At the tomb
Mark 16: He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer.
The resurrection account in Mark is brief, to the point. The women go to the tomb to finish the burial tradition, find the tomb open and encounter a messenger of God who tells them “He’s been raised up.” It is thought provoking to realize that a message with such a huge impact can be stated so succinctly. This message reshapes the world and eternity. The horrible death of Jesus on the cross wasn’t a meaningless act of inhumanity. The resurrection transforms that awful event into the greatest good ever done. Rather than it being just another example of the inhumanity of humans it becomes the watershed event of history. The angel nails it all with “He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer.” Today, this event is both old and new. It’s old because it’s the old story I know so well. It’s new because, right now, even as I type these words, it’s real to me. My life – my forever – is changed because of it. The resurrection transforms the crucifixion and the crucifixion is the instrument used to transform me. And it’s all summed up with: “He’s been raised up.”
Take Away: My hope is founded in the resurrection of Jesus.
At the cross
Mark 15: Jesus groaned out of the depths.
The Gospel writer takes us to cruel Golgotha, a place of torture and death. This is no well-intentioned passion play in which the special effects man tries to convince us of the pain and suffering while keeping in mind that some precious souls in the audience don’t want it to be too real. These are real nails being driven into real flesh. This is real blood, real suffering. Our Lord is not only being killed in this horrible way but he’s carrying a spiritual burden of sin and separation from his Father that’s beyond my understanding. Before Pilate he remained silent, but now, out of the depths of his suffering he groans under the weight of it all. I want to look away and think about other things but that groan draws me back and I look up into his face, into his eyes. He mouths the words, “I love you.” My eyes fill with tears as he breathes his last.
Take Away: For me he died.
Broken body, shed blood
Mark 14: Take, this is my body.
They’ve eaten the Passover all their lives so they know the ritual well. Now, as they gather in the upper room Jesus takes his place as “father” and the meal begins. To their surprise, he doesn’t follow the well-known script and, instead, comes up with his own version, the now familiar words of the Communion ritual Christians have used for 2000 years now. The bread and wine become, in this new ritual, symbols of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord. These things, in turn, represent the New Covenant God has made with the human race. Under this covenant, salvation is dependent on faith in the Son of God who willingly gives himself for us. The Gospel of Mark moves quickly through the Last Supper and I immediately find myself at Gethsemane where Jesus wrestles with the reality of “broken body and shed blood.” Every time I receive Communion I’m taken back to the New Covenant and the sacrifice that seals it with blood. This ritual is rich with meaning but it all starts with broken body, shed blood.
Take Away: My hope of salvation is bound in what is remembered each time I receive communion.
Our secret weapon
Mark 13: When the time comes, say what’s on your heart – the Holy Spirit will make his witness in and through you.
Big, devastating changes are coming. Their beloved Temple, for instance, will be a pile of ruins. Godly people will be abused, dragged into court. When the pressure’s on and their enemies have the upper hand the followers of Jesus are to remember these words and turn to the Lord for strength and wisdom to triumph even in the darkest of days. Specifically, when they stand accused in court they shall do so in confidence. They’ll have an inner Resource. They’ll find themselves saying things they haven’t thought of and with a power they never imagined. That Resource, Jesus says, is the Holy Spirit. In the decades to come generations of martyrs rise up, each proving the words of Jesus. When things are the darkest, God’s people stand firmly victorious empowered by the Holy Spirit. I believe the Holy Spirit is still at work in the world today. Beyond that, I believe he’s at work in me. I think I tend to worry too much about what I’m supposed to say and do in difficult situations. I forget this promise and think it’s all up to me and I fear I’ll blow it. Surely, those Christians proved this promise to be about a literal enabling of the Holy Spirit for God’s people, especially when they’re under the gun. I need to be more aware of this promise and of the practical Resource of the Holy Spirit, especially when I need immediate, crisis-level help.
Take Away: The help of the Holy Spirit is more real and immediate than most of us realize.
You’re getting warmer
Mark 12: You’re almost there, right on the boarder of God’s kingdom.
I’ve been in a few discussions with people who want to play “stump the pastor.” The exchange usually starts with something like, “Being that you’re a preacher, let me ask you this…” and off we go to some burning theological issue like where Cain’s wife came from. In this passage, Jesus deals with the same level of discussion. The Sadducees bring him their old worn out “whose wife is she?” question that they’ve used for years. Others want Jesus to go out of a limb about paying taxes. Standing on the sidelines is a religion scholar with a question. It too is an old one that the rabbis like batting around. Of all the commandments of the Old Testament, which is the most important? Jesus looks the man in the eye and gives him a serious answer. The number one command is that we’re to love God with every fiber of our being. Jesus even goes so far as to throw in a bonus answer. The number two command is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This scholar deals with issues like this every day and he responds that he’s concluded the same thing and, in fact, he’s never heard the answer stated so well. Jesus says to him that he’s almost there, just a short step from the kingdom of God. This exchange is so refreshing. On a day when people are lining up to play “stump Jesus” we meet a man who’s on a legitimate spiritual journey. He’s done a lot of thinking about these things and needs just a gentle nudge to close the deal and commit his life to the Lord. Jesus instantly recognizes the difference between the cat and mouse game of the Sadducees and a sincere question from a real seeker of the truth. My prayer for all those who sincerely seek that they’ll find not only the answers to their questions, but, even better, as it was for this good man so long ago, the Answer to the greatest need of life.
Take Away: Those who aren’t playing games but are serious about God will find real answers in Jesus Christ.
Mark 11: Pray for absolutely everything.
Jesus is a man of prayer. He prays in public and he prays in private. He teaches his disciples to pray. On this final trip to Jerusalem, he drives the sellers out of the Temple grounds because they’ve turned the Temple into a place of business instead of it being a “house of prayer for the nations.” After the miracle of the fig tree Jesus points the disciples to faith and prayer, remarking that the results can move mountains. Then, he teaches his listeners to not only ask in prayer, but to also forgive that they might be forgiven. Prayer, then, for followers of Jesus is central. Our places of worship are to be focused on prayer. We’re to deal with problems and disappointments by going to prayer. As we pray, we’re to allow the Lord to help us see our own hearts and to respond as he wants us to. It’s impossible to be truly Christian yet not pray. As the disciples asked we also ask: “Lord teach us to pray.”
Take Away: Prayer is the key.
Mark 10: He came to serve, not to be served.
Jesus begins his march to the cross. As he and his disciples begin their journey to Jerusalem he tells them what’s coming, the bad and the good. When James and John ask for favored positions in his kingdom, Jesus tells them that they don’t know what they’re asking. Very soon, being on his right and left won’t be very desirable places to be. He again directs them down the servant path as the route to greatness. Being the slave of others is the Christian route to leadership and Jesus is about to demonstrate that in a most unexpected way. He’s going to die, not only that we might be set free from the death penalty, but so that we might learn from him to, ourselves, die. This lesson isn’t only hard to learn, it’s also unwelcome. Most of us live our lives trying to get things our own way. When we somehow achieve position one of the perks is that we can now call the shots to suit ourselves. It is human nature to view everything from the “me” point of view. Jesus turns this self-centered world upside down. He says that in his Kingdom, those in power serve with the needs of others uppermost in their minds. Frankly, after 2000 years you’d think Christians would have a better grasp on this. Frankly, after being a Christian most of my life, I’d think I’d have a better grasp on it.
Take Away: Jesus gave his all to, in part, show us how to give our all.
Mark 9: Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!
The man is desperate to get help for his son who’s possessed by a demon causing the boy to have dangerous convulsions. He brings him to Jesus, pleading for help. However, Jesus is absent at the time. Some of the disciples, though, have had experience with such things. They’ve been commissioned by Jesus to do exactly what needs to be done. However, in spite of their efforts the condition of the child is unchanged. Just as the father is about to leave Jesus arrives and asks what’s going on. The man explains the need. As the boy is again thrown into a seizure, Jesus asks how long this has been going on and the man answers, adding, “If you can do anything, do it…help us!” Jesus calls the man to faith reminding him that there are no “ifs” in faith. I love the answer of the desperate father. For the sake of his son he’ll banish all the “ifs” and replace them with belief. Then, with transparent honestly, he pleads “Help me with my doubts!” Oh how I identify with this good man. With the hard facts so close at hand he struggles to get a grasp on absolute faith. As he says these words, he has a son trashing about on the ground and, right before him he has Jesus, the Miracle Worker. With every fiber of his being he wants to be doubt free. Apparently, that’s good enough for Jesus. An honest struggle for faith is enough faith for the impossible to happen. As I struggle with the hard realities of life in view of the claims of God’s grace and mercy I’m often like that father. Happily, I’m reminded here that the Lord does, indeed, help us with our doubts. Even a struggling faith has power in God’s eyes.
Take Away: An honest struggle for faith is enough faith for the impossible to happen.
Mark 8: Keep a sharp eye out for the contaminating yeast of the Pharisees.
Huge, undeniable miracles are being worked by Jesus every day. He’s just finished feeding 4000 with just seven loaves of bread and he’s about to give sight to a blind man. Meanwhile, his approach is angering the most religious people: the Pharisees. One of their number demands that Jesus do a miracle for him. Jesus refuses and promises that this man will never see one. You’d think that Jesus and the Pharisees would be best friends. These religious leaders are knowledgeable, committed, and faithful. Many of their traits fit perfectly with Jesus’ call that people take up their cross and follow him. However, instead of being some of the most exemplary disciples in the world they become the source of pain and division. They end up killing Jesus and then, after the resurrection, trying to kill the Church. Jesus, after his encounter with this specific Pharisee, warns his disciples about the danger of being contaminated by them. It’s a very short journey from being radically in love with Jesus to being radically in love with one’s beliefs about Jesus. It’s all too easy to take one’s eyes off him and to start looking around at other followers and deciding that they don’t quite measure up. Just down the page from this incident, Peter first confesses that Jesus is the Messiah and is almost immediately told by the Lord that he’s acting as Satan. Listen, it’s easier than we think it is to be contaminated by the yeast of the Pharisees. Long after their branch of Judaism has dried up, their legacy of division lives on.
Take Away: I want to love Jesus and avoid being too much in love with my opinions and beliefs about him.
Maybe instead of Weight Watchers we need to join Word Watchers
Mark 7: Don’t you see that what you swallow can’t contaminate you?
The Old Testament Hebrews had lots of rules and regulations about diet and an admirable trait of cleanliness. The Pharisees of the New Testament take all that to the extreme. When some of the disciples eat without going through their prescribed pre-meal washing ritual the Pharisees complain about it to Jesus. Our Lord responds in force, challenging these men who know better about how they play fast and loose with God’s Laws when it suits them. Later on, he tells his disciples that worrying too much about what we put into our bodies while ignoring the words and actions that “come out” of our bodies is rather stupid. To state it delicately, what enters through the mouth exits elsewhere. However, what comes out of the mouth has its source in the heart. So, I wonder what it is that comes out of my heart. Are my words pure or impure? Do I lift people with my words or do I demolish them? What comes out of my mouth tells more about me than what goes in. Maybe instead of joining Weight Watchers I need to join “Word Watchers.”
Take Away: I’ll learn a lot about myself if I listen to the kinds of things I say.