Tag Archives: Mark 2.0

A Few Final Thoughts on Mark

I didn’t want our tour through the gospel of Mark to end; I was having too much fun. But alas, there are only 16 chapters. You might have noticed that there are more verses in chapter 16 than I have actually covered, for I haven’t posted on 16:9 ff.

I have decided to leave these alone, for I am really not so sure that they belong; they aren’t included in the older manuscripts, and my best guess (and “guess” is all I have) is that they were added later to complete the story in light of the endings in the other three gospels.  In this, they seem to me to accurately reflect the truth of Scripture and the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but I doubt Mark put them there. With that said, let me reiterate that I could be mistaken on this point.

None of that takes away from the amazing impact of Mark’s gospel. His pithy writing style leaves out a great deal of the detail surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus that is found in the other three, but in doing this, Mark’s is also easier to follow for someone who isn’t well versed in either the Old Testament or in theology generally, and that is a great contribution.

The Kingdom of Heaven is much discussed in Christian circles today. Did Jesus establish that kingdom when He was on the earth, or did something go wrong, and He’ll try again when He returns? This is a question that persists to this day, particularly when we sit down together with our brothers and sisters with fundamentalist or evangelical perspective. Our answer to this question colors the way we perceive Scripture itself, and this has been true for several centuries now.

When I read Mark, I see a vibrant and dynamic Kingdom at work in Jesus’ ministry, and I see it as having been established at His death, burial and resurrection. I see it continuing throughout the centuries that have elapsed since that time, sometimes more and sometimes less actively than others as the Kingdom ebbs and flows on this earth. I believe that God is willing and anxious for it to flow always, just as Jesus Himself was “flowing” all during His ministry, and yet God has given us free will, and we don’t always use it wisely. I see the Adversary challenging Jesus during His ministry in various ways, not wishing to concede an inch of ground, and Jesus pushing him back when it suits Him to do so, and exercising restraint when it does not, and I see that going on for 2,000 years to date.

Yet I remain filled with hope and optimism going forward, for whatever God’s timetable may be, whatever larger issues are going on “behind the scenes” I know how the story will ultimately end, because Mark has set this out so well in his gospel. May each and every one of you retain the same optimistic view of both this life and the next as all of us move forward on our path to forever together as His Body!

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The Kingdom Comes

Mark 16:1-8

Parallel Texts: Matthew  28:1-8; Luke 24:1-8, 12; John 20:1-10

When Jesus was born in that manger in Bethlehem nobody would have noticed, but God sent choruses of angels out to the fields and they were seen by the shepherds… and there was this star in the sky. When Jesus rose from the grave, there were no choirs to be seen, no great star lighting the sky, just chirping crickets and the sounds of the night.

Thus came the Kingdom.

John the Baptist prepared the way teaching the people that the Kingdom was at hand. Jesus preached the Kingdom far and wide and demonstrated its power as He went along, but when all of the work was finally completed, nobody knew about it at first. Shortly after sunrise on that fateful day at the very precipice of human history, a group f very faithful women arrive at the tomb to finish the dressing of the body, only to discover that there was no body for them to dress; He had risen!

I can’t help but recall these two verses:

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

Mark 15:29-30

Guess what boys? The temple was destroyed and He has risen it up again, just like He said, for as we know He was referring to the temple of His body.  As for the physical temple building, now obsolete and useless? Well, the clock is ticking on its demise…

God wasn’t quite  ready for the big announcement just yet, or more to the point, Peter and the others who would be the ones announcing the arrival of the Kingdom weren’t quite ready, but in 5 weeks, they would make a splash in Jerusalem.

In spite of the lack of fanfare, the day that Jesus rose from the grave was a glorious day, the most glorious of all days, but God’s glory is not like Man’s glory. There were no bands playing, no trumpets sounding, no parades or banners, no wall-to-wall coverage, no newspaper headlines and no ceremonies. Just an empty tomb and a messenger to tell the women that Jesus had risen: Low-key and reserved. John recalls that Mary saw Him, and thought He was the gardener. Obviously the artists have the scene wrong, no brightly shining white robes; a gardener to all appearances was He.

To this day, the world cannot handle this reality.

Why didn’t God do something far more dramatic to get people’s attention? He could have done that, since He was raising Jesus from the grave, a little fireworks would have been no big deal, and then He would have proven that Jesus returned from the dead. Just think of the sensation if the risen Christ would have entered Jerusalem now; who would oppose Him? Why, He could have walked into Pilate’s quarters and sent him and all of the Romans packing… He could have set up his Kingdom as an earthly one right then and there if that is what He intended, but He didn’t. Don’t forget that Jesus Himself had once remarked that even if someone died and rose again people wouldn’t believe the message. Most people still don’t.

God never wanted His followers to be robots; if He had wanted that, don’t you think He could have made Adam a robot without free will in the first place… and saved Himself a lot of trouble?

He never wanted robots for followers; He wants people who are willing to choose to follow Him, and this tremendous level of restraint is one of the reasons He is worth following!

The Moment They’ve Been Waiting For!

Mark 15:24-32

Parallel Texts: Matthew 27:31-44; Luke 23:26-43; John 19:17-27

All those sleepless nights, the opportunities missed, the embarrassments in public, the plots, the cabals, the treachery… all of it had come to fruition for the loving and righteous men of Israel, for today, at this time, at this hour… RIGHT NOW! Jesus of Nazareth is being executed! Finally they had gotten what they wanted…

Mark’s account of the crucifixion is of course brief. Yet, even in his pithiness, Mark includes one little detail that should jolt us out of the  haze we might feel at reading a text that is so familiar to us. ‘Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”’ (vv. 29-30)

Such impatience! Jesus was destroying the temple by being on the cross, if you want to see it raised again, you need to wait a couple of days!  Of course, they were clueless about these words.

Even the other two being crucified hurl insults at Him, and of course the Jewish leaders have some choice comments to make, showing just how classy they really are. The powers and authorities of this world were having a field-day, thoroughly enjoying their triumph over God.

Then, something wonderful happens…

Mark 15:33-41

Parallel Texts: Matthew 27:45-56; Luke 23:44-49; John 19:28-30

Jesus suddenly cries out, quoting Psalm 22:1, people get excited, maybe Elijah will come… wouldn’t that be something to see? Elijah does not come, and shortly thereafter Jesus dies.

Had God forsaken Him at that moment? Theologians argue about that, but I think that He did, for Jesus had become sin on that cross. No, Jesus didn’t sin, but He became sin for us. Isn’t it something… Jesus had become the sin of those who had placed Him on that cross, and for their very insults they were hurling at that moment.

Then Jesus died.

The curtain in the temple was torn in two; the Old Covenant had seen its final sacrifice and passed into history as the temple of Jesus’ body died; history itself had reached its climax.

Matthew tells us about an earthquake and clouds that darkened the sun, things that usually signify God’s judgment. A Roman centurion has a surprising remark, and the opponents of Jesus head for their homes feeling… what? Relief probably. Sorrow was the dominant emotion of those women who remained there, His last followers. They would see to the arraignments.

The story, however, had only just begun.

Roman “Justice” on Display

Mark 15:1-20

Parallel Texts: Matthew 27:11-30; Luke 23:2-25; John 18:28-19:16

As usual, Mark is pithy, and a more complete version is available in the other accounts. The main thing that Mark conveys about this whole situation of Jesus before Pilate might just be the quality of the decision made by Pilate. In the other accounts, particularly in John’s, we can easily see that Pilate struggled with this issue, that he really didn’t want to have Jesus executed. While Mark certainly doesn’t dispute this, his brief account, his ‘just the facts’ version renders a clear picture of the bottom line: Pilate in the end, was concerned with his political best interests, and that meant sending a man he knew to be innocent to a terrible death.

There is an old word that describes the actions of Jesus’ accusers and judges, both Jewish and Gentile, that applies perfectly to this story, even though nobody uses it any more, that word is perfidy. Perfidy means treachery, untrustworthy and duplicitous, and that is exactly what has gone on here. The Pharisees, teachers of the law, high priest… and the Roman governor, all of them are guilty of perfidy. The question is why, and the soldiers give us the answer in their mocking of Jesus.

Read carefully verses 16-20.

At first glance, you might see a bored group of men in a very undesirable foreign post having a bit of rather sick and twisted sport with a condemned man. This man in their custody has obviously done something pretty bad; how often do the Jews and the Romans agree on anything? So here he is condemned to die… why not mess with him, he’s not a Roman, so they can do pretty much whatever they want as long as he doesn’t die just yet.

So they mock him; “king of the Jews,” eh? Let’s have some fun…

They make him a crown of thorns and jam it on his head; that’s pretty funny. They find a purple robe, so they dress him up like a king with his new crown and beat him some more. Jesus must have made a hilarious sight for them, beaten, flogged, blood all over, blood running down his face dressed like some king!

King of the Jews!  Hilarious! They had no use for the Jews, they hated even being there, they wanted a posting somewhere civilized… they kneel before their “king” and have another laugh…

An officer tells them to quit fooling around and march the prisoner off to his execution… they hated this part.

That’s what you might see if you don’t read these verses with a more discerning eye, but look again.

This is done to Jesus every day, sometimes we even join in cursing His name, participating in jokes with others. The comments made by those who are ignorant of who and what Jesus is, the insults against His followers, the jabs at His word, the little cartoons and pictures with clever slogans on them that you see most days right here on WordPress that denigrate and demean Jesus. The people who do these things today are just as ignorant as those Roman soldiers were, and they are doing exactly the same thing, for all of them are acting in open and gross rebellion against Almighty God whether they comprehend it or not, just as the accusers and judges of Jesus were.

Solomon wrote that there is nothing new under the sun. He was right then, and nothing has changed now.

There has been perfidy on a grand scale; politics has won out over righteousness. There has been beating and torture, there has been open mocking of God, and Jesus is led to His death.  I’m sure the Sanhedrin was feeling relieved; in a short time this threat will be silenced once and for all and they can enjoy the holiday…

Looking for an Excuse

There’s an old saying about excuses. OK, well maybe it isn’t all that old, but it’s a pretty good one, at least I think it is a good one. True it isn’t famous or anything… fine, you got me, but it is what I say about excuses:

When you’re looking for an excuse, one is as good as another.

That night, the Jewish authorities were looking for an excuse to kill Jesus, and they really weren’t all too choosy about their excuse as long as everyone could keep the story straight; after all this guy was pretty popular.

Mark 14:53-65

Parallel Texts:  Matthew 26:57-68; Luke 22:54, 63-65; John 23:24

Jesus on trial before the full cast of Jewish authorities: Can you imagine anything more ridiculous? The Son of God actually on trial before a group of corrupt hypocrites cowering behind their fancy robes, their meaningless earthly positions, desperate to maintain the magnificent fiction of their own self-righteousness, and all this for what reason? So they can truthfully preserve a lie; so they can lawfully continue their corruption; so they can graciously continue in their oppression.

E.G. Marshall once said that “truth is stranger than fiction… especially if you change it to make a good story”. No changes are necessary for this story; it is just strange.

The biggest problem these clowns have is that their fake witnesses keep contradicting one another. Evidently, the witnesses for the prosecution weren’t very well prepared to give testimony; at least they seemed to be forgetting their lines. Maybe they had a few drinks beforehand and kept going off script, who knows? In any event, they were screwing up the phony trial. Jesus wasn’t helping them; He kept declining comment. There’s an old saying in politics: “When your opponent is self-destructing, get out of his way.”  Jesus was staying out-of-the-way in this fiasco, until…

The high priest finally asks Jesus directly the critical question:  “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

That did it, that’s what the high priest wanted to hear: blasphemy!

Jesus has assumed onto himself the rights or attributes of God in His reply, and under the Law, He must die for His crime… unless it had been a truthful answer. Because this was a high tribunal of the religious leaders, all of whom were genuinely interested in finding the Truth  in holiness and all righteousness and propriety, did the high priest examine any facts that might substantiate Jesus’ claim?

Certainly not; he was only seeking an excuse to kill! Jesus was condemned immediately, spat upon and taken away and beaten.

Meanwhile, Peter, just outside in the courtyard, denied Jesus three times. (Mark 14:66-72)

The next morning, the Jewish religious leaders, those great paragons of God’s Law and the supremacy of everything Jewish, take Jesus to the unclean Gentile dogs and beseech them to murder an innocent man, sent by God to deliver them as the irony continues in our next post…

Final Hours Together

Mark briefly describes the time Jesus spent with the disciples after their last meal together, quite a contrast with the several chapters John gave to the  “Farewell Discourse.” Mark breaks this into three short scenes:

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial
Mark 14:27-31

Parallel Texts: Matthew 26:31-35; Luke 22:31-38; John 13:21-38

Peter’s determination to remain loyal to Jesus is admirable, but sadly, it was not to be… at least not yet. Jesus knew that, but He also knew that Peter would fail, and along with the rest of them he would cut and run when things got too tough. He cited the prophecy from Zech. 13:7, and if your mind works as mine does, this citation begs an oddball question: Did Peter fail because of the prophecy, or was the prophecy made in the first place because God knew Peter  (and the others) would fail?  I struggled with this for a long time before I stumbled across the obvious and simple answer to the riddle. Peter and the others fell short because they were relying on their own strength and will not to fall short, therefore they fell short because their reliance was ill placed. Later, as Apostles, none of them fell short when the going was tough, really tough, for their reliance was upon God and they were sustained by His strength and not merely by their own.

Praying in the Garden
Mark 14:32-42

Parallel Texts:  Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1

The scene in the Garden of Gethsemane is a poignant one, where Jesus prays fervently, filled with angst that the cup should pass from Him if possible, yet the Father’s will and not His own should be done. Clearly, His human side wanted to find a way out of what He was about to endure, and yet His love for the Father and for humanity was stronger; His devotion to God’s eternal purpose won out. Yet while this gut-wrenching scene is playing out, the disciples fall asleep!

I seriously doubt they fell asleep on purpose, but here too, they relied on their own strength and not upon God as they would later. The outcome of this ill-placed confidence is always the same, and we should really remember that.

Jesus is Arrested
Mark 14:43-52

Parallel Texts: Matthew 26:47-56; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:2-11

On come the goons from the temple guards, with Judas in the vanguard. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss.

Of course we know this as one of history’s great ironies; Jesus commented on it in the other accounts. I get the same chill seeing people today who loudly profess their love and devotion for Jesus, and then watch them do everything in their power to run people away from His church. … but then that’s just me.  Did Judas really think he was doing Jesus a favor, forcing His hand so that He would raise an army and take the city by force as some have suggested over the years?

I have no idea what Judas was really thinking; maybe he just needed the money, or maybe he was under demonic influence, or maybe he was the only one who understood fully what Jesus was there to do and wanted to help out… I can’t imagine! What I do know is that the stage was now set for the pivotal drama of all recorded history.

Of course, the disciples fled, and it would appear that there were more present than just the disciples, for in the final verse we see a young man, little more than a boy, who is swept up in the confusion, and who escapes the guards by slipping out of his garment and running off into the darkness naked: Meet our author everyone, for I am convinced that this was none other than Mark himself.

The Last Supper

Mark 14:12-26

Parallel Texts: Matthew 26:17-25; Luke 22:7-18, 21-23; John 13:22-26

Mark, as was his custom, approaches this subject with an economy of words, with verses 12-16 being about Jesus’ instructions for preparations, followed by a brief description of their meal. As we might suspect, everything went just as Jesus said that they would. When the time came for the meal, Jesus tells the group that one of them will betray Him.

Naturally, they were shocked. “Surely you don’t mean me Lord” seems to be the universal reaction to this, and  Jesus narrows it down a bit in verses 19 and 20, and then in 21 He tells them that He will indeed allow Himself to be taken, as the Scriptures have foretold. All of this talk of betrayal, and Jesus’ knowledge of who would do it and when, is there for a reason other than just to make a good story, for it documents that Jesus went willingly; a very important point. No one forced Jesus do anything that night, for He was there for the purpose of doing the Father’s will, to accomplish the Father’s purpose. That this would involve arrest, humiliation, torture, pain and death would not stop Him from going through with this purpose.

I wouldn’t suggest that Jesus was looking forward to the experience, for He was human and faced the same physical weaknesses that the rest of us have. In fact, the added reality that He was also divine, with all of its power and authority most likely made His task more difficult, for it was necessary for Him to restrain His divine power and endure His human pain.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Mark 14:22-26

It wouldn’t appear that the disciples quite comprehended yet what Jesus had just done, let alone what He was talking about, but obviously the pieces would soon fall into place for them. For each of us, we are fully aware of what has just happened in the story, for we commemorate it each Lord’s Day in our worship. Maybe it is better here that I simply suggest that each of us pause in our busy day to reflect upon the significance of what Jesus was about to do for humanity in the hours that followed this dramatic scene, and to rededicate ourselves to His service.