One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

TOMS: Luke 7

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Feb. 25, 2007

This chapter opens with the story of the centurion and his servant. This man was desperate for his servant to be healed, and he was apparently a gracious man. You will not find many Romans about whom the Jews would say this: "He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue." (7:4-5) He, unlike virtually every other person who came to Jesus for healing, understood the real power that Jesus had. When Jesus was nearing the centurion's house, he said he wasn't worthy to have Jesus come into his house, but that Jesus could heal him right there in the street. "But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." (7:7-8) He understood that Jesus' power was not magic, but it was something that came from God. Jesus did as the centurion requested, then said: "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." (7:9)

Next is a story that is found only in Luke. And that's rather surprising, because this is an amazing miracle. You would think at least one of the other Gospel writers would have mentioned it. Jesus comes to a village, and the whole town is in mourning. An elderly widow's only son is being taken out to be buried. Jesus comes to the widow, tells her to stop crying, and then tells the bearers of the body to stop. As He came to the body of the dead son, most of the people probably were shocked. They may have thought Jesus was making a mockery of their funeral. But then Jesus raises the young man and restores him to his mother.

Next we have the messengers from John. John was having his doubts. Sure, Jesus was healing people and preaching, but like most Jews, John was not looking for just a teacher and a healer. He was looking for the Messiah who would break the bonds of Roman oppression and establish the Kingdom. Jesus does not blast John for his doubts. He has a simple message for His friend: "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me." (7:22-23)

Jesus then tells the people about John, and He adds something very strange at the end: "To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.' For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by all her children." (7:31-35, ESV)

Jesus says both John and Himself defied the people's expectations. People didn't expect a prophet to live in the desert and do the strange things John did, so they said he was demon-possessed. Of course the prophets like Hosea and Ezekiel did even more bizarre things than John, but they were safely in the past, and their actions were already part of Scripture.

The people certainly didn't expect the Messiah to be running around with the outcasts of society and defying their societal norms. They accused Him of being a drunkard and a glutton. Now I could go off on Jesus being accused of being a drunkard, and that few "good Christians" today would be accused of such, but I think the most important thing to learn from this passage is that Jesus defied people's expectations. I think He would do the same thing today. We get too comfortable in what we consider normal or correct Christianity. I don't think the Lord minds that different Christians do things different ways, but I do think He minds that people think their way is the only correct way. And I'm not talking about the cardinal doctrines of the faith. I'm talking about people who split churches and fellowships or blast their fellow believers over lesser differences. I'm all for knowing why you believe what you believe, but part of knowing why is understanding what things are worth fighting for and what things are not. There were lots of things the Jews considered to be the correct religion. Jesus did not follow their rules, and so they dismissed Him as a fraud.

Monday, February 23, 2015

TOMS: Luke 6

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Feb. 22, 2007

The chapter opens with the disciples picking wheat and eating it on Saturday. The Pharisees - either some of them were following Jesus all the time or they really had a lot of time on their hands - criticized Jesus for allowing the disciples to work on the Sabbath. Jesus responds with a question He often asked the Pharisees: "Have you not read...?" He then explains how David ate the shewbread in the Tabernacle, even though no one was supposed to eat it except the priests. Of course the Pharisees were familiar with the story, but they were so concerned with finding the rules in the Bible that they overlooked examples of compassion and common sense exceptions to the rules.

Luke jumps ahead to "another Sabbath" when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. In comes a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees and scribes in the audience were sitting there daring Jesus to heal the man so they could accuse Him of working on the Sabbath. Jesus simply tells him to "Stretch out your hand," and he is healed. So Jesus did nothing and at the same time did everything.

The last section of the chapter is very similar to Matthew's Sermon on the Mount. While there are some who teach that this is a different view of the same sermon, I think the differences are more striking than the similarities, especially in the Beatitudes. You will find pieces of the Sermon on the Mount scattered throughout Luke's Gospel in all sorts of different contexts and circumstances. I think it is more likely that Jesus often repeated important teachings He wanted his disciples to follow, and that He would often vary the way He taught them a little to drive home important points.

Luke's and Matthew's Beatitudes are vastly different. A beatitude is just a statement of blessing upon someone or something. Matthew speaks of those poor in spirit and hungering for righteousness. Luke is very different: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied." (6:20-21) Matthew focuses on the heart attitude of the person who will receive spiritual blessings, and Luke focuses on the material things a person who seeks spiritual blessings will give up to obtain them.

Luke follows up his Beatitudes with condemnations: "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets." (6:24-26, ESV)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

TOMS: Luke 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Feb. 19, 2007

This chapter opens with the conversion of Peter. Peter is the primary secondary (does that make sense?) character of the Gospels, especially the first three. Jesus was teaching by the shore of the "lake of Genessaret" (interesting side note: Luke never calls the Sea of Galilee a "sea." He had likely traversed the Mediterranean lots of times. That was a real sea. There was no way Luke was going to call a little body of water like the Galilee a sea.) and He got into Peter's boat. After He finished, He told Peter to go out and let down his nets for a big catch. Peter disputed, and basically told Jesus he was going to do it just to humor Him. I think he was hoping to prove Jesus wrong. When they caught so many fish their boat began to sink, Peter cried out, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (5:8)

At what point does obedience trump motive? A case can certainly be made that it did in this story. Peter's words - "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." (5:5) - tell us that at the very least Peter was just doing this to please Jesus, not because he believed Jesus would perform a miracle. We hear people say all the time that if we serve God with the wrong motives we aren't serving at all. At some point obviously that is true. Jesus said if we do good works for the praise of men, we lose our reward in heaven. But we don't apply that to other areas of life. God tells us stealing is wrong. If I really want something, and I'm just following the honest desires of my heart, does that make stealing OK? No. We honor God by obeying in that situation, even when our motive may not be the best and even if our obedience doesn't come from a heart of love for God's word. I'm not sure I have all the answers; it's just something I've been thinking about.

The next story is of the leper who came to Jesus and said "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." (5:12) The most significant word in that sentence is "Lord." Jews knew better than to throw the name Lord around loosely. That name was reserved only for God. Jesus responded to this man's faith.

The next section is of the man lowered through the roof. I love this story. This story is mostly about the reaction of the people in the house more than it is about the crippled man or about his friends. The scribes and Pharisees were sitting in there in their proud self-righteousness and could do nothing but criticize these guys who were tearing up the house to get their friend to Jesus. Jesus blows them away with this question: "Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'?"  (5:23) Jesus proved to them that He had power both to forgive sins and to heal.

Finally Jesus talks about fasting and the parable of the wine skins. I love the frankness of the last verse of the chapter: "And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'" (5:39, ESV) You can say what you will, but that doesn't sound like something a teetotaler would throw in at the end of a parable.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

TOMS: Luke 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Feb. 15, 2007

This chapter begins with the temptation of Christ. We will never understand what it was like to be God in a human body. The way the first verse is written, "...and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil" (actually that is also part of verse 2) seems to indicate that Satan tempted Him almost nonstop for the better part of six weeks, and the three that are recorded were just the last three. The first temptation was to take the easy way out of His trial: "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." (4:3) How many times have I asked God for a similar Deus ex machina (the word means "God from the machine." It is a theatrical term for an impossible ending that instantly resolves all the issues in the story) solution to my problems? Many times if God gave us the answer we wanted to our prayers, we would be a lot worse off than we think we are in whatever predicament we find ourselves in. That was the temptation - not that it would be wrong to make bread, but it would be wrong for Jesus to take the easy way out of His problems.

The second temptation (Luke's account gives them in different order from Matthew) was once again for instant gratification, but this time an ultimate gratification: "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Satan wanted Jesus to take a short cut to His future glory.

The third temptation was to gain fame for the wrong reason: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" The world is full of celebrities who are famous for all the wrong reasons. They have fallen for the temptation that Jesus resisted here.

Next we have the sad story of Jesus' rejection at His hometown of Nazareth. He went into the synagogue and was asked to read from the book of Isaiah. It was of course a providential request, as the scroll was opened to the exact passage Jesus wanted to read: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (4:18-19) This is a quote from Isaiah 61:1-2. Jesus went on to say: "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (4:21)

Jesus knew their hearts, and had some harsh words for them: "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself.' What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well." And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." (4:23-27, ESV)

The people were incensed, and they grabbed Jesus and tried to throw Him off the cliff. What was it they were upset about? Once again Jesus was telling them it takes more than a family tradition to gain favor with God. Both the widow of Zarephath and Naaman were Gentiles, but they had faith in God, more faith than the Jews who were sitting in their synagogue that day did. The people in the synagogue could not get beyond the point that here was Joseph's son, the little boy they knew running around town years ago. They were wanting Jesus to put on a big show for the home folks, and Jesus said, in so many words, it's not up to me who gets healed. God could have chosen to heal all the lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha, but instead He only healed Naaman, a Syrian who was an enemy of the Jews who obeyed the prophet, even when it didn't make sense. And God could have fed all the poor widows in Israel during the famine, but only the Gentile woman of Zarephath had her little mess of meal and oil last for three years because of her faith.

Monday, February 16, 2015

TOMS: Luke 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Feb. 13, 2007

Here we have a very in-depth discussion of John the Baptist. I know we discussed John earlier, but let's discuss him again. John's parents were very old when he was born, so he likely was alone at a very early age. He did live with them long enough to know who he was, the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. He was baptizing people in the Jordan River and presumably other streams in Palestine. This was the main problem the religious leaders had with John. Baptism was a symbol of conversion of a Gentile to Judaism, and here was John baptizing Jews, who in their mind had no need of baptism. But John had an important message: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (3:7-9, ESV)

It's not very good salesmanship to call your audience a bunch of snakes, but that's what John called them. I think it's safe to say that it was more acceptable to use outrageous language a long time ago than it is in our time. Jesus of course called people all sorts of things, and His enemies called Him worse things back. Call it political correctness, call it what you will, but it is true that people accepted such insults as part of public discourse back then, and they don't now. I have heard of a some preachers who curse and call people names in the pulpit and defend themselves by saying Jesus used that kind of language. Perhaps He did, but we are living in different times. We don't "greet the brethren with a holy kiss" anymore either, even though at least four times in the New Testament Epistles the Apostles told the recipients to do so. (So much for "If God says it more than once, it must be really important.") There are some things that we need to adapt to our own culture if we are going to be effective.

But the main point of John's message is that Israel needed to repent. It's not good enough just to be in the physical lineage of God's people. God's plan of salvation has always been a personal matter. Even in the Old Testament, when God had special dealings with the Jewish nation, they were not the only ones who followed the Lord. Look at Hiram, king of Tyre, who gave millions in gold and other supplies for Solomon's Temple. Job was not a Jew, neither was Nebuchadnezzar, who apparently wrote the fourth chapter of the book of Daniel. Jethro, Moses' father in law, is another example. There are also examples like Rahab and Ruth, Gentiles who became part of the Jewish nation. And then of course not every Jew ever was or is now converted. The message throughout the prophets, and indeed the entire Old Testament is one of personal accountability and personal faith in God.

Luke also includes a genealogy of Jesus (I always want to put an extra "o" in "genealogical"). This one is different from Matthew's genealogy of Joseph, and most scholars believe that this genealogy is that of Mary. Apparently Mary was a descendant of David's son Nathan instead of Solomon, as Joseph was. I don't know. There's some people who can talk for hours about the interesting things they find in genealogies. I'm sorry, but I can't. They just seem like a bunch of names to me.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

TOMS: Luke 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Feb. 12, 2007

This is an incredibly long chapter, dealing with the birth of Christ and the trip to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12. The birth of Christ is certainly a familiar story. I don't think I can say anything that hasn't already been said. And yet, it seems to me one of the weirdest stories in the Bible. God chose to reveal the birth of the most important man in the history of the world to a group of illiterate shepherds and a group of wizards from Persia.

The next section is Jesus' dedication at the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus was about a week old. Two people there, Simeon and Anna, were the only ones there who saw who Jesus was. Once again, we have an irony only God could appreciate. Here is the God to whose worship the Temple was dedicated, and only two old people, no doubt overlooked or disregarded by most, realized He was there.

The last section deals with Jesus' family's trip to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old. I want to focus on the young Jesus for a second. By this time, He is aware of who He is. I don't think He understood completely who He was, mostly because of verse 52: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man." His mind had to mature just like everyone else's. He was no doubt well beyond His peers, but He still had to learn. Most of what He learned, in my opinion, is learning how to live with others, get along in society, and learn what He could do. There are some things, even for someone with all knowledge, that have to be learned by experience. Jesus didn't start walking the same day He was born. He had to learn balance and equilibrium just like every other child in the history of mankind.

That's a very interesting topic, one that I might write a book about one day, if I get a chance. It's fun for me to think about. Of course most of what I write would just be guesses on my part, but it would still be fun. Anyway, you know the story about how Jesus stayed behind to talk with the teachers in the Temple, and Mary and Joseph did not know where He was for at least four days. Here's a question I have never thought of until right now: Where did Jesus spend the night? The Temple would not have been open 24/7. Jesus was in Jerusalem by Himself for at least three nights. Somebody must have taken Him in.

Here's another question I have thought a lot about: How difficult was it for Mary and Joseph to raise their other children after their experience with a perfect child? Do you think Mary ever said, "Why can't you be more like your brother?" I bet she did.

Let's finish this up with a comment on what I think is one of the most profound verses in the Bible: "And he (Jesus) went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them." (2:51, ESV) We will never understand what Jesus went through. He is our great Example in everything, including submission to authority. I always use this passage when teaching young people. There is no doubt that Jesus was smarter, wiser and more powerful than His earthly parents, and yet He was submissive to them.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

TOMS: Luke 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Feb. 11, 2007

The book of Luke opens with a dedication to Theophilus. We are not sure who Theophilus was, other than he is a believer and his name means "lover of God." Maybe he was a rich man who paid Luke for his work. He seems to be an important person, maybe he was a governor or some sort of government official.

Luke is the only writer who gives us any detail about the family of John the Baptist. His father Zechariah was a priest. When the levitical priesthood first started, there weren't that many priests. They all had a lot to do. But as the generations passed, there were so many priests they had to take turns doing service in the Temple. The priests were divided into families, and each family served a certain time of the year, I think a month. Luke tells us that Zechariah was chosen by lot to offer the evening incense. This would have been a rare honor, maybe the only time in his life he would have had the opportunity to do this. Of course Zechariah saw an angel who told him that he was going to have a son in his old age.

One observation I have made is a kind of humorous detail in the story of Zechariah. When Zechariah questions the angel, the angel pronounces a curse upon him: "And behold,you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (1:20) Then when John is born 9 months later, Elizabeth, John's mother, informs the people around that the baby is to be named John. The people around are surprised, "and they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, 'His name is John.'” (1:62-63, ESV) The angel said nothing about Zechariah being deaf, yet even his close friends apparently assumed that since he couldn't speak he also couldn't hear. Just a funny observation.

Meanwhile, Mary was about to learn something that would change the course of the world. I have always wondered what Mary told her folks, and what they would have thought. Of course no one else in history has ever had a virgin birth. It probably wasn't easy to explain. The fact that Mary went to see her "relative" Elizabeth (they must have been related through their mothers, since Elizabeth was a Levite and Mary was of the tribe of Judah) tells us that things might not have gone too smoothly.

The end of this chapter has two great psalms of praise- one from Mary and one from Zechariah. They are filled with prophecies about Jesus and how He will bring in the kingdom.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

TOMS: Intro to Luke

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Feb. 10, 2007

Luke is an interesting writer. He is by far the most detail-oriented of the Gospel writers. Unlike the other Gospel writers, Luke was not an eyewitness to the life of Christ, as least as far as we know. Luke is a Greek name. It is possible that he was a slave assigned by Paul's parents to watch over him while he was learning in the rabbinical shools; more likely he was a convert of Paul's who noted his physical infirmities and made himself Paul's servant-doctor.

Luke probably wrote this Gospel during the two years when Paul was in prison. There is a gap of nearly two years in the book of Acts (also written by Luke) after Paul appears before Felix and when he appears before Agrippa.

Apparently during this time, Luke spoke with many people who knew Jesus, including Mary. How else would he have been able to record the Magnificat, the psalm of praise spoken by Mary after she visited Elizatbeth, not to mention the details of Mary's visit? Luke also records at Jesus' birth that "Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." (2:19, ESV) And who else would have known the story of Jesus going to the Temple at the age of 12 but Mary?

Luke also includes a genealogy of Jesus, which means he probably investigated the family records, either held by Mary or someone else in the family, perhaps James, Jesus' half-brother. A lot of writers note that Luke mentions women prominently in his Gospel. All this means is that he probably interviewed several women about their recollections of Jesus.

He probably also consulted the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, since most commentators agree that Luke was written after those two, and that there are many similarities. Luke is very descriptive, giving detailed accounts of the parables and other events in Jesus' life. There are several stories exclusive to Luke, including one of my favorite stories in the Bible, the disciples who talked to the resurrected Lord on the road to Emmaus. This means that Luke did more than copy Matthew and Mark, which is what many skeptics would like you to believe.

Of course none of this denies the power of the Holy Spirit in inspiration. A lot of people don't understand inspiration, and Luke's Gospel is a good example of what inspiration really means. There was not a mystical voice that told Luke everything he needed to write, nor did he go into some kind of a trance in which he magically wrote everything. Luke had to work hard to gather all of his information, and then he had to put it together into a cohesive whole. But when Luke sat down to write out the final copy, the Lord made sure that everything Luke wrote was exactly the truth and exactly what the world down through the centuries would need to know about Jesus.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

TOMS: Mark 16

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Feb. 8, 2007

This chapter has the story of the resurrection, but Mark approaches it differently than any other writer. This is the most extreme case of Mark looking at an event through the eyes of other people. In the first 8 verses he does not explicitly state that Jesus rose from the dead. Instead, he tells the story from the perspective of the women who come to the tomb of Jesus and they see the tomb is empty. There is an angel that tells them that Jesus is risen from the dead, but they are not sure. Verse 8 reads "And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."

And that is where some manuscripts of Mark end. Most translations, including the ESV, include the last 12 verses of Mark's Gospel with a translator's note that "some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20." It's not just the usual suspects of skeptics and critics who note this. There are plenty of teachers and pastors who affirm all the cardinal doctrines and who stand for the authority of Scripture who hold that this passage is less than authoritative.

I am certainly not qualified to say whether these verses should or should not be included. I think it is best to do what is done here: to include it with a note. There is nothing that contradicts any doctrine or whatever. But I will say that if these were not included, we would not have to deal with the fallout of verses 17-18: "And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." These verses are the basis of many Pentecostal beliefs today, along with the snake handlers and other strange beliefs. Of course there are examples of all these things happening in the book of Acts, so you could say that they have been fulfilled.

Of course people will always take verses out of context to fit their own ideas, so that is nothing new and would not make a difference if these verses were in or out. I'm not sure I'm doing a very good job of adequately explaining why this is significant. It's just that some people are so defensive about not mentioning anything that might damage someone's faith in the Bible, and others try to explain away everything. There has to be a balance in the middle, where people are aware that there are a handful of disputed passages in the Bible, but that fact does not mean the Bible is not God's Word. God is the one who chose to preserve His word by the means of fallible copyists, and it is more wrong to sugar-coat that fact than it is to tell people the truth.

Put the facts on the table, and most people can handle them. I guess that comes with the territory of being a journalist (that's a fancy name for what I do). It is always best to tell people the whole truth up front. This is a dangerous statement, so read it carefully: people who teach that one translation or text is the perfect Word of God, to the exclusion of all others, are setting their hearers up for a fall. If someone is taught that, and then a skeptic who doesn't believe the Bible gives them some facts like I have mentioned here along with lies about how unreliable the Bible in general is, the ignorant person is liable to abandon the faith completely. This is one way the cults gain new members. People are fed partial truths from well-meaning leaders, and then they are susceptible to another set of partial truths from other well-meaning people. Just tell people the facts. That should be sufficient.

Friday, February 6, 2015

TOMS: Mark 15

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Feb. 6, 2007

This chapter has the second half of Christ's Crucifixion. Pilate is the central figure here. The Sanhedrin had delivered a political prisoner (I'm describing this from Pilate's perspective) to him, called Jesus of Nazareth. Though Mark does not mention it, Pilate first tried to pass Him off to Herod since Jesus was a Galilean, but Herod sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate is "amazed" that Jesus does not respond to the accusations of the Jews. Pilate knows "that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up." (15:10) So he comes up with a brilliant plan. He offers Jesus or Barabbas, a notorious murderer, in a traditional prisoner release. The priests, furious at what Pilate had done, stirred up the crowd to ask for Barabbas. It's sad that as much as they surely not want a murderer on the streets, they would rather have him than Jesus. It shows their irrational thinking. When the crowd demands that Jesus be crucified, Pilate turns Him over, in order to "satisfy the crowd." (15:15) Pilate seems to be weary of dealing with these unruly and unpredictable Jews, and was ready to do anything just to get them to leave him alone.

Now here is an irrelevant pet peeve of mine: Golgotha or Calvary, is not a hill or a mountain. It is always described in the Gospels as a "place." The point of crucifixion is terror - this is what happens to people who don't obey Rome. You don't inspire fear by crucifying someone "on a hill far away." All Roman records and documents about crucifixion show that it was done in plain view of the people. All the Gospels record that Jesus' crucifixion was a very public event, with many people present, from Pharisees who mocked Him to John and Mary to the Roman soldier who proclaimed, "Truly this man was the Son of God."(15:39) Jesus was most likely killed at a notorious place for crucifixions very close to one of the main roads out of Jerusalem.

Interestingly, Mark is the only Gospel to record that Pilate was surprised that Jesus was dead early in the evening, since Jesus was put on the cross that morning. Mark records that when Joseph asked for Jesus' body, "Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph." (15:44-45, ESV) This was not the normal way crucifixions were done, but of course Jesus' execution was not normal in any sense of the word.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

TOMS: Mark 14

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Feb. 3, 2007

This chapter tells the beginning of the Crucifixion. The religious leaders were determined to get Him. Like we said earlier, the Triumphal Entry was the last straw. Jesus had put on a show that He was the Messiah, and there were enough people in Jerusalem for the Passover who believed in Him to upset their little kingdom. The religious leaders, especially the Sadducees, had a nice little fiefdom that they were going to protect at all costs. In exchange for their cooperation, the Romans allowed the Jews to have their own religious court, the Sanhedrin, and some limited governmental control. As far as the Romans were concerned, it was a small price to pay for Jewish cooperation, who were a notoriously bothersome people to try to rule. Of course all this happened according to God's plan: "It was the will of the Lord to crush him." (Isaiah 53:10) God was in complete control of the situation.

Like I said with Matthew, there really isn't a whole lot new that can be said about the Crucifixion, even if it is the most important event in history. There is a strange passage only included in Mark: "And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked." (14:51-52, ESV) The best explanation I have heard of this passage, interjected immediately after Jesus was arrested and the disciples were scattered, is that this young man is Mark himself. There are many who think the Last Supper was held in Mark's mother's house. It is possible that the soldiers came to the house first, and young Mark may have ran out to try to warn them, but he was too late. It's just a theory, but it's the most reasonable explanation of a bizarre passage.

One thing I need to say here, in case I forget it in the future. There is one overarching question that needs to be answered: Why did Judas betray Jesus? Besides the obvious, that it was God's will and that he was destined to do so - the son of perdition - what would cause a man to follow Jesus for three years and then turn Him over to the authorities? I think that in his mind Judas truly believed in Jesus, and he was trying to force Jesus' hand. Judas was frustrated with all this talk about humility and sacrifice. Jesus was the Messiah! What better way to bring in the kingdom than to put Jesus' life on the line? Judas may have thought (I admit this is a theory, but there are other commentators who hold this view) that when Jesus' destiny as king was threatened, He would then be forced to extricate Himself by some sort of miracle. With Jerusalem full of Jews anxious for something to happen, they would see Jesus' victory over the Roman garrison and would flock to Him again. This theory partially explains why Judas killed himself after Jesus allowed Himself to be killed. If Judas was acting out of pure greed, he would not have been disappointed when Jesus was killed. He wouldn't have cared what happened to Jesus. But when He was killed, Judas realized that his plan had failed, and so he killed himself.

Monday, February 2, 2015

TOMS: Mark 13

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 30, 2007

Here we have an abbreviated version of the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24-25. There are a few subtle differences, so this is not totally a rehash of old material.

First of all, Mark records that Peter, James, John and Andrew asked Jesus about the end of the age and the beginning of the kingdom. We can infer from Matthew's version that all the disciples heard it. This must mean that these four were together to ask Jesus their question, but then Jesus addressed His answer to all the disciples.

But before that, we should mention the fact that the disciples were awestruck at Herod's temple. This temple was huge, much larger than Solomon's. It did not have the amazing decorations or all the gold that Solomon's temple had, but it made up for its lack of those things in sheer size. Any picture you see of Jerusalem, you can always the the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim shrine on the temple mount. It is built on the foundation of Herod's Temple. That building does not cover the whole area that Herod's temple did, plus Herod's temple was taller. Jesus was not impressed. He said, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." (13:3, ESV) We are impressed by buildings, but the Lord is more concerned with our hearts than with any physical structure.

The main point of this passage was to tell the disciples that Jesus was not going to set up His kingdom yet. The disciples were still looking for Jesus to set up His kingdom, perhaps within the next few days, while all of Israel was in Jerusalem for the Passover. But Jesus said He was going away, and there will be many distractions and hardships along the way: persecution, false Christs, wars and famines, and so on. The disciples still did not get the message, but this was an important message: so important that three Gospel writers included it in some form or fashion.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

TOMS: Mark 12

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 30, 2007

Remember that this entire chapter takes place in Jerusalem, either the afternoon of the day of Jesus' Triumphal Entry or the morning after. So this happened the week that Jesus was crucified.

This chapter starts with the parable of the tenants. The tenants are supposed to be harvesting crops for the owner, but instead they are keeping everything for themselves. When the owner sends messengers asking for payment, the tenants beat them and send them away empty. Finally the owner sends his son. But instead of respecting the son, they kill him, thinking that they will stand to own the land if the son is dead. In Mark's version of the parable, the religious leaders (remember that this passage is in the middle of a series of questions they asked Jesus) do not respond verbally, but Mark does tell us that they know that He was telling the parable about them, and they planned to arrest Him.

The next question is from the Herodians, who supported the reign of Herod. These would have been probably the most worldly members of Jewish society. Their question: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?" (12:14) They knew that most of the people in the audience hated the Romans and would not be thrilled to hear that they needed to pay taxes. They also knew that if He told people not to pay their taxes, then He could be turned over to the Romans as a troublemaker. Instead of choosing either option, Jesus makes one of the first and most powerful statements concerning the separation of church and state: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (12:17)

Next came the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection. They basically denied everything supernatural, including angels. They only recognized Moses' writings as legitimate. They asked a hypothetical question about a woman who had seven husbands who all died. "In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife." (12:23) Jesus responds by saying that people are not married in the resurrection, which may have seemed like a cop-out. But then Jesus attacks their theology head-on: "Have you not read in the book of Moses (the part of the Bible they followed) in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong." (12:26-27)

A scribe then asked "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Of course you know the answer: the most important is to love God, and the second, which Jesus was not asked about, is to love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus then had a question for His audience: "How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.' David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?" Jesus was proving to His hearers that He was God, but by this point, most of the people were unwilling to listen.

This chapter ends with the widow's offering. In the ESV her offering is described as "two small copper coins, which make a penny." The marginal note says that a penny would have been 1/64 of a denarius. If we go by the standard that a denarius is $50, this would make her offering about 79 cents. This was all she had, and Jesus makes a note of it. We are not called to give great things to the Lord, we are called to give our all, whatever that may be.