Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mark 13

Prediction of the destruction of the temple (vs. 1-4)—In this chapter, Jesus discusses the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Roman armies. Mark doesn’t go into near the detail that Matthew does on this subject, and I refer the reader to my discussion of Matthew 24 to get a full account. Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience, thus the events of 70 A.D. would be extremely important to them. Mark’s Roman audience wouldn’t be quite as interested. The conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders, which is such an important theme in the first gospel, is not catalogued as extensively in the second gospel. But Jerusalem’s (and the temple’s) annihilation were very singular and significant episodes in history, and each of the first three gospel accounts devotes a not inconsiderable amount of space to it. In the first four verses of chapter 13, Jesus announces the destruction of the temple/Jerusalem, and the disciples ask Him when it is going to happen.

“The beginnings of sorrows" (vs. 5-13)—The occurrences leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction are quite specific, and Jesus warns His disciples of them. Don’t let anyone deceive you regarding the time (v. 5). Many false Christs will arise trying to lead people astray, and they will be successful (v. 6). There will be wars, earthquakes, famines, and troubles, but that’s not the end (vs. 7-8). The apostles will be abused and mistreated (v. 9), but will successfully preach the gospel to the whole world, i.e., Gentiles and Jews (v. 10). The Lord will help the apostles in their preaching (v. 11), but even families will be divided as part of the sorrows leading up to the catastrophe befalling the Jewish capital (v. 12). Jesus’ followers will be hated, but “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (v. 13).

Jerusalem surrounded by armies (vs. 14-23)—The “abomination of desolation” (v. 14) is “Jerusalem surrounded by armies” (Luke 21:20). When they see that, Jesus says, flee! (v. 14). Don’t delay (vs. 15-16), and pray that your flight will not be hindered in any way (vs. 17-18). The tribulation will be horrendous (v. 19). The Lord will shorten the horrors of those days, “for the elect’s sake”—i.e., for those Christians who might not have gotten His warning about this terrible event (v. 20). But again, don’t be deceived by claims of false Christs; they will come and “deceive, if possible, even the elect” (vs. 21-22). The Lord has given this warning, however, so if His people succumb to these teachers of error, it will be their own fault (v. 23).

The destruction of Jerusalem (vs. 24-27)—I think it is necessary here that I reproduce what I wrote in Matthew 24:29-31. This is the most misunderstood and abused passage in Jesus’ discussion on the destruction of Jerusalem, and so a full exposition of this is best: “These three verses are the ones that confuse most people. Let’s get them fully before us: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Verse 30’s declaration that “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and great glory” is interpreted to mean the literal Second Coming of Jesus. It’s not. It is a figurative coming in judgment upon Jerusalem. Notice that this coming was going to happen Immediately after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29). Jesus obviously did not literally come back in the first century, so we must understand the “coming” of verse 30 as figurative.

And, frankly, if we’d do just a little bit of Old Testament study, there would be no difficulty. This idea of the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light, etc. was used by the prophets to indicate judgment upon a nation. For example, in his “burden against Babylon” in Isaiah 13, we find this language: “Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine” (vs. 9-10). Notice that the language used is almost exactly what Jesus says in Matthew 24:29. If God used this language in illustrating “the day of the Lord,” i.e., a day of judgment against Babylon, why would He not use it against Jerusalem?

Another example: In Ezekiel 32, the prophet speaks judgment against Pharaoh and Egypt. Verses 7 and 8 read, “When I put out your light, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of the heavens I will make dark over you, and bring darkness upon your land,' says the Lord GOD.” Sound like Matthew 24:29 again. If we study the Old Testament, this “apocalyptic” language that Jesus uses in Matthew 24 should be familiar to us (it would have been to His readers and listeners), and thus we ought not be surprised that such speech is found in reference to the coming judgment on Jerusalem.

And, once more, the “coming with the clouds” is figurative. Isaiah 19:1 says, “The burden against Egypt. Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt.” Jehovah is coming in judgment upon Egypt riding on a cloud. Literally? Psalm 104:3 talks about a God Who “lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, who makes the clouds His chariot, who walks on the wings of the wind.” Now, indeed, when the Lord Jesus returns the final time, He will come with the clouds (Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7). But that coming will be a judgment day, too. So familiarity with the Old Testament figures and allusions will help us to understand Jesus’ language in Matthew 24:29-31, the most difficult passage in the chapter.

Verse 31, “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other,” simply tells us that, during this destruction of Jerusalem, the Lord will protect “His elect”—provided, of course, they paid attention to what He had told them earlier in the chapter. ‘See, I have told you beforehand’ (v. 25).” So reads what I penned regarding Matthew 24:29-31, the parallel passage to Mark 13:24-27. Again, I encourage the reader to study all three of the posts I made on Matthew 24 for a complete explanation of this remarkable event, i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and its meaning.

The lesson from the fig tree (vs. 28-30)—Just like when you see the leaves sprouting on a fig tree, “you know that summer is near” (v. 28), “so you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near--at the doors!” (v. 29)—Jerusalem’s destruction was about to come to pass. That event would take place in the lifetime of the apostles (v. 30).

The Second Coming (vs. 32-37)—Mark records Jesus saying a few words about His literal Second Coming at the end of the world. Matthew has about 17 verses at the end of chapter 24 and all of chapter 25 on the subject. The literal Second Coming will be preceded by no signs whatsoever, thus we must always “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is” (v. 33). Three times in this short section, Jesus says “watch, watch, watch!” (vs. 33, 35, 37). We don’t know when the Lord will come back again, but we DO know when Jerusalem was to be destroyed! The signs regarding the latter were very specific; there are no signs at all announcing the former. Watch and always be ready.

Once again, I refer the reader to my discussions on Matthew 24 and 25 for a complete analysis of this very important, and widely misunderstood, section of God’s Word. Let the reader beware!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mark 12, Part Two

The question regarding the resurrection (vs. 18-27)—From my comments at Matthew 22:23-33: “Next, it was the Sadducees turn to try Jesus: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother” (v. 24). This is true. In fact, it was culturally true even before the Law of Moses. God killed a man named Onan in Genesis 38:10 because he wouldn’t do it. But then the Sadducees came up with an absurd example. A man marries a woman, but dies with no children. His brother marries her, but then he dies with no children. There are seven brothers. They all marry her, in turn, but none of them have any children. So, “in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her” (v. 28). Interesting question.

The Sadducees were the “modernists” of their time. They did not believe in angels, a spirit world, or in a resurrection after death. Hence, the conundrum they propose to Jesus. If there is a resurrection, since all seven brothers were married to this woman, who’s she going to be married to in the next life?

Jesus responded, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (v. 29). There were two things wrong with the Sadducees’ position. Number one, “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (v. 30), so there will be no problem about whose wife that woman would be. But the real point Jesus wanted to make was in opposition to the Sadducees’ doctrine of “no resurrection,” and it’s a very remarkable argument Christ makes: “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (vs. 31-32). Who did Jehovah say that to? He said it to Moses in Exodus 3:6, at least 300 years after Jacob was dead. And yet, “I am the God of Abraham,” not “I was.” In other words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive in Moses’ day—though they were, of course, dead to this earth. Jesus’ argument is based on the tense of a verb. No wonder, “when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching” (v. 33).” Mark has Jesus’ concluding statement as “ye do greatly err” (Mark 12:27).

The greatest commandments (vs. 28-34)—While Matthew also records this event, there is a significant addition in Mark’s account that must be noted. “One of the scribes” asked Jesus, “"Which is the first commandment of all?”, or “most important” (v. 28). Jesus answered that to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength constitutes the greatest commandment, and then adds that the second is like it, to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. “There is no other commandment greater than these” (v. 31). The scribe answered Him, “"Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices" (vs. 32-33). Jesus “saw that he answered wisely,” and said to him “’You are not far from the kingdom of God’” (v. 34). This scribe had perceived a very important truth that most of the Jews missed. Too many of them believed that sacrificial offerings, in and of themselves, were sufficient to please God. Be a Jew, perform the rituals and ceremonies punctiliously, and God will be pleased. But one can carry out the externals of a religion without exercising the internal—rituals can be practiced mechanically, with no emotion or deep love for God. But one cannot love the Lord and neglect the externals! This scribe understood that loving God came first—before the burnt offerings and sacrifices. If one loves God, he will obey Him—and that means submitting to Jesus, too. Thus, the man was "not far from the kingdom of God,” much closer than the Pharisees, the sum of whose religion was external and self-righteous. It’s a brilliant, and noteworthy, section.

Christ as the son of David (vs. 35-37)—From Matthew 22:41-45: “Christ had answered all of their queries, now He throws one at them: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?" (v. 42). “"The Son of David" (v. 43). Jesus then poses a perplexing problem: "How then does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying: The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool? "If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his Son?" (vs. 43-45). Nobody knew the answer, which is found in the dual nature of the Messiah. In His human nature, He was descended from David, which the Jews well knew. But in His divine nature, He is obviously David’s Lord. What this whole chapter demonstrates, as Jesus takes on all comers and puts them to flight, is Christ’s superior understanding and wisdom. None of His opponents could match Him. The multitudes saw it. The Pharisees couldn’t handle it. They had two options: join Him or kill Him. And we know which choice they made.”

Beware of the scribes (vs. 38-40)—The fellow in verses 28-34 excepted, most of the scribes were self-righteous hypocrites. The vast majority of them were Pharisees. These people, however, were considered by most people as the religious elite and leaders of the time. Thus, they were very dangerous because, if people followed them, then they, too, would be hypocritical and self-righteous. Pharisaic, scribal religion is not true religion, and Jesus wanted His followers to be aware of that.

The widow’s two mites (vs. 41-44)—It’s interesting that Jesus was sitting close to the treasury and observing how much people put in it. The rich “put in much” (v. 41). But here comes a poor widow who tossed in all she had—two mites. “Mites” were the smallest coin used by the Jews. Its current value cannot now be easily estimated, probably less than a penny. But, according to Jesus, she gave more than all the rich, “for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood" (v. 44). She gave the Lord everything she had, and then trusted Him to take care of her. Jesus definitely notices when we do that.  Indeed, one could say it sums up what our total response to God should be.

Mark 12, Part One

The parable of the vinedressers (vs. 1-12)—This material is found in Matthew 21:33-46, and Mark’s account is substantially the same. Here is what I wrote at that location. Again, the scripture references are from Matthew: “A landowner planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country. At harvest time, he sent his servants to the vinedressers to receive the fruit. The vinedressers abused them all—“beat one, killed one, and stoned another” (v. 35). The landowner sent more servants, but “they [the vinedressers] did likewise to them” (v. 36). Finally, the landowners sent his son, “saying, ‘They will respect my son.” (v. 37). But the vinedressers killed him, thinking they could receive the inheritance. “Therefore,” Jesus asked His listeners, “when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do with those vinedressers?” (v. 40). And the response was the expected and correct one: “'He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons" (v. 41). Jesus then made the application: “Have you never read in the Scriptures, 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD'S doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (v. 42). The kingdom of God would be taken from them and “given to a nation bearing the fruits worthy of it” (v. 44). The parable is pretty clear. The “landowner” is God, the “vinedressers” are the Jews, and the “servants” are the Old Testament prophets. The “son,” of course, is Jesus. Since the Jews never heeded God’s message through the prophets or Jesus, they would not be the leading citizens in the kingdom. And that “stone” which the builders rejected is Jesus, of course. The religious leaders got the point: “Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them” (v. 45). But there was nothing they could do at the moment, “because they [the multitudes] took Him for a prophet” (v. 46). Jesus never lost His popularity with the masses; that’s why He had to be tried at night, illegally, and put on the cross before the people found out what was going on.”  One final clarification:  the "nation bearing fruits worthy of it" (v. 44) were Gentiles, i.e., the Lord's church would largely be filled with Gentiles, not Jews, which is true to this very day.

The question regarding taxation (vs. 13-17)—From Matthew 22:15-22: “The Pharisees sent some Herodians to Christ “that they might entangle Him in His talk” (v. 16). The “Herodians” were a political party following the Herods, who were Roman lackeys governing parts of Judea. The question they ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v. 17), was a trap—the Jews didn’t believe they should pay taxes to a foreign power. They got this from Deuteronomy 17:14-15, which says, "When you come to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, 'I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,' you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.” Some of the Jews deduced from this that they should never pay tribute to another nation, which, of course, they had been required to do, frequently, in their history, and were under the same compulsion in Jesus’ time because of the Romans. Still, the question was ingenious. If Jesus took the common Jewish view that “no, you shouldn’t pay taxes to Caesar,” then He would be in trouble with the Romans. If He said, “yes, do pay,” then He could lose influence with the masses who hated the Romans. So, frankly, the Pharisees/Herodians didn’t care how He answered. Except they got the one answer they didn’t expect: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (v. 21). How could anybody argue with that answer? Incidentally, Jesus knew it was a trap and exposed it as so: “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?” (v. 18). He wanted others who were listening to understand what was going on.” Again, Mark’s account is virtually identical, so there’s really nothing to add.

I will make one point here, however. If Mark and Matthew (and often Luke) all record the same material, then…why? Why such repetition? Confirmation is the easiest answer. Obviously, the more people who report on an event, the greater the credibility. But there comes a point beyond which no more confirmation is needed. If people won’t believe in Jesus based on the testimony found in the New Testament, then piling more on isn’t going to help. Matthew, Mark, and Luke—and sometimes John—simply substantiate each other. There are minor variations in some of the accounts, but this is to be expected from human authors; indeed, it would be suspicious if there were not such disparities. No two, or three, humans will describe an event in exactly the same way. And though the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of all of the Bible, He did use humans in the process and guided them to write as they normally would. How He did this is unknown. The mystery of inspiration is far from fully understood, and never will be this side of eternity.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mark 11

The triumphant entry into Jerusalem (vs. 1-11)—Much of this chapter is parallel to Matthew 21. The triumphant entry is recorded by Matthew. Here are my comments on Matthew 21:1-11. The verse references are from Matthew: “Jesus makes His final trip to Jerusalem. He sent His apostles after a donkey and colt, and rode into Jerusalem. A great multitude thronged Him and “spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (v. 8). They shouted praises to Him as well: “Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Hosanna in the highest!" (v. 9). The word “Hosanna” means “save now,” or “save, we pray.” Jesus entry into Jerusalem like this was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9: “Tell the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey” (v. 5). Interestingly, some people didn’t know him (v. 10), but Jesus hadn’t spent much, if any, time in Jerusalem the previous two years.” Mark’s account doesn’t add anything noteworthy to Matthew’s.

The barren fig tree (vs. 12-14, 20-26)—Mark indicates that this event happened over two days; Matthew condenses it. There are two points to this story. First, the “hypocritical” fig tree. It had leaves on it, thus appeared as though it would have fruit. It didn’t, so Jesus cursed it. Jesus is not being unjust to the poor tree; He’s making the point that we should truly be what we appear to be. If we have leaves, we better have fruit, too. The second point is found in verses 20-26 regarding faith. Jesus tells his disciples “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (vs. 23-24). This statement may have a specific reference to the apostles and their faith in the age of miracles, but the principles is true. Jesus uses the marvelous hyperbole of casting the mountain into the sea. If faith can do such great and powerful things, then imagine how successful it can be in accomplishing the small matters of our daily lives. But to have a profitable prayer life, we must be merciful like God and forgive those who have sinned against us (vs. 25-26). Forgiveness of our sins is the most supreme manifestation of the love and mercy of God, and thus we cannot even begin to approach Him if we do not imitate Him in forgiving others.

Religion for money (vs. 15-19)—Jesus was understandably upset when He came into the temple and found greedy merchants selling sacrificial animals. How crude. He drove them out, “and He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple” (v. 16). He refers to two Old Testament passages, one of them, Isaiah 56:7, indicating what the temple was supposed to be—“a house of prayer for all nations”—and the other, Jeremiah 7:11, indicating what the Jews had turned it into—“a den of thieves.” The reason Jesus could successfully expel these mockers was because He had the support of the people, and the “scribes and chief priests” were afraid to move against Him (v. 18).

The question on authority (vs. 27-33)—Here’s my comments on this section from Matthew 21:23-27: “The conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders heats up significantly now; the rest of this chapter and the next two are given to this theme. As He went back into the temple, the chief priests and elders of the temple asked Him by what authority He did His deeds (v. 23). Jesus turns it back on them: “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John--where was it from? From heaven or from men?" (vs. 24-25). He had them trapped. They had not submitted to John, either, so if they replied, “from heaven,” then Jesus would ask them “'Why then did you not believe him?'” (v. 25). But if they said “from men,” then “we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet" (v. 26). So they answered “We do not know” (v. 27), to which Jesus responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (v. 27). A key point in this section is to indicate to us that there are only two sources of religious authority: from heaven and from men. Obviously, we must have heaven’s approval for what we do. We must be careful, in all that we do, that we are not following the “commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9), for such constitutes vain service and worship to God.” Mark adds nothing substantial to Matthew’s account.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mark 10, Part Two

Announcement of His coming passion (vs. 32-34)—Jesus had told His disciples before about His coming death, burial, and resurrection, but they were having trouble accepting it. Amazement and even fear took hold of them (v. 32); their misunderstanding of His mission led to confusion and doubt. And all of that caused great consternation. They simply didn’t know what the future held anymore—the glorious King they expected or the suffering Servant Jesus spoke of? Prejudicial thinking is hard to overcome.

True greatness in the kingdom (vs. 35-45)—Matthew records this event in chapter 20:20-28 of his gospel. Here are my comments at that location: “The mother of James and John had a special request of Jesus: “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom" (v. 21). Well, a mother certainly wants the best for her sons, but this does sound selfish. And, again, she has an earthly perspective—Jesus will literally reign from Jerusalem, and sitting at His right hand and left hand would obviously be a place of honor. Jesus responded “You do not know what you ask” (v. 22). He would suffer, not reign on this earth, but James and John did not realize that—even though He had just told them again (vs. 17-19) of His coming death. The other apostles, not surprisingly, were indignant at the request (v. 24). Jesus informs that true greatness in His kingdom lies in serving others: “Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (vs. 26-28). And again, this just did not fit the apostles’ conception of an all-conquering Christ. But they’d learn.” The point of this section cannot be emphasized too often or too strongly: true greatness in God’s eyes is found in serving others, not in lording it over them. Christians cannot, must not, be like the world. Again, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Being like Christ is our purpose on earth.

Healing blind Bartimaeus (vs. 46-52)—There were actually two blind men in this incident (see Matthew 20:29ff.), but Mark only mentions the more prominent of the two, a man named Bartimaeus. Because of his blindness, he had been reduced to begging for his existence (v. 47). When he heard that Jesus was passing by, he cried out for mercy (v. 47). The crowd cried to shush him, “but he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (v. 48). Jesus responded, and called for him to come. Mark adds the interesting incidental “And throwing aside his garment…” (v. 50). Most scholars think that Peter was the (human) source for Mark’s material, so this little eyewitness happening must have caught his eye. Maybe Peter liked the color of the garment! It’s not an unimportant point. An eyewitness might indeed note something like the casting away of a garment. If somebody was just making all of this up, why would he mention, or even think of, such a detail? Jesus asked Bartimaeus what he wanted; “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight" (v. 51). His belief in Jesus granted him his desire: “Go your way; your faith has made you well” (v. 52). The Lord wants us to always remember that good things result from faith. Not surprisingly, Bartimaeus became a follower of Jesus (v. 52).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mark 10, Part One

Teaching on divorce and remarriage (vs. 1-12)—Matthew 19:1-12 discusses the same topic. Here is what I wrote there: “The Pharisees, “testing Him,” asked Jesus a question about divorce: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?” (v. 3). In His answer, Jesus goes back farther than Moses, all the way to creation. God made male and female, a man leaves his father and mother, cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (v. 6). Then why did Moses allow it? the Pharisees asked Him. “Because of the hardness of your hearts,” (v. 8). A couple of things here. The Law of Moses was actually protecting the female here; lest she befall a worse fate by having to stay with an abusive husband, the marriage could be broken. But God, as we know, also tolerated polygamy before Christ; Abraham, Jacob, David—many Old Testament heroes had more than one wife, or several concubines. From the creation, man’s morality had simply deteriorated to where God’s original plan for marriage had been corrupted; He “overlooked” multiple wives (Acts 17:30), because He was slowly trying to bring mankind back to His perfect law—as revealed by Jesus. And of course, Abraham and Jacob, for example, lived over 400 years before one word of the Law was written. But now, with Christ, God’s revelation will be finalized; here is the last message. And so, Jesus brings us back to what God intended in the first place. Thus, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (v. 9). One man, one woman for life; the only exceptions are death (Rom. 7:1-4) and sexual immorality (fornication). If a man (or woman) gets a divorce for any other reason and remarries, that is an adulterous relationship. Why? Because that person is having physical relations with someone who is not their lawful mate. “What God has joined together, let not man separate,” and if man “separates” what “God has joined together,” He’s not going to recognize or accept it. We have no authority from God to break what He has put together. So it’s adultery, and it must cease. The apostles, in verse 10, respond, in effect, “that’s a tough teaching.” Yes, it is, Jesus responds, but we must make whatever sacrifices are necessary “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” (v. 12). Hell isn’t worth an adulterous marriage. Yet, “what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).”

Mark doesn’t mention the “exception” clause of Matthew 19:9, thus making Jesus’ teaching sound even stricter: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery" (Mark 19:12). That’s the general teaching; Mt. 19:9 gives the only immunity from that.

Blessing the little children (vs. 13-16)—Again, Mark is almost identical to Matthew so here are my thoughts from Matthew 19:13-15: “This is very similar to what happened in the first part of chapter 18, but obviously is a point worth emphasizing, and perhaps even more so after what the Lord had just said about marriage. We must humbly accept God’s teachings. And it was obvious, from verse 13, that the disciples hadn’t gotten the message the first time.” Mark adds nothing noteworthy to Matthew’s account.

The rich young ruler (vs. 17-31)—Again, from my comments on this section in Matthew 19: “This story actually continues into chapter 20, as we shall see. A young man, rich, and a ruler (according to Luke, though he doesn’t say a “ruler” of what; probably a synagogue) asks Jesus what he had to do to have eternal life (v. 16). What a great question. More people ought to be asking it. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments of the law he was living under (Moses’). The young man responded that he had done that; “What do I still lack?” (v. 20). Jesus, “beholding him, loved him,” (Mark 10:21), and then told him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matt. 19:21). The young man went away sorrowfully because he had great wealth; he loved his money more than he loved his God. Jesus then said, “I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 23) This astonished the disciples: “Who then can be saved?” (v. 25). They were operating under the Jewish assumption that the rich were the blessed of God; they must be the righteous because Jehovah had dealt so bountifully with them. It’s the poor who must be out of favor with God. So if the rich can’t be saved, who can? Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly; they’ll understand eventually. Peter then asks a rather self-serving question: “See, we have left all and followed you. Therefore what shall we have?” (v. 27). Jesus gives him two answers: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (v. 29). And the apostles actually will have a special place (v. 28). So, indeed, if we leave all and follow Jesus, we will be well taken care of by the Lord. But…”many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v. 30). Jesus’ second answer to Peter’s question is found in chapter 20, and we’ll look at it in that summary.”

Mark does not have the parable Matthew includes in chapter 20, and that makes Jesus’ answer a little incomplete in the former’s version of this event. I encourage the reader to go over and read (or review) that section, because a very interesting an important is made regarding Peter’s attitude. Mark omits the parable of Matthew 20, but follows up this section with another instance of self-aggrandizement by the apostles. So he’s going to arrive at the same place at Matthew, but with not as much detail or exampling.

I think the most interesting addition in Mark's account is in verse 12, which (as noted above) says, "Jesus, beholding him, loved him."  Jesus loves everyone, of course, but there was an immediate compassionate and affinity He had for that young man.  But what is noteworthy is that, because Jesus loved him, He told him what he had to do to be right with God.  What He said hurt the young man's feelings, but that was not nearly as important as his eternal destiny.  Folks, there is absolutely nothing more unloving than to allow somebody to go to hell; you can't get more "unloving" than that.  Jesus loved this young man and exposed to him the sin that came between him and his God.  We must do no less, if we will be like Jesus.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mark 9, Part Two

Jesus speaks again of His coming death (vs. 30-32)—As He had done earlier, Jesus tells His apostles of His coming betrayal, death, and resurrection (v. 31). Verse 32 is interesting: “But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him.” They didn’t understand it because of their preconceived Jewish notions about the Messiah; we don’t exactly know why they were afraid to ask Him about it, except they might have remembered His reaction when Peter rebuked Him the first time He told them. See Mark 8:31ff.

Who is the greatest? (vs. 33-37)—Jesus caught the disciples in a childish dispute over which one of them would be the greatest (vs. 33-34). Of course, He knew what they had been arguing about, so He made it a teaching point. The greatest, He said, “shall be last of all and servant of all” (v. 35). The statement “servant of all” effectively explains the “last of all.” To further illustrate His point, He “took a little child and set him in the midst of them” (v. 36), and said, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me" (v. 37). We don’t have to do noteworthy public deeds to be pleasing to God. The smallest service to one in need is just as acceptable to Him as a powerful sermon that converts hundreds. We simply need to do what we can. That’s all He expects of us—humble service to others.

More on service (vs. 38-41)—The disciples said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us" (v. 38). We have no idea who this fellow was, but he could scarcely have been working miracles in Jesus’ name without the Lord’s authority. He was probably a disciple of John the Baptist or one of the 70 Jesus sent out on the “limited commission” (Luke 10). Jesus told His apostles not to forbid the man, for “he who is not against us is on our side” (v. 40). He again makes the point about humble service: “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (v. 41). It might be a small thing to us, but the Lord sees it.

The flip side (vs. 42-50)—But if we aren’t humbly serving mankind, we are most likely leading them astray. Thus, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea” (v. 42). Nothing is more precious than our souls (vs. 43, 45,47); whatever the cost, avoid sin, rather than “to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched, where 'Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.” (vs. 44, 46, 48). All of us will be tested (v. 49), and those who pass the test--“salt is good,” v. 50—will be of benefit to the kingdom of God. “Ye are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said in Matthew 5:13. “But if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it?” (v. 50). What good is savorless salt? “It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out” (Luke 14:35). So, don’t lose your flavor as salt, and you will be a blessing to others and “have peace with one another” (v. 50).

Mark 9, Part One

The nearness of the kingdom (v. 1)—This verse belongs in chapter 8, at the end of Jesus’ teaching there. But it’s an important verse, so let me get the whole of it before us: “And He said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.’" Note some crucial points. The kingdom would come in the lifetime of Jesus’ disciples; thus, it is not future from our time, as premillennialism teaches. Further the kingdom would come “with power.” This helps us narrow down even more when that kingdom would arrive. In Luke 24:49, Jesus said to His apostles, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high." “Power” would come upon the apostles in Jerusalem. Now let’s consider Acts 1:8, Jesus again talking to His apostles before His ascension: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” So, according to Mark 9:1, the kingdom of God would come in the lifetime of the apostles, and it would arrive “with power.” After Christ’s resurrection, the apostles were to remain in Jerusalem until they received “power” (Luke 24:49), a “power” that would come with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). When did the Holy Spirit come upon them? That event is recorded in Acts 2:1-4, the day of Pentecost. Peter preached to the multitudes, 3,000 were baptized, and the kingdom—the church—was established. “Kingdom” and “church” are two different terms for the people of God. “Kingdom” indicates the kind of government the Lord established for His people, and “church,” which literally (in the Greek) means “called out,” indicates our separation from the world. Other terms are also used for God’s people—body, sheep, saints, etc. All of these give us different perspectives on our relationship to God. To separate “kingdom” from all of these other designations is arbitrary, capricious, and has no authority in the Scripture. Premillennialism is a materialistic, worldly philosophy. And it has no sanction in the Bible.

The transfiguration (vs. 2-13)—This event is recorded in Matthew 17. Here are my comments there: “Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a high mountain for an event we call the “transfiguration.” “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matt. 17:2). Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet, appeared and talked to Him. Peter spoke up, suggesting that three tabernacles be built, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But in Mark’s account of this event, we learn that Peter didn’t really know what he was saying because the three apostles “were greatly afraid” (Mark 9:6). Apparently the point of the transfiguration is found in [Matthew 17] verse 5: “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’" The authority of Jesus, above that of Moses and Elijah is established—hear Christ, not Moses.” Mark includes a discussion about Elijah in this location. The disciples asked Jesus about the coming of Elijah: “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” (v. 11). The scribes were correct. The next-to-last verse of the Old Testament (Malachi 4:5) reads, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” Jesus indicated to them that “Elijah” had already come. Matthew 17:13, in the parallel passage in that gospel, says “Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.”

The mute, epileptic boy (vs. 14-29)—Jesus comes upon His disciples disputing with some scribes with a large crowd around (v. 14-15). A man brought his epileptic son to Jesus (vs. 17-18). He had previously brought him to Christ’s disciples, but they had failed in their attempt to cast out the demon. Jesus shows a little irritation with them: “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me" (v. 19). It’s not terribly surprising that perfection in human form would occasionally get aggravated at imperfections, especially after they had been with Him for almost three years and were still so weak. Jesus ejected the demon (v. 25). The disciples asked Him why they had been unsuccessful (v. 28). Matthew has Jesus discussing their insufficient faith (cf. Matt. 17), but Mark omits that and only mentions the peculiarity about the kind of demon that inhabited the boy. Jesus told His apostles, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting” (v. 29).  We have no idea what He is talking about because demon possession doesn't happen today.  But apparently there were levels of strength within the demon populace.  Let us hope we never find out from personal experience.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mark 8

Feeding the 4,000 (vs. 1-10)—This story is found in Matthew 15, and here are my comments at that place: “We’ve seen a similar story in (Matthew) chapter 14 where Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 (men). Now the number is 4,000, and this time there are seven loaves of bread and “a few little fish” (Matt. 15:34). And, when finished, there were seven baskets full of leftovers. Not surprisingly, the disciples show some obtuseness. In Mt. 15:32, Jesus said to them, “’I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.’" And the disciples asked Him, “’Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?’" Didn’t they remember the feeding of the 5,000 men (excluding woman and children)? But let’s try not to be too hard on these fellows; it’s just not every day you see somebody feed over 10,000 people with a handful of food—and have more left over than you started with. It takes time for faith to grow; it doesn’t spring up overnight.”

The Pharisees seek a sign (vs. 11-12)—Mark indicates that, in asking for a sign, the Pharisees were “testing Him” (v. 11, NKJV). The ASV uses the word “trying,” and the KJV “tempting.” Bottom line is, their motives weren’t pure. Jesus had given plenty of “signs”—all the miracles that He did. This particular question wearied Him: “He sighed deeply in His spirit” (v. 12). And He wasn’t going to showboat and perform a miracle when they wouldn’t have accepted the implications of it anyway. Matthew adds that the sign of the prophet Jonah would be given, i.e., Jesus would spend three and nights in the grave and then come forth (Matt. 16:1-4).

The leaven of the Pharisees (vs. 13-21)—Here are my comments on this scene, as found in Matthew 16:5-12: “The disciples didn’t have any bread with them (Matt. 16:5), so Jesus uses the occasion to teach an object lesson: “’Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees’" (Matt. 16:6). The apostles, obtuse as usual, thought He was talking about real bread. Jesus, seemingly frustrated, censures their lack of faith and understanding, referring them to the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000. If the Lord could feed that many miraculously, why were they worrying about food? “Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt. 16:12). They finally got it.”

There is one notable exception in Mark’s account. Rather than the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” Mark replaces the latter with “Herod.” The Herodians were a Jewish political party that supported the Herod family’s claim to the throne of Israel. They were Roman lackeys, no more, but remember Mark’s audience—it was almost surely Gentile and probably Roman, so the Herodians would mean more to them than the Sadducees, who were basically a Jewish sect enamored with Greek philosophy, something the Romans couldn’t understand for the life of them.

The progressive healing of a blind man (vs. 22-26)—This is an interesting healing. A blind man is brought to Jesus for healing. The Lord first spit in the man’s eyes and laid hands on him, then asked if he saw anything (v. 23). “I see men like trees, walking” (v. 24). Jesus then touched the man’s eyes and he “saw everyone clearly” (v. 25). Why Jesus performed this miracle in two stages is unknown; He certainly could have done it immediately. Clarke has an interesting suggestion. That the blind man’s eyelids were “gummed” together from not being used for so long, and the spitting on them by Jesus was to loosen them. Once the eyelids were open, Jesus asked him what he saw, and then healed him completely. I don’t particularly like that explanation, but I thought it was interesting, and a possibility, I suppose. More likely, there was something in this man’s faith that Jesus wanted to strengthen—step by step, building his faith in what Jesus could do. But this is only speculation, given that the Bible doesn’t provide the reason.

Peter’s confession (vs. 27-30)—Jesus asked His apostles who men said that He was (v. 27). Various opinions were expressed (v. 28). But when the Lord asked them who they thought He was, He received Peter’s famous response “Thou art the Christ” (v. 29). Mark doesn’t mention Jesus’ rejoinder of blessing Peter, building His church, the keys of the kingdom, etc. Matthew 16:18-19 give the fuller account.

Peter rebuked (vs. 31-33)—Jesus them told His disciples about His upcoming passion in Jerusalem: “the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (v. 31). This was incomprehensible to the apostles; Jesus was going to reign as an earthly king, how could He be killed? Peter rebuked Him; such a thing as Jesus described could not happen. But the Lord’s return rebuke of Peter is stern: “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men" (v. 33). Peter wanted what men wanted—the earthly king—not what God had been promising, forgiveness of sins, since Genesis 3:15. The ignorance of the Jews regarding the Old Testament meaning was—and is—appalling.

The cost of discipleship (vs. 34-37)—It is interesting that this teaching, a rather hard one, was not spoken in a corner: “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also” (v. 34). Jesus wanted as many people as possible to know what it would cost to follow Him—deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Him (v. 34). The one who tries to keep his life for himself, will eventually lose it (eternally); but the one willing to lose his life for Christ’s sake, will find it (eternally) (v. 35). Then He asks the piercing questions, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (vs. 36-37). What’s more important to us than eternal salvation? Hopefully nothing, but it is something we all need to consider seriously. Is there anything we would not give up for the Lord’s sake? Because if we are ashamed of Him (not willing to sacrifice all for His cause), then He will be ashamed of us in the coming judgment (v. 38).

Friday, April 2, 2010

Mark 7

Conflict over washing of hands (vs. 1-13)—This event is found in Matthew 15, and I will simply reproduce my thoughts from that location: “I at least appreciate the honesty of the Pharisees here in their attack on Jesus: “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” by not washing their hands when they eat bread (v. 2). They aren’t claiming that Jesus and His disciples were disobeying the Law of Moses. The Pharisees equated their traditions WITH the Law and that was the problem. Jesus then points out that their traditions actually contradict the Law of Moses with an example regarding honoring one’s parents. In an age without Social Security, Medicare, etc. etc., children were expected to provide for their parents in old age; the parents took care of the kids when young, now the children were responsible when their parents were aged. But the Pharisees wouldn’t take care of their aged parents: “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God” (v. 6), they’d say. So instead of “honoring father and mother” by taking care of them, they would give the money as a “gift to God.” In one sense, this makes the crime even more atrocious—refusing to honor a command of God in the name of God. No wonder Jesus called them “hypocrites,” and the fulfillment of prophecy: “’Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”’” (vs 7-9). The fight between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day grows.”

That which really defiles a man (vs. 14-23)—True impurity, Jesus teaches, comes from within. “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man” (v. 15). The fleshly man will die and return to dust; God isn’t concerned with whether man’s hands or washed or not, but whether his heart is. Purity of heart is Christ’s point here: “for from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man" (vs. 21-23). The disciples were so embedded in Jewish traditions and ritualism that they had not grasped the point, either, when Jesus first said it (vs. 17-19). The power of tradition, culture, and life-long teaching is very difficult to overcome, and we have seen and commented on many examples of this during Jesus’ ministry. His apostles simply did not understand the true nature of His mission because they had been so grounded in Jewish customs and ideas. But the point Jesus makes here about outward versus inward purity—“blessed are the pure in heart” (Matt. 5:8)—is one of the crucial, cardinal distinctions of the Christian religion.

The Syro-Phoenician woman (vs. 24-30)—Mark tells us that this woman was a Greek. Again, since this story is related in full in Matthew, I will copy my comments from that location. The verses refer to Matthew’s account, which is found in chapter 15:21-28 of his chapter: “This is a great story. Jesus was in the region of Tyre and Sidon and a local woman—a Gentile woman, that’s very important—comes and asks Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus ignores her and the disciples want Him to run her off. The Lord is not being cruel here, not at all. He is trying the woman’s faith—and persistence. More than once, Jesus taught doggedness in prayer—how badly do you want what you are asking for (cf. Luke 18:1-5). He responds to this Gentile woman “’I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,’” meaning the Jews only (v. 24). But she does, indeed, persevere: “Lord, help me!” (v. 25). Jesus continues to test her: “’It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs” (v. 26). That could be taken as an insult; the “children,” again, are the Jews, and the “little dogs” are the Gentiles. “I came to the Jews,” Jesus said, “and I shouldn’t take what I’m supposed to give them and give it to Gentiles.” But once more, there’s no insult intended; it’s a test of faith. And the mother passes: “And she said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table’" (v. 27). Jesus praises her faith and heals her daughter. You gotta love that woman, who knew what Jesus could do and just wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

The healing of a deaf and dumb man (vs. 31-37)—A man who was both deaf and had an “impediment in his speech” was brought to Jesus. The Lord does something very unique in healing this man: ”He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue” (v. 33). Why Jesus did this is hard to discern; there is no explanation given in the text. Most of His healings were done with simply a word (see the previous story), so perhaps He wished to indicate that God’s power can be implemented through other means. But that is pure speculation on my part; your guess would be as good as mine. Regardless, “immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly” (v. 35). He commanded the man and his friends not to tell anyone, “but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it” (v. 36). People continued to be astonished at His deeds, and spoke a great truism: “He hath done all things well” (v. 37).