Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 29 March 2016

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. Mark 16, verses 1-8.

Put yourself in the shoes (ok, sandals) of those women.   In the same way Luke described the shepherds who saw Jesus on the day He was born, “they were sore afraid.” These poor women were grieving, and they had come to the garden tomb after the Passover Sabbath to anoint Jesus’ dead body.   It’s true that they had revered Him as their Lord, the promised and hoped-for Messiah, and the one who would make all things new.   But He was dead now.   The Jewish priests had arranged for His murder.   The all-too-willing Romans had carried out the murder.   The disciples were hiding, afraid for their lives.   And Jesus’ body was buried in a stranger’s fresh tomb.   They had contemplated this thing, probably talked about it, all through the long Saturday Sabbath. Very early on a cool Sunday morning, these three followers of the wandering rabbi went to the cemetery to do their duty.

Imagine their surprise.   Imagine their shock.   Imagine being overwhelmed at what they were witnessing.   Imagine that they were probably scared to death. All they had expected to find was the big stone in front of the tomb, maybe a Roman guard there to make sure nothing was out of place.   Out of place indeed; it was a whole new level of that.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said the angel.   Would you be alarmed if a brilliantly dazzling supernatural man told you not to be?   I’d be speechless. And as if that wasn’t alarming enough, the angel gives them the greatest news since God said “let there be.” “He has risen.”

“He has risen.”

Would you be surprised, shocked, overwhelmed and terrified?   It would be sensory overload, something racing too fast for your brain to fully absorb, like something you dreamed could happen but didn’t really think ever would.   I mean, let’s be real.   The Messiah had been talked about for thousands of years; it was almost like a legend, even in a time when legends were still popularly believed.

And yet here it was, happening in front of their eyes.   Put yourself in their place. How would you feel?

Lord Jesus, I confess I would be scared and overwhelmed like the women were that Easter morning.   Forgive my unbelief and help me to understand more of Your supernatural power.

Read Mark 16.  

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 26 February 2016

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14, verses 60-62.

Words mean things, and the way, order, and even the cadence in which Jesus replies to the chief priest here matters very, very much.   Jesus deliberately said exactly what He said to state not only some powerful truths but also to offer the erring high priest yet another lifeline.

Men versus God; the age-old conflict.   Notice how the high priest talks about what men are doing. He doesn’t believe this Jesus is God, that Jesus is the Son of Man who He claims to be.   Since the days of Aaron, it had been the high priest’s life to revere God, to live his life in service to God.   Each priest had awaited and anticipated the coming of the Christ, the deliverer sent to redeem Israel from its sins. Now there came a man who said He was the Christ, who proved He was the Christ, whose followers believed He was the Christ. What does the high priest do?   He falls back on “what did these men x or y?”   Would we do the same?

I am.   That’s a powerful thing. In a way, Jesus was just answering the question in the affirmative; that’s true.   Yet this translation of the Bible says something extraordinary because, when one of the ancient Jews would answer this particular question the way Jesus did, He was (once again) proclaiming Himself to be God by taking on Himself God’s holy name.   Remember that Moses asked God what name he should use when the Israelites asked who God was and God answered “I AM.   Tell them I AM has sent you.”   In being asked if He was the promised divine Messiah, Son of God, Jesus answered not only “yes” but using I AM as His own title.   To an unbelieving priest, that would be heresy worthy of death.

You will see.   This is a promise.   Jesus knew what was happening, that this little drama was going to conclude at Calvary.   He was using what time He had now, with the authorities, to tell them what would happen.   It wasn’t just a prophecy about His resurrection. It was also a promise that they, even though they disbelieved Him, would see Him clearly revealed as who He said He is in the time to come.   It’s a promise for us as well.

Finally, “coming on the clouds,” predicting His eventual post-resurrection return.   It’s not different from how God Himself predicted Jesus’ eventual victory on the cross (now at hand in Mark) from the very instant He confronted Adam and Eve in the Garden. Jesus doesn’t give them a day; none is needed.   Instead, He tells them how to know it’s real, to understand that this is a fact and that God will reveal it in this way in His own due time.

In all of these words, Jesus spoke out of love, offering His beloved, yes the priests, a way out and the hope of salvation even as they conspired to violently end His life.

Lord, thank You for all You said and did for these people.

Read Mark 14, verses 53-65.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 19 February 2016

Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Mark 14, verses 41-42.

If you drive through the American South, you see all kinds of religious billboards.   Many of them implore you to know Jesus as soon as possible because we don’t know when He’s coming back.   I used to see one south of Savanna, Oklahoma that said “watch and pray for we know not what hour the Son of God will return.” There are others that quote dire verses of Scripture announcing hellfire for those who reject Jesus’ open invitation to free salvation. There are still more that have sayings like “Talk with me before it’s too late.   Sincerely, God.” Announcing God’s impending judgment on us isn’t necessarily regional; I suppose signs like these are everywhere. I’ve simply noticed more of them here in the Bible Belt.

Guess what?   They’re all true. Today’s verses prove it.

It’s before sunrise on the morning of Good Friday. Jesus is exhausted while His Disciples have had fitful intermittent rest on the cold Gethsemene ground. After imploring them to keep watch for sin, Jesus returns to them a third time and brings them up short.   The night is over; no more rest; no more interruptions. It’s time to get up because there’s work ahead today. It’s going to be the hardest day of your lives.

“Today I’m going to die.”

The Son of Man was delivered into the hands of sinners.   Make no mistake about it:   the temple guards who seized Jesus were sinners indeed.   They were players in a staged drama predicted since the fall of man.   These ‘innocent’ actors were only doing the bidding of their priestly overseers.   The overseers were only doing the bidding of the chief priests.   The chief priests had only initiated this arrest because Judas Iscariot came to them with news they wanted to hear.   Judas Iscariot only betrayed Jesus to the priests because he was a sinful twisted man.  He was sinful and twisted because he listened to Satan.   Satan was evil because he reveled in sin.

So do I; so do you.   We’re thick with sin and no better than Judas or the guards.   The Bible tells us so.   Jesus said so.   All those billboards scream out the fact. Here’s the good news.

Jesus faced His betrayer. The verses and chapters of Mark after this all describe the story of how He faced His betrayer, how He loved Him anyway, and then how He went to His death as an innocent lamb to slaughter. He did this because the Disciples slept instead of kept watch for sinful temptation.   He did it because Judas Iscariot, the chief priests and those temple guards were dead in their sins if He didn’t.   He did it because all the sins I’ve done today and every day of my life demand more of a penalty than I can pay.   He did it because the same thing can be said about you and everyone we know.

Will you face down your betrayer today?   Will you face your sins and own up to them, then face Jesus and repent of them?   Bibles and billboards remind us how it’s imperative that we do so.

Lord Jesus, I’m sinful through and through.   Thank You for Your holy sacrifice, for facing your betrayer, for dying for us.

Read Mark 14, verses 43-52.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 11 November 2015

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.   Mark 12, verses 1-9

Prophecy and warning.   Remember the context of these verses.   Jesus is in Jerusalem during the last week of His life; this story is told, perhaps, on Monday or Tuesday of that week. He knows the rulers of the Temple are conspiring against Him, looking for some way to corner and kill Him.   Despite that, He tells this parable to both lay out what would soon happen to Him and to warn those who would do it that God’s wrath wouldn’t be denied.   Years later, the message for us is the same message Jesus gave to them:   “He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

I thought God loved us.   Would He who loves us also want to kill us?   Perhaps the answer is in the question “do you believe?”

Will God kill us for our disbelief in Him?   That’s what Jesus is saying in this parable.   The free gift of eternal life is available to ALL mankind.   All races, both sexes (even Bruce Jenner), all nationalities, all religions:   if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He and only He has the power to forgive your sins, and that His death on the cross paid for those since once and for all, then you are saved.   There’s nothing more to it than that; there’s nothing more for you to do.   God’s grace is a free gift and done for you by Him.

Reject it at your own eternal peril.   That’s what Jesus says in verse 9.   The second death – the death of the spirit – is eternal separation from God, who cannot allow unholiness into His presence.   Rejecting Jesus means rejecting His covering holiness, His once for all sacrifice to the Holy Father.   That leads to death, both eventual physical death and, much worse, the death of the spirit.   It’s what He was warning His accusers about.

As an aspiring vintner (as well as aspiring writer) I like that Jesus uses the analogy of a vineyard to paint His prophetic picture.   But it isn’t for love of wine that He says what He says.   He says it for love of you, me, and even those long ago priests who were looking for an opportunity to kill Him.

Lord, I believe in You, that only You can save me.

Read Mark 12, verses 1-12

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 10 November 2015

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” Mark 11, verses 29-33.

Jesus isn’t being evasive here.   If you think so, re-read the verses a few times.   I believe you’ll see that he’s actually trying to offer yet another life-line.

Consider that Jesus knows the score when He has this exchange with the chief priests.   He knows they’re trying to set Him up. He knows they’re plotting to murder Him.   He knows what’s going to happen at the end of the week, on Good Friday.   Yet, even at this late date, instead of smashing the priests into little bits of priestly mush, He offers them yet another chance to submit to His love and justice. Jesus asks them a question instead of pointing out their wrong-doing. He poses an issue to them, hoping to stir their hearts and minds one more time.

Has He ever done that to you?   I can’t tell you how many times in every day that it happens to me, whether it’s my petty judgmentalisms, or my arrogance and pride, or the lust in my eyes, or the anger that is all too often my go-to reaction. When those times come, I deserve to be smacked down by the Almighty, to have Him put me in my place.   That’s what a human god would do; that’s what Allah would do; that’s what people do to each other.

Instead, Jesus speaks through my conscience, through the moments in the day, and poses to me yet again the questions I need to be asked.   I know it is the voice of God because it doesn’t lead me into further sins, or into tough times without there being a light at the end of them.   The life-lines He throws to us are designed to pull us back, to tug us out of the quicksand instead of letting us choose to sink further.   It’s usually quiet, unassuming, speaking words in my conscience, trying to keep me on the straight and narrow. Do I listen?   No, not always; thanks be to God for His patience with me.

And consider this, too:   Jesus knows the score with you and me right now.   Those sins you and I want to deny we ever did?   Jesus knows about them. The junk we hold onto that we know we shouldn’t?   Jesus knows about it. The hopes and dreams that haven’t come to pass?   He knows them.   Despite all of our crap, Jesus comes to us anyway and asks us that same question:   do you believe in Me? Believing in Him isn’t carte blanche for misbehavior:   it’s carte blanche entry into eternity when we don’t deserve it.   He offered that same free pass to the chief priests yet they passed it by. We should not do the same.

Lord, help me to always listen to Your words, to follow where You guide me.   Thank You for throwing life-lines to me, your grace being the gift I don’t deserve but am so very thankful for.

Read Mark 12, verses 1-12