the BIG story: Mark 14:53-15:15

Jesus had two trials, a religious one and a civil one. The religious one was overseen by Annas, then Caiaphas; the civil one by Pilate, then Herod, then Pilate again (Luke 23:6-12). Jesus had kept his claim to Messiahship low key until now. Hid first response is “I am,” but later it is very bold (v62).

Although “following” Jesus is normally a physically close experience, now for the first time, someone is following Jesus “from a distance.” The literal meaning suggests a actual distance between Peter and Jesus.  But the notion of “following” in Mark’s Gospel almost always means more than merely walking beside someone. It suggests loyalty and allegiance. Peter was still following Jesus, but he want to distance himself from Jesus to ensure that he was safe from the danger. Peter has permitted distance to develop in his relationship with Jesus. He denies his Lord . . . three times. He thought he was protected from the danger, but found that more danger lurks when distance separates us from the Lord.

Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea (26-36 AD).  He lived in Caesarea, and travelled to Jerusalem during festivals when he stayed in the late Herod the Great’s palace. Herod Antipas was governor of Galilee, though he too made the trip to Jerusalem for the festivals. Luke records that when Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, he sent Him to Herod (the Galilean governor) since he was in town. Herod then sends Jesus back to Pilate, who ultimately sentences Jesus to crucifixion.

They chose to release Barabbas over Jesus. It is ironic that when Jesus proved to be a different type of Saviour than the one they wanted, they chose to replace Him with one who was what they wanted – a political insurgent. Many thought Jesus, as the Messiah, would lead a revolt and conquer Rome – although he didn’t; Barabbas had been a failed revolutionary and yet still lived. This is the challenge: Do we follow Jesus as he is, or Jesus as we hope he might be?

Mark’s story of the release of Barabbas paints a vivid picture of what Jesus did for you and me. Barabbas had been judged and legally condemned. Barabbas was guilty. Barabbas deserved death. Barabbas could do nothing to free himself. Jesus took the place of Barabbas and died on Barabbas’ cross. Barabbas was released. I am Barabbas.

Flogging was not necessarily a part of crucifixion. Pilate was probably trying to stop the crowd from pursuing the demand to crucify Jesus (John 19:4-5). When they persisted, though, he had no choice.

Mark 15:16 describes the whole scene. Hundreds of soldiers were involved. They struck him on the head with the staff after they had placed the crown of thorns on his head. Mockery ensued, beatings, and so on. The crucifixion of Jesus was a lengthy, painful process, not a point in time. Perhaps the psychologically most painful part of the episode was their kneeling before Jesus in mockery, though it certainly foreshadowed everyone’s kneeling before Him one day (Phil. 2:10-11).

“Can You Stand to Be Blessed?” by TD Jakes

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When we had Sky, I rarely watched the religious channels.  Now we have FreeView, I do miss stopping at the God channel and enjoying the passion with which TD Jakes speaks.  Jakes pastors the The Potter’s House, a nondenominational church, in Dallas, Texas. In just over seven years, The Potter’s House grew from 50 families to more than 28,000 members.  The church brings together the down and out – the homeless and released offender – to sit beside the up and coming – the celebrity and community leader. They worship and serve together in one or more of the 59 different ministries within the church. He was named "America’s Best Preacher" in a 2001 Time magazine cover story.

Jakes is quite simply inspirational.His preaching does your heart good.  Writing in Charisma Magazine, Ken Walker explained "He [Jakes] delivers the Word in such a lightening rod fashion that he makes you believe that all things really are possible with God."  

That too is the heart of this book.  Does any runner enter a race without training for it? Does a farmer expect a harvest without preparing a field?  So why do Christians believe they can hit the mark without investing any effort?  If we want to fulfil our destiny in God, we need his inner strength, for the journey will be full of twists and turns and obstacles.

“Faith and Doubt” by John Ortberg

image I like what John Ortberg writes.  I heard him once when he was a teaching pastor at Willow Creek.  In his latest book, Faith and Doubt, he is honest about his faith and his doubts.  Ortberg assures us that doubt is not the opposite of faith.  The line between belief and unbelief may be less a dividing line between hostile camps than a razor’s edge that runs through every soul.  “The beliefs that really matter,” he writes, “are the ones that guide our behaviour.”

To illustrate the point he describes three kinds of belief:

Public convictions
These are the things which we want other people to believe we believe.  But we may not actual believe them. They are beliefs of convenience which allow us to remain insiders.

Private convictions
This are the things we think we believe even if our lives give evidence to the fact we don’t. Ortberg gives the fictional story of Elmery Gantry as an example:

The novel tells the story of a young, narcissistic, womanising college athlete who becomes a notorious and cynical alcoholic. Gantry is mistakenly ordained as a minister. He acts as manager for Sharon Falconer, an itinerant evangelist. Gantry becomes her lover but loses both her and his position when she is killed in a fire at her new tabernacle. Gantry contributes to the downfall, physical injury, and even death of key people around him, including a genuine minister, Frank Shallard.

Asked by a reported, in the light of his chaotic lifestyle, if he believed what he preached, Gantry replies: “When I’m preaching, I do!”

And core convictions
These are the things we actual believe and therefore shape our behaviour.  Gravity, heat, the impact of coffee. This is our “mental map”.This is where our doubts exist.  If what we say we believe hasn’t shaped our core convictions then pain, grief, injustice and so on will rock our inner being. Ortberg notes what most individuals already know – that some people who maintain a 100% orthodox creed both privately and publicly are often ones who hold a "mental map" characterised by a life of greed, selfishness, arrogance and lovelessness. Someone else might not appear very orthodox in his faith and yet is more like Jesus’ “mental map” on such issues as generosity, forgiveness, grace and love. Again, core convictions matter and spill out into every area of one’s existence.

The work of the pastor/teacher and the ministry of the Holy Spirit is, surely, to impact the core convictions of people’s lives, so that they can build lives on the rock and not on straw.

the BIG story: Matthew 26

It had already been decided by the religious leaders in Jerusalem that Jesus should be killed, earlier (John 7), and now with even greater determination after the raising of Lazarus (John 11:45-53).  Now that time was approaching, Jesus shares the Passover with the disciples.  At the meal itself, a number of events took place:

The Lord’s washing of the feet of the disciples (John 13:1-20). 
At least once, the Lord spoke of His betrayer. 
Some (perhaps all) of the traditional Passover ceremony took place.
Jesus added his own words, never heard at a Passover meal before. 
Jesus gives an extensive message (John 14-16), concluding with the “high priestly prayer” of intercession for His followers. 
There is an argument about who would be the greatest, along with our Lord’s response.
The Lord deals with the over-confident Peter.
Jesus also taught the disciples about being prepared to face a hostile world.
They finished by singing a hymn before departing to the Garden of Gethsemane.

1. The “last supper” was a part of a larger event. 
The account of the actual celebration of the “last supper” is brief and in the gospel of John, it is not even recorded!

2. The account does not “read back” into the event its later significance, such as the death of Christ on the cross.
It is not until Acts and the epistles of the New Testament that the full meaning of “communion” is seen. The event is described from the historical perspective of those who were there, not from that of those who can look on the event and see its added meaning in the light of the cross.

3. The “last supper” was the “last” supper in that it marked the end of one covenant and the beginning of another.
It instituted the age of the “new covenant” and anticipated (at the cross) the end of the period of the “old covenant.” The “last supper” is unique, never to be re-enacted. It is the closing of one chapter, and the beginning of a new one.

4. The “last supper” was the inauguration of a new “church” sacrament.
The church will go back to this moment as the historical root for its celebration of “communion,” but the disciples had no grasp of the newness of this celebration at the time.

5. The meaning and significance of the “last supper” was almost totally missed by the disciples.
As usual, they did not understand what Jesus was doing, and they were busy thinking about the identity of the betrayer, their own sadness, and who was the greatest among them. At the most “spiritual” times, our sinful desires are still present.  While the disciples are different than Judas, they are not that different. They are thinking mainly of themselves, and not of Jesus. They, too, are seeking their own self-interest. And so, the discussion among them as to who would betray Jesus quickly deteriorated into an argument as to who was the greatest. How typical—of them, and of us.

The amazing thing is that the disciples and even Judas, for all their sin, could not ruin this meal for the Lord. Jesus observed it in the light of what God was doing, not in what men were doing. It is what he has done for us that gives “communion” its significance.

6. The mood of the “last supper,” was dominated by the gloom of the impending betrayal and of Christ’s imminent death on the cross.
The disciples did not know what was about to take place, but there was a sadness, a heaviness, in their spirits, knowing that something ominous was about to occur. Yet Jesus: “eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”.

The reason why Jesus can say that he has eagerly desired to eat the Passover is that he “will not eat it again until its fulfilment in the kingdom of God”. So, too, for the cup. he will not drink the cup again until the kingdom of God is fulfilled. Jesus looks beyond the cross, to the crown. The joy set before him is the kingdom, and the suffering of the cross is the way this joy will be realised. Therefore, Jesus focused on the joy of the fulfilment of the Passover and was encouraged and enabled to endure the cross because of it.

The eating of the first Passover involved the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, but only so that Israel might be released from Egypt, cross the Red Sea, and enter into the promised land. The sacrifice of the Passover lamb focused on the preservation of the lives of the firstborn, and on the possession of the promised kingdom. In the same way, Jesus saw this Passover as prophetic, as anticipatory of the coming of the kingdom, and in this he could rejoice.

The meal was the end of one order, and the start of another. It was the end the Mosaic covenant, and the beginning of the new covenant, that which the prophet Jeremiah prophesied (Jeremiah 31:31). That which God had promised Abraham was about to be accomplished through Jesus’ sacrificial death. The full meaning of the meal, and of our Lord’s death would only be grasped after His death and resurrection. 

May we approach the Lord’s table as the Saviour did, with great joy and anticipation, looking back, but also looking forward to that day when the kingdom of God shall come.

the BIG story: Mark 8:27-9:1

I recently came across a list entitled “The World’s Thinnest Books.” These are books whose content is so sparse that it fills but a few pages. See if you recognize any of these titles:

Burger King Items That Start with “Mc”
Southern Hospitality
Female Driving Heroes
Intelligent Things Men Say
Tic-tac-toe: A Strategy Guide
Things I Can’t Afford by Bill Gates
The Amish Phone Directory
O.J. Simpson’s Plan to Find the Real Killers

To which some wit has added:

The Disciples’ Guide to Understanding Jesus (based on their behaviour in Mark 8 and 9).

They definitely come over as dense. Jesus predicts His own suffering and crucifixion in three famous passages in Mark (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). The inappropriate response of the disciples when Jesus predicts His own suffering and death results from their incorrect understanding of who Jesus is. Because of this misunderstanding, they also misunderstand their role as followers of Christ. In this passage, Jesus clarifies his role as the “Messiah,” and the role of those who wish to be called his followers. He does so by explaining the cost of discipleship.

Eugene Peterson puts it this way in The Message:

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”

This is the price tag of discipleship. How much does it cost? Everything.

Jesus asks who others say that he is only to create the opportunity to ask the disciples who they think he is. Most people had a wrong view of who Jesus was (Mark 6:14-16). John the Baptist, Elijah, some other prophet all had a preparatory role. Jesus was the real thing. “Christ” is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew, Messiah, meaning “anointed one.” Mark 8:29 is the first time the word has surfaced since Mark 1:1 (and it will appear 5 more times in Mark after 8:29). I the Old Testament, people were anointed as prophets, priests, and even kings. Jesus was all of the these, and more.

Most (including the Twelve) were expecting a victorious Messiah by conventional means. The Jewish understanding of the Christ (i.e., “Messiah”) was that he would bring deliverance through conquest. Here, Jesus explains that he will bring deliverance through the cross. He would achieve victory through suffering. He would take up the cross, not the crown. There his listeners must change – and raise – their expectations of the Messiah. He is more, much more, than they had anticipated. God’s means of deliverance was through suffering and death.

Peter “rebukes” Jesus for this — the same strong word used of Jesus when he silences demons. Why is Peter’s response so negative? Because he knows that the identity and destiny of Jesus will determine the identity and destiny of his followers. What will the disciples receive in return for following Jesus? If he is going to reign, they will partake in His glory. But if He is going to die, they will partake in His suffering. That’s why Jesus tells Peter that he is interested in the things of men (really about himself) and not that of God. Peter is interested in saving his own neck! The “things of God” indicates that God’s plan includes Jesus’ suffering.

Mark 8:34 is the only time in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus calls the crowds together with the disciples.  What he says is important. In fact, what he says is the fulcrum of the entire book. How much does it cost? What is the price tag for discipleship? You must deny yourself. It means treachery or disavowal of oneself. The closest opposite of the notion of “self-denial” is “self-allegiance”, being concerned ultimately for one’s own good, looking out for number one. Discipleship, Jesus informs us, costs everything. Jesus had challenged many of his disciples to follow him prior to this, now they could be clear what was required.

If allegiance can no longer be paid to ourselves, then who does it rightly belong to? To put it another way, “Who do I pay?” Jim Eliot spoke some famous words that continue to challenge us:

He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

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