Monthly Archives: July 2017

Mark 16:9-20

9Now when He arose early in the morning on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary of Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. 10That one went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. 11When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.

 

12After these things, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked in the country. 13And they went back and told the others, but they did not believe them.

 

14Later, He appeared to the eleven themselves as they reclined at table and scolded them for their unbelief and stubbornness because they did not believe those who saw Him after He was risen. 15And He said to them, “Go into all the world; preach the gospel to all of creation. 16Those who believe and are baptized will be saved, but those who do not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues, 18and with their hands they will pick up snakes and drink deadly poison, and it will not harm them. They will place their hands on the sick and they will get well.”

 

19So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down on the right hand of God. 20And they went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word by accompanying signs.

 

We must first have a brief word about this section of text, which is the most disputed in the New Testament: the earliest and best manuscripts that we have do not include these verses as the ending of Mark; rather, the gospel ends after verse 8. However, almost all of the manuscripts from the fifth century on contain them, and it is evident that many early authorities did accept them. Some of the earliest manuscripts left some blank space after verse 8, indicating that the copyist monks knew of a longer ending but did not have it in the manuscript with which they were working. Early Patristics such as Justin Martyr, Tatian and Irenaeus accepted the longer ending, while Eusebius and Jerome (A.D. 407) did not. Internally, questions arise as to the use of Greek being the same as the “Markan” Greek of the rest of the gospel. Why the detailed description of Mary Magdalene in verse 9, for example, when he just mentioned her in the previous section? There are several words not used by Mark elsewhere in the gospel, and some used differently than he had been using them. While this can be compelling evidence, there are nonetheless other very good reasons why we might account for these internal “problems.” We see similar linguistic variations in other works, as well. Ultimately, the longer ending of Mark is so well-attested by later witnesses and so widely read and circulated by the early Church that it is frequently included, though disputed. One possible solution to the problem is to see it like we do Deuteronomy: perhaps Mark concluded his gospel at verse 8 abruptly, and someone else finished it, but it is historically authentic and therefore canonical—just like the last chapter of Deuteronomy after Moses dies. There is nothing thematically in these verses that would warrant excluding them from the gospel, so I am treating these verses canonically and translating and teaching from them as though they were the word of God.

 

There is no question, from this account, that Jesus Christ appeared physically to His followers. In agreement with other gospels, He appeared to the women first, and then others. Luke tells us of disciples walking on the road to Emmaus, and verses 12-13 seem to support that here. The point is that Jesus isn’t a ghost or an apparition or a figment of someone’s imagination. We are told quite clearly that He eventually appeared to all eleven at once while they were chilling at dinner. He scolded them a bit for their unbelief and stubbornness. After all, this had been the direct purpose of His entire ministry for the prior three years: trust God. The theme of the entire Bible had been to trust God, and now God had provided the Lamb that took away all sin and reconciled man to Himself and relieved him from the curse. The key is to believe, regardless of what one’s eyes tell them. As He sends them out into the world with the Great Commission, He reminds them that “those who believe and are baptized will be saved, but those who do not believe will be condemned” (16). The crux of all theology is faith seeking knowledge, not the other way around. Belief by faith—like the centurion and other notable people in this gospel story—is the key to salvation. We might also note that Jesus predicts that the Church will carry out its duty accompanied by signs and wonders—divine healing, speaking in new tongues, imperviousness to poisonous snakes and poison. The biggest miracle of all, of course, is the establishment, nurturing and spread of the Church in that culture of tyranny in which she was born. Note, also, that the text has Jesus ascending to heaven and the right hand of God the Father.

 

Jesus is not physically present with us (except in the mystery of the Table—that’s another discourse). He is physically with God the Father, and therefore doesn’t float around like a disembodied spirit here on earth to appear to us or walk with us. He is enfleshed; He is a being again, having been physically resurrected from the dead. This is an important doctrinal point. Moreover, He has detailed for us what we should be doing: persuading those around us to believe in the good news of Jesus Christ as the provision for sin. We are to go forth in the power of the Lord, Who works together with us by accompanying our proclamation of this good news with signs and wonders. There is not now—nor has there ever been—a biblical warrant for snake-handling or poison-drinking as a result of this passage. Those who engage in such silliness demonstrate the dangers of misreading the Bible. But He DID promise supernatural signs and wonders as His Church is spread. And we might also note that He is the one “working with them” with the accompanying signs.

 

In the West, we don’t believe in signs and wonders any more. Since the Enlightenment, we have done our best to explain away signs and wonders. We are too educated and intelligent to believe in them. Perhaps not uncoincidentally, we also don’t bother much going out and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to others. Perhaps we don’t feel as much of a sense of urgency about this, since the “gospel” for so many Westerners is simply an intellectual assent to the propositional truths of the New Testament, rather than a walk by faith. Many American evangelicals believe that they are Christians simply because they once uttered an incantatory prayer; but that prayer wasn’t accompanied with the action that the New Testament clearly teaches. Therefore, it is a Gnostic version of Christianity, rather than Christianity itself. If we are truly believers, we will not shut up about it. We will proclaim His good news to the world around us. He has commanded it. The reference to baptism demonstrates that there is a process involved in salvation; mere assent is but the first step—there is a disciplined habit of catechetical teaching and nurturing that brings a Christian out of the individual cold and into the community’s fold. This is what is attested to in water baptism: the new birth of the individual and the initiatory rite into the Church.

 

For many of us Americans, the true presentation of the gospel is a challenge to our theology. Are you prepared to “unlearn” what you’ve always thought? Are you prepared to discard and reject the individualist “God helps my well-being” therapeutic moral deism that passes for Christianity in so much of our culture? Are you prepared to take up the cross of real faith and believe in an eternal God Who transforms you fundamentally from who you were to who He’s designed you to be? Then you will find that identity in Christ, and you will not ever find it apart from the Church. This is His design, and your individualist objections are not enough to overturn His gospel.

 

Believe, and be baptized. That’s another way of saying, “believe, keep believing, and do so in the community of faith with the ultimate result of a deliberate and physical banding together for the sake of the good news.” And then? Go out and tell others about this good news. And don’t be surprised with the God of wonders accompanies this sort of obedience with signs and wonders. It’s His good news, after all.

 

 

 

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Mark 16:1-8

1Now when the Sabbath was passed, Mary Magdalene, Mary the other of James and Salome bought spices and went to anoint Him. 2And very early on the Sabbath, when the sun was risen, they came to the tomb. 3And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled away—and it was very large. 5And coming to the tomb, they saw a young man wearing a white robe sitting on the right, and they were frightened. 6And he said to them, “Do not fear; you seek Jesus of Nazareth Who was crucified; He is risen! He is not here. Behold: the place where they laid Him! 7But go tell His disciples and Peter that He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” 8And they left the tomb running, for they had trembling and astonishment, and they told no one anything, for they were frightened.

 

 

As we approach the ending to the gospel of Mark, I want to mention that most scholars—conservative and liberal—question the ending. Specifically, verses 9-20 do not appear in the earliest and best manuscripts that we have; they do not show up until later manuscripts. I’m going to discuss this in tomorrow’s reading in a little more depth, and make a case for why it’s in the canon and why it’s therefore the word of God. For today, though: good news!

 

The women, mentioned in the previous section, had been among the last at the cross. They were the first at the tomb the next day. We must also remember that everyone believed that this was the end. A tragic, horrible, unexpected end—but the end. Now they all knew what to expect: a big bag of nothing. When the women went to that tomb that Sunday morning, they were there to pay some final respects to the corpse, and they only wondered among themselves how they would get the stone removed so that they could gain access. The disciples hadn’t planned a trip to the tomb at all. When they saw the empty tomb and heard the instructions from the young man, they were frightened, which is quite natural. They were in the presence of the greatest evidence ever shown of the transcendent power of the Almighty and living God, and it scared them. That they were told not to fear is almost immaterial; it would have been like telling someone to stop breathing. It would have been like me telling my dog Perseus to sit down when he’s excited to see me. He will try, but his whole body will wag until he can get up and pounce on his friend. You just can’t stop it. The instructions to the ladies contained a missive to tell “the disciples and Peter.” The special emphasis on Peter shows us possibly that the mercy of our Lord was such that He was less interested in taking up the matter of prior disloyalty and much more interested in comforting a friend in his remorse and loss. One thing is for sure: none of us today would have heard the name of Jesus had there not been a Resurrection. The evidence attesting to the Resurrection is unimpeachable and well-established. And among the biggest pieces of evidence is the Christian church. After all, someone or something radically changed this group of followers from grieving, powerless cowards who were hiding underground from the Roman authorities to the bold, spectacular messengers of the kingdom of God. The 500+ witnesses would have easily provided corroborative evidence in any court of law.

 

And if the resurrection is real, then all bets are off when it comes to the reign of darkness in this world.

 

Cancer. Suffering. Injustice. Babies locked in cars in 100-degree heat. Divorce. Abuse. Deception. The existence of the Philadelphia Eagles. The present darkness of this world sits on us like a spider sucking the life out of its prey. It is our reality. It cannot change. We are powerless to change even one iota of it—we simply spend our days looking for angles of temporary comfort to endure it until it’s over. People speak of a god who can do something. But he is either an 8-armed hippie worship monument who doesn’t even believe that any of this is darkness, or he’s a hell-eyed molester bent on massacring all who don’t agree with him. Or any of the other various human creations of some god-figure.

 

But on this particular morning in history, Someone broke through that reality. Someone broke in. Someone pierced that darkness with the light of the world. Someone smashed its power eternally, spectacularly, memorably. It was the One True God—the Almighty One, raising His Son from the dead and defeating the curse forever. We serve a “breaking in” God, which is why I am Pentecostal (I don’t think He’s stopped breaking in yet!). The present darkness is done for now; it lingers in desperation for a few more minutes until the Risen One returns to sweep it away entirely. But the end of the story has been written, and He is the Hero.

 

Being a Christian has never been about the talks we have about Jesus. It’s about actually meeting Him. We know about President Trump and Mayor Rawlings and Dak Prescott and Jimmie Vaughan. But we don’t really KNOW those people. For many, Jesus Christ is someone they know “about,” but don’t KNOW. The PERSON of God the Son broke into human reality and changed it permanently. Now that’s Someone I’d like to know—and then know better.

 

Mark 15:33-47

33And at the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” 35And some of the bystanders, hearing, said, “Behold: he is calling Elijah.” 36And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine and put it on a stick and gave it to Him to drink, saying, “Wait; we’ll see if Elijah comes and takes Him down.” 37But Jesus uttered a loud cry and expired. 38And the curtain in the temple was split in two from the top to the bottom. 39And when the centurion who was standing opposite Him saw that in this way He died, he said, “Certainly this man was the Son of God.” 40There were also women watching from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Maria the mother of James the Younger, and Joses, and Salome. 41When He was in Galilee, they followed Him and ministered to Him, and there were also many more who had traveled with Him into Jerusalem.

 

42And when evening had come, since it was the day of preparation before the Sabbath, 43Joseph of Arimethea, a respected council member and himself a man waiting for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44And Pilate, surprised that He had already died, summoned the centurion and asked him if He had already died. 45And when he found out from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. 46And he bought a linen cloth, took Him down and wrapped Him in the linen cloth and placed Him in a tomb cut out of rock, and rolled a stone at the entrance to the tomb. 47And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where He was laid.

 

 

Jesus cites the words of a poet who felt the darkness of despair in a moment of extreme crisis—David, the great king of Israel, and His ancestor. In so doing, not only does He link Himself to the throne of David, but He emphasizes the line of continuity between Old and New Testament. Perhaps most importantly, we see that even the Son of God felt depression and despair. J. Vernon McGee describes the three hours from 9-12 as a time of physical light but spiritual darkness; it was morning on Good Friday, but the curse of Satan reigned in the world. The second three hours were from 12-3, and the situation is directly juxtaposed: now physical darkness reigns upon the land, and spiritual light is dawning as God Almighty defeats the curse. Moreover, there is darkness in the night of the first Passover before the firstborn is taken; you can see the symbolism in Exodus pointing directly to what God intended here. The veil in the temple is torn from top to bottom. This symbolizes two things—one obvious to us Protestants and one a little more obscure. Direct access to God had been limited to the high priest once a year; now, anyone can go before God at any time. But before the sacrifice of the Lamb, no one saw God. The shekinah glory that dwelled in the holy place was as close as anyone got, and only the high priest could see that. Now all can see God in the Person of His Son Jesus Christ. This is significant: if you want to know what God looks like, you look to Jesus. I’m obviously talking less about physical appearance than I am the Person of the Father. The self-abasement, the humbling, the sacrificial and substitutionary behavior….this is Who God is. Notice another contrast in this passage: someone is looking for a sign from heaven involving Elijah—apparently, someone whose hearing is bad or who doesn’t understand the name of God in Aramaic, mistaking “eloi” for “Elijah.” Over and against this person is the pagan Roman centurion, who is looking upon the exact same scene but “seeing” something else entirely. On one side of the equation are people who demand that spiritual reality conform to their senses; on the other side of the equation is a man whose senses don’t argue with something he believes by faith: that this man is the Son of God. The centurion—unschooled in the Law—makes a profession of faith. The observant Jews gathered around the scene can’t see the truth because they are still looking with physical eyes. The righteous always walk by faith, not by sight.

 

We are faced with these two examples of human response to God’s revelation every day of our lives. We either demand a sign or believe His word. We either accept Him as He presents Himself to us, or we demand that He jump through some hoops to satisfy our human doubt. We either believe Him or hold Him at arm’s length while we size Him up. And often, those among us who should know better fail to walk by the faith that is required of all Christians. It is quite frequently the unchurched and the unschooled among us who are the quickest to believe Him at His word the quickest.

 

God has revealed Himself to you in His word. He nurtures you in the faith through your church. He speaks daily, and gently leads you into maturity and depth and knowledge. Do you receive Him as He has revealed Himself? Or do you seek to remake Him in your own image? Do you accept what He is saying to you as sacrosanct? Or do you have a need to verify His word through your empirical senses so that He makes sense to you? Remember this story of the Sponge Guy and the Centurion. And always walk by faith, not by sight.

Mark 15:16-32

16And the soldiers led Him away to the place, that is the Praetorium, and called together the whole company. 17And they dressed Him in a purple robe and put on a crown made of thorns twisted together, 18and began to salute Him: “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19And they were beating Him in the head with a stick and spitting on Him and kneeling in worship of Him. 20And when they had made fun of Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His cloak on Him, and led Him out in order to crucify Him.

 

21And they compelled a passerby to carry His cross—Simon the Cyrene, coming from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22And they brought Him to the place Golgotha—which is translated “the Place of the Skull”—23and gave Him wine flavored with myrrh, but He did not take it. 24And they crucified Him and divided His clothes, casting lots to see what each would take. 25And it was the third hour when they crucified Him. 26And on the inscription of the charge was written, “The King of the Jews.” 27And two criminals were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. 29And those who passed by blasphemed Him, shaking their heads and saying, “Ha! You Who would destroy the temple and rebuild in three days! 30Save yourself; come down from the cross!” 31Likewise the chief priest and scribes made fun to one another, saying, “He saved others; He was not able to save Himself. 32The Christ, the King of Israel: come down from the cross, that we might see and believe!” And those crucified with Him insulted Him also.

 

There is a lot of “making fun” in this passage today. The pagan soldiers make fun of Jesus in a series of cruel acts. The religious Jews make fun of Jesus. Let’s not forget that the route Jesus took to Golgotha also demonstrates the universality of such witness. A crucified person would travel to the place of crucifixion in the middle of four soldiers, and a fifth in front would carry a large wooden placard with the name of the charge written on it. They would take the longest, most labyrinthine route to Golgotha, so that as many people as possible would see the accused. This means that the greatest number of people in Jerusalem would also get a chance to lay eyes on the climax of all human history. The man Simon of Cyrene (this is in Africa) was forced to carry the cross; he couldn’t have been terribly happy about the ordeal. He had quite possibly saved for half his life to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to eat one Passover in the holy city, and now this. But he is also identified as the father of Alexander and Rufus; why would Mark have chosen to identify him in this way? Perhaps because the readers of his gospel—originally, the church at Rome—knew the man. He may have been forced to carry the cross, but it is entirely possible that this moment of sacrifice of the Lamb changed him. We read in Romans 16.13 of one Rufus, who is “chosen of the Lord,” and there is some speculation that he might possibly be the son of this Simon. But what we DO know is that as Jesus hangs on the cross at Golgotha, the fun doesn’t stop; the religious leaders and the regular passersby all mock Him relentlessly. In fact, the chief priests and scribes give away their philosophy right away in verse 32, when they suggest that they would believe Him if they could see Him do what they want. Their “belief” was based on what they could see. What is ironic is that what they WERE seeing was the single-most important event in human history; they simply didn’t recognize it. They spoke of “seeing” while being the most blind of all.

 

Who are the mockers? We read of them and are silently thankful that they are not we. But I would suggest that there is a universality in their collective identity: they are pagan unbelievers, religious observers, regular folk. They are citizens and criminals, preachers and parishioners. We are they. And we have ever the same choice that they did that dark day on Golgotha: to believe in what we do not see, or to prioritize our own human senses as the authority of truth in our lives. From the Enlightenment on, mankind has believed that his reason is the truest authority of what is truth; hence our clumsy attempts to “prove” Christ with our propositional truth statements, our countless stories of geographical or archaeological science that we hope “proves” something true in the Bible. There is good reason why we in the West don’t see the miracles that so frequently accompany the preaching of the gospel in the rest of the world: because we told ourselves long ago that we make our own miracles. We don’t believe in His power; we believe in our own. That’s the origin of our silly ideas about “helping God” along in His will. Many of us Westerners must UNLEARN what we have been taught about truth and the gospel; we are so stained by the modernism of the Enlightenment that we cannot recognize the Almighty God’s power in any age and any time. Like the religious leaders mocking Jesus on the cross, we taunt Him: “If I can see or quantify it, I’ll believe it.”

 

But our senses have lied to us. The empirical science on which our studies of medicine and everything else have been based has shown itself to be quite lacking. An older generation of American trusted anyone in a white lab coat; those same white-clad authorities have told us in the same decade that oat bran would stave off cancer—and then that oat bran was powerless against cancer. This sort of failure is commonplace in “science.” When we place our trust in only what we can quantify with the five senses, we have placed ourselves in the position of epistemological authority, rather than the Almighty God Who created this natural world that we’re so diligently studying. We do not save ourselves by what we can see; rather, we place our faith in the One Whom we cannot see—and in the process, take a much longer and more accurate view of life and truth as a result.

 

Jesus said that those who believe—even they have not seen—are blessed. My desire today is that this mocker continues his growth journey toward being blessed—by believing by faith, and not by sight.

Mark 15:1-15

1As soon as it was early morning, the chief priests met with the elders and scribes and the whole Sandhedrin, and tied up Jesus and led Him away by force and handed Him over to Pilate. 2And Pilate asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, saying, “You have said so.” 3And the chief priests accused Him of many thing. 4But Pilate again asked Him, saying, “Do you have no answer? See how many charges they bring against You!” 5And Jesus answered him nothing, which amazed Pilate.

 

6Now at the festival he used to release to them a one prisoner for whom they asked. 7Among the rebels tied up in the prison, there was one called Barabbas, who had committed murder in the insurrection. 8And the crowd came up and began to ask him to do as he did for them. 9But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 10For he perceived that it was because of jealousy that the chief priests had handed Him over. 11But the chief priests incited the crowd even more to release Barabbas to them. 12And Pilate again answered and said to them, “Then what shall I do with the one you call King of the Jews?” 13And again they cried out, “Crucify Him!” 14And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has He done?” But they cried out even ore, “Crucify Him!” 15So Pilate, wishing to placate the crowd, released to them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, handed Him over to be crucified.

 

Now we see the cruelty and malice inherent in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Early the next morning, the Sanhedrin met. Why would they have to meet, if they had already decided His fate, you ask? Why, you must remember that the charge on which they convicted Jesus was blasphemy—a religious charge, in accordance with their religious Law. They were not allowed to put anyone to death; only the Roman authorities could do that. And there was no way a “blasphemy” charge was going to hold up in a Roman court of law. So they had to concoct a political charge (Luke gives us more details about this in his account). Pilate sees through their schtick, but has an overarching desire to placate the crowd for the sake of his job. Jesus was silent throughout the whole ordeal; absolutely unwilling to defend Himself, He was already laying down His life for His friends. During the back-and-forth between Pilate and the rabble (the noisy muscle of the chief priests), we see that the religious leaders have chosen Barabbas over Jesus—in other words, they have chosen lawlessness over law, as all humans are wont to do. The malicious violence in a crowd is well-documented; people do and say things that they normally wouldn’t as individuals when they are in a braying mob (this is why our Founding Fathers distrusted democracy, which is a type of mob rule, and preferred a republic). And through it all, the Son of God is passed from one “authority” to another “authority,” and those “authorities” don’t realize that there is truly only one Authority. And He was doing this for them.

 

Jesus’ silence speaks volumes about how we are to respond to the evil that is done to us. He saw a bigger picture: one in which He was substituting Himself for those He loved. He went into this dark chapter of malice and cruelty with open eyes, knowing what lay ahead, and undertaking it anyhow out of His great love for you and me. The same crowd braying for His crucifixion was the one on His mind as he endured the scourging. The same leaders who suborned perjury and incited a riot before Pilate were the ones for whom He was laying down His life. In our natural state, we are the chief priest and the crowd. In our redeemed state, we are the apostles—on His “side,” but too frightened and powerless to help. What He does in front of the chief priest and Pilate, He does for us. And don’t forget His discourse just prior to submitting Himself to this: love one another, as I have loved you.

 

I’m an American. I have rights. And I don’t like those rights trampled on by others—government or individual. And I am quick to anger as I ready myself to defend those rights. Nor are those “rights” nearly as sacrosanct as I have built them up to be in my own mind; I get upset with people for driving too slow, listening to their music too loudly, keeping their porch lights on all night so I can’t enjoy the stars, not being on time, or talking on their cell phones when they’re ordering lunch at Whataburger. Many times, people are inconveniences to me. They get in the way of my solitude and meditation and reverie. They are an unwelcome interruption in my forward progress in life. I prioritize the people in my church as my family, as I should…but I have a nasty habit of not prioritizing the rest of the people who come into contact with me. I am terribly convicted of this; reading Jesus’ response to much more serious violations reminds me that I’m not nearly as awesome as I think I am. I am reminded that if He can endure such terror out of His love for me, I am to take a deep breath and love those around me without gritting my teeth and behaving as though I’m the only person on earth. Reading this scene challenges me to love others properly, thoroughly, sacrificially.

 

How about you?

Mark 14:53-72

53And they led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priest and elders and scribes were gathered together. 54And Peter followed at a distance into the courtyard of the high priest and was sitting with the guards and warming himself by the fire. 55But the high priest and the whole Sanhedrin were seeking testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they found none. 56For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimony did not agree. 57And some, standing up, bore false witness against Him, saying 58“We heard this man say that ‘I will destroy this temple made by human hands, and in three days I will build another not made with human hands.’” 59Yet even in this their testimony did not agree. 60And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, “Have You no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” 61But He was silent and did not answer him. Again the high priest asked Him and said to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63And the high priest tore his garment and said, “What further testimony do we need? 64You have heard His blasphemy! What does it appear to you?” And they all condemned Him as deserving of death. 65And some began to spit on Him and blindfold His face and hit Him, said to Him, “Prophesy!” and the guards received Him with blows.

 

66Now while Peter was down in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67and seeing Peter warming himself, looked at him and said, “You were also with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are saying.” And he went out through the gateway, and the rooster crowed. 69And the servant girl saw him and again began to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70And again he denied it, and after a little while the bystanders said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galileean.” 71But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak!” 72And immediately the rooster a second time, and Peter remember the saying that Jesus had said to him: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

 

Though Peter’s cowardice in the face of a testimonial opportunity comprises some of this reading, the crux of the pericope is centered around Jesus’ sham trial. Here, we see a bitter irony: the religious leaders are so committed to the Law that they had built a fence around it and enforced it so that people didn’t violate it, and they are here suborning perjury—a violation of the Decalogue. In their pursuit of “righteousness,” they had become even more unrighteous. What they though was “righteous” was really a violation of God’s Law that they claimed to love. They were “righteous” in their own eyes, rather than in God’s. More irony ensues, as the high priest condemns the Lamb of God to death, just as the high priest would do in Leviticus at every Passover. Verse 64 forms the hinge of all history: “they all condemned Him as deserving of death.” The most bitter irony of all: the most innocent One Who ever lived is condemned by lawbreakers as deserving of death. All of THEM deserved death, but He did not. Their moral myopia had blinded them to the reality of the moral universe: they were the sinners, and He was the innocent One.

 

It is ever so today. We struggle with our own tendency toward self-justification and self-righteousness. We love our own internal, mental definitions of righteousness—those moments where we twist morality like a pretzel to fit whatever mold we desire. We recognize the teaching of God, and justify our own rebellion to it as an exception to a rule of which we are deserving. But what we really deserve is death—death for our rebellion, death for our tendency to affirm ourselves at the expense of the greatest Other. Lest we judge the religious leaders too harshly, let us remember that we are naturally with those who spit and beat the Innocent One—condemning Him in our place. And lest we judge Peter too harshly, let us remind ourselves of how many times we, too, shrink from bearing the witness for which we were born. How often have we had the opportunity speak the truth of the gospel to our neighbors, and found a reason to avoid it! How often have our own eyes been blinded to these chances. And in the seedy tradition of the Pharisee, we justify ourselves as others sink into the abyss of sin because of our lack of burden for them.

 

We don’t deserve Christ’s grace. We don’t deserve His forgiveness. We are not worthy to call ourselves by His name. These are family privileges given to us by Almighty God on account of His immeasurable grace. How can we fail to appreciate that He took our place in condemnation? How can we fail to love our neighbor enough to share the truth of His good news with him? May we be spurred onward toward righteous deeds, empowered by His Holy Spirit, as we meditate on this dark moment when the evil one had the upper hand and the Innocent was condemned.

Mark 14:43-52

43And immediately, while He was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs from the high priests and the scribes and the elders. 44Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying to them, “The One Whom I will kiss is He; arrest Him and lead Him away under close guard.” 45And when he came, he went up to Him and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed Him. 46Then they laid hands on Him and arrested Him. 47And one of those standing by drew a sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you come out as after a criminal, swords and climbs, to arrest Me? 49Day after day I was with you in the temple, teaching—and you didn’t arrest Me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” 50And they all left and ran away.

 

51And there was a young man following Him, wearing a linen cloth around his naked body, and they seized him. 52But he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

 

 

This is a pivotal scene in the broader story of Jesus’ Passion. Here, we see the characters in the story—there is Judas Iscariot, who has given a sign to the mob that will identify Jesus. Dr. McGee points out that Jesus needed to be identified in the crowd, indicating that there was no halo or anything; this would be an emphasis on His humanity. Barclay notes that the action of the identifying kiss was significant, as well: the Greek word typically used for “kiss” is found in verse 44: φιλήσω. But the “kiss” that Judas actually executes in verse 45 is κατεφίλησεν. The κατα- prefix is intensive, which leads some commentators (so Barclay) to conclude that this was no ordinary kiss, but that of a lover. He lingered and kissed Him fondly. It was the final farewell of a friend who had turned enemy. There is the character of the crowd—a singular mob with swords and clubs who are the picture of violence. There is the man who strikes a blow for Jesus in the fracas of the arrest; John’s account tells us that this man is Peter. Why would Mark not have recorded this, particularly as the amanuensis of Peter? Most likely, the reason is that it simply wasn’t safe yet to name him. John’s account will be written forty years after Mark’s, so by then Peter has been executed and it’s safe to name him. At the time of the writing of the gospel of Mark, perhaps it wasn’t yet. There is the character of Jesus. Here, after the travail of the garden, Jesus serenely appears as the Master of His destiny, directing the action, rather than the mob. There is also the character of the mysterious young man who appears in verses 51-52. No other gospel mentions him, and there is understandably some speculation about who he is. Why would this detail be important enough to the author of the gospel of Mark to include? The most probable answer is that the young man is Mark himself as a boy. Acts 12.12 records that the early Jerusalem church met in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. There is a popular argument for the location of the upper room being in that house, though this is more speculative than anything else. If this is Mark, it would explain how the Gethsemane scene may be narrated, since the disciples were asleep (otherwise, someone was awake enough to dictate it). This may well have been the author saying “I was there….a minor character in this story,” without signing his name.

 

There is nothing quite so universally moving as the power of narrative. We all love a good story, and this is because we all sense, on some level, that we are part of a great and continuing story (in philosophy and theology, we call this the “metanarrative”). Like the young man in the story, there is a moment when the “metanarrative” of God intersects with your own narrative—the moment you become a character in the greater story. Your own story is part of that story. In evangelicalism, we have long equated “sharing the gospel” with a propositional argument—such as the Romans Road. We teach people that if you memorize the correct verses and say the right things, you’ll eventually get people to repeat an incantatory prayer after you, and then they’ll be saved. But because there is so much more to the gospel than that first moment of repentance, something is missing from this approach. Moreover, a good many people do not respond well to rational argument; they are unable or unwilling to process the premises and the syllogism, for example.

 

But STORY…..that’s another thing. EVERYONE understands the power of STORY. Everyone remembers the characters in a story, and their actions. Why do you think that Jesus’ preferred method of teaching was NOT rational argument? He didn’t teach a set of propositional truths; He made up stories of characters and actions that did not exist. He created fictive people and places and events and told stories—and people remembered them. This is the best and most universal way to share the gospel—particularly with an audience that doesn’t accept the premises of a rational Christian argument. You might be dealing with someone who doesn’t accept the premise that “all man is fallen,” but if you tell them the story of how fallen YOU were, they can relate. They can accept that. Like the young Mark in the story, your own story has been built around the Hero—the Savior Who heals, delivers, provides—and the people around you need to hear that story.

 

Share your story with someone today. Contribute your two verses to the metanarrative. Let someone know of the time that the Hero came to your rescue, and is ready to come to theirs, as well. Your story is a gift from the Creator; share it today.