love for one’s neighbor as divine destiny hurtled him towards his cross.  Here before the Pharisee was God himself, answering his question about the Law, the most fundamental and foundational thing in this man’s life, and he stood before the man as the epitome of unselfish, sacrificial love – the embodiment of the Law the Pharisee had pursued almost all his life.

But access to Christ comes only by faith, and it comes accompanied by an understanding of what God wants: a sacrificial love of one’s whole being that pours itself out for others, and all for the sake of magnifying his great Name.

Mark 12:18-27 Commentary | The God of the Living

Mark 12:18-27 | The God of the Living

One of the remarkable things about Jesus was in how he answered a challenge or question.  When Jesus was challenged, he didn’t merely answer a loaded question, but disarmed and unveiled its intent.  The Pharisees, having had their “question” answered about paying to Caesar in such a way that it revealed their hypocrisy, gave way to their arch rivals, the Sadducees who denied the existence of angels and the resurrection of the dead. With Jesus threatening to steal the people’s hearts, the two rivaling groups now had a common enemy who had to be stopped.  And so according to their theology, the Sadducees’ question to Jesus not only sought to discredit him but their arch-enemies as well.   Whose wife would a woman be after she outlived her original husband and six of his brothers?  Jesus could have simply said: “None of them,” and left it at that.  But instead, his answer cut to the root of their question and not only answered it but exposed the gaping theological flaws in their thinking.

Holding only to the Torah as authoritative, the Sadducees wouldn’t accept have accepted an answer crafted from any other portion of Old Testament Scripture.  Though Jesus, as Lord of Scripture, would have had every right to quote from any book, he instead met the constraint and still destroyed their worldview.  For in the book of Genesis we find the burning bush and the reference from it that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the living, not the dead.  So he says to them, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” and he then proceeds to reference Genesis and prove to them the power of God and the resurrection from the dead.  The argument is simple.  If the patriarchs, that God referenced by name in his greeting are dead, how can God be their God?  And if God had simply allowed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to die and be no more, why would God even claim to be their God?

The implication is simple.  God is the God of the living.  The patriarchs are either with God or will be, and the belief that there is no resurrection and therefore no afterlife, does not accord with Scripture.  But the even greater irony is that standing before these gravely mistaken Sadducees was the Lord of Hope answering their silly question who would soon go to the cross and be the first born from the dead, in order to lead those dead in their sins to eternal life by faith in his name.

Whose Image is This? | Mark 12:13-17 Commentary

Embarrassed by the Temple cleansing from the previous day, the Pharisees came out to Jesus to entrap him.  But the Lord masterfully diffused their ploy to the amazement of his accusers.

Yet equally significant in this exchange is what the Pharisees challenged Jesus with Mark 12:13-17and how they tried to trap him.  By evoking the subject of taxes, the Pharisees approached Jesus with an issue that they had no doubt wrestled over themselves.  These religious professionals daily walked the perilous path between the people’s approval on one hand and their Roman captors on the other.  They had to balance precariously on this brittle tightrope that often found them setting aside the demands of sacred Scripture in order to satisfy those who kept them in power.  So here again we see Pharisees projecting their own troubles on Jesus with two subjects that were near and dear to every first-century Jew:  politics and money.  But once again, Jesus gives his accusers far more than they bargained for.

Beyond just giving the Pharisees a remarkable answer, Jesus once again exposed the motivations of his accusers’ hearts.   The Pharisees brought before Jesus a devious question about money and authority.  Amazingly, they did so as if God’s kingdom was confined to earthly riches and powers.  So Jesus turned their question on its head.  His kingdom was not a realm of earthly origin, nor was it subject to its rules and constraints.  When he asked his accusers to produce the same kind of coin that was used for paying taxes, and then followed up his request with the question “whose image and inscription is this?” he redefined the boundaries of the Pharisee’s question.  His answer forced them to think beyond the mere earthly limitations that they were trying to impose on him, and unveiled what the Pharisees truly treasured.

The deep irony is that Pharisees were blind to fallacy of their question.  These were men who charged with the spiritual leadership and guidance of Israel, and yet they were men who couldn’t see the most basic spiritual realities of the Scriptures they were charged to keep. Greed and arrogance can blind even the most intelligent and principled of men, and here the perceived paragons of scholarship and integrity couldn’t even contend with Jesus on authentic spiritual ground

In asking the Pharisees to show Caesar’s inscription and image on a piece of common Roman currency, Jesus makes his most significant and profound point.  The currency of the Kingdom of Heaven is not reliant on gold or silver or military might.  In saying, “give to God what is God’s…” Jesus makes the distinction between the values and treasures of this world and those of his kingdom.  The silver and gold of the Roman Empire bore the image of Caesar and so was his, and if rulers demand taxes and submission to civil laws that do not interfere with God’s laws, then so be it.  Christ’s people are to be preoccupied with matters of faith, hope and love for the Kingdom to come not of earthly wealth or power that fades. Christ’s currency flows through the heart, not in outward appearances or displays of power. In making this distinction, Jesus disarmed the Pharisees challenge to his authority while simultaneously revealing what truly matters in God’s eyes.

A Vineyard, Wicked Tenants and a Cornerstone | Mark 12:1-12

There are three overrunning themes in this passage, the first of which pertains to the construction of a vineyard complete with a wall, a winepress and a watchtower.  Though the vineyard Jesus described was not necessarily consistent with a first-century design, it was consistent with the vineyard described in Isaiah 5 which was labeled as both fruitless and wicked:

“I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.”

“The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” – Isaiah 5:1-2, 7

Now the Pharisees were extraordinary Old Testament scholars who were required to not only have memorized every passage of Scripture but lengthy commentaries on it. So they no doubt recognized the vineyard that Jesus was evoking in his parable and they easily connected the spiritual implication that Jesus was applying to it. They would have immediately recognized Isaiah’s vineyard and understood that Jesus was speaking of the fruitless field that God had built and then had promised judgment upon – a judgment that at this time would have been applied to Israel’s destruction at the hands of Babylon more than 500 years before.  What they did not realize is that Jesus’ use of this passage against them was still valid.  For part of the Pharisees’ offense of Jesus could have been derived from thinking that Jesus had misapplied this passage to them.  This passage was likely considered obsolete from a prophetic standpoint, as it was likely believed that the passage had already seen its fulfillment centuries before; but Jesus wasn’t simply using a fulfilled prophecy as a mere metaphor and he wasn’t playing fast loose with Scripture.   For the passage clearly has (at least) a double fulfillment as it well describes the events leading up to Israel’s destruction in 70 A.D. as predicted by Jesus shortly before his death.

The second theme in Jesus parable is far more dominate and damning.  The wicked tenants who not only refused to offer a share of the crops to the owner, but who killed the owner’s messengers and eventually his son met a terrible end.   Though these tenants were originally endorsed by the vineyard’s owner to represent him and to work his land, the tenants refused to honor the owner with faithful work and gratitude and instead plotted to overthrow the owner by mistreating his representatives in the vain hope of stealing his field.   The Pharisees outrage no doubt grew as they realized that Jesus’ passage was paralleling their treatment of him with the wicked tenants and for also linking their indiscretions with the wicked men who persecuted and killed the Old Testament prophets.

The final blow to the Pharisees comes in what seems like a strange metaphor crammed into the end of the parable.  A rejected cornerstone is the conclusion to a parable about a fruitless field and wicked tenants?  How does this fit in with the vineyard and wicked tenants?

But the Pharisees certainly understood the quotation’s application, and as they connected the dots, they hated Jesus all the more for his parable.  For here was a complete indictment of the Pharisees’ spiritual malpractice.   For in this Psalm 118 quotation, the Pharisees are depicted as the builders – not as builders of God’s Kingdom but as builders of their own kingdoms whose values and desires are inconsistent with the character and desires of God.

The Pharisees rejected Jesus in every way. They had rejected the chief cornerstone of God’s kingdom because they lacked the spiritual capacity and spiritual hearts to see that their Messiah had come not as a conquering warrior, but as a humble servant who came to lift the burden of sin from his people.  Jesus did not fit the Pharisees expectations because he did not value what they valued and he did not act as they acted.  And since Jesus’ values and practices were not consistent with their own, they hypocritically judged Christ as a sinner and a blasphemer while merely projecting their own sins onto him.

Jesus labeled the Pharisees as self-appointed thieves who ruled over a fruitless field who were willing kill God himself for it through his parable – and so they did kill Jesus.  They killed the Messiah who was both God and man, and they did so according to God’s perfect plan to free his people.

Again, we see the Pharisees desire to arrest Jesus and again we see how they lacked the courage to act on their convictions on the account of their fear of the people. Here again is another vivid example of how little the Pharisees cared for the things of God.  Everything that they did was for the approval of the people and in accordance with exploiting the people in order to keep their prestige and power.

Mark 4 Commentary

Mark 4:1-20

Jesus informs us that there are four types of heart soils, but that only one is unnatural. These other soils – the soil that is hard, the soil that is shallow and rocky and the soil that is kind to weeds – do not require God’s touch at all. Like the ground that we would find walking through fields, along ocean shores, or in the middle of desserts are the same kinds of ground that we find in Jesus’ parable. They are wild, untamed soils that are hostile to plant life.  With the exception of one the soils that Jesus describes, these others soils are natural and common to the earth.  They behave exactly as they should in accordance with the surrounding wild terrain.

When a gardener works a patch of ground to plant a garden he first has to work hard to prepare it.  He breaks up the hard ground with a heavy blade, pulls up all the weeds, removes the rocks and then takes out anything else that would inhibit the growth of his seeds.  Only after a soil is prepared is when a farmer plants and not a moment before.  And if the gardener would desire for a patch of ground to return to its natural condition he would simply do nothing.  He would merely stop tending the ground to allow for the weeds and the natural elements to slowly overwhelm any ground he worked to prepare.

This is a key theme that is often overlooked in this parable: A gardener first takes a wild ground and tames it.   He works a patch of ground that couldn’t naturally tolerate fruit and flowers that are desirable, and then he transforms it into a fertile bed that’s ready to receive whatever he wants to plant within the new soil.

The Holy Spirit is the Master Gardner. He waters hard, dry ground and softens hearts with the Word of God. He meticulously tills the stony ground of stubborn hearts and prepares them to receive the Gospel. And when he plants the Gospel, the well-prepared soil receives the Lord Jesus in the fullness of love and happily obeys his commands. He is also always busy pulling weeds, pulling those idols from our hearts that would otherwise make the Gospel boring and unlovely to us.  He does this so that the Gospel will grow unimpeded by the weeds of this world that normally thrive in the soil of our hearts.

If left to themselves, our hearts would see the weeds rise up and choke off the Gospel or they would bake ever harder under the hot, blazing light of Gospel truths. But when the Spirit of God plants the Gospel in a good and well prepared heart, it becomes useful to God and produces a harvest of righteousness for the sake of spreading the Name of Jesus Christ.

Mark 4:21-25

We could conclude from this passage that Mark was collecting a few random sayings from Jesus in order to lead us into the Kingdom parables to come.  After all, we seem to suddenly shift from an examination of the human heart in the Parable of the Sower to parables about the Kingdom of God.  Perhaps, Mark is introducing to us a segue between the individual and the Kingdom? Or maybe he is joining the first parable about the heart soils to the parables about growing wheat and mustard seeds?

But Mark is actually doing both as he has both the individual and the Kingdom in view.

In the Parable of the Sower, the good heart is adding numbers to the Kingdom even as he is being saved. This heart is producing crops of 30 or even a 100 fold.  And so here Mark’s transition is subtle and natural.  Those who hear the Gospel will share it. They will put the message about the Light of Life on lamp stand for others to see.  The once hidden Kingdom of God now demands Kingdom people who will bring it out into the open, and Jesus’ expectation is that all who hear and receive the Gospel will continue bringing it out for those who haven’t heard it or even those who refuse to hear.

The warning to Jesus’ listeners is stark.  Be careful how you hear, because the measure you use to judge the hearts, thoughts and intentions of others will not only be measured back to you, but even more.  Should you reveal the Gospel, more will be revealed to you.  If you love your neighbor, your enemy and brother, more love will given to you.  But if you hide the Gospel, the Gospel will be hidden from you.  If you judge others, God will judge you far harsher than you have judged.  If you hate your brother or sister, even the love you think you have from them will be taken from you.

Jesus is very concise.  If you live outside the Kingdom and demand rules and consequences, you will have them.  There will be no mercy for anyone who demands God’s Law because the Law shows no mercy to those who break any portion of it.  But for those who embrace the Kingdom through faith in Jesus, grace beyond their expectations will be given to them. Even as grace and mercy increase in the joy of living daily in the kindness of the Savior, Christ will continue to pour out more love and mercy for those who love him.

Mark 4:26-29

Farmers cannot make crops grow by.  They can plow the ground.  They can water and fertilize the soil.  They can even plant the seeds.  But unless the sun shines, diseases stay at bay and the seeds germinate below the ground there is nothing more that the farmer can do once he has prepared the ground, watered and fertilized the soil.

Jesus uses these realities to humble us and remind us who is in control of his Kingdom.  It is our responsibility to plant and water, but God makes his Kingdom grow. We plant the seeds of the Gospel.  We water it with his Word.  We even bring nutrients to the soil through God’s grace in our hearts – such as the love, peace and joy we find through faith in Christ’s cross and his resurrection. But God is the One who germinates the seeds of faith.  He is the One who sustains the sunlight for spiritual photosynthesis.  He is the One who brings the cool rains of grace to ensure that his plants will withstand the hot summer days. In fact, God is the one who oversees the plant’s entire development, from the first sprout of Spring to the harvest grain of Summer.

According to Jesus, our job is to share Christ’s cross and resurrection.  But faith begins and ends with God’s will.  God sparks repentance and faith through the Spirit’s penetration of the heart. He then cares for the soul’s development through his Church and by his Word, and when he is ready, he brings a soul home to live with him forever.

The Lord does this with his entire Kingdom.  He quietly goes about growing his Kingdom.  He patiently and methodically tends to it until it is ready for the final harvest, and he does all this despite the opposition of the devil and the snares of this world.

Mark 4:30-34

It’s interesting to look at the different types of mustard seeds that were planted in Palestine 2,000 years ago.  Each of them are very small and some of them look very plain. They look nothing like the tree they eventually grows so exponentially large that it reaches some 8 to 12 feet high from the tiny seed of about a millimeter.  And the black mustard seed is particularly interesting given the likelihood that Jesus had this seed variety in mind when he was speaking.  This seed not only looks ordinary, it looks even less appealing than the other varieties.

Scripture tells us that there was nothing extraordinary about Jesus’ appearance when he came to the earth. Isaiah says that there was nothing about his physical appearance that would have suggested that he was destined to change the world (Isaiah 53:2).  He was like an ordinary mustard seed.  He grew up in an obscure Galilean town. He grew up with an insignificant family who lived ordinary first-century lives.  When he began his ministry, he chose working class fisherman, marginalized religious zealots and even a tax collector to become his trusted disciples. And Jesus associated himself with the poor, the sick, social outcasts and the lowest and most despised people in Israel.  By all outward appearances, Jesus showed no promise of changing human history.

Yet Jesus did change history.  With his extraordinary teaching, came unprecedented miracles; and with his miracles came the revelation of who he was.  Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God.  He was God in human flesh.  He was the King of Kings wrapped in an ordinary package.  And his death on the cross carried with it so much lasting significance that our historical calendars are now split because of what he has done for us.

Jesus died as a single mustard seed, but from him rose up a Kingdom that changed the whole world.

From his death came a new people. A people who are not marked by remarkable physical features or because they descend from an extraordinary heritage or lineage.  His people are his people because they have been given new hearts.  They are souls who have been humbled and changed by the death of their Savior. They are seeds that have come from the very first Seed.  They are a transformed people, who have had the Gospel of God planted in their hearts on account of their Savior’s death and resurrection.

Though in the shade of the great tree the birds are allowed to perch, the Kingdom still grows ever larger.  The birds hide in the shade because they cannot tolerate the light of truth and they steal seeds in defiance of the one who planted the great tree.  They build their nests in its dead branches and they eat the fruit it bears.  But the birds cannot bring the great tree down.  They cannot stop its growth, and they cannot change the fact that this tree will last forever.

Mark 4:35-41

Real faith goes beyond happy thoughts and warm feelings. Thought it’s easy for anyone to say that they believe in Jesus, and it’s even easy for someone to say that they love him enough to die for him, proving such a claim is a different matter entirely.  And such proof will never come if we are always sitting comfortably in church or because our life is quiet and “fortune” smiles on us warmly.

This is why trials test us: They prove whether real faith exists. Trails not only develop patience and persistence with our faith, they expose its depth. Trial show us if faith is really there and how deep it goes.

When Jesus awoke and rebuked the storm he wasn’t angry with the storm. The storm was merely behaving as it was supposed to behave. It was churning up waves that were making it difficult for the disciples to cross the lake. It was stirring up the lake that was stirring up the disciple’s fear to test their faith. So when Jesus calmed the storm, he immediately asked his disciples why they were so afraid and why they still had no faith.

As the waves crashed over the boat and the high winds battered its sails, the disciples believed that they were going to drown. Jesus was with them, but they still panicked.  The storm was ferocious, but the disciples forgot that the Lord of the Storm was with them, and the disciple’s panic revealed that they did not fully believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Though they had seen him cast out demons and heal a paralyzed man, they didn’t believe he could help them escape the storm.

Windstorms like the furious squall that Mark describes are not unprecedented on the Sea of Galilee. In 1992, a late winter storm produced 10 foot waves that slammed into the town of Tiberias on the lake’s western shore. A 10 foot wave would have certainly been more than a mild concern for even the heartiest first-century Galilean fisherman even though they were used to being on the water in all kinds of weather. Though we don’t know the true height of the waves we do know that the storm’s fury was more than a match for their vessel -  a vessel that was likely not constructed to withstand the large waves that crashed over its sides.

Whether or not the storm itself was supernaturally spawned, we do know that Jesus’ response to it was absolutely supernatural.  It is one thing to make the fantastic claim that Jesus was just a good meteorologist with an impeccable sense of timing a storms’ break, but it’s another thing entirely when you realize that it wasn’t just the winds that stopped at his command. The waves broke as well. According to the laws of physics, this sudden ceasing of the waves could not have been the result of some natural phenomenon. Winds have been recorded to suddenly die off, though rarely.  But waves do not suddenly stop.  The wave action should have continued on for several more hours.

The disciples instantly recognized the miracle had taken place and were stunned by it: “Who is this that even the wind and waves obey him?” It was obvious to the disciple who he was now, even as the disciples struggled to grasp the idea that this extraordinary rabbi was far more extraordinary than they had first imagined. This was no mere prophet.  This was the Godman, who calmed not only a raging sea in northern Israel, but calms the raging heart of sinners and transform them from people of perpetual doubt to everlasting faith – which leads to everlasting life.