Following His Footsteps: “The Paper Cut Test” – Mark 1 and 2

paper cuts1Did you ever get a simple little “paper cut”? Isn’t is unbelievable that you can be so careful, eat right, exercise, maybe even go off to the gym and really try to get in shape, and a simple piece of paper can wound you in such a way as to distract you all day long? Not long ago, I was trying to organize some notes for a rather detailed speech I had to give to a group up north. One of the last things I do before I am going to make any kind of presentation is to check to see that I have all the pages in the stack, and that they are in the right order. In the process of checking the pages, the stack began to slip away from me, and as I grabbed the falling papers, one cut into my skin in two places between my first two fingers. It wasn’t any big deal, and I barely noticed it until after the presentation. A group of us decided we would go out for a bite to eat, and the place we went had a special on their renown “corn of the cob.” I wanted to give it a try, and used my normal method of dousing the cob in butter, followed by an unhealthy dose of salt. You know where this is going… the salt found its way into both of my paper cuts and suddenly I felt like my fingers were undergoing surgery. I could barely enjoy the meal…obviously I was experiencing a “first world” problem. At this point, some of you may be recognizing me for the true wimp that I am.

It occurs to me that if rocks can be sculpted and cut through by the long term and constant drip of water, if a fully grown adult man can be dislodged by a swarm of tiny bees, if a vast oak tree can be felled by the work of small termites… paper cuts can do significant damage to even the most strong and efficient office workers. Seriously, sometimes it isn’t the BIG ISSUES that tear us down – but the steady wear of small ones. It is clear that method of attack was used against the Savior, and it may be used against you as well – so it is worth exploring as we follow the early part of the ministry of Jesus.

Let’s remember first that the Savior came to serve His Father and to develop a ministry to people that was both effective and sustainable. He took care to model for us how to care for people, and how to prioritize the work of God as we represent Him before a lost world. At the same time, the Gospel writer included for us something more – the enemy’s attack on Jesus’ ministry. He attacked every forward move of that ministry – as is his method. Some of the attacks were profound and pronounced. For those, we have been taught to pray fervently, armor up and stick together, huddled around the Word. They come, and in those dramatic moments people are tuned to pray. Yet other attacks are more like the steady wear of “paper cuts” designed to annoy and draw spiritual blood and energy from the work. It is now as it was then…

Key Principle: Ministry is not only tested by the more profound struggles, but energy can be significantly drained by steady harassment of the enemy.

There are a number of weights on your walk with God and your service to Him that are common among people who want to be used of God to care for and reach others. Since every believer is to be intentional about ministry, it is important that we identify the points fo attack that are used to cause that strain and look for the pattern to overcome their influence:

First, let’s recognize the call to make disciples puts a strain on those who do it (Mark 1:16-20; 2:14-22). We’ll call it a “drain”.

The beginning of Mark’s Gospel offers some snapshots of Jesus choosing the disciples near the Sea of Galilee. Let’s look at two of them so that we can identify the kinds of pressures disciple making can place on those who follow Jesus by doing it:

Mark 1:16 As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.

Before you keep reading, notice a few things about the disciples that Jesus chose in this little picture.

First, Jesus called the men from the work they were already doing (Mark 1:16). The men were busy, not idle. Some were casting their nets to fish as in Mark 1:16, while others were mending the nets from the night’s work they just completed (1:19).

Second, Jesus told them that He had a task that was in some ways not wholly unfamiliar, but required they change from what they were doing and follow His lead (Mark 1:17).

Third, they immediately obeyed and left what they were accomplishing to simply follow the Master.

This is not the only record of the call of the disciples, for they were called more than once. By this time, Jesus was well known to them. They heard His speaking, and some had even traveled with Him on a journey. It is easy to read this like they were new to Jesus, but they weren’t, and we know this by cross-checking the other Gospel accounts. In the end, they chose to do what He said and follow Him – that is obvious in the narrative. What is far less recognized is the reverse – that Jesus’ life changed by calling them to His side.

To deliberately make disciples is to sign up to be constantly observed, to become intentional about the slightest things. It is a decision to become conscious that people are watching your work and your responses to the normal stresses of life. Your diet becomes their license. Your favorite song comes under the morally sensitive scrutiny of the follower – are those words really “God honoring?” Discipleship has its own drain…it places a tiny discomfort, like a “paper cut” that heightens your sensitivity…but the observation of your life by the disciple isn’t the only factor that places a strain on your life. Drop down to Mark 2…

Mark 2:14 As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. 15 And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” 18 John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they came and said to Him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. 22 “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

Here, the passage reveals other stresses that were placed on Jesus as He chose disciples that we should make note of as well.

First, the people chose by the Master quickly focused scrutiny on Him. Some with religious titles were acutely aware that Jesus’ choices were not what they would have chosen – and that became the subject of criticism. All this, and the disciples hadn’t done yet anything but eat dinner! Jesus found Himself answering criticism concerning His choices (Mark 2:17), and acknowledging that the men were not the healthiest lot – but those with great spiritual need. Here is the point: disciples are needy, and they will require something of your life – and that is the reason we would rather offer classes as a church than personally make disciples. All of us are under the pressures of daily life, and we can easily excuse our distance from others as a necessity in our busy world. Yet, discipleship – deliberate patterning and encouragement is our call – and we know it. We keep hoping that classes will do the trick, even when it seems obvious that we offer so little time compared to the number of hours the world offers to press young believers into its mold.

A second factor involved in the criticism was not simply the choice of disciples, but the methodology and practices taught to the learners (Mark 2:18-19). Jesus chose the men and not everyone like who He chose – but they also “weighed in” on what He trained them to practice. “Why not fasting like John’s disciples?” they asked. Discipleship raised the scrutiny of other “experts” and Jesus didn’t get a passing grade in their evaluation. The truth is that discipleship and training draws the trainer under the scrutiny of those who are not even engaged in the process. Everyone has an opinion about how to do it, even if they aren’t doing it.

The objective of making disciples is one that will put a strain on your life. When people are watching, you must be even more careful. When people are learning, you must be intentional. When people are following, you must act as a leader. It isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t an easy thing either. Ask a parent!

Imagine you take your child into a market to pick up a few things, and they are not feeling well. Teeth are causing pain and a slight fever. The otherwise pleasant child is fussy and uncomfortable. You know what is wrong, and you are letting them fuss a bit to get things selected and get home where you can administer a little gum soother and get them to sleep. It will all be fine in a few minutes. As you pass people and they look in the cart at your little bundle of fussiness, each offers advice. “If you just pick him up and rock him, he’ll settle right down!” the woman behind you says. “Thanks!” you mutter, as if you hadn’t thought of that. Everyone feels the right to give instructions, but they aren’t going home with you, and don’t know the whole picture of what you are doing with the child. Discipleship draws criticism… and it often comes from people who are not engaged in the process a whit. Criticism can sting like a little enduring paper cut.

I am not complaining about the call to make disciples – it is a fantastic and rewarding part of our call! I am, however, making the observation that with obedience to that call you will add strain to your life. Everything valuable in life comes at a price, and obedience in making disciples is no different. We cannot engage the process without recognizing the drain it will put on us, or we miss part of the lesson of the verses God included to instruct us.

Second, the enemy offers resistance to any forward movement that will cost him (Mark 1:21-28). We’ll call this “disruption”.

Beyond the strain of criticism and inspection is another very important truth that we need to reckon with – there is an enemy at work to defeat us. Go back to Mark 1…

Mark 1:21 They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. 22 They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24 saying, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-the Holy One of God!” 25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee.

We usually anticipate the opposition when it concerns evangelism, but that isn’t the only place planned snares of the enemy will trip us. When we help disciples move out of bondage and into a fuller walk with God, the enemy is still losing ground – and that will come with stiff resistance – because he doesn’t like losing ground! In fact, a deceived and ensnared believer is often a more powerful a weapon in the hand of the enemy as one who is still spiritually dead. Go back to the story…

Jesus took the disciples to the synagogue because it was Sabbath, and He taught the crowd that gathered in Capernaum to listen. He spoke directly, and made clear sense. As the people began to respond to TRUTH, the voice of the enemy DISTRACTED people from the “life-filled words” of the Master. There are a number of truths that are important in this passage:

Note first that the enemy was lurking in the synagogue… because the enemy does some of his best work in religious places.

Second, note that nothing they said was UNTRUE, it was simply distracting Jesus from the forward progress of teaching. The demonic presence simply raised questions and made distractions that pulled the class off track. Have you ever seen something like this? I don’t mean that you sat next to someone who murmured like they were possessed… I mean someone who drew the class off track, week after week, only to confound, confuse and disrupt. They didn’t learn, and they didn’t let others learn. The veteran teachers know what I am referring to in this… the enemy works both in deception and in distraction – and we must recognize the difference between real questions and disruptions.

Recently I engaged a young man who asked many questions about God, about belief and generally about my faith. His questions were complex, and they took time to answer in detail to be sure that I was saying things that were both Biblical and clear. I spent a number of hours on each question. Weeks wore on, he wrote question after question and I answered diligently. I prayed over each answer and asked God to make clear how I should proceed. I felt a real strain on the load this added to the week, but I didn’t want to drop the ball on a sacred trust – God may have brought this man into my life to draw him to God – and I didn’t want to be slack on my responsibility in this area. After a few more questions, I made the point that I had done my best with every question, so I wanted to ask him a question of my own… “Was he serious in the questions he raised?” I asked. He replied, and I admit I was floored by his response. “Not at all!” he said. “I just wanted to tie up your time and keep you from teaching other people about your God fantasies.” I was shocked, but I was thankful that God answered my prayer, and I learned a lesson. Everything you and I are offered is either an opportunity or a distraction – and it will take maturity to know the difference.

Jesus took control of the message, and cast out the demon – causing others to recognize His power. God’s Word isn’t open to sharing the stage with anyone else’s word – and Jesus took care of the problem. Yet, it came at a cost. We look at FAME as a GOOD thing, but that is not always the case. Some of the most effective ministries I know of are not well known around the world – but they are incredibly effective. In our modern “Madison Avenue” view of ministry, we cannot easily understand why Jesus may not have wanted to be too well known at this point in the ministry – but the enemy knew that POPULARITY can swamp the boat – and that can become the most effective way to pull a ministry down.

Distraction is something that can happen to any work of God – large or small. Believers need to be able to measure God at work by many standards – not simply “popularity” or parking lot sizes. When we use modern business metrics to measure ministry effectiveness, we lose sight that God works in different ways in different places. The measure of a ministry should be how well it accomplishes sustainable work within its consistent and Biblically infused vision.

The point is that Jesus didn’t need to be that well known yet, and the enemy couldn’t wait to make Him the hottest thing on the block. What looked like a great acknowledgement of Jesus’ power was actually a pressure hold applied by the enemy who wanted to get Jesus’ popularity rating boosted to the point of ministry hindrance. Even viral popularity can become a problem to sustainable ministry. It can become a “paper cut” that hinders growing people because the program takes over… and it is something mature believers need to be careful about.

It is true that discipleship is a call of God that puts a drain on your life. It is easier to navigate life without pulling along someone else. It is also true that we face an enemy who wants to find ways to distract us from focusing on the growth and development of people – in favor of other notions of popularity and success that fill our hearts but are not from our Father above. Yet, there are other “paper cuts” that can distract us…

Third, we should consider that a drain of physical limitations can distract progress (Mark 1:29-31). We’ll call this “distraction”.

Jesus and the boys were just beginning to get the work in Capernaum going, and one of the people who provided meals and care for the men was taken ill…

Mark 1:29 And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. 31 And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.

What is clear is the fact that Peter’s mother in law was an asset to the ministry, as she took care of the men again as soon as she was well. Her “down time” slowed the ministry, because a servant was knocked off her feet. Don’t miss that detail…

I am not being “spooky” when I admit the enemy can get permission from our Father to attack the ministry and add extra “drag” by attacking our health. He can attack our feelings, our digestion, our sleepiness – an array of symptomatic attacks. He did it in a pronounced way with Job in the Bible, but that isn’t the only time he did it. In Mark 1 he wanted to slow down the work at home and keep the men busy and strained to do the little “normal” things of life, he wanted to Simon to worry about his mother-in-law and be distracted from the growing ministry. Don’t miss that Satan was at work on both public popularity and private distraction – that is one of the combinations that often lands in the life of God’s servant. While the pressure mounted in the public eye for Jesus to do more and more, private pressures at home made the rising popularity seem even harder to navigate – and that was the point of the two-pronged attack. Jesus healed the women, but while He did, He surely recognized the play the enemy was making.

Fourth, even misdirected followers can easily disrupt ministry and help the enemy (Mark 1:32-32, 39-45). We’ll call this what it is: “disobedience”.

One of the common attacks of the enemy that I have profoundly noticed over the years is the aid they inadvertently offer the deceiver by being blatantly disobedient to the Word of God – all the while thinking they are aiding God’s cause. Let’s look at the case offered in Mark 1…

Mark 1:32 When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. 33 And the whole city had gathered at the door. 34 And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was… 39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons. 40 And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” 41 Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. 43 And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, 44 and He said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.

The enemy was already at work trying to get the public ministry of Jesus to rise in popularity so fast that He would be unable to focus on the development of the men, and be inundated with public fame. Demons didn’t want clear teaching, so they disrupted at the synagogue. Now they used a needy man that came to Jesus, but then didn’t follow His words obediently… the man had a plan to “help God” without the need to be weighed down by obedience to God. He came needing healing, as we all do. He came ready to receive from Jesus.

Note verse 42, Jesus completely healed him and he was clean. Now look at the words of the next verse very carefully. In all of the Gospels, have you read of any time when Jesus spoke and “sternly warned” anyone? It seems the demeanor of the Savior was serious and sober as he looked at the now healed man. “Say NOTHING to ANYONE except the priest.” Those were Jesus’ words. They sound straight and to the point. They were neither complicated, nor confusing. Yet, the man disobeyed in short order, all the while thinking he was doing something GOOD for God.

We need to rehearse, again and again in our lives, there is no substitute for obedience to God’s commands. We do not know what God knows, nor do we see what He sees. Our stubborn need to control must not be allowed to drive us from our knees and back onto the throne of our life while under the delusion we are helping God. We are NOT. The tragic end of King Saul came from that very decision – to do what he thought would help God MORE than to accept the instruction from God and follow it precisely.

The man was disobedient to the word of Jesus, and it caused a mess for Jesus. How often I have observed this attack of the enemy, facilitated by a believer who blissfully thinks careful knowledge of and obedience to the Word is less important than the “clear fame” they brought to Jesus. Reach a nation in disobedience and you have accomplished a great victory for the enemy – because God desires obedience more than anything else… period. Believers carving their own path cause constant and irritating “paper cut” wounds on believers and ministry workers who are trying to follow the Word – it is both distracting and hurtful.

Fifth, there is a constant weight placed by those who misunderstand God’s method of direction that can confuse ministry workers (Mark 1:35-38). We’ll call this “delusion.”

Jesus got alone, but the disciples didn’t understand the essential nature of His time with the Father – because many people think ministry is a physical pursuit – with a little “nod” to the spiritual realm. They don’t get how the world really works, let alone how ministry works…

Mark 1:35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions searched for Him; 37 they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” 38 He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.

The disciples pressed for more and more ministry without breaking away and recognizing the need to seek the Father in Heaven. Jesus got alone because He needed to commune and exemplify the need to seek the direction from above. The disciples were living the “rat race of ministry” while Jesus was getting alone. His alone time re-energized the Lord.

People caught in a “rat race” – even of ministry events – cannot lead like Jesus. There is a difference between being full in your schedule and being driven by it. Jesus understood the need for solitude and searching out the Father’s heart for ministry before taking on the next task. The men were ready for the “next big thing” while Jesus was communing with His Father, and getting re-energized.

Jesus knew how to get alone with His Father. It is worth noting that the devil miscalculated the strength of that alone time at the temptation. Jesus was physically hungry, but His time away left Him spiritually full. His denial of the physical helped Him to stay focused on His walk before the Father and not get sidetracked by lesser things. His responses to the devil showed that Jesus valued the study of the Scriptures in the “good times” – for Jesus knew the Word and was able to recall it when needed.

This is a common mistake: people see ministry as primarily a physical pursuit, and measure its growth in buildings, budgets and bodies in the pew – but those metrics don’t tell the story. Eleven disciples transformed in heart would eventually yield much more than five thousand spectators deeply moved at their full bellies. The DELUSION is a common one, and it creeps into ministry all the time: the focus on the physical as the point of ministry. Look at the little story in Mark 2…

Mark 2:1 When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4 Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. 5 And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? 9 “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven ‘; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk ‘? 10 “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins “-He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” 12 And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” 13 And He went out again by the seashore; and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them.

Jesus healed the man’s heart, and the work was essentially DONE. His sin forgiven, Jesus did the part that only He can do. That didn’t satisfy the scribes. They thought it was a hoax, because they measured ministry by externals – by physical markers. The man needed life inside, not simply working legs.

There is an old story I have used before, but it illustrates well the problem of looking at externals when the internals are the real issue:

I heard about a man who saw his dog walking across his lawn with his neighbors dead cat in his mouth. The man was horrified to see that the dog had apparently killed the neighbor’s beloved cat. He was determined to hide this embarrassing and heart-wrenching situation from the neighbor. He took the cat from the dog’s mouth and proceeded to wash the animal gingerly, to brush the fur and make the animal look well kept. That night he slipped over to the neighbor’s porch and placed the cat quietly beside the door. He left undetected. The next morning before work his neighbor was in the driveway visibly shaken. “What’s wrong?” he asked, feigning concern. The neighbor replied, “It is the strangest thing I ever seen. Fluffy got hit by a car yesterday. We had a funeral service for her in the backyard. But, when we got up this morning we found the hole empty and the body of our now clean cat clean on the back porch.” (adapted from sermon central illustrations).

Here is the problem: The man tried to clean the cat outwardly, but he couldn’t change the fact that the cat was dead. A lot of people think that is what ministry is really all about. They try to change the outward appearance, or deal with the outward need. They feed the hungry, house the homeless and try to act kindly – and that is good – but it isn’t the primary need. It is part of the DELUSION that spiritual things can be seen clearly through the physical eye. When ministry is measured that way, it discourages and weighs down those who are working in the spiritual realm.

• Discipleship is wonderful, but it drains your energy.
• Forward moving ministry is exciting, but it draws the attention of an enemy that disrupts.
• Servant hood is essential, but the needs of the body can be a distraction.
• Jesus is delivering men, but disobedience unsettles the ministry.
• Ministry needs press God’s workers, but we must be directed and measured by spiritual metrics.

I recall years ago in Elkhart, Indiana, finding out that a neighbor was tapping off my friend’s electricity, and she was being charged for power usage that she didn’t ever get. She went away on vacation during the heat of the summer, and turned off most all of her electrical appliances. When she came home, she noticed the meter spinning wildly on the pole, and couldn’t figure out what where the power was going. We traced the lines, and found the neighbor was using a line strung from her house to theirs. Knowing where your power is going is important. God is at work through many, and some of them are tired, but haven’t figured out where their energy is being tapped. The model of Jesus can help us spot some of the ways power is pulled from its rightful place.

He Changes Everything: “Men in White” – Mark 16

Many of you are familiar with the “Men in Black” franchise of films. The first film bearing that name appeared in 1997. For the two uninitiated people on the planet that do not know of them, the Men in Black stories offered a tale of the exploits of agents “K” and “J”, members of a top-secret organization established to monitor intergalactic matters as well as police alien activity on planet Earth. Known for their uniform black suits and dark glasses, the two heroes untied a plot to destroy earth after an alien  terrorist came to assassinate two ambassadors from opposing galaxies. A few years later, movie-goers were entertained with a second slice out of the galactic pie in 2002. In this story, agent “J” became aware of an old enemy of the MIB, who returned to earth in search of a powerful artifact. “J” was forced to restore the deliberately wiped memory of his old mentor “K” to stop the Earth’s calamity. A third installment is promised to those who are waiting to save the earth – yet again – in May of 2012. Based on other movies that predict the end of the earth that year – it is a good thing we have “J” and “K” to save at least Hollywood – if not the earth!

We want to take a brief look at a different story today. This one is also intergalactic and has a SAVE THE EARTH heartbeat to it. This one has one striking difference to it – it is the TRUTH AS GIVEN BY THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE. This one enlists the help of a covert  organization as well – but they don’t dress in black. They are the ‘MEN IN WHITE’ and they truly exist. They were present long ago when the work of Jesus was done on earth… and the Bible says they are still here among us. Look at a short story that includes one of them, and listen to the words of the agent of the “Men in White”:

Mark 16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. 2  Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. 5 Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. 7 “But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’” 8 They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

When we read the Mark account, we know that we are reading a summary of the story, not the whole story. We don’t want to forget to synthesize the story with the other account so that we will add much more richness. All four Gospel writers mention the tomb of Joseph of Arimethia (though Luke doesn’t name him, but only says a man of Arimithea). Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that Roman soldiers guarded the tomb following Jesus’ death. The same three tell us of the group of women who prepared the spices to use them the morning after the Sabbath. On the way to the place of the burial, Mark reveals the discussion between the women – they were unsure of how the stone could be moved for them to do their work. Matthew mentions that a severe earthquake, powered by the Angel of the Lord, moved the stone from its resting place, exposing the tomb. As the women approached, their discussion about moving the stone was hushed…. Now they stood amazed the tomb was open. Entering the tomb, they heard the testimony of the man in white.

The shocking part of the story as Mark tells it is this: the man in white told the women to do something, and fear kept them from obeying him right away! How much like God’s church in this time they were!   

Key Principle: The promise that Jesus kept in His death and His resurrection is a truth designed to be shared – but our fear can keep it from reaching the ears of our neighbors!

It is true that Matthew shared that they overcame their fear and eventually ran out of excitement to the disciples to report the news. Luke explained that they “remembered Jesuswords” (Lk. 24:8) suggesting that it took a bit of “memory jog” to snap them out of fear and get them in gear, running as they should have been. Yet, Mark’s story ends on a note of uncertainty that bothered people through the ages. Later manuscripts appeared to have added a monk’s notes that were later inserted as verses 9-20 – they don’t appear to belong in the original Gospel. [For that reason, we end our systematic study in this Gospel at verse 9. For those who want more on these “rogue verses”, we will offer the notes of another teaching on that subject.]

If Mark truly ended with the words “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” One may wonder why he didn’t resolve the problem. There are at least two plausible answers: first, the proper ending to the text may have been lost (a view shared by many New Testament scholars) or second, perhaps he wanted to teach us something that has become relevant for every generation of inheritors of the Gospel

Step back for a moment and look with me at the meaning of the events of that 100 hours, in a week long ago. The death of Jesus remains to this day to be the single event that separates human history between broken by need of redemption and mending toward eventual redemption. The Cross is the watershed event of our faith. It means everything. Before the Resurrection, we must understand His death – for only when we understand that will we be truly drawn to share the message of Jesus. Let me be clear: the women didn’t share the message of His Resurrection right away, because they didn’t understand the meaning of His death. Had they grasped what Jesus was truly doing and able to complete – they would not have hesitated. For many believers, the problem is the same even today. When we don’t grasp the real hopelessness of men without the salvation offered to them – we sit silent and let them pass from our sight without offering the urgent warning.

When we hesitate from fear and do not share the Gospel – a MEMORY JOG IS IN ORDER.

Perhaps the most important study we could have in this passage is one that underscores the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Why did Jesus die? Why was He raised? We must remember some important truths:

First, we must remember that Jesus’ Death and Resurrection satisfied the Father in Heaven:

Jesus died a criminal’s death. The Bible says that was essential. Listen to Paul’s writing to the first century church at Rome: Romans 3:21 “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.The words may sound complicated, so take them apart:

Paul shared that the Gospel of Jesus – the message that people can be right with God simply by trusting that the work of Jesus on the Cross paid the full and complete price for their sin – was both consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures and for everyone, both Jew and Gentile. (3:21-23).

Paul then carefully explained that God gave a right relationship – “justification” – as a gift, and that gift was in Jesus paying the price for our sin. At that point, Paul explained WHY the death had to take place from God’s perspective. He said that God PUT JESUS ON DISPLAY publicly as the complete satisfaction He was looking for as the Righteous Judge – found completely in the blood of His sacrifice. That means, from God’s point of view, His wrath (the penalty for sin – with its cause and effect relationship) was turned away by the offering of Jesus as a gift. The death of Jesus on the Cross at Calvary turned away the punishment that was judicially right for me – because I trusted in that payment. The Resurrection demonstrated clearly to those who were following Him that the payment was accepted.

Imagine a man was guilty of killing his neighbor. Imagine him being brought into the courtroom in shackles to stand before a judge. Now imagine that the judge, after hearing the jury’s verdict, gives the man this sentence: “Having been found guilty of murder in the first degree by a jury of your peers, the people demand a life for the life you have taken. You are therefore sentenced to forfeit your life by lethal injection… and may God have mercy on your soul.” Now imagine that from the back of the courtroom a voice is raised that catches the ear of the judge. “Your honor!” cries the voice. “Before an appeal can be raised for this man who has been found guilty, I would like to pay for his crime in full. I will forfeit my life in his place.” Such a suggestion would have been quickly dismissed as lunacy, but when the judge looked up, the one that said this was none other than his very own son. In our system of jurisprudence, no such substitution could be made – period. Yet, a careful look at the Bible shows that God had long before set up a system of substitution – allowing an animal (after a sinner placed his hand on that animal’s head in acknowledgement of personal sin) to represent the man and die in his place. Keep going with the illustration… Imagine that the judge tearfully allowed the substitute to carry the death penalty for the man who was found guilty. Do you think the guilty man would ask to die anyway? DO you think he would ask to be taken back to his cell and await punishment in spite of the fact that the substitute was found and the judge declared that substitute to be effective?

The problem with the Christian message is that we often repeat a fundamental truth that “God loves you!” Though this is absolutely true, when shared out of balance with man’s guilt before God, it can leave the impression that God doesn’t care about the mutiny of our hearts and the stubborn rebellion we exhibit day to day. We talk of God’s love much more than we speak of God’s “wrath to come” – a phrase taken from the Bible (Lk. 3:7) and very much part of Biblical thinking.

Ray Pritchard wisely reminds us: “When Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” the listeners held on to the pillars of the building lest they suddenly slip down into eternal damnation. Can anyone imagine that happening today?

Make no mistake. God’s loving nature is not in conflict with His Righteousness. Any judge can tell you that they both have deep sympathy for people on trial and at the same time uphold the standard of righteousness in the law. God understands us and loves us, but His nature requires that He not dismiss rebellion and self will. In a very real way- parenting is a reflection of this same issue. We need to LOVE enough to DEMAND OBEDIENCE – and we cannot allow rebellion under the guise of calling it real love.

Up to the time of the death of Jesus, God provided a temporary system though animal sacrifice to turn His wrath away. There was a problem with that system – it was incomplete and could cover the sin, but not wash it away, according to the Scriptures (Hebrews 7:23-28;10:4) When Jesus died, He became a Lamb of God that was the last necessary sacrifice.

In the Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, an Englishman is caught trying to flee France during the French Revolution. He is to be put to death on the guillotine. One hour before his appointment a friend visits him in jail. He insists that they swap clothes. The Englishman refuses. The French friend tells him that at that moment his wife and child are waiting in a carriage at the door. Moments later guards led the wrong man to his execution. In some ways, our message of the Gospel fits into that scene.  We were under a sure sentence of eternal death. Our Savior took our place at the cross. At the same time, we have to admit that He did more than that. He paid a debt we could NOT pay.

Second, we must remember that God COULD NOT accept a lesser payment!

God provided Jesus as a spotless lamb – something that I could not be if I died for my own sin. We must recognize that God is NOT LIKE US if we truly want to understand the meaning of Jesus’ death on Calvary. Again, using the words of Ray Prichard, let me offer explanation: “God is infinite in holiness, and every single sin committed against him is infinite in magnitude. Only a gift of infinite value could turn away the infinite wrath of God. And only God himself (in the Person of his Son) could make such an infinite gift. That’s why our piddling efforts to turn aside God’s wrath are doomed to failure. We think that going to church or being baptized or going to Mass or saying our prayers or being good or stopping a bad habit or “trying really hard to be better” will somehow turn away the infinite wrath of God….Because God is holy, he cannot allow sin to go unpunished. His justice demands that every sin be punished—no matter how small it may seem to us. … That’s why sinners can’t simply say, “I’m sorry” and instantly be forgiven. Someone has to pay the price.”

We follow this same principle in our criminal justice system. Suppose a man is found guilty of embezzling six million dollars from his employer. Let us further suppose that just before sentencing, he stands before the judge, confesses his crime, begs for mercy, and promises never to embezzle money again. How would you react if the judge accepted his apology and released him with no punishment? Suppose the man had been convicted of rape and then was set free with no punishment simply because he apologized. …When lawbreakers are set free with no punishment, respect for the law disappears. … The same principle applies to raising children. When parents refuse to discipline with tough love, they end up raising criminals instead of responsible adults. The same is true in the spiritual realm. When sin is not punished, it doesn’t seem very sinful.“ (Prichard)

If the central message of the Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus paid the full price for my sin when I willfully trust that His substitution fully delivers me from my deserved punishment – than it is essential that I recognize the reason God will accept no other way. God has set ONE DOOR by which men can be accepted by Him. Buddha cannot offer it. Mohammed did not believe it. Confucius did not accept it. Joseph Smith did not trust in it…. No denomination can manufacture some method of obedience that compares to it.

The acceptance of Jesus as my punished substitute is the one and only way to God according to the Bible. Every attempt man makes to blow another hole in Heaven’s wall to gain access by some other good work is an affront to the price of Jesus’ blood in God’s eyes. God provided what God demanded… but we must accept that God knew the best way.

Good works lived to find Heaven’s gate are another manifestation of man’s rebellious nature. “Their must be a way I can earn it in SPITE of what God has done and said”, we tell ourselves… it is deception and rebellion revisited.

More than two hundred years ago in England, William Cowper, a man of nervous disposition who struggled with bouts of severe depression began fearing that he was under the wrath of God. “I flung myself into a chair by the window and there saw the Bible on the table by the chair. I opened it up and my eyes fell on Romans 3:25, which says of Christ, ‘Whom God has made a propitiation through faith in his blood.’ Then and there, I realized what Christ’s blood had accomplished and I realized the effects of his atonement for me. I realized God was willing to justify me, and then and there, I trusted Jesus Christ and a great burden was lifted from my soul.” Looking back on that day, William Cowper wrote a hymn that we still sing today:

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins.
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stain.

In our mad rush to feel “ever satisfied” with every area of life, Bible preaching has left the airwaves and many pulpits. In its place a steady stream of psychological sermons that could have come from Oprah or Dr. Phil offer us management tips, diet recommendations, and child rearing truths. It was not always so…The early church quickly made the death and resurrection of Jesus the central feature of their message.  Paul wrote:

  • We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).
  • I decided to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
  • For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3).
  • But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

We must be firm in our commitment to preach the cross. There is simply no other message so important. No facebook status update will offer eternal life. Jesus, and His sacrifice must be proclaimed clearly by a church adrift.

One time a man was on a fishing trip and was sleeping on his house boat. He heard a splash right between his boat and the one next to his. The man on that boat had been drinking quite heavily and had apparently fallen into the water while drunk. The first man jumped in, found him and rescued him. He gave him artificial respiration, revived him, dried him off, changed his clothes, and got him into bed. An hour later he returned to his own boat, wet and exhausted. The next morning he went back to the man’s boat to check on him. The other man told him to go away, leave him alone, and mind his own business. He said, “Why are you being so mean. I saved your life last night.” The drunk did not remember. Instead of thanking him he laughed at him and then began to curse him. As this man left, unappreciated and rejected, he thought for a moment of how Jesus must feel when people reject him.

Third, we must remember that God delivered on His own promises!

The Gospels present clearly that Jesus saw His death not as some after-thought designed to touch men by the sheer size of the self-sacrifice  – but rather as the central work God called Jesus to do – and the work that He accepted beforehand (Phil. 2).

After all: “Hadn’t the Hebrew Scriptures already revealed the need for the death of Messiah?”

  • Jesus saw His call as clear in the Hebrew Scriptures: After his resurrection Jesus reminded the disciples: “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” (Lk. 24:44). Clearly Jesus saw his life and his death as being prophesied in the Old Testament.
  • Jesus saw His call as required by God’s promises: At the last supper Jesus explained one of these prophecies: “For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors’” (Lk. 22:37). Notice the strong word “must” that is used here. It was not a matter of choice. Since God had foreseen and predicted it, it would occur. Paul said Jesus’ death was “in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3).
  • Early church leaders saw this as the PLAN of God, not a surprise ending: Peter realized that the death of Christ was a part of God’s scheme of things: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Later Peter wrote “He was destined before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20).

Early church leaders understood this was a difficult message for Jewish people – Jews were not expecting a crucified Messiah. It was very difficult for most of them to accept Jesus as the Messiah for this reason: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews” (1 Cor. 1:23). The term “stumbling block” was “skandalon” – a scandal to many Jewish leaders. The Scriptures taught that anyone who was hanged on the tree was cursed. Dt. 21:23: “…his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.” Even during His ministry, Jesus saw opposition among His followers to the idea of His death. When Jesus first spoke of it, Mark reminds: “Peter took him, and began to rebuke him” (Mk. 8:32).

Because they went through the learning curve, the early church leaders explained Jesus death carefully: When Jesus was raised and the Holy Spirit was given, His followers had to go back and research the Prophets of old. They rediscovered passages like Isaiah 53 and Psalms 22 there they recognized in the shadows the crucified Messiah.

Fourth, we must remember the scene poured out God’s power in front of man:

The Bible says: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). It is the message that reveals the power and truth of God like no other: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:22-24).

  • THE CROSS REVEALS OUR NEED: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:4-6). Look at the words “our” and “him”. Clearly the cross was a payment by an innocent on behalf of the guilty.  The cross very clearly reveals that we are sinners in need of salvation. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24).
  • THE CROSS PRODUCES CONVICTION: When Peter at Pentecost, he laid responsibility for the death of Jesus at the feet of his listeners. When many of them realized this truth, they were “pricked in their hearts” or “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). They were convicted of sin.
  • THE CROSS PROCLAIMS FORGIVENESS: The writer of Hebrews said: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). Someone has said: “God forgave people under the Old Covenant in advance of full payment for sin….Figuratively speaking, they were saved on credit and Jesus finally came and “paid it all”.
  • THE CROSS CREATES LOVE: 1 John 4:9 “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” … 19 “We love, because He first loved us.

Looking at the cross and the empty tomb, we have seen that like the women who hesitated, it takes a memory jog to get in GEAR and proclaim the Gospel.

  • We must remember that Jesus’ Death and Resurrection satisfied the Father in Heaven:
  • We must remember that God COULD NOT accept a lesser payment!
  • We must remember that God delivered on His own promises!
  • We must remember the scene poured out God’s power in front of man:

The promise that Jesus kept in His death and His resurrection is a truth designed to be shared – but our fear can keep it from reaching the ears of our neighbors! We need to remember. One Pastor wrote: “In Arizona an Indian boy was out plowing corn while his sister was playing in the mud hut in which they lived. She turned over a rock and a rattler crawled out, coiled up, struck, and bit her. She screamed loudly, and her brother came running. Quickly he killed the snake and squeezed his hands around her leg. He sucked the blood and poison out and may have saved her life. Due to a sore in his mouth the poison entered his blood system, though, and he died shortly thereafter. Long ago back in the Garden of Eden mankind was bitten by a poisonous snake called the Devil. We received the poison of sin which would surely bring about death if something was not done. Jesus came running from heaven and took that poison into his own body, dying on the cross for our sins. At the same time he struck a death stroke against the ancient Serpent, Satan. That is what God promised: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed: he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).” (A-Z Illustrations).

He Changes Everything: “The Old Rugged Cross”- Mark 15:22-47

A man was driving down a backstreet in a small town. He looked up into the rear view mirror, and noticed the flashing lights of the police cruiser. He looked down at recognized that he was proceeding at ten miles past the speed limit signs. He pulled over. It could be any place, any day or any time, but it would still be a familiar scene. As he pulled over, a host of issues rolled through his mind. If he is like most Americans, he is disgusted that the police officer would waste time on him instead of catching “real criminals”. If he is like most Americans, he will surmise cynically that the city is running low on cash, and that the motivation for the stop is financial. If he is like most Americans, the very last thing on his mind will be his actual infraction – buried behind a raft of good reasons why he wasn’t really as wrong as the policemen was going to suggest with the ticket.

Here is the problem: Our culture has confused GOODNESS for RIGHTEOUSNESS. In the last 100 years, the number of “mitigating circumstances” that allows a defense attorney to argue “not guilty” on our behalf has grown at a staggering rate. Don’t misunderstand me, there are mitigating circumstances that need to be considered in judgment. The problem is that people become deceived into thinking that they are truly NOT GUILTY because they believe they are basically good, and had a good reason for doing wrong.

Why do I bring this up as we look into Mark 15 and the story of the Cross of Jesus? Because the enemy is convincing our fallen culture that because they are basically good people (a left over of God’s image stamp on them in creation) – that they are also RIGHTEOUS (truly not guilty of sin under the judicial penalty of God).

Go back to our man sitting in the driver’s seat. Let’s say he is a GOOD MAN. Let’s stipulate that he volunteers at Big Brothers of America, is a scout leader, donates regularly to Good Will, is ecologically sensitive, grew up in Sunday School and helps little old ladies across the street. Let’s name him “Dudley Dooright” and give him a “A” for civic minded efforts. What does that have to do with the fact that he was GUILTY of speeding? Everything. It gives him a reason to try to justify himself in his own mind, while calling into question the law enforcement official. It has a graying affect on the black and white of his situation. It adds subjective standards to what is really objective.

Now take that same driver, and bring him to church. If it is a Bible teaching and Bible believing church – it will offer this picture of the man: HE IS A SINNER, CONDEMNED BY GOD. He will sit and look around, perhaps squirming a bit. Why is he a sinner? He is a GOOD GUY – we have already established that! What right does that Pastor have to call him a SINNER – “I’ll bet he is trying to get money out of me for the building program!” he’ll muse. Maybe he will argue in his own mind, “This guy doesn’t know me, how can he say ANYTHING about who I am?” He will leave the service feeling condemned (a bad feeling) and that will reinforce his reasons for thinking church people aren’t for him. Like in the case of his traffic violation, it will not occur to him that the whole event occurred because he was ACTUALLY GUILTY before the law (unrighteous). He confuses being GOOD GUY with being UNRIGHTEOUS in regard to violation of an absolute standard.

It was not always so. Puritan culture understood the judicial nature of our Creator. They believed they were sinners, and they needed the cross. Our twenty first century culture in America has no need for the cross as any more than a symbol of giving. It is a hallmark moment that brings an “Ahhhh” to the modern crowd. Jesus has joined the ranks of the radical peaceful protestors, alongside Mahatma Ghandi and other examples of non-violent protest.

To a student of the Bible, Jesus’ work was not simply about EXAMPLE – it was the solution to the judicial unrighteousness of man. To a Christian, the Cross on which Jesus died became a symbol of inestimable worth. It captured in time the single greatest moment in world history since the Fall of man, only to be eclipsed by the King’s return at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom. It symbolized the breaking of sin’s inevitable hold on mankind. It symbolized the finished work to conquer sin and death (meaning a separation from God). It graphically depicted God’s love for man. It is the source of our hope.

In this passage we will go back to stand on a hill outside of Jerusalem. We will watch victory and tragedy meet. We will again be amazed at the love of our Creator, and the faithfulness of His Son…

Key Principle: The Cross changed everything. At the same time, it offers potential life to those who accept it and eternal death to those who reject it.

Before we read from Mark 15, we must understand a Biblical idea about God’s judgment. Every man or woman is judged TWICE. One judgment is for his RIGHTEOUSNESS and the other for his GOODNESS. His eternal destiny is determined by the judgment of RIGHTEOUSNESS. The degree of his reward or punishment is determined by his GOODNESS. How do I know? There are many passages, but we will suffice it with one very clear passage in the end of the Bible:

Revelation 20:11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Note three specifics of the passage you just read:

First, there are two different measures of the passage – a single book of life by which a destiny is determined and a library of books that houses the record of one’s works in life. The Book of Life simply requires a name listing, the other books have details of works.

Second, there are two judgments – whether one is in the Book of Life and the other refers to what works one had done. Though every person not found in the Book of Life is sent to the Lake of Fire – not all are equal in the works they have done.

Third, it is possible to be GOOD in terms of works, but UNRIGHTEOUS in terms of the Book of Life. The passage we read doesn’t specify who is in the Book of Life – but the Bible elsewhere does. That is where the CROSS story comes into the problem – offering a judicial solution to UNRIGHTEOUS MAN.

Now to the Cross. There are three essential parts to the story as given by Mark. First, there is the Setting of the Execution itself. Next there is the special focus on the moment of Jesus’ death. Finally, there is the Reaction of the Observers.

The Setting of the Execution:

The very word Crucifixion brought fear to a non-citizen during the Roman period. It is still considered by most historians one of the most gruesome of deaths. Mark describes it: Mark 15:22 Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. 23 They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it. 24 And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take. 25 It was the third hour when they crucified Him.

These four verses offer some important truths to historically set the redemption act of Jesus. It is essential that we have details, in order that we assure each generation that these were not simply “cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:6). The details given are:

The Place:

Christians use a number of words that remind us of the place of Jesus’ death, simply because the Biblical terminology for the site includes the terms Golgotha, the Aramaic word for “skull,” and Calvary, from the Latin term calvaria also meaning “skull” (Matthew 27:33, Luke 23:33, John 19:17). All that we know historically about the place was that it was outside a wall to the north and west of the city, on the western hill of ancient Jerusalem. There was a garden nearby, as well as a cemetery contemporary to Jesus’ time. The Crosses may have been ON the hill, or in a flat space BELOW the hill, since the text doesn’t indicate their actual location.

The Cross:

Mark offers four important details of the actual event: 1) the drink they offered Jesus (23), 2) the method of execution (24), 3) the parting of his personal effects by casting lots (25), 4) the time of the event (26). Each of these add special texture to the history and drama, and offer details that suggest one who was there was the source. Each of these four records are consistent with the details of an eyewitness. Since this method is now removed (thankfully) from our public life, some details of the scene may be helpful to really capture the event.

  • Their Purpose: Crucifixion was another of the “spectacles” of Roman society. Even punishment was designed to send a message to people on every level of society. The crucified were often left on display after death as a deterring warning to any who might attempt insurrection. This method was particularly slow, painful (hence the term excruciating, literally “out of crucifying”), and a terrifyingly public gruesome display. Specific methods varied with location.
  • Their Variety: “Crucifixion” applied to many forms of execution, from impaling on a stake to affixing to a tree, to an upright pole (a crux simplex) or to a combination of an upright (in Latin, stipes – 300 pounds or more) and a crossbeam (in Latin, patibulum – 75–125 pounds).
  • Use of Nails: Normally attached by rope to the wood, nails were not always used. They are specifically mentioned by Josephus Flavius, in a record of the Siege of Jerusalem (in 70 CE) where he says, “the soldiers out of rage and hatred, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest.” Seneca the Younger suggest that victims were crucified completely nude. When the victim had to relieve bowel or bladder – they did so in open view, increasing the attraction of flies and insects, and adding to the awful smell of the place.
  • Other tools: In the normal course of the execution, the legs of the person executed were shattered with a club, an act called “crurifragium”– a punishment applied without crucifixion to rebellious slaves. This act hastened the death, but was not considered merciful on its face.
  • Roman Records: Roman citizens were spared this execution form, and its horrors were shunned by some eminent orators. Cicero described crucifixion as “a most cruel and disgusting punishmentthe very mention of the cross should be far removed not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears.”
  • Roman Superstitions: Strangely, just like objects associated with gladiators, the nails after a crucifixion were sought as amulets with perceived medicinal qualities.

The only clear archeological evidence of crucifixion of the Roman period in ancient Judea is that of “the case of the crucified man” at Giv’at HaMivtar. The discovery was in a tomb, unexpectedly uncovered by road and construction work in the 1960s. The tomb yielded a number of ossuaries, boxes containing the bones of the dead, which were examined by archeologists. One of the ossuaries contained a curiosity that is still the subject of much discussion (See Israel Exploration Journal, vol.35, no.1, 1985, pp. 22-7). The excavator, Vasilios Tzaferis, took the skeletal remains of a male who appeared to have been crucified at about the age of 28. Evidence for the man’s death as a crucifixion included a bent nail, still positioned in the foot bones. The nail was 11.5 cm (4.5 inches) in length. Tests were run at Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School and published by an anthropologist with the Israel Exploration Society. It was determined that the crucifixion in this particular case did not include the use of the crurifragium (a sledgehammer). Further, the victim did not appear to have evidence of hand injury, implying that his arms were roped and not nailed, and may have been nailed to an olive tree. If the same type of crucifixion were applied to the Gospel narrative, Jesus may well have been nailed to a patibulum (crossbeam) and then boosted against a small olive tree.

Note that Mark includes three statements that set the cruelty of the scene in Jesus’ case very carefully:

  • His charge: A charge was nailed above Him, explaining the Roman crime He was convicted of – INSURRECTION. Mark 15:26 The inscription of the charge against Him read, “THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
  • His companions: He was not crucified alone, but was a later addition to those who were killed that day. It is likely that Barabbas’ companions were those who accompanied Jesus in death. Mark 15:27 They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left. 28 [And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with transgressors.”]
  • His curses: Mark 15:29 Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. 32 “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.

The Death: How Jesus was Executed

Two details are drawn out of the spectacle on Calvary that morning long ago. Mark focused on Jesus’ personal agony as He perceived the Father’s turning from Him in the midst of the crucifixion. Jesus cried out:

Mark 15:33 When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” which is translated, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, “Behold, He is calling for Elijah.” 36 Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.

The Gospel writer was not unaware of the theological realities he was trying to teach in his writing. In the middle of the scene, we need to recall some important truths about the Cross. Jesus made two essential changes at His death – He changed man’s potential relationship to God and He changed all Creation’s hope of redemption. The scene of the Crucifixion was not simply in Jerusalem – it was played out in HEAVENLY PLACES for all Creation to watch and learn.

The work at the Cross changed Man’s Potential Relation to God

The most profound effect of the Fall into sin was on man’s connection to God. Sin was primarily against God. It was a deliberate mutiny, not a personality flaw. For that reason, the Biblical notion of sin can be seen in the lost son’s confession in the parable of Joy (Luke 15): “I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight.” Much earlier, the wayward King David (after he had committed adultery and arranged a murder) acknowledged, Ps. 51:3 “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.” From a Biblical view, others may be hurt by our sin, but sin is primarily directed against the character of a righteous God the way a physical attack on our President would be considered an attack against our country. Sin is the personification of self will and rebellion – the opposite of dependence upon God and the desire for submission.

From the time of the Fall, sin separated man from God. God’s revealed nature is HOLY – and holiness cannot overlook sin. Our mutiny of sin naturally separates the sinner from God as oil from water – their physical properties do not mix. Sin is a barrier ever separating permanent the fellowship between man and God that he once had in the Garden of Eden. Paul called  our state in Ephesians 2 simply “dead in sin.”

The result of sin is guilt of mutiny before God, a condition passed to every baby born of man’s sperm, where God says the defect is extended. Each sinner is responsible both by their blood (at birth) and later by their deeds – all offenses chargeable before God. Sin requires God’s condemnation – just as crime requires that of any human judge. The necessary punishment to satisfy the judicial nature of God must be met – and God set the payment terms of a holy life in exchange for an unholy one. That was Heaven’s view of the Cross of Jesus. He became the Lamb slain for me.

The Bible is not silent on the state of man without the payment of the Cross (one who chooses to try to satisfy God without relying on the work of Jesus at the Cross). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Sinners deserve death. Paul said, “They which commit such things are worthy of death” (Rom. 1:32). “Because all men sinned, death passed upon all men.” (Rom. 5:12.)

“But I wasn’t there in the Garden!” one may object. That’s true, but one who represented you was in the Garden. Just as an Ambassador for our country represents us today before other nations, so Adam and Eve represented all of us. If our Ambassador, our President and our Congress declares war –YOU declare war. You pay for it. You support it. You send your sons and daughters to fight it. Because they represent you – they speak for you – and you pay the price. They are your FEDERAL HEAD – and so was man and woman in the Garden. One more thing: the Bible is clear, and so are our lives – we would have made the same choice. We lied and cheated without any instruction – our hearts showed self dependence since we uttered “MINE!” at age two.

God is life – and he who rejects God, rejects LIFE – and asks for the penalty of death. Choosing door number two means you rejected door number one – that is the very nature of choice.

Biblically, in His sacrifice Jesus took the believer’s place. He paid the debt left by sin on behalf of the sinner that opts into the program. Just like TRAVEL INSURANCE you cannot expect to be covered if YOU OPTED OUT OF THE COVERAGE.

The man who OPTS OUT of sin coverage of Jesus lives self-centered instead of God-centered – EVEN IF HE IS A GOOD PERSON. The righteous standard is determined by the JUDGE, who has written that man cannot live righteously until he is living godly. Man’s goodness to his neighbor is meant to be a social expression of his redemptive relationship with God. We only really love our neighbor as self when we first have a walk with God and reflect the values God has stated in every other relationship – so says the Creator. Ultimately, GOOD is subservient to RIGHTEOUS. That is why the Bible says that “No one does good!”

Mark includes the detail of the curtain of the Temple to show that the division between God and man was changed at the Cross. Mark 15:38 And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

The Response of Observers:

One final feature of the scene of the Cross in Mark’s Gospel is perhaps the most relevant part of the story to anyone studying the event today – the reactions of people. Why is this more relevant? Because the work of the Cross only POTENTIALLY changed a man’s destination. If they don’t accept the work of Jesus – the work has only one impact on them – it becomes a STANDARD OF CONDEMNATION before God. The check box to OPT OUT becomes the CONDEMNING CHOICE by which your claim to Heaven is denied.

Consider three who appeared to be moving toward the Cross:

The Centurion as a leader of 80 men in the Roman army, and perhaps the highest official on the scene, knew that Jesus was not guilty of subversion, and thought His death was a statement of WHO JESUS IS: Mark 15:39 When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

The women who stood back and watched were shocked into Covert Action. They loved Jesus, but could not understand the plan: Mark 15:40 There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome. 41 When He was in Galilee, they used to follow Him and minister to Him; and there were many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.

The Pharisee Joseph showed Courage, and wanted to honor Jesus by offering his tomb for a proper burial. Mark 15:42 When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. 45 And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where He was laid.

The real question is not whether you RESPECT Jesus, love Jesus’ example, or want to HONOR Jesus through some show of self sacrifice. The real question is whether you will OPT IN to accepting Jesus as the only satisfaction for sin before the justice of God.

If you believe you are too GOOD to be UNRIGHTEOUS – you are confusing the judicial standard, and answering the wrong judgment. The Cross changed everything. At the same time, it offers potential life to those who accept it and eternal death to those who reject it.

He Changes Everything: “The Suicide King” – Mark 15:1-32

Games have a unique and interesting history. Take for example, the playing card. They were apparently invented in Ancient China, where they have been uncovered as early as the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty (618–907).  Playing cards first entered Europe in the late 14th century, probably from Mameluk Egypt (A complete pack of Mameluke playing cards was discovered by Leo Mayer in the Topkapı Palace, Istanbul, in 1939). The first documentary evidence is a ban on their use in 1367, Bern, Switzerland. Wide use of playing cards in Europe can, with some certainty, be traced from 1377 onwards. The earliest cards were made by hand. Printed woodcut decks appeared in the 15th century and from about 1425 professional card makers in Ulm, Nuremberg, and Augsburg created printed decks. Playing cards even competed with devotional images as the most common uses for woodcut in this period.

The four suits now used in most of the world — spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs —originated in France in approximately 1480. Also in the 15th century, Europeans changed the court cards to represent European royalty and attendants. In the early years, French playing-card makers  assigned to each of the “court cards” names taken from history:

  • King of Spades: David (a biblical king)
  • King of Hearts: Charles (presumably after Charlemagne)
  • King of Diamonds: Caesar (presumably after Julius Caesar, dictator of the Roman Republic)
  • King of Clubs: Alexander (king of Macedon)

The king of hearts is oft referred to as the “suicide king” because the figure appears to be sticking his sword into his head. Closer inspection of the cards of antiquity seem to indicate a hand holding it – perhaps someone else stabbed him. His youthful death is attested in that he is the only one of the kings without a moustache.

Today I want to look into the Word and trace a close picture of a King at the point of His death. It can be understood to be a suicide theologically (Jesus gave His life for us), but it certainly was a MURDER in the text. It is the death of the King of Kings, and it is graphically depicted in Mark 15.

Key Principle: Two kinds of people met Jesus at His Cross – the pride-filled powerful and the pain-filled prisoner. One was offered rescue, the other condemned by his hardness. That is ALWAYS how it is with Jesus.

The scene was early in the morning on a Friday, after Jesus had been taken into custody. He had been up most of the night, and badly treated by the Sanhedrin. He was marched from the western Hill, today called “Mt. Zion”, and was brought to the ancient Temple Mount. Mark shares:

Mark 15:1 Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate.

They took Him to the place where Pilate was staying in the city…

2 Pilate questioned Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “It is as you say.” 3 The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly. 4 Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!” 5 But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed.

A little while later, a crowd began to gather before Pilate…

6 Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. 7 The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection. 8 The crowd went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them. 9 Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify Him!” 14 But Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” 15 Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.

Again, Jesus was led away, this time into the lair of a brutal band of discontented soldiers…

16 The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. 17 They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; 18 and they began to acclaim Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. 20 After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. 21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. 22 Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. 23 They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it. 24 And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take. 25 It was the third hour when they crucified Him.

The cross was placed just outside the city as a reminder of “Roman sovereignty”….

26 The inscription of the charge against Him read, “THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 27 They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left. 28 [And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with transgressors.”] 29 Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. 32 “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.

Two kinds of people met Jesus at His Cross – the pride-filled powerful and the pain-filled prisoner. Let’s walk into the scene, and meet them. You won’t have any problem identifying who is in what role MOMENTS into their description. Let’s begin with the POWERFUL.


They stick out, and that is their intention. They dress for attention. They walk with a swagger, and expect you to move out of their way. Some of them take pride in their GOODNESS – that is the religious kind. Some take pride in their easy RECOGNITION – that is the fame oriented political kind. Some take pride in the FEAR they create in others – that is the earthy “raw power” kind you find in bars where soldiers back from the front gather. The scene today provides a look at all three of these:

Religion based Power – Elders and Scribes

Search the passage for all the times the Elders, Chief Priests and Scribes are mentioned and it will look something like this:

They felt POWERFUL:

Mark 15:1 Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate.

The verbs of verse one reveal a sense of power. Note words like “held consultation”, “binding”, “led away” and “delivered”. Jesus appears to be a victim, and they appear to be in control of everything. He is a docile rabbit, and they are the slaughterers. He is unarmed, and they are dominant.

They felt SELF-JUSTIFIED: Mark 15:3 The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly. 4 Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!” 5 But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed.

The men raised accusations. The term “katagoreo” is the word here, a combination of two very well understood words in Greek. “Kata” is a modifying word that usually indicates intensity or direction. Sometimes it is translated “down”, but it is much more. The second part of the word is “agora” the word for the public forum, shopping mall, or public discourse center. In combination, the idea is the loud disputations one could hear in a market place. Read: LOUD, BRASH, HOSTILE, FRUSTRATED. Stand at a “customer service counter” at Christmas and you will get the idea. People complain loudly out of a sense that INJUSTICE has been done to them. They believe they must PRESS the idea to be heard. Someone said about there marriage to me the other day: “My wife was taught in her home that if someone didn’t agree, it must be a hearing problem – they can’t hear you. She learned that if she turned up the volume, you would agree. Often I do – simply because I want the volume back down!”

You can read of their self justified attitude a few verses later:

Mark 15:11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead.

Here are the leaders behind the scenes “agitating” (ana= by; seio=stir) the crowd to get what the leaders want. They are FINE with freeing a murderer and dissident, in exchange for getting rid of One who is much more popular. Their issue isn’t MORALITY or PUBLIC ORDER – their issue is CONTROL – and that is at the center of their works. Some religious people are about controlling others – but in the end all of them are about hoping they can CONTROL GOD and His reaction to their outward devotion.

I suspect that no teaching of the Bible is harder to swallow for people in our day than that of man’s utter depravity. Those words are the theological terms for the utter inability of man to earn God’s favor. That is at the heart of the religions made by men. Biblically, I can do NOTHING that will make myself acceptable to God – no attendance at mass or religious service, no prayer to a saint of yesteryear (no matter how great that saint was in their lifetime). Isaiah 64:6 reminds us that even our RIGHTEOUSNESS – that is, the things we do that we deem GOOD, are as “filthy rags” before God – because they are not what He accepts as our Judge.

Ray Prichard said it this way: “That doctrine teaches us that there is nothing we can contribute to our salvation. We are so lost in our sins that we have no idea how sinful we really are. When we look into our own souls and see ourselves, we see only the sin that lies on the surface, but God sees to the bottom – and what he sees is a foul pit of iniquity. We are so lost that unless God takes the initiative to save us we will never be saved at all.”

They are SELF SATISFIED: The religious powerful find evidence in the world that they are right in what they teach and believe. They are able to SHOUT DOWN the conscience that God placed within them with self made “ends justify means” dogma. Look at the behaviors they had toward the condemned Jesus at the cross: Mark 15:31 “In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. 32 “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.”

Isn’t it sort of obvious if you were standing on the that hill on that particular day, that you would see THEY WON. They got the One who called Himself “The Way” out of their way. The One who was called “The Truth” was listening to the taunts of those who shouted insults and LIES. The One who called Himself  “The Life” – was having His life drained away from Him – at the command of the taunting ones.

Men of religion can seem powerful because they can indicate GOOD WORKS and ACCOMPLISHMENTS they believe justify the way they do things. They can point to beautiful buildings and helpful philanthropy – and argue they had the right to plow under distractions on their way to doing God’s work. Ironically, when God put on skin and walked the earth, He chose to walk with people who were largely uncared for by these religious powerhouses.

Political based Power – Pontius Pilate

Beyond religious people, there was the political backdrop of the passage. Jesus was not only a religious problem, He had become a political liability.

Pilate thought Jesus was STUPID: Mark 15:2 Pilate questioned Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “It is as you say.” 3 The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly. 4 Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!” 5 But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed. To one who supremely prizes POWER, the argument to gain and keep power makes sense. When you are accused, you fire back. You hold your ground, because YOUR OPINION is worth hearing. You believe in yourself, and you ask people to believe in (and vote for) you and the ideas you bring to the table. Silence is a sign of inability to the political mind. Your skillful oratory is your ability to FIGHT – and that is what makes you powerful. There He stood, the Creator of all (Col. 1:16-17), embodied before a puny Prefect. (Wikipedia on the title: “The “Praefectus” was the formal title of many, fairly low to high-ranking, military or civil officials in the Roman Empire, whose authority was not embodied in their person (as it was with elected Magistrates) but conferred by delegation from a higher authority. They did have some authority in their prefecture such as controlling prisons and in civil administration.”) What an irony… Jesus before Pilate. The levels between the two in every way were staggering. Was Pilate more intelligent? He thought so. Was Pilate more important in human history? He thought so. Was Pilate more significant in governing the affairs of men? He thought so.

Both Pilate and Jesus died. One opened salvation to humanity, and saved the world. The other was apparently banished to Gaul and unable to die in his own home, discarded by his emperor and his spouse. In what appears to be the more reliable historical note on what happened to Pilate: Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiae book ii: 7), quotes some early apocryphal accounts that he does not name, which already relate that Pilate fell under misfortunes in the reign of Caligula (AD 37 – 41), was exiled to Gaul and eventually committed suicide there, in Vienne.

Pilate thought Jesus was a CAREER OPPORTUNITY: Mark 15:9 Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy…15 Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.

Pilate knew the charges were not real, they were based on ENVY. He frankly just didn’t CARE. He wanted to keep the people before him from causing a stir. In a way, he was like the parent of the child that is held hostage in the public setting by a child that threatens to SCREAM if the parent tries to curb any desire of the child. He was hoping this would help cement relationships in HIS JOB. Luke adds the detail: “Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.” (Luke 23:12). Pilate no doubt saw the condemnation of Jesus as a great career move toward making important friends.

He thought Jesus was PATHETIC: Both before the Crucifixion and after, Pilate reflected a tiny bit of humanity in his demeanor. He seemed to argue to keep Jesus alive for a time: Mark 15:12 Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify Him!” 14 But Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” After his bigger agenda of keeping the people happy took over and the Crucifixion was completed, he again showed a more human side: Mark 15:43 Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. 45 And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.

I am not trying to make him into a good guy – he clearly was not. At the same time, he and his colleagues had dispensed such “justice” many times in their lives, and he certainly had no clue this day was any different. Jesus was, as far as he was concerned, a pathetic pawn trapped in His own popularity by envious and jealous religious stooges. He should, Pilate thought, be pitied for His misfortune.

Reputation based Power – Roman Soldiers

Beyond the echelons of power reached by public placement – like the priests and prefect – were the simpler but still powerful bearers of the Roman eagle standard… the cohort of Roman soldiers.

They saw Jesus as ENTERTAINMENT: Mark 15:16 The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. 17 They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; 18 and they began to acclaim Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. 20 After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. The chief problem for Roman soldiers was BOREDOM. Those who have served “Uncle Sam” can understand. There is nothing like being transported far from home to a place where most people HATE you and don’t even KNOW you. Respect of such people can only be gained, they thought, by open displays of BRUTE STRENGTH. If they had to be brutal, so be it. At least Jesus offered a distraction from the mind numbing boredom of serving Rome in this backwash of the Empire.

They saw Jesus as a DUTY: Mark 15:21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. 22 Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. The soldiers had no desire to build relationships – just get their job done. When Jesus couldn’t stand up and carry the cross beam of His cross – they found someone else. A Numidian African – a Roman of the Senatorial Province of Cyrene was pressed into service.

They saw Him as a way to GAIN: Mark 15:23 They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it. 24 And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take. Beyond the distraction from boredom that Jesus provided, they could gain a small amount under Roman law, by getting the few meager pieces of cloth and leather that were taken from the condemned. It wasn’t much, but many duties offered no gain at all.


Just a single verse describes the criminals crucified on either side of Jesus in Mark’s account: Mark 15:27 They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Ray Prichard notes: “When Christ died, he didn’t die alone. Two thieves died with him. We often focus on the thief who cried out, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” We know that man was saved because Jesus told him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). But don’t forget there was another man hanging beside Jesus. He cursed and swore and blasphemed the Son of God. He died as he had lived, a wretched sinner, unforgiven. ..The cross that saved the one doomed the other. The cross stands as a silent sentinel proclaiming that you have to come God’s way – or you won’t come at all! The same cross that offends the world and judges the world also saves the world…God has no other plan of salvation – and he doesn’t need one.

Paul acknowledged how our message looked to his world. He said: “But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (I Corinthians 1:23) Our chief Christian symbol is the symbol of an EXECUTION. Today, a contemporary symbol might be a noose, an electric chair, or a small chamber with the machine for a lethal injection. Our message is the OUR LIFE COMES FROM HIS DEATH.

There is, however, a condition. I can KNOW that God accepts ME because of Jesus IF and ONLY IF we accept His Son’s sacrifice in the place of our own goodness, and our own works. 1 John 5:11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Hold up your left hand and let it represent you standing before God with your sins – in an unforgiven and guilty state. Now hold up your right hand and cover it with a cloth or a towel or a handkerchief. Let your right hand represent Jesus Christ and the cloth his perfect righteousness. As long as you (the left hand) stand before God with your sins uncovered, you cannot enter heaven. Now take both hands and clasp them together so that the cloth covers both hands. When God looks down from heaven, what does he see? He doesn’t see your sins because they are covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Now you can enter heaven because God sees you as having the righteousness of his Son. (Prichard)

Two kinds of people met Jesus at His Cross – the pride-filled powerful and the pain-filled prisoner. One was offered rescue, the other condemned by his hardness. That is ALWAYS how it is with Jesus.

He Changes Everything: "The Great Snapshots"- Mark 14, part two

Pete Souza was attributed with saying: “Every great moment deserves a photograph!” and he knows a great moment. He is the Chief Official White House Photographer for President Obama; he is also the Director of the White House photo office. He is on an extended leave of absence from Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication where he is an assistant professor of photojournalism. He has a lot of experience as a “finder of great moments”  because he previously worked as an Official White House Photographer for President Reagan, a freelancer for National Geographic, and as the national photographer for the Chicago Tribune based in their Washington bureau.

The incredibly part of his job is that he is often standing there at the moment great things in America are happening. He has a very special and very technical view of the scene. He is also virtually silent on his feelings about the events he is a witnessing. I wonder what IMPRESSION he could give of some of the key people in government today from HIS PERSPECTIVE. Does Mrs. Obama get involved in policy? Do Vice President Biden and President Obama like really each other? How does the current President stack up (in his estimation) with President Reagan? Is the White House a lot different now? These are just a few of many things I would like to ask him at a lunch. He has certainly seen much!

If great moments deserve attention, probably no one has had a better view than Peter the Disciple, who was (according to the early Christian writers) the source of the accounts in much of the Gospel according to Mark. Mark seems to have a great view of many of the pivotal moments in Jesus’ earth ministry. He wasn’t a photographer, but he did offer short, clear verbal snapshots of the people and places that mean everything to our record of Jesus’ provision of redemption and forgiveness. In fact, Mark offered twelve small snapshots of the last hours before the arrest of Jesus.

In these twelve short snaps, we see can observe kinds of people that surrounded the event, and if we examine it more closely, we will observe the same three kinds are with us to this day. The three kinds of people are: 1) Religious but spiritually dead; 2) Obedient but seemingly unimportant; 3) Disobedient but loudly self righteous.

Key Principle: God uses people who are ready to commit to Him within, and anxious to live His truths without!

There are twelve snapshot scenes in Mark 14, each with one of three kinds of people:

Religious But LOST

The first kind are what I’d call the “Religious but lost” – they are physically in tune, spiritually dead. Last time we spent our study primarily looking at people that fit into this category, so we will only briefly mention them. There are four snapshots that offer examples.

Snapshot One: The Scribes seeking to kill Him (Mark 14:1-2): We saw the pious men in their elegant religious attire, conspiring to kill the Prince of Life. They had the trappings of godly men, but the hearts of ungodly ones! Do you recall: Mark 14:1 “… the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth and kill Him.” Mark carefully showed the men knew what they wanted to do, but fear of the loss of control over the crowd shut them down – at least for the moment. In some ways, it appears they were afraid to lose STANDING in the eyes of the crowd. Remember, we made note that: “When we try to desperately hold on to the position or power that we have, we tip our hand to our real belief – that we EARNED the place we have.”

Snapshot Two: Judas, offering help to plotters (Mark 14:10-11): Our eyes drifted to the man under the cloak that was skirting the light on the edges of a dark forest. He had been in the meeting with Jesus, but heard the most painful thing Jesus ever shared about an individual. Do you recall? Jesus said of him: “It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” (Mark 14:21). Judas went out broken, but Jesus didn’t say this until Judas had already promised to TRAP JESUS. God didn’t bring judgment on him until he decided he didn’t want Jesus. That is STILL the way it works.

Snapshot Three: Judas and his Temple mob (Mark 14:43-50). The next snapshot of him was in the Garden of Gethsemane kissing Jesus and betraying Him (Mark 14:42-46). Do you recall what we learned about the POWER trap Judas was in? He was disappointed because Jesus didn’t measure up to his lofty expectations…When we try to hold God to our standard, we forget who He really is, and who we really are. Certainly Judas was guilty of that… and some of us are as well.

Snapshot Four: Jesus in questionings (Mark 14:53-65). We didn’t get to this one last time…but we should not miss this snapshot. Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, and was led back across the Kidron Valley onto the upper hill to the west, a hill today called “modern Mt. Zion”. The hill offers a bird’s eye view of the most ancient part of Jerusalem, and follows the line of a stair like street that has been archaeologically uncovered in the twentieth century from the Pool of Siloam westward. Go up the steps with me as we read:

Mark 14:53 “They led Jesus away to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes gathered together. 54 Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any. 56 For many were giving false testimony against Him, but their testimony was not consistent. 57 Some stood up and began to give false testimony against Him, saying, 58 “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’” 59 Not even in this respect was their testimony consistent. 60 The high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” 61 But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.” 63 Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 “You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. 65 Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers received Him with slaps in the face.

By now, it should be an easy journey to see between LIES and FLAGRANT MISTREATMENT of God. Don’t just see these men and check them off the list of people who were wrong! Ask yourself this question: “How could they behave like this?” Then ask a more important question: “Could that be ME?” “No!” You object. I would not have treated Jesus with such disrespect! Really?

Look at the short distance between lies and a cool disregard for God and His Word. Look at it carefully. We keep hearing that God wants us to give our hearts to Him. One day we decide that God doesn’t really have the right to a surrendered heart. He doesn’t really deserve my life, or my deliberate obedience. We swallow a LIE that we can run our own lives well enough. We postpone obedience and say, “God, someday I will think about really following You, but today I am too busy!” On and on it goes, and our hardness allows us to flagrantly mistreat God inside. Maybe your best friend or your spouse doesn’t see it, but YOU DO. You are NOT GOD’S PROPERTY. You may be religious, but you are not in a relationship with Jesus.

Is that really different than slapping Him in the face? Imagine the feeling of the soldier that returned after serving his country with distinction, only to be spat upon by someone in the airport and called “baby killer”! This is the feeling the rebellious, self willed believer evokes in the heart of a Father who has sent His Son to die when we decide to walk away on our own. A short distance from that hardness and we begin to become cynical about His Word. “Prophesy!” We yell, as we demand that God jump through our hoops because our self willed life isn’t working as well as we had planned…Those men BEGAN as followers of God, hoping to make a difference. By accepting lies and promoting SELF, they displaced a holy ambition and began to rail against the God they had earlier hoped to serve.

Let me very clear here. This first set of snapshots (above) were people who had decided to live for themselves and not for God – because they don’t know God. They may have had a tender moment that sparked a religious sentiment at one time earlier, but it was not a true and real surrender based relationship. They began RELIGIOUS life, but did not walk in RELATIONSHIP with God. God knows the difference. There are two kinds of people in this world – those who KNOW God personally and have a relationship, and those who DON’T but need to. The people we have seen, for the most part, were a part of the DON’T group.

Let’s switch gears to the ones who KNOW God. There are two kinds – those who are walking with God, and those who aren’t – but know they should be….and it is entirely up to them to choose which they will be. Let’s look quickly at both:

Obedient but EASILY MISSED

First, we see the “Obedient but seemingly unimportant” – lot of believers that seem more like set props – until you recognize that their surrender and obedience made a real difference in the way God told His story!

Snapshot One: Mary and the anointing (Mark 14:3, 6-9): This little snapshot is found in the earliest part of the chapter. We skipped over a woman (John 12 suggests it was Mary of Magdala) who was sacrificing to Jesus by pouring an expensive and cherished ointment on His feet, to allow her story to linger in our hearts as the final part of the teaching from Mark 14. Look briefly at her story: Mark 14:3 While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. Jesus was pleased with the sacrifice of a woman who FELT SMALL, but gave what she had to be used for His purposes! She BROKE the vase of what she had to offer, and gave every drop to His use. There can be no more complete snapshot of surrender. She is in this story what the woman with the last coin of her home was in the earlier study – one who gave all. I want to say more about how Jesus reacted to her, but let’s pick up the other snapshots that fit into this section first.

Snapshot Two: Peter and John preparing Passover (Mark 14:12-16):  Another quick look, and we see two disciples responding to Jesus’ command to go set up a room. At first glance it doesn’t look that essential, but in restrospect, the setting would become one of the most important of any – with one third of the Gospel of John recalling the events of that evening, and many coming from inside that very prepared room!  Mark 14:13 And He sent two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’  Not to beat the point, but let’s quickly recall that obedience creates a platform for God’s work to grow and expand. What God calls a man or woman to do may seem insignificant to them at the time– but that is only because we don’t know the whole plan!

Snapshot Three: The man with the water pot (Mark 14:13): When we read Mark 14:13 above we found a matching story in the account of the room preparation  — another obedient man, who only gets the stage mention of “man with water pot”. We don’t know his name, or his family. We don’t know how God communicated to him to be there at the Siloam Pool at that specific time – we only know that he was there, and that the man was working in concert with the plan of God. Do you think the enemy didn’t work a bit to slow down that guy? Is it possible that he was fighting to be obedient in that hour to do what God called him to do. His most important moment in life may well have been this one – and I am willing to wager that it was not convenient, and that it felt hard to do – because I know the adversary of Jesus.

Snapshot Four: The owner of the upper room (Mark 14:14-16): Barely a “blip” on the radar screen of history, this man knew what Jesus wanted, and had it furnished and ready. The Gospel offers only this: Mark 14:14 “and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ 15“And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare for us there.” 16The disciples went out and came to the city, and found it just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover.” I am certain the man had no idea how important his obedience was to Jesus’ plan – believers HARDLY EVER see that.

Each of these snapshots are obedient people that could almost be skipped in the passage. They are almost wall flowers – but God used their obedience dramatically. They offer us critical truths that we should not ignore or glance over…Go back to Mark 14:4 and look at the woman with the ointment. In that aromatic room you will see God’s truths:

Mark 14:4 But some were indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted? 5 “For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they were scolding her.6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. 7 “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. 8 “She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. 9 “Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.

First, there is a truth that is expressed in the Bible many times – even those one the team don’t always get what you are doing when you surrender and sacrifice at God’s command. Some well meaning believers were SCOLDING her, when she was being supremely obedient to the call of Christ. Truth: Measure life by God’s approval, not everyone else’s. They don’t always get it right.

Second, note that Jesus rebuffed those who criticized her action for their own cloaked motives and self righteousness, protecting her with His words. “Let her alone” (6a). Truth: Let God be your defense when you know you are walking in surrender to Him. Self justification isn’t necessary – God is big enough to protect you while you work out His call on your life.

Third, Jesus noted that her sacrifice was “a good deed” to His standard (6b)! Judas complained because it looked like a waste. Even some believing Disciples joined the chorus of complaints. Truth, nothing given to Jesus in surrender is a waste. Your boss may simply shake his head when you leave a lucrative position to go work in the third world – but nothing truly given in response to God’s call is a waste – no matter who believes it is.

Fourth, Jesus identified her insights and priorities as the CORRECT ones (14:7). Jesus alone is the judge. Truth: the court of public opinion is often at odds with the court of ETERNITY. Don’t get caught deeming something ok because of the popular sentiment. It is only RIGHT if Jesus says it is right.

Fifth, Jesus again showed the size of the sacrifice was the true gauge of her heart (14:8a). You can see this in every one of the four snapshots. The individual acts of our life may seem utterly tiny against the backdrop of history. Truth, obedience – like disobedience  – has enormous consequence.

Sixth, Jesus carefully identified that her work fit with God’s plan (14:8b). Truth: our best moment is the one we are doing to advance God’s plan – no matter what it looks like at that moment. You share Christ with a neighbor who seems to pay little heed to your words, but you do not know that a year later in a coma, that testimony is the one they recall before meeting Jesus. When you get to Heaven, you’ll realize the importance of that day – not today.

Seventh, Jesus promised that her act would be ever recalled by followers of Jesus in times to come (14:9). Truth: Nothing given in sacrifice to Jesus is forgotten by Him. More people see what you sacrifice than you know. Angels are watching the children of God! Other young believers are watching the children of God.

Mary came to Jesus out of a broken heart and a failed life. His words set her free. His love unlocked the deep pain of her heart, and empowered her to serve by surrender and sacrifice. She understood the meekness Jesus called for – because her only hope of eternal life was found in His grace. She saw no goodness in herself. She had little, but she was unwilling to keep any of it for herself! When we recognize our own deep sinfulness, we are ready to thankfully surrender to the One who gave all for us! This is the SURRENDER KEY– the key that opens us to be used of God for powerful tasks that last for the ages to come! The SURRENDER KEY allows Jesus access to all that we have, and all that we hope to accomplish. It is the gift God most wants. It smells of perfume, but is really not about the physical world – it is a spiritually open heart.

It seems like we could end our study there, but we would miss the third group that needs little more than a mention to be totally understood. They are the believers that have decided to walk without obedience to God.

Disobedient but NOISY

Last, we see the “Disobedient but loudly self righteous”  – a bunch ready to preach truth to the lost world, but not ready to live truth when it comes to their own choices.

  • Snapshot One: The disciples in the upper room with Jesus (Mk. 14:17-26): Can’t you hear them shouting to Jesus: “Surely it is not I that will betray You!”
  • Snapshot Two: The sleepy disciples at Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42): Can’t you hear the snoring in the midst of the prayer meeting Jesus called in the minutes before His arrest?
  • Snapshot Three: Peter declaring allegiance to Jesus (Mark 14:27-31; 66-72): You surely grasp the whole scene of Peter making grand gestures that he would DIE before DENY! Yeah, right.
  • Snapshot Four: The young man who ran away uncovered (Mark 14:51-52): John Mark (traditionally) is so desperate to stand until death with his Lord, he fled into the night immodestly.

Can you see the connection of these snapshots? Believers that decide to go at the walk with God in their strength “doth protest too much” but live to little. In the end, God uses people who are ready to commit to Him within, and anxious to live His truths without!

He Changes Everything: “Prophetic Room with a View”- Mark 13

Because I get around a good bit in travel, I often am sitting in places where travelers gripe about the things that go wrong on trips. There is the usual fare of “This airline is never on time!” or “I can’t believe the poor service I got in the restaurant last night!” Occasionally, the complaints slip over to hotel rooms. One of the most common complaints with luxury travelers arises when they book an expensive room in a hotel at some exotic destination, and are deeply disappointed with their view of a trash dumpster instead of the beautiful surroundings! They understandably feel robbed! Even though little time is spent in the room during the day, the inspiring views of the morning sunrise can enliven the whole day’s itinerary!

Imagine being with Jesus during the last week of His ministry. We cannot know how disappointed He was at the response – not only of the Jewish leadership in the Temple – but even of His own Disciples. He had to shake His holy head at least a few times and wonder if the boys were ever going to understand what He was doing. Because He knew the hearts of men (as John reminded), I am quite sure He concluded that the only hope was the indwelling of God’s Spirit to get our hard hearts and equally stubborn spirits to yield and understand. Our text today seems to present one of the most enduring problems Jesus had with the Disciples. They could SEE with their physical eyes, but their SPIRITUAL SIGHT was quite limited. They could measure buildings, budgets and bodies in the physical world, but seemed unable to recognize that wasn’t a gauge of obedience and surrender.

Let me put it this way: When believers measure success or impact in ministry by “buildings, budgets and bodies” they miss what God is really all about – spiritually surrendered hearts that show up in mundane daily choices made in holy ways. The same can be said of how God views rewards. When believers have eyes set on the rewards of the physical world and not on God’s way of seeing reward, we may feel disappointed when we see the truth. The problem isn’t that God won’t take care of us – it is that we focus on the wrong part of the coming events in prophetic rewards. God has rewards planned for those who surrender their heart to Him – but the rewards are set in the context of God telling His story – not just affirming us and making us feel good.

Key Principle: Jesus changes the way I view impact, success and reward. Sometimes what the world will call LOSS is actually a spiritual GAIN.

The Problem: Two Examples of the “Wrong View” (Mark 12:41-13:2)

There is a logic behind placing the story of the widow’s mite just ahead of the celebration of the Temple – both focused on the wrong view. Both emphasized the physical and outward appearances of worship, but missed the spiritual realities behind those appearances. Very often the view that we see is not the one we anticipated. We don’t see things the way they are, and we aren’t quick to notice that we don’t see the way things really are!

Look carefully at the two settings in these familiar stories:

Example One: “The poor woman with the coin” (Mark 12:41-44):

Mark 12: 41 And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

Note that Jesus was sitting where it was possible to watch people offer their tithes in the Women’s Court of the Temple (12:41). Jesus began watching HOW MUCH people were giving (12:41b). Along came a “poor widow”, the words likely denoting a woman without a male heir – the Hebrew equivalent for DESTITUTE with the implication of HOPELESSNESS (though this woman was still worshipping and looking forward). Jesus was clear that the woman gave “All that she had to live on.” (12:44). What an act of deep passion. It was not a slight thing – it was a powerful pouring out of the last cent to God. This was a “Hagar moment”, where she was placing the baby to die, giving to God all that she had to give (Genesis 21:15). This was a “woman of Zarephath” story – collecting her sticks to make a fire for a final meal (1 Kings 17:12). This was a powerful story of deep surrender, barely noticed by the rulers of the Temple, overlooked by the Disciples of Jesus – and focused on by God in human skin. God saw it. He recognized the surrendered heart – it cried out to worship and trust Him against all human odds.

The unnamed widow wasn’t like me today. I gave to the Lord in my regular giving – but I kept MOST of what I was given by God to fill my daily requirements. He got SOME, but I got MOST. Look at her offering – He GOT IT ALL! Can you imagine giving the last of your checking, the last of your savings, the last of your retirement, the last of your stocks and bonds, the last of your IRA… ALL of it? Here is a truth I want you to really think about… All of it IS HIS, and all of it MUST BE GIVEN – even if He decides to let us use it in this life. If it is NOT HIS, than I have no right to say that He is my Lord. He is NOT.

What does GIVING ALL look like in contemporary Christian practice? Do I sell all and give it away, living as a pauper? Maybe, but not likely. What it truly means is that you begin to allow the Spirit of God to answer the question, “Lord, since this is all yours, how can I best use these things to honor You?” The Spirit does not remain silent when a surrendered heart asks such a question. Don’t do it if you don’t want the answer – because God will meet those who say they want to meet Him. God will answer with clarity as you grow in faith (i.e. seeing the world as God says it is in His Word.)

Conversely, the Temple authorities were no doubt more impressed by the people of means. Even the Disciples probably barely noticed her until Jesus pointed out that the AMOUNT GIVEN was less significant than the AMOUNT SACRIFICED. Who says God doesn’t keep track? God is much less impressed with the amount that we give, than He is with the amount we keep for ourselves – that makes an impression on Him. Now look at the way this story links to the next…

Example Two: The disciples impressed with the Temple buildings (Mark 13:1-2):

Mark 13:1 As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

Look at how excited the Disciples were with the PHYSICAL example of THEIR OWN WORK and sacrifice. They were truly impressed with the human expression of love for God so eloquently offered by the work of a generation of Jews at the Second Temple. The pride exuded from their mouths fell flat in front of the Master. He saw an end to the glory of the Temple. He saw a coming day of destruction and it made Him sad. The same view that made the Disciple excited made the Savior sad – and therein is a significant lesson. We don’t see things the way God does much of the time. Years of sacrifice to build a great edifice was not the impressive thing to God. Offering all of what a poor woman had to live on was. God was on a different page than His followers.

When you step back and look at both of these stories – the woman at the treasury and the proud pilgrim disciples – it isn’t hard to see that men see things differently than God does. We get excited about BIGGER gifts – but God gets excited about more SACRIFICIAL gifts. We get excited by MONUMENTS to our God. He gets more excited about SURRENDERED HEARTS.

The Correction: Resetting the Focus (13:3-37)

When our crew is out shooting video, there is a need to constantly check both white balance and focus. If these are not corrected, the final product will either be unfocused (inaccurate) or off colored (shaded and jaded). Jesus knew that if He did not offer corrective refocus to the Disciples, they would be off focus and not recognize how God was going to move ahead in the coming days with the children of Israel.

Jesus was the consummate teacher. He just kept teaching and correcting, patiently explaining “Surrender 101” to the elite corps of future leaders – even when it seemed hopeless. How patient He was with them! He could at least in some small way, take solace that the coming of the Spirit into His followers would sort out the jumble that held their confused minds. He reset the truth in the story by correcting the view. Things for the Jewish people were about to change dramatically. A judicial blindness was about to fall on them. They were about to be spiritually spanked for a time, pass through a horrendous time, and eventually enjoy a national redemption (that is still on the way).

The Question: (Mark 13:3-4)

Mark 13:3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?

Privately, John and Andrew sat beside the Master and wanted to know the answer to a question that was on the minds of Jewish people through the ages – “WHEN will the Jewish people gain the promises God has made to her?” This isn’t the only time the question came up. After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared on the same mountain to the Disciples in Acts 1, and the question was phrased this way: (Acts 1:6) “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

There was no question that the disciples thought anything other than the idea that God was not done with Israel, and that God WOULD LITERALLY FULFILL His promises to Israel at some point. They just wanted to know how long the wait was going to take. Paul spent considerable time addressing that same question in Romans 9-11. It was a central issue on the minds of Jewish believers of the early church. Those who argue that “the sons of Abraham by faith” are now a replacement for the “physical sons of Israel by Abraham’s loins” are not in sync with what the Disciples knew to be true – even after the Resurrection.

Note they asked two questions: WHEN and BY WHAT SIGN they will be exposed. The Disciples wanted to know more than a time line, they wanted a description of events. Jesus obliged and gave them a description of a future, in the context of the Jewish people.

The Description: (Mark 13:5-32)

Mark 13:5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 6 “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.

Jewish witnesses:

One of the difficulties of this passage is the simple word “YOU”. Is Jesus speaking to the Disciples as His followers, or as Jews? Replacement theologians (those who think God is DONE with genetic Israel and has replaced her with “spiritual Israel” after she “rejected her Messiah”) would argue that Jesus was warning believers of end times event. A careful look at Mark doesn’t really offer the necessary pieces to make a conclusion.

Fortunately, Matthew included more detail to this sermon, and offered this note in Matthew 24:15 “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. …20 “But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.” Both Matthew and Mark speak of Daniel’s prophetic announcement of the Abomination of Desolation, and we could show that the whole latter section of Daniel was written to explain to Daniel “what will be for YOUR PEOPLE” and “YOUR CITY” (Daniel 9:24-27), but that isn’t perhaps as clear as the simple statement, “..pray your flight is not on Sabbath.” – which seems to clearly indicate that Jesus was speaking to the men as JEWS.

Who will be tempted to defect:

Where did Jesus begin in his answer to the SIGNS they should watch out for? He started with concern that Jews would be MISLEAD by many other spiritual sounding promises. He warned them repeatedly (cp. Mk. 13:21-22) to be careful about following false redeemers and messiahs instead of staying on course when they found Him. Follow the description Jesus gave:

Mark 13:7 “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. 8 “For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

Jesus opened the subject of FEAR based on NEWS COVERAGE. They would HEAR ABOUT wars and the possibility of coming conflict. He moved from the coverage, to the actual description of real CONFLICTS. The first ones appear to be ETHNIC STRIFE related – as He said “nations” would rise against “nations – the term “ethnos” can refer to ethnic identities in the classical sense of nation. He then moved to a form of the word “basilea” – a “king” to denote strife between legal national entities. Jesus said Jews would HEAR of trouble, then see ETHNIC strife, and then NATIONAL BATTLES.

Mark 13:9 “But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. 10 “The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 “When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. 12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

At a specific time in the future:

If the message Jesus was offering was to Jewish people, how could it be that THEY became witnesses to Jesus and were hated because of that message? How could that fit the secular and largely agnostic Jewish society that we see today? How could Orthodox Jews, fervent in their faith but resolutely against any discussion about Jesus, end up as witnesses to Him? The TIMING of this event seems to be the key to understanding what Jesus was saying. Bear in mind, we are studying this in the context of Daniel’s prophecy, and Daniel was clear that God spoke concerning Jerusalem, the Jewish people and THEIR COLLECTIVE future. The timing of these events are set in Daniel 9. We cannot avoid it because the verses recall Daniel’s words:

Daniel 9:24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.

Daniel was told that the prophecy he was being given would end all other prophecy, and settle the account of sin for Israel, once and for all. It was clearly to Jews and referred to both Jerusalem and the Temple – any other reading strains the text. Keep reading:

Daniel 9:25 “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 “Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.

No literal reading of the text can miss the fact that Daniel was offered the truth that Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and that would “start the clock” on the coming of Messiah. That coming would bring the Messiah’s DOWNFALL – He would be “cut off”. That “cut off” was linked in time to Jerusalem’s destruction. That destruction was linked to pain, suffering and desolation of the Jewish people and Jerusalem. Keep reading:

Daniel 9:27 “And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

A “prince to come” is the “he” of verse 27 according to grammatical rules of the antecedent, and Daniel was informed that some future deceptive and temporary prince was coming that would give a respite to Jews for a time, then cause the Temple sacrifices to cease and will offer some open abomination to the Temple precincts – as he attempts to decimate Jewry yet again.

For the sake of time, let’s identify this period based on previous studies we have made in the Word. In 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5, we have previously studied an event that has been popularly named “The Rapture”. The text simply offers that at a time chosen by God, the believers of this time (we call them the church) will be “snatched away” by Jesus when He comes in the clouds – not to the earth – but to call His betrothed to her wedding. We noted that when this event takes place, God will turn His eyes back to His estranged wife, put away for a time to bring the spiritual “harvest of Gentiles” to completion (Luke 21:24; Romans 11:25-26). The times of Tribulation are well documented in Revelation 6-19, and we have studied them in detail, and will begin doing so again in the coming days this winter, Lord willing (stay tuned). The point is this: when the church is removed for her BEMA judgment (another subject we have discussed in 1 and 2 Corinthians) and her wedding feast, God will mark JEWISH PEOPLE that will know Jesus as Savior to share that message with the earth (see Rev. 7 and Rev. 14).  Listen to the description of these witnesses as John offers it in Revelation:

Marked for witness to the lost world in the Tribulation:

Revelation 7:4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 5 from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6 from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7 from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.

I simply mention this passage to show that those who believe God is done with Israel are forced to spiritualize even the clearest references to all things JEWISH: note “Israel” and the names of many sons. Revelation 14 offered a further description:

Revelation 14:1 “Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. … 3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. 4 … These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.”

For those not sure it was an actual and specific time, note the character of Jesus’ words:

Mark 13:19 “For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. 20 “Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days.

What we can see from our study is simply this: The signs that Jesus gave to the Jewish men who were His Disciples – Peter, James and John – were clear. A group of Jewish men and women in some generation would be placed into a time of INTENSE persecution – worse than any previous event on earth. They would possess the belief in Messiah and be given a very special and intimate relationship with God during the earth’s darkest days. They would see the pummeling of the earth of a Tribulation Period, and would experience His protection for the first half of that time. They would be tempted to follow other voices, but God will use them to reach out to His estranged wife when the days of Gentile salvation were completed. Some would be martyred in their faith. Others would endure to the end, believing in the coming of the Son to save them. When He breaks through the clouds, they will see Him, and be saved.

The terror of the Tribulation will APPEAR to be Christ’s message overturned. It will appear as though Jews will be annihilated. It will appear as though the message of the witnesses is false. The Temple will be restored, but then overturned and defiled – and the nations will see it as just another false religion and hopeless God. THEY WILL BE WRONG because they have a physical view of the spiritual world – and it cannot be clearly seen in that way!

The Command: (Mark 13:33-37)

Mark 13:33 “Take heed, keep on the alert; … 35 “Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, .. 37 “What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’”

Jesus called on the men to shout down through the ages – stay alert! Don’t give in! Don’t look at life by the physical appearances. Don’t judge the truth with physical eyes! My message is TRUE in the darkest hour. I will prevail. I will not leave My people – no matter how forsaken they feel or how rebellious they have become. See it the way I say it will be! Jesus changes the way I view impact, success and reward. Sometimes what the world will call LOSS is actually a spiritual GAIN.

He Changes Everything: “Word Games” – Mark 12

A few years ago, a new museum at the Natzweiler Memorial Site in the Alsace region of France was dedicated to the heroes of the French resistance for their valiant efforts to defeat the Nazis and liberate Europe. By the time of the Allied invasion of Europe in the Summer of 1944, there were perhaps nine resistance networks fighting as guerrillas armies against the German occupation of France. Crucial to the effort was the radio. Broadcasts, including those sent by Charles de Gaulle from the BBC in England, offered CODES that informed and aided the guerillas. The codes were painstakingly developed and spread, changing regularly to keep the German occupiers and Vichy sympathizers off balance. The words often made little sense in the broadcast, but they communicated clearly to those who had the code. Funny as it sounds, not everyone wanted to hear the words of the liberators when they were under occupation. Some preferred the darker forces of occupation – afraid to lose the benefits they illegally obtained through offering favors to dark agents.


Did you ever have a conversation with someone that seemed to speak in code? I am not talking about the “secret spy ring and decoder set” that we got from a Crackerjack box in our childhood; I am referring to the person who constantly has a subtext to everything they are saying. It is frustrating to many of us when we are working with people who use language to communicate filth below an innocent conversation – but the fact is that we all live with CODE everyday. The web operates on a code. Television signals and radio signals are translated code. Our very bodies are reproduced DNA code material on display. Today, we understand as those in occupied France long ago, that code is essential. Words matter. Communication is the necessary forerunner of transformation. Fortunately, God is a communicator. He wants to share Himself with us – His Word says so. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to hear God’s Word – or respond as we should.

Here is a day from the life of Jesus that serves to illustrate that principle. Our story picked up on the visit to the Temple from our last study in Mark 11:27-33. That passage reminded us that Jesus “was walking in the temple” when “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him” (11:27). They challenged Jesus’ authority to have cleared the tables earlier in the week (11:28) and were embarrassed when Jesus forced them into an impossible situation with a question about John the Baptizer (Mark 11:29-33).  Jesus  confounded them, and then refused to help them with an answer to their query.

Some are Antagonized by His Word (12:1-12)

As He continued, Jesus told a story to the crowd about the guilt of men who lead the nation of Israel (12:1-12). The chief priests, scribes and elders were still before Him, though they were no doubt upset that He publicly embarrassed them. Jesus’ words must have seemed like taunting to them! He said:

Mark 12:1 And He began to speak to them in parables: “A man PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT, AND DUG A VAT UNDER THE WINE PRESS AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. 2 “At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers. 3 “They took him, and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 “Again he sent them another slave, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. 5 “And he sent another, and that one they killed; and so with many others, beating some and killing others. 6 “He had one more to send, a beloved son; he sent him last of all to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 “But those vine-growers said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!’ 8 “They took him, and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others. 10 “Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; 11 THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?

Look more closely at what Jesus told the Temple crowd:

Ownership established: First, the owner of the vineyard did a work to responsibly build a property. He planted vines, erected terraces, and built a wine press and watchtower. He owned the property and developed it, so it was now possible to rent it out (Gr. exedeto: out, to let) and leave it in the hands of other men while he attended to other business (12:1). Surely the Elders would have recalled the words of Jeremiah concerning the Temple:

Jeremiah 12:7 God says: “I have forsaken My house,  I have abandoned My inheritance;  I have given the beloved of My soul  Into the hand of her enemies….10 “Many shepherds have ruined My vineyard,  They have trampled down My field;  They have made My pleasant field a desolate wilderness.” The words of Jesus in the Temple stung – but the point was clear: God did much to separate, cultivate and plan for the people of Israel – and they had not become what He intended.

Payment refused: The payment for the use of the vineyard was to be paid by allowing the owner benefits from the harvest (12:2), but the renters refused the rights of the owner (12:3), even becoming violent toward the servants of the owner, sent to collect the goods for payment (12:3b-5). Soon the son of the owner was sent and they reasoned among themselves that killing the son and dumping his body would free them to take the land for themselves (12:6-8). The renters wanted the benefits of another’s property, but didn’t want to offer just payment! Jesus was, no doubt, letting the men knew that He was aware of their desire to eliminate Him – an uncomfortable admission. The very next verse reveals: 12 And they were seeking to seize Him, and yet they feared the people, for they understood that He spoke the parable against them. And so they left Him and went away.

Judgment Initiated: The focus of the story is found in 12:9 in the phrase: “What will the owner of the vineyard do?” The primary point Jesus was making in the story was about the OWNER’S REACTION to their trickery and insubordinate behavior. The judgment that Jesus promised was three-fold: He was going to COME, He was going to DESTROY the wicked rebellious and he would REPLACE them with other workers (12:9) – a later group of elders of the Jewish people that would be prepared to bow their stubborn neck. Zechariah promises that one day (Zechariah 12:10) “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” John later identified that one other than Jesus Himself at the time and place of His piercing (in John 19:37).

Essentially, their ANTAGONISM over the Words opened the door for an indictment on four specific infractions: squandering God’s gifts to them,  rejecting messengers instead of following His directions, violence against the messengers of their land owner, and finally murder of the owner’s son. They squandered God’s special provision given to His people – and squandering always leads to something bad. Judgment comes when we squander God’s gifts. We dare not forget that what God gives, He desires accounted. Time, talent and treasure all His to give, and our to use well.

Some people really are ANTAGONIZED by the Word of God…

Boy Suspended for Bringing Bible To School Files Suit

March 31, 2011 by Jonathon M. Seidl

A San Diego-area teen suspended for bringing his Bible to school and talking about his faith has filed a lawsuit against the school district, the superintendent, an assistant principal, and a teacher. In January 2010, 16-year-old Kenneth Dominguez was suspended for two days from Gateway East High School for violating a teacher’s order not to bring his Bible to school and not to discuss his faith with others. Dominguez’s Bible was even confiscated by that teacher, who said Dominguez’s actions violated “separation of church and state:” “He didn’t give any sermons or yell or scream… just sharing his faith with other students. That was it,” Brad Dacus, Dominguez’s attorney, told KGTV, adding that we don’t live in communist China. Even the ACLU is calling the case a “clear” free-speech violation….”

Lawsuit claims students not allowed to carry Bibles

23 May 2000 by Harvey Rice (for the Houston Chronicle)

WILLIS – “School officials were silent Tuesday about a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of three pupils, accusing the Willis school district of refusing to allow children to carry or read the Bible. The lawsuit, filed in Houston, alleges that a teacher at Lynn Lucas Middle School pulled two sisters from class after discovering that they were carrying Bibles and threatened to have them picked up by child-welfare authorities. Another teacher told a pupil he was not allowed to read the Bible during free reading time and forced him to put it away, the lawsuit alleges. The boy also was required to remove a Ten Commandments book cover from another book, the lawsuit states. School district officials did not respond to requests for comment. Mathew Staver, a lawyer whose Liberty Counsel legal defense organization filed the lawsuit Friday on behalf of the three pupils and their parents, said the district was served with the lawsuit Monday. Liberty Counsel is based in Orlando, Fla….”

My point is not to validate either case, I don’t have the facts sufficient to do so. What I do know is this: The Bible is becoming more and more offensive. Not everyone is open to seeing the “Good Book” as all that Good anymore. Some people are ANTAGONIZED by the Word – it that makes them agitated.

Some People are Surprised by His Word (Mark 12:13-17)

The Pharisees and “Herodians”, in a forced alliance from the council, were called on to launch into Jesus. They already decided He wasn’t healthy for Israel, because they came with a trap already set. They brought a question carefully devised to discredit or imperil Jesus before the Romans and the crowds.

Mark 12:13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement. 14 They came and said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? 15 “Shall we pay or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.” 16 They brought one. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” 17 And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him.

Jesus was presented with a taxation question. Look at the men’s approach to Jesus: We know you are truthful. We know you “defer” to no one – an impartial teacher. We know you teach the way of God in truth. REALLY? Was that truly their belief? Not at all. People who plant a snare with their heart, set the trap with lying and flattering lips. They betray their guilt by feeling the need to hide behind false compliments. Beware of those who tell you how good you are before they ask you a question!

Jesus was asked about the “poll-tax” (Gr. knsos, a word from which we get CENSUS) was literally, ‘the current coin of tribute,’ which was paid strictly in Roman currency – never local minted money (12:14). Look at His reply! “Why are you TESTING Me?” The crowd smiled as Jesus spoke out what everyone but the dullards in the crowd had already figured out. “Looking for trouble boys? You are going to need to be a bit more slick than that!

Now watch Jesus untangle their twisted hearts with a simple statement. “Whose coin is it? If you look at the image, you will know who owns it!” They saw Tiberius Caesar’s face and knew that Jesus was not telling them to withhold the tax. At the same time, the end of His answer was much more powerful and troubling! What belongs to God? What bears HIS image? If you think for a moment, it will become clearer…Man does….We do! WE belong to God. If we give ourselves to Him, the coins don’t become such a big problem. Rome’s power fades when our love for God eclipses our love for the coin.

During President Clinton’s run for the White House, a staffer hung the declaration of a statement that characterized the campaign. The motto: “It’s the economy STUPID!” Perhaps the church should put a saying on our wall….” It’s the Lord STUPID….but that would not sound nice!

Some of us are like the two men that decided to split everything three ways, giving the Lord His due. They drew a circle on the ground. They decided that whatever fell inside the circle would belong to one of them. Whatever fell outside the circle would belong to the other of them. Whatever stayed up in the air and did not land was God’s

Look at the end of the passage in Mark 12:17. It closes with “And they were amazed at Him.” The term AMAZED (exothumadzo was from thaúma, “a wonder, marvel”) – they were literally “outwardly dumbstruck”.  The passage doesn’t say the CROWD was dumbstruck. The context argues the questioners were! Some people are AMAZED at the Word – but that doesn’t make them believers.

Some People are Mistaken about His Word (Mark 12:18-27)

Now off the bench come the Sadducees, attempting to divide the audience by posing a complicated sounding question to see if they could get Jesus to lose popular support.

Mark 12:18 Some Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection) came to Jesus, and began questioning Him, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that IF A MAN’S BROTHER DIES and leaves behind a wife AND LEAVES NO CHILD, HIS BROTHER SHOULD MARRY THE WIFE AND RAISE UP CHILDREN TO HIS BROTHER. 20 “There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, and died leaving no children. 21 “The second one married her, and died leaving behind no children; and the third likewise; 22 and so all seven left no children. Last of all the woman died also. 23 “In the resurrection, when they rise again, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.” 24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 “But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, and the God of Jacob’? 27 “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.”

Pastor Clark Tanner wrote: “Faulty religion is a strong prison and a deceptive one. The walls are invisible making them feel they are free but they are blind and deaf and ignorant and unable even to ask the right questions. — I was once part of a church that seemed to have a great deal of good going for it. It was founded about 10 years before I came there, by a group of men who had all attended the same prestigious Baptist seminary but wanted to start an independent church. They were sincere and dedicated men, but early in their association they had decided on a certain point of doctrine that was based on a skewed understanding of one passage of scripture, and it became a main point of focus for them … I do not know how many others were hurt by this stubborn exclusivity among this church’s leaders but I do know that much potential for service and glory to God was lost to that assembly as a result.” (sermon central illustrations). I especially noted the part where he said “it became a main point of focus for them.” That was true of the Sadducean party for sure.

Don’t leave the story until you note that Jesus’ argument was based on the accuracy of the Word of the Torah. The seed God spread on Israel’s ground was not the problem – the soil was the problem (cp. Mt. 13). Jesus simply told them “YOU ARE MISTAKEN!” Some people are MISTAKE about the Word – and their confusion keeps them from the truth.

Some People Reaching out toward His Word (Mark 12:28-32)

Mark 12:28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; 30AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ 31 “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; 33 AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.

The most promising story of the whole chapter is the one about the scribe above. This man was CLOSE to understanding the Word as God intended it. The man answered correctly, and intelligent and accurate answer. I always find it funny when we sound smart simply because we are mimicking the Word of God! The Psalmist exclaimed: (119:100) “I understand more than the aged,  Because I have observed Your precepts.” Some people are REACHING TOWARD the Word – but that isn’t enough to get them to believe yet.

Some People are ENTERTAINED by His Word (Mark 12:35-37)

Mark 12:35 And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 “David himself said in the Holy Spirit, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET.”’ 37 “David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; so in what sense is He his son?” And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.

Sitting on the sidelines of the theological debates between Jesus and the theologians of the Temple was ENTERTAINING! The crowd enjoyed watching the sparring – especially when it cost them nothing in commitment, surrender or attitude! Some people ENJOY hearing the Word – but that doesn’t make them followers.

Some People Like Imitating the Sound of His Word (Mark 12:38-40)

Mark 12:38 In His teaching He was saying: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.” 

Men of great prayers, the scribes Jesus referred to could quote the Word and include it in long and lofty prayers. Sadly, the prayers weren’t addressing God – they were to impress men. Some people CAN QUOTE the Word – but that doesn’t make them godly.

Not everyone responds correctly to the truth when it is given to them. The right response is NOT to QUOTE it, NOT to ENJOY it, NOT to REACH TOWARD it, NOT to be CONFUSED by it, ANTAGONIZED or AMAZED by it. The right response it to be CHANGED by it – that is where surrender comes in.

The playlet entitled ‘The Long Silence’ offers a compelling case for our surrender:

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame, but with belligerence. ‘Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?’ snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. ‘We endured terror … beatings … torture … death!” In another group an African-American boy lowered his collar. ‘What about this?’ he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. ‘Lynched … for no crime but being black!’ In another crowd, a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes. ‘Why should I suffer’ she murmured, ‘It wasn’t my fault.’ Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in his world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said. So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, an African-American, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the center of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever. Before God could be qualified to be their judge, he must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth – as a man!

‘Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured. At last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.’

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. And when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No-one uttered another word. No-one moved. For suddenly all knew that God had already served his sentence. (Pastor Steven Chapman, Sermon Central illustrations)

He Changes Everything: "Gods and Generals" – Mark 11:27-33

In 2003, Ted Turner provided a $65 million budget to the film later named “Gods and Generals”. The film followed the personal life and military career of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, the eccentric Confederate general, from the outbreak of the Civil War to the end of his contribution to the effort at its halfway point. Jackson was on a night ride with his staff to investigate the grounds of battle and was accidentally shot by his own soldiers in May 1863 while commanding at the Battle of Chancellorsville. It wasn’t the only time a commander was shot at by his own troops. Sadly, it even happened quite intentionally in history.

Just a few weeks ago we read in the news: “Efforts by insurgents to topple Muammar Gaddafi were in disarray last night after a senior Libyan opposition figure admitted that rebel soldiers were responsible for the murder of their most senior army commander. The transitional government’s oil minister said that General Abdel Fatah Younis had been shot dead by Islamist-linked militia within the anti-Gaddafi forces, provoking fears of future unrest and instability among those fighting the old regime.” ( July 31, 2011).

The fact is that men don’t want to have an authority over them. They tolerate people in charge, but they don’t like having their freedom sails trimmed. They don’t want someone telling them what to do, even if they tell others what to do. As it is on earth, so it is with man’s view of Heaven. They don’t want to be told what to do – even if God is speaking. We desire to be the general of our own life – the commander of our own destiny. Men do not reject the idea of a Creator, they reject the idea of a Master. They are fine with a benevolent God that loves them and cares for them –a Santa in the sky. At the same time, the notion that the Creator may have some plan He is working out is somewhat comforting to them – as long as they are individually allowed to live as they please.

That truth applies to RELIGIOUS MEN. They are fine with a system that ostensibly brings honor to God, as long as they CONTROL IT. They begin with a sense that they are going to do something significant for His purpose. As they enter the system, sooner or later they slide into the control games that are characteristic of religious life. Many men of the cloth have said it: “The most perilous danger to their walk with God is their religious life.” The rigors of performance overdrive the heart in short order, and it becomes more about the system and the performance than the surrender and the touching of the heart of God. That happened long ago in the Temple in Jerusalem.

One day, God in human skin walked into His own Temple. It sounds like the set up for a joke…”A guy walked into a Temple..” but it is NOT a joke. It happened. God showed up, and instead of offering Him a seat, the leaders were more interested in showing Him the door – because God rocked the system in favor of real relationship and connection. Transport back in time with me and you will see how serious a thing it was…

The Scene of the Test – the Temple at Jerusalem

Mark offers a glimpse into this deep rooted rebellious and stubborn heart in a simple story set in the last week of Jesus’ ministry on earth before the Cross. Our story opens in Mark 11:27: “They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him…”

Don’t skip too quickly past the scene. The setting and the players has EVERYTHING to do with the lesson of the passage… First, they made their way back to Jerusalem, a city where God set His name on a Holy Mountain, and a city that had seen the devil dance as prophets were stoned. Much of Jewish history celebrates great times when God walked with men of faith:

  • Joab saw God’s hand as he climbed up inside the water system of Jebus and was able to valiantly fight for the city and hand it to his king – David (2 Samuel 5). The Jebusite city gave way to what appeared to be its earlier name – the city of peace. “Ir” (city) and “Shalem” (derivative form of peace) were combined as Jerusalem.

  • Solomon celebrated a moment of ecstacy as the cloud of the Living God of all Creation descended upon the Temple built over seven longs years and now dedicated for God’s worship (1 Kings 6-8).

  • Isaiah brought God’s Word to the sour and saddened eyes of Hezekiah as the Assyrians surrounded the city. God promised the city would be spared and the Assyrian king would pay for his insolence. The hills about Jerusalem echoed with the sound of the fleeing troops as God’s people celebrated the deliverance from the hand of their Heavenly King.

  • Though oft forsaken, there were memories of men like King Josiah who were deeply chastened by the Word of the Lord found within the precincts of the Temple. His refitting of that Temple opened up the coffers of God’s precious Word and drew the people back to God.

Jerusalem wasn’t always a dead religious place. Many stories tell of its past dependence upon God – and softness from the hand of God.

Second, note the verse says that “as Jesus was walking in the Temple, the leadership came to Him”. They did not come to welcome Him, but to QUESTION Him. Religious men are worried about control and order. This one looked like trouble. A careful look at the passage will show they weren’t really interested in His answers – for they were not about to accept them at face value anyway. It is interesting that the “test case” hearts were not in those of the publicans or prostitutes – those so often thought of as in vital need of redemption. Instead, Mark is transfixed with the hard hearts of the leaders of the Jewish people. He names different kinds of leaders, and we should be familiar with them:

  • Chief priests: Beneath the High Priest (HaCohen Hagaddol) there had been established in the Second Temple an elaborate hierarchy of temple personnel, designed to operate the Temple more efficiently. The chief priests were an exclusive group, reported to number about 200 in the first century — all Jews of exceptional birth. The captain of the temple, second in rank to the high priest, officiated over the organizational detail of the chief priests – including supervision of their Temple activities. Ranking chief priests had charge of the daily and Shabbat services, while others held the post of supervisor of the Temple treasury and maintenance of the sacred vessels.

  • Scribes: The term originated after the Babylonian exile in the time of a need for both translators and interpreters of official texts and Biblical ones. They became public amanuenses – copyists of Scripture and eventually took on the role of teachers of the Torah. As a result, the term “scribes” in the Greek is “grammateus”, a rough translation of the Hebrew “sopher” derived from “sepher” or “book”. They copied, read aloud, translated, explained and at times protected the law. Other duties included the accounting (“cipher”) of work done and goods paid, etc. Their latter name, “Hakamin” – (learned) denotes the growth of their importance into the Sages. They were NOT a sect but more a profession.


  • Elders: the term “presbuteroi” probably refers to the Patriarchal heads of families that were consulted in Temple administration. The Talmud reminds us of three chief families of the period, or which the household of Hannan – Annas and Caiphas, was one. Ezra 3 recognized the place of these men: “Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy…”

It was approaching mid-week, and our hind sight look allows us to note that Jesus was set to be on the Cross by Friday morning. Time was running out. Jesus saw how the men who led in the Second Temple were acting, scurrying about as the Passover crowds gathered in anticipation of both the memory of the past salvation (the story of the Exodus) and some pushier ones were anticipating Jesus acting on their behalf in a new salvation (kicking out the Romans as they expressed with their palm branches the previous Sunday).

The Subject of the Test – Authority and Submission

With his usual attention to succinct presentation, Mark blasts right into the scene with the problem the leaders wanted to dialogue with Jesus about: His authority. From the Biblical perspective this was both dramatic and ironic – that the Master would be questioned as to His authority in a Temple erected to worship the Godhead of which He Himself was a part. The text indicates more than one related question was delivered to Jesus:

Demanding Answers:

Mark 11:28 and began saying to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?”

Though related, the two questions are not identical. The first one (By what authority are You doing these things”) assumed that Jesus should justify the RELATIONSHIPHe had with One in charge. The second question (“Who gave You this authority?”) questioned whether He was OBEDIENTor going rogue and working outside the relationship with One in charge.

Here is the issue at the heart of this text, and at the heart of many people’s religious rebellion. They accept that there may be a God to worship, but they fundamentally challenge His right to demand any standard in their lives. Here is the first question: Does Jesus possess the right to demand you change what you are doing? Does He have the right if many religious authorities say it is ok? If He has the right, what is the right based upon? As you may have guessed the Biblical answer is that HE DOES HAVE THE RIGHT TO DEMAND CHANGE, and that His right to do so IS BASED ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FATHER.

Here is the second question: Does Jesus act in accordance with the Father’s will, or does He represent some “second way to God”? Is the God of Abraham some kind of LAW GOD and the Jesus of the “New Testament” some kind of LIBERTINE GOD that tossed out the rules of relationships based in the Law? If that sounds strange to you, that is the message of the social Gospel in many parts of the “church” today – that Jesus loves everyone and expects nothing. God USED to have laws, but that was for primitive man. Now we are sophisticated and educated, technological and accomplished. We have walked on the moon, and now the “Maker of the stars” bows before our social whims and breaks down the taboos in the name of “endless love and grace” that demands nothingbut my fulfillment and self-satisfaction.

Paul offered the answer to both questions when He wrote to the Philippians much later in the second chapter of his letter:

Phil. 2:5-8 “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all! When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. 9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.”

Clearly the call of Paul to the church at Philippi included several demands on their thinking and behavior:

  1. That they understand what Jesus did in humbling Himself and laying aside the privileges of control and comfort to the glory of the Father.

  2. That they take on the mission of emulating what Jesus did – not seeking a selfish fire escape Christianity – but a life of serving God by serving others as God led them.

Does Jesus have the right to walk into my life and tell me what to do? Is there any time in my life that I invite Him to do so? The real test of submission is when I let Him redirect something that I hold precious to my personal comfort, entertainment or direction. How many are willing to follow Christ when He offers Heaven and love? Many. How many are willing to allow Him to tell them who to marry when they have placed themselves in a relationship they know is not honoring to Him? Far, far fewer. Even the religious… no, especiallythe religious, must remember. He is Master or He is my servant, and I am His master — no matter that I call Him “Lord” in my songs.

Discussing Authority

Jesus did not refuse to cooperate with the men, but used a method of instruction well known among the rabbinic courts. Jesus offered to answer their query if they could untie a simple riddle they all had seen over the last few years. Mark 11:29says: “And Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 “Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me.”

Translations don’t communicate TONE very well. Jesus was respectful in His words… but He was very direct – He always is. He isn’t One to talk around truth. He knew what He wanted from them… and I would remind you that He knows what He wants from US as well. Note the last two words and let them penetrate… “ANSWER ME!” Don’t even try a “non-answer”. If you choose to hear God’s Word today, and Jesus speaks right into the conviction of your heart and you decide to “WAIT ON THE CONVICTION” be warned – to choose delay is to choose disobedience. Time is NOT on your side… and He is the Lord of Time.

Deliberating Alternatives

The men gathered together and tried to see the question from every possible angle. They were accustomed to setting traps verbally. They had done it to Jesus on a number of occasions. They did so with full self-justification. After all, they were the Elders of Israel. They were the protectors, the leaders and the knowledgeable ones. “The crowds are fickle and ignorant”, they thought. “We must not allow them to get sucked in by these ‘loose cannons’ – these self-educated and self-directed teachers that will bring about our destruction!” they reasoned. You can understand their feelings, even if you can see in the text the real problem – they wanted CONTROL at even the cost of truth.

Mark 11:31 “They began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 32 “But shall we say, ‘From men’?”—they were afraid of the people, for everyone considered John to have been a real prophet.

Their response offers the two most profound problems with religious circles – they are like a window into the religious soul.

The first issue is THEOLOGICAL POSTURING – the notion that we should be more concerned with our erector set of presuppositions based on what we think God “might” have been trying to say – though He was far less clear that we are! “Then He will say” is a phrase that shows how religion builds an ethical system and a legal system based on premises. People in today’s church can often more effectively argue their doctrinal statement than they can tell the story of the Biblical text. What is the problem with that? Theoretically one is based on their knowledge of the other. If God gave us a Bible, and not a topical index of truths, we had better learn what HE WROTE, and not simply what men we respect thought ABOUT WHAT HE WROTE. Open the book and read it. It may challenge what you saw in the movie or heard in the sermon.

The second issue is CONCENSUS TRUTH – the notion that leadership should follow what people WANT to believe about an issue. Talk about GRACE AND ACCEPTANCE and the house will be full. Preach that God has something to say about your sex life or time on Facebook, and things will start to get a little uncomfortable. It is as it always has been – men and women who go into ministry do so because they care about people. The problem is that some of us end up pleasing the people, and not the One who called us into ministry for Himself.

Both THEOLOGICAL POSTURING and CONSENSUS TRUTH are huge problems in church circles today.

Declining Additions

Jesus said they simply didn’t meet His demand, so He would offer nothing to meet theirs. In Mark 11:33 it record: “Answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

First  note that their answer was UNTRUTHFUL. The issue was NOT that they did not know the truth – it was that they were unwilling to even ask the right questions if it put them in a position of correction or unpopularity. Truth wasn’t on the menu – control was.

Second, note that Jesus was not about to offer them more truth when they refused to stand upon the truth (read: rejected) the truth that was already presented. They were unwilling to acknowledge God’s right to control their lives, His Temple and His people. Without the requisite surrender, God felt no obligation to offer more truth. Jesus made His point: His authority was not THEIRS to question, since they couldn’t offer clear spiritual direction on the simplest of problems.

Maybe they weren’t sure where John came from – or at least they weren’t prepared to LEAD AGAINST THE POLLS and speak out in an unpopular way. They were better at QUESTIONS then at ANSWERS. That is the way to sound studious and academically credible. Kick up dust. Act like what you don’t know is beyond knowing. Act like those who think they know are “rednecks” and uneducated dolts that believe out of some naïve and uncultured world view. Get them to question everything… except the system that is run by them.

Deep inside the issue is not simple popularity. It is not fear. It is rebellion. They felt they had the right to ask what authority Jesus had to stand up against a corrupt Temple that was selling sacrificial animals and trading coins at unfair rates. They figured out what many in America today have figured out – God is a BIG BUSINESS opportunity. Selling religion is very lucrative if you are without the scruples that convict you. People are searching for HOPE, and you can suck them in at vulnerable points in their lives and offer them a “Cotton Candy God” that will look out for them and never challenge their way of thinking, let alone living. The problem is, He isn’t the real God that made them. Remember: Men do not reject the idea of a Creator, they reject the idea of a Master.