Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 22 March 2016

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews. Mark 15, verses 25-26.

“We hold these truths to be self evident:”   Thomas Jefferson wrote that in the Declaration of Independence. It seems almost crazy to us that the document which founded our nation should contain these words.   It’s like they’re a big ‘duh’ to the world.   Of course freedom is self-evident.   It simply is; everyone knows that…

…except that, in 1776, everyone didn’t.   In fact, Mr. Jefferson’s statement was revolutionary beyond simply fomenting a war.   Neither common people nor government officials looked at the rights of man as self-evident.   They were things that were given by those above to those below.   Specifically, rights and freedoms were what the government or the powerful told you they were.   You didn’t have the right to free speech, or to attend the church of your choosing, or to criticize politicians, be secure in your home and possessions, to assemble peacefully, or any of the other freedoms later protected (from our government) by our Constitution.   The only thing that was self-evident was that the common man or woman was, as we would consider it today, uncommonly oppressed.

It was nothing new.   Jesus was the King of the Jews, both literally (being descended from King David, himself anointed by God) and figuratively (as God and spiritual King).   This was the title with which the Jewish chief priests had mockingly labeled Jesus.   When Pilate questioned Jesus, he asked the Lord “are you the king of the Jews” to which Jesus replied “it is right that you say I am” in a bit of masterful instruction. Pilate, too, seemed to mock Jesus with this title, yet because Pilate was a non-believing Roman, perhaps it really is so that Pilate was as much asking as he was mocking.   This side of heaven, we won’t truly know.

Yet the advertisement which Pilate had nailed to Jesus’ cross was still self-evident.   It simply was a statement of fact.   That was, in fact, what happened.   Pilate had the sign made, then nailed to the cross over Jesus’ head.   It was written in several languages, so that those who witnessed the execution would know both what the Romans thought of Jesus and the Jews, and (unwittingly) that they were executing the one true King. The sign said what it said and meant it.

It means the same thing still. Deist or not, Thomas Jefferson might just agree.

Lord Jesus, You are the one true and only King.   You are the King of the Jews.   You are the King of Eternity.   You are my King.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 7 March 2016

“Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “You have said so,” Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. Mark 15, verses 2-5

You know that you don’t have to answer questions.   Here in the US, TV crime shows make a big deal out of ‘Mirandizing’ people who are arrested, reading them a scripted statement that informs them of their Constitutional rights. That’s in response to a 1960s-era Supreme Court case where the plaintiff, a man named Miranda, was ignorant that he had the Fifth Amendment right to not say anything to the authorities who questioned him.

Long before there was a Constitution, Supreme Court, or television, Jesus took the 5th.   The representative of the civil government, Governor Pontius Pilate, questioned Jesus about the severe accusations that the Jews brought against Him. The only things that Jesus says to Pilate are statements that speak to Pilate’s heart, things to make him think.   Pilate asks Jesus the mocking question “are you the king of the Jews?”   Jesus responds with word play, both confirming what Pilate says and throwing him a lifeline.   I’ve always wondered what Pilate really, truly thought at all this.   The Book of John sheds more light on their conversation, with Pilate either mocking or questioning (or both) the very concept of the truth Jesus embodied.   Do you think the governor ever really wondered?

Notice, too, how Jesus is checking out of the conventional wisdom.   He isn’t playing the expected game. His priestly accusers expected that Jesus would buckle under the intimidation of the governor, who (literally) held the power of life and death in his hands.   It’s as if they expected that the man they couldn’t get to talk would sing like a canary under the sway of Rome’s military authority.   Jesus flipped their CW and they didn’t even notice. That’s sad, if you think about it. It’s pathetic because not only is it obvious that they don’t understand who Jesus us.   It’s obvious, too, that they don’t want to.

Yet consider how Jesus turns His accusers’ words around, not as weapons but as tools with which He can teach.   What He does with Pilate He does to give Pilate the chance to contemplate the miracle of God standing before him. It’s one of those moments when Jesus proves how God loves everyone, not just his chosen people. Jesus even does this with the priests by not responding to them.   It’s as if He lets their empty accusations hang in the air, speaking for themselves in the hope that they will see the gross sin of it all and turn away.

Finally, notice how Jesus still amazed those who held His fate. Pilate’s words in this drama tell me that he was both mocking and genuinely torn over this Jesus.   There were political, social, military, and ecclesiastical aspects to consider over what each player said and did; Pilate was well aware of this.   Through it, Jesus amazed him.   Pilate seems moved by Jesus’ reaction, almost incredulous at how Jesus kept His composure knowing full well that doing so would result in His death. It wasn’t just that this rabbi was brash.   It was His countenance, His authority coupled with His peace that impressed the Roman governor to try, again and again, to free Him.

All because Jesus took the 5th.

Lord, I’m constantly amazed by You.

Read Mark 15, verses 1-15.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 1 March 2015

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said. But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway. When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14, verses 66-72.

“I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about .”   Peter could be someone in our pop culture today.   If you corner one of the Glitterati and they don’t want to answer your questions, they spout off an answer similar to Peter’s (if they answer at all). But let’s not be judgy here; let’s not assume that it’s only the rich and famous who cower in the face of simple truth.  12 year old kids avoid the truth.   So do politicians running for president (or who used to be president).   You don’t always get a straight answer out of your pastor.   And me?   I love you, friend reader, but you’re only reading what I’ve selectively chosen to share. Let’s keep this real: that’s a way to avoid sharing the whole truth.

Don’t you know it gets worse for Peter.   And for us. The young girl found out about Peter, then she told others.   What does Peter do?   He doubles down on his cowardice. Peter doesn’t just run farther from the truth.   He adds in elements of drama queen, profanity, and histrionics. ‘NO I DON’T KNOW THAT SON OF A %*^&!   NO I’M NOT ONE OF THEM, YOU FILTHY %*%&y#* @*@($&%(!”   You get the picture…

…and this is Jesus’ best friend.   This is the man on whom Jesus said He would build His church.   In just a few minutes, Peter will be taken to Pilate where He will be questioned, humiliated further, and tortured.   In just a few hours, soldiers will spread out Jesus’ arms and drive thick rusty nails through them, nailing Him to a cross for the trillions of sins He never committed before, on or after that day.   Including Peter’s three denials…including the thousands of ways you and I have denied Christ in our lives.

How many times have I said “I don’t know what you’re talking about” when someone has asked me about my faith, what I believe, who Jesus is to me.   Yes, I’m more comfortable now talking about it than I was many years ago.   What about all those years when I wasn’t?   How many people lost out on a chance to hear about Him because I was a coward?   How about you?

We can’t obsess about those times.   They’re forgiven sins anyway.   But to ‘go and sin no more,’ what can we do today to prepare for those times ahead when others may ask us about Jesus?

Lord, forgive my cowardice concerning You.   Forgive me, strengthen me, teach me, and encourage me to be bold for You.

Read Mark 14, verses 53-65.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 29 February 2016

The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him. Mark 14, verses 63-65.

Would we do any different?   Put yourself in the place of the priests. They were conflicted in many ways.   Their conventional wisdom was threatened.   The balance of power in both their religious and political worlds was in danger.   Their popularity was in question.   Their senses of right and wrong were askew.   And their history demanded that they do exactly what they were doing.

Huh?

Yep.   Everything they had ever learned or believed as devout high priests of the temple of the Most High God demanded their indignant response now that this Galilean rabbi was calling Himself I AM. They had been trained since boyhood that the Messiah would come and that he would fit in a certain mold.   He wouldn’t be from Nazareth (even though Jesus was born in Bethlehem).   He wouldn’t challenge their place.   He would restore the political standing and economic prosperity that the nation had known under King Solomon.

This Jesus of Nazareth didn’t quite measure up. Then He sealed His fate by insisting He was God, that He was indeed the Messiah who had been promised since the days of Adam and Eve.  Should it surprise us that they were genuinely angry enough to demand Jesus’ execution.   Is that an over-reaction?

Again, consider their day and time.   They lived as an occupied nation under the rule of a brutal conqueror.   Rome didn’t just march in and set up voting stations.   They conquered Judea, executed all who opposed them, and enslaved the conquered Judeans.   Any freedoms that the Israelites had known before were eliminated.   Instead of living as God’s chosen people under the rule of Israelite political leaders, the citizens of Judea lived as people under the rule of a Roman dictator. The dictator emperor’s representative was a military governor who was empowered to do anything he pleased to keep order and, more importantly, to extract treasure (think “taxes”) from the Jewish occupants of this new province. Your home could be seized, you could be arrested without notice, you could be executed for things we would take for granted.   This is what it meant to live under Roman occupation.   To make the point, thousands of soldiers were sent to be at the governor’s disposal as he carried out the emperor’s will.

Over time, the high priests had worked out delicate arrangements on how to keep the peace with their Roman overseers.   Call them politicians or patriots:   the leaders of the Temple still did what they could to preserve the old Jewish order with as little bloodshed as possible. Now came this wandering preacher from Nazareth who was upending the delicate apple cart that the Jewish leaders had constructed.   He did it while preaching simultaneous Godly peace and civil insurrection of the soul. Should it surprise us that the priests wanted Jesus dead if they could find a plausible way to kill Him?

I’m not saying we should feel sorry for Caiaphas or the others, though maybe that wouldn’t be out of hand.   But perhaps we should genuinely consider their predicament to understand more why they did what they did.

Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Read Mark 14, verses 53-65.