Mark 13:14-23

14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them.21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
(Mark 13:14-23 NIV)

As a quick review, Jesus told His disciples that the Temple would be destroyed;  four of His disciples asked when this would take place, and what signs would precede this apocalyptic event.  Jesus warned His disciples to pay attention, and not to be misled or to fear what was to come.  Jesus also told His disciples that they would be persecuted for their association with Him, from both the outside (via the religious officials) as well as the inside (betrayed by their own family members).  Jesus tells His disciples to not give up their faith, even when betrayed by their loved ones.

In today’s text, Jesus continues to answer the disciples’ questions, moving from general statements to specifics.  Jesus warns the disciples that one of the signs preceding this event would be the fulfillment of the Abomination of Desolation described in Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11.  Whatever was going to happen would be so terrible, so appalling that it would cause them to leave the Temple and Jerusalem in total disgust.

This could refer to any number of events that would take place, the most likely being the desecration of the temple and appointment of a clown as the high priest.  Many Christians saw this as Jesus’ sign and fled Jerusalem and went to the trans-Jordan city of Pella before the Romans cut off access to and from Jerusalem.

Jesus said that when the sign came, they were to flee Jerusalem quickly, not even stopping to pick up their personal belongings.  This would be an extremely difficult time, especially for pregnant women and nursing mothers.  In fact, Jesus says, except for God’s intervening grace and love, this would be a total annihilation of His followers.  God’s judgment would come swiftly, and they were to get out before it started.

Jesus then finishes where He had started – telling His disciples to be on their guard, to pay attention and not be misled by false prophets and those pretending to be the Messiah in order to lead people astray.  Jesus was telling them ahead of time so they would not be caught unaware.

History tells us that the time right before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple was, in fact, a horrible period of history.  With Titus and his Roman army coming to overtake Jerusalem, the majority of the Jewish people (those not following Christ) fled to Jerusalem instead of leaving the city as Jesus had instructed His disciples to do.  The historian Josephus wrote that 97,000 Jews were captured, and 1.1 million people died of starvation inside the city walls before Titus finally conquered the city and destroyed the Temple in AD 70.

While we may not face catastrophic, even apocalyptic events like Jesus’ disciples faced, Jesus’ command to pay attention and not be misled are certainly true for us today.  Many events, circumstances, and people vie for our attention and seek to mislead us into following them or devoting our time, attention, money, or allegiance to them.

May we pay attention and heed the clarion call of the writer of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV, underlines mine)

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 13:9-13

“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
(Mark 13:9-13 NIV)

From our past texts, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple, and four of His disciples approached Him privately to ask when this would take place and what signs would precede that apocalyptic event.

Jesus began by telling His disciples not to be misled by others pretending to be connected to Him, and not to fear, even when the world would seem like it was coming to an end.

In today’s passage, Jesus continues His warnings about the perilous times to come.  Jesus begins by telling His disciples to be on their guard – that they will suffer persecution and mistreatment because of their association with Jesus.

Despite the hard times yet to come, Jesus reminds His disciples (and us) that we have a job to do – to preach the gospel to all nations (v. 10).  Jesus’ command is also a promise – that He will carry forth His message and work through us despite the persecution.

Jesus warns His disciples that they will suffer persecution from the same ones that persecuted Him – the religious officials (v. 9).  Jesus also prepares His disciples for that persecution and questioning, letting them know that they do not need to worry about what to say to their questioners – that the Holy Spirit will come and guide their words when they are on trial (v. 11) and give their testimony (from v. 9).

Jesus also warns His disciples that in addition to the outside enemies of the religious officials (v. 9), there will also be enemies from within – even their own family members (v. 12).

Why is it that the deepest hurts come from those we love the most?  Betrayal hurts so deeply because it comes from the very ones we have entrusted our lives to – our siblings, our parents, our children.  Just like God’s warning to Jeremiah not to trust his family members, so Jesus warns His disciples to be on their guard.

Jesus ends this topic by letting His disciples know that everyone will hate them because of their association with Him.  The hatred may be taken out against the disciples, but it is ultimately pointed at Jesus.

Jesus’ last comment, “but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved”, is a reminder to stay firm in our faith and not renounce Him because of the persecution in order to make life easier or safer for ourselves.

As we look at what Jesus was telling His disciples, we see that He is reminding them that their walk of faith in Him will be a marathon, not a sprint.  Through suffering, we get a glimpse of what Christ endured for our sins.

May that glimpse lead us not to fear, but to gratitude to and worship of Him.

Do we look forward to suffering?  Of course not.  But suffering for Christ is nothing compared to what awaits us when we stand firm in our faith and welcomes us to spend eternity with Him because we have put our faith in Christ.

Paul sums this up well:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
(Romans 8:18 NIV)

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 13:5-8

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
(Mark 13:5-8 NIV)

As we opened chapter 13, we saw Jesus and His disciples walking from the Temple to the Mount of Olives.  One disciple made a comment about the magnificence of the Temple itself; Jesus replied that it would be totally destroyed.  Later, four of Jesus’ disciples come to Jesus privately and ask about these seeming end-of-the-world events.

Today, we hear the beginning of Jesus’ reply.  In these four verses, we see Jesus issuing two commands, and filling in reasons and examples around the commands:

  • Don’t be misled
    • Many will claim to be Messiah
    • Others will claim to be Jesus’ disciples but will be pursuing selfish interests
  • Don’t be frightened
    • Wars and rumors of wars will come
      • These are not the end
      • Nation will rise against nation
      • Kingdom will rise against kingdom
      • Earthquakes will erupt
      • Famines will take place
      • These things are just the false contractions before labor and delivery of Messiah coming again

When we look back to the history shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven, we see His prophecies come true:

  • Major earthquakes:
    • Crete – AD 46
    • Rome – AD 51
    • Phrygia – AD 53, 60
    • Camponia – AD 63
    • Rome – AD 65
  • Major famines:
    • Judea – AD 44
    • Greece – AD 50
    • Rome – AD 52
    • Rome – AD 65
  • Major wars and political upheaval:
    • Rome – AD 69 – known as “The Year of Four Emperors”
  • The Temple in Jerusalem:
    • Destroyed in 70 AD, and has not been rebuilt since

 

How do we respond to events far exceeding our control, such as natural disasters, war, political unrest and deep ideological dissension?

Do we respond in fear, either running away or hiding?

Do we respond in faith, keeping our eyes on Jesus as we face the chaos and offer help and hope to the hurting and the fearful?

May we be ministers of God’s grace and love, serving others and putting off our selfish interests to demonstrate Christ’s love and sacrifice for us to those we encounter.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 13:1-4

13 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
(Mark 13:1-4 NIV)

As we ended chapter 12, we saw Jesus and His disciples sitting and people-watching in the Temple.  Jesus pointed out the incredible faith of an unnamed widow who placed all she had in the offering – two small copper coins.  Jesus noted that she put in more than all the others combined, as she gave all she had to live on.

As we begin chapter 13, Jesus and His disciples exit the Temple area, headed for the Mount of Olives on the hill about Jerusalem.  Jesus uses this time to tell His disciples about future events so they won’t be surprised when they occur.

Mark chapter 13 is one of the hardest sections of New Testament scripture to understand. One of the reasons is that Jesus’ teachings are deeply rooted in the context of Jewish culture and folklore.  The Jews had the Old Testament writings and prophecies that told about the judgment of the Lord.  Over the centuries, the Jewish writers and storytellers imagined what that “terrible day of the Lord” would be like.  These stories, poems, and songs formed the mindset and folklore of the day.

As Jesus and His disciples were leaving the Temple, one of the disciples exclaims about the wonder of the Temple, with its amazing stones and architecture.  Jesus replies that none of the stones would be left standing on another.  To the disciples, this sounded like the end of the world.

When Jesus and His disciples reach their destination on the Mount of Olives, four of Jesus’ disciples come to Him and ask Him two questions in private:

  • When will these things happen?
  • What will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?

As we shall see in subsequent days, Jesus will answer their questions and more.  But His answer will be rooted in His role as Messiah, not as a conquering hero of Jewish folklore, but as the Suffering Savior who came to save and serve humanity.

Every generation has its crisis of faith; the disciples were not immune or exempt from theirs.  This generational turning point happens in our modern times as well as ancient days.  I remember my grandparents talking about their parents (my great-grandparents) thinking that the world had come to an end during World War I.  My grandparents and my parents talked about the Great Depression and World War II.  My parents lived in the shadow of Vietnam and the Cold War with Russia and its allies.  We now live in troubling economic times and ongoing culture wars and the constant threat of terrorism.

As we will see, Jesus tells His disciples (and us) to stand firm in our faith, and not be surprised or misled by the events happening around us and to us.

May we remain faithful to Him regardless of our circumstances.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 12:41-44

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
(Mark 12:41-44 NIV)

Jesus had been questioned in the Temple – many religious rulers tested Him in order to find fault with Him and have reason arrest Him.  They all walked away unsuccessful and amazed.  They dared not ask Jesus any more questions.

Yesterday we saw Jesus ask the last question and also warn against the pride and selfishness of the scribes (the lawyers) who were self-proclaimed experts in the Law.

Today, we see Jesus stop and look for teachable moments with His disciples.  Jesus sat across from the many donation boxes near the wall of the Women’s Court in the Temple.  Historians tell us that there were thirteen such giving boxes, each with a trumpet-shaped opening where people deposited their money.  The metal coins clanked into the boxes; the more clanking, the bigger the donation.  The larger the donation, the bigger the sign of self-righteous piety on behalf of the giver and the larger resulting praise from the religious officials.

Do you like to people watch in public places?  It’s one of my favorite things to do, especially when traveling.  Everyone has a story, and the expressions on people’s faces and what (or whom) they have in tow often tell how they’re holding up (or not).   Weary business travelers just want to get home and see their loved ones; parents with young children look forward to seeing grandparents, siblings, cousins, and other family members; teenagers, young adults, and couples look forward to an adventure while at their destination.

Jesus calls His disciples together and points out an unnamed widow putting two copper coins in the offering box.  The sound of these two coins would have hardly made a sound as she dropped them in.  The religious officials would likely have either ignored her or given her a nod of thanks but no lavish praises.

To understand the size of these coins, imagine a coin the diameter of an American penny, but half its thickness.  Two of these coins would weigh about the same as one American penny.  This small copper coin was called a lepton (meaning “thin one”) and was the smallest and least valuable coin minted in Jesus’ day.

Jesus takes this opportunity to explain God’s economy to His disciples.  Jesus tells His disciples that this widow has given more than all the other givers, as she gave everything she had, not just a portion of her funds out of her surplus.  God’s economy is upside down from the world’s economy; in Jesus’ eyes, she deserves the most praise of all.  She would have been totally justified in giving one coin and keeping the other, but she did not.  She gave both coins.

So what can we learn from today’s text?  I think there are two important truths here – the obvious one about giving, and a second (and not so obvious one) about the responsibility of those that teach and are in leadership.

There are two truths from this passage about giving that pleases the Lord:

  • Giving must be both sacrificial and without expectation.  Do we give God the “first fruits” of our labor, or the leftovers?  What are we willing to give up in order to give more back to God?  Do we give without expecting anything in return, or are we giving and expecting God to return a blessing bigger than what we gave?
  • Giving must have an element of faith and abandon to God.  To be clear, I am not advocating financial irresponsibility; we must pay our bills and meet basic family needs.  Beyond meeting our basic needs, do we step out in faith with our giving and trust God to supply funds so we can bless others beyond what our family budget would normally indicate?

Secondly, let’s look at the responsibility of those that teach and are in leadership.  It’s no coincidence that Jesus talked about the selfish motives of the scribes.  They likely taught that people were to give generously; if people gave their money to them, God would bless them in return.  Does this sound like anything today (i.e., televangelists)?

Scribes were forbidden from charging for their services, but verbal pleas for donations were allowed.  These scribes would often go after donations from people with limited means, such as widows and low-income families.  Thus Jesus’ condemnation in yesterday’s text (v. 40) where He accused the scribes of devouring widows’ houses.

May we give back to God freely and sacrificially and in faith.

May we be careful what we teach about giving, and not take advantage of others in order to make money for ourselves.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 12:35-40

35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’

37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

The large crowd listened to him with delight.

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
(Mark 12:35-40 NIV)

Jesus cleansed the Temple, which ignited a series of questions from various religious groups, all trying to find grounds to arrest Jesus and discredit His ministry.  Mark records this round of questions from Mark 11:27 through 12:34.  All the questioners went away unsuccessful and amazed.  No one dared ask Jesus any more questions.

In today’s passage, Jesus is the one asking questions.  Teaching in the Temple, Jesus presents a pair of baffling questions that the scribes could not even figure out.

The two questions are as follows:

  • How can the Messiah be King David’s son?
  • and how can Messiah also be King David’s Lord?

Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1, where King David readily admits that Messiah will be his master (Lord).  The scribes (the self-proclaimed experts in God’s Law) readily taught the first part of the Messiah being King David’s son (in King David’s family line), but the second part about the Messiah being King David’s Lord was a mystery to them.

Mark records that the crowds delighted in hearing Jesus preach and teach.  This likely further infuriated the scribes, Pharisees, and every other part of the Jewish religious leadership and power structure.

So what was Jesus’ point?  What was saying?

To understand Jesus’ teaching here, we need to go back to the predominant Jewish thought about the Messiah.  Remember that all the Jews thought that Messiah would be a political or military figure who would kick out the Romans, establish a theocracy and exclusive self-governing land with God in charge, and Messiah as king and ruler.  In a phrase, Messiah was expected to come back and re-establish King David’s kingdom and rule.

Jesus was challenging the notion of what Messiah was and how He would show up and engage the world.  Messiah would not re-establish King David’s rule.  Instead, He would show up and build a completely new kingdom.  The Messiah would not establish this new kingdom in power and in wrath; rather, Messiah would establish this new kingdom in service and in love.

Jesus’ teaching on the Messiah was thinly veiled; He was, of course, speaking about Himself.  But His point was not so much to point to Himself as it was to replace wrong thinking about the Messiah with a new truth about the Messiah and what to look for.

Jesus then issues a warning about the scribes and teachers of the Law.  Jesus’ point is that they say they are the experts in God’s Law, but yet they are all self-serving.  They dress to be noticed, they love the attention in public marketplace, in the synagogue, and at banquets.  They are self-absorbed in their quest for power and control and have no room for giving honor and glory to God.  They want the honor and glory for themselves.

Jesus goes on to say that these religious leaders will abuse their power to get what they want.   They will devour widows’ houses (prey on the very ones they are to protect) and offer long prayers that are for show but never make it past the ceiling of the room they are in.

Instead of receiving honor and glory, they will receive judgment and condemnation because they know better (from God’s Law) but choose to sin and seek their own glory anyway.  They are to be the protectors of the widow, orphan, and fatherless; instead, these are the very ones they see as easy marks and go after for control.

Does our desire to be noticed, to be honored, and to seek glory drive us to do selfish things, even abuse the power or authority others have entrusted to us?

May we be faithful in whatever roles God has given to us, giving the glory to Him for whatever takes place.

May we not use our role at home, at work, at church, in our neighborhoods, or anywhere else to demand others do things for us.  Rather, may we use our role to serve others and lead them to Christ in love and humility.

May we also pray for those in authority over us – at home, at work, in our churches, communities, and in our cities, states, and countries.  May we lift them up and ask the Lord to guide them to wise decisions that serve their constituents and make for a better family, workplace, church, community, nation, and world.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 12:28-34

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
(Mark 12:28-34 NIV)

Jesus has been dealing with a barrage of questions from various groups, all of them looking to find grounds to arrest Him and destroy His ministry.  The latest group to send their question to Jesus was the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the resurrection.  Jesus disproves their basis of faith and teaches them the truth about heaven and eternity from the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses).

In today’s passage, the Pharisees send a scribe (an expert in God’s Law) to question Jesus.  Mark’s account depicts this man as being neutral toward Jesus and asking a legitimate question; Matthew’s account (Matthew 22:34-35) further identifies this man as a Pharisee, asking the question as another test.

The question of the greatest command in God’s Law was a popular one in Jesus’ day.  While there were hundreds and hundreds of laws that the Jews adhered to, they also tried to summarize God’s law into something they could carry in their mind all the time.

While the question may have been meant as a test, Jesus took the question and the sincerity of the man asking it at face value and answered without His typical rabbinical style of answering a question with a question.

Jesus answered the question by quoting the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-5.  This was God’s command to His people – to love the one true God of Israel – the one and only.  This was the first of the Ten Commandments given to Moses; it was also the basis of the success or failure of the entire nation of Israel from Moses’ day to Jesus’ day.

Jesus goes on to give a second commandment – to love others as much as we love ourselves.  Jesus quoted from Leviticus 19:18, leaving off the first part of the statement that limited the love for others to other Jewish people only.  In preparation for life and ministry after His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus opened up the commandment to pertain to all mankind – Jews and Gentiles alike,

These two commandments are inseparable.  To love God is to love others.

The scribe agrees with Jesus and quotes the scriptures back to Jesus.  The scribe also makes an observation by quoting 1 Samuel 15:22 and alluding to Hosea 6:6, both passages stating that heartfelt obedience to God is better than ritual sacrifice.

The scribe’s response is a surprise – he shows openness and humility, truly a response from the heart rather than merely reciting head knowledge.

Jesus responds to the scribe, telling him that he is not far from the kingdom of God.  The scribe had come so much further on his journey toward Jesus than any of the other religious leaders.  Would he take the leap of faith and believe in Jesus as Messiah, or would he stay with his human traditions?  The text does not say.

Mark records that no one dared ask Jesus any more questions.  Many different groups had tried to test Jesus; all were unsuccessful.  They all went away both silenced and amazed.

What questions do we want to ask Jesus?

  • Are we asking as a skeptic, unsure if He is who He says He is?
  • Do we think our question is too hard for Jesus, since we haven’t figured it out?
  • Are we afraid to ask our question because we don’t want to hear His answer?
  • Are we asking out of a sincere heart of humility and obedience?

Sometimes Jesus answers our question with a question, to help us see what is going on deep inside of us, to reveal our inner fears or motives.

Sometimes He answers our question straight up, like He did for the scribe in today’s story.

No matter what the answer, He always invites the questions.

May we love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength and love our neighbors as ourselves.

Blessings,
~kevin