Then I Saw His Grace, Now I’m A Believer (Mark 16:9-20)

Although he first appeared way-back in 1954, and hasn’t been in the daily comics since the year 2000, thanks to the recent Peanuts movie, all of us know Pig-Pen as the boy who has the cloud of dust and dirt constantly following him.

Charlie Brown once analyzed the cloud, saying, “Don’t think of it as dust.  Think of it as maybe the soil of some great past civilization.  Maybe the soil of ancient Babylon.  It staggers the imagination.  He may be carrying soil that was trod upon by Solomon, or even Nebuchadnezzar.”

Soon it will be time to watch, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  It’s celebrating it’s 50th anniversary.

Pig-Pen thinks he’ll be disguised by his Halloween costume, but he is immediately recognized.  The cloud following him gives his identity away.

In these closing words of the Gospel of Mark, we are told of things that followed  the first believers as they were out in the world.

Is there something following you that gives you away?  It is one of the themes we will explore.

These verses also discuss things that can foil us – and by that I mean things hat can hinder and hamper our sharing.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two questions, directed to believers: #1 Is There Something Foiling Your Belief In Jesus?, and #2 Is There Something Following Your Belief In Jesus?

#1    Is There Something Foiling Your Belief?

If you have the NIV Bible, you’ll notice that the translators set-apart verses nine through twenty with a special footnote.  In the RSV, verses nine through twenty are printed in the margin.

What’s up with that?

There is a scholarly controversy about whether these verses were originally part of the Gospel of Mark; or if they were later added to the manuscripts.  Modern translations of the Bible suggest the Gospel ends with verse eight, and then acknowledge the disputed existence of what has come to be called “the longer ending” of verses nine through twenty.

The major concern is this: Two of the oldest existing Greek manuscripts (dated from 325 and 340AD) do not contain the longer ending; neither do about 100 other ancient manuscripts translated into other languages.

On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of manuscripts do contain these verses.

The question for us is this: Should we teach these verses as inspired?

What decides it for me is that many early Christian writers refer to this passage in their writings, which shows that the first Christians knew it was there and accepted it as inspired.

The Gospel of Mark was written somewhere between 65-75AD.  Not too long after, it was being quoted by the following men:

Papias, the bishop of Hieropolis, referred to verse eighteen, writing around 100AD.

Justin Martyr, an early apologist, quoted verse twenty in 151AD.

Irenaeus, a bishop in Gaul, quoted verse thirteen in 180AD.

There are several others we could cite.

Additionally, the manuscripts which omit the verses often leave space where they should be, indicating the copyist knew there was a longer ending to the book.

There is no good reason to overlook them.  We accept them, based on the testimony of the earliest Christians.

If you want to be controversial, and say that these verses should not be in the Bible, and therefore should not be taught as inspired, please admit that nothing they say contradicts anything in God’s Word.

This section contains three of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances before His Ascension.

Mar 16:9  Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.

Mary had already been to the tomb once, and upon finding it empty, she ran to tell the disciples.  John outran Peter to the tomb, but waited outside while Peter went in.

Mary had followed them back.  They left, but she remained at the tomb.  As a result, she was the first person to see the resurrected Lord when He suddenly appeared to her.

This is the fourth mention of Mary by Mark, but he has waited until now to mention that she had previously been possessed by “seven demons.”  Why now?

Mark was ending the Gospel he wrote on a warfare footing.  Mary is a reminder that Jesus came to defeat the devil, and that He did defeat him.

We need reminding because, post-resurrection, the devil still goes about, like a roaring lion, seeking to devour people.  He is still the god of this world, the ruler of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the leader of malevolent principalities and powers.

We will be engaged in warfare against him until Jesus returns.  We have the advantage, because we serve the One Who has defeated Him, and Who is returning one day to finalize the victory.

Mar 16:10  She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept.
Mar 16:11  And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.

The first nonbelievers were the believers.  Jesus had repeatedly told them, over the last six months, that He would be crucified, then rise from the dead on the third day.  They had been to the empty tomb, and now they had eyewitness testimony from a reliable source; but they refused to believe Jesus was risen from the dead.

People sometimes accuse Christians of having blind faith, but disbelief is much more prevalent and powerful.  The average nonChristian has to ignore a ton of evidence that Jesus is risen.

Mar 16:12  After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country.
Mar 16:13  And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.

These “two” are the famous disciples on the road to Emmaus.   Jesus hid His true identity from them, asked them why they were so sad, then gave them a Bible study, pointing out everywhere in the Scriptures where the suffering of the Savior was predicted.  When He broke bread with them at their house, they realized it was the Lord.  He disappeared, and they ran back to tell the disciples Jesus had appeared to them.

“But they did not believe them either.”  One reason it is important to demonstrate the disbelief of the believers is that there is a theory that the disciples stole the body of Jesus to simulate His promised resurrection.  Not true; they were totally committed to not believing, or promoting, the resurrection of Jesus.

Mar 16:14  Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.

In a moment Jesus will articulate the Great Commission that sent the eleven out upon their mission to share the news of His resurrection with the whole world.  How interesting that they were given first-hand experience with what it would be like when people disbelieved them.

A person’s disbelief cannot alter the facts.  Jesus is risen.

The eleven, along with many of the other first-followers of Jesus, were initially foiled by their disbelief of His resurrection.

Do you think they should be weeping and cowering in fear?  Or do you think that they ought to have been rejoicing and heading to Galilee, where Jesus told them He would meet with them?

They had the Word of God that He would rise, given to them repeatedly by Jesus Himself.  They saw the empty tomb.  They heard eyewitness testimony from credible individuals whom they personally knew.

I don’t think anyone here, who is a believer in Jesus Christ, has any doubts whatsoever about His resurrection from the dead.  We are not foiled by disbelief that He is alive.

So let me ask you this: Do we ever weep or cower in fear?  Are we always rejoicing and excited about the places where Jesus can meet with us, e.g., in the midst of our trials and sufferings?

I submit to you that there are things we believers disbelieve; or that we have a hard time believing.

For some, it could be a disbelief that you are saved.  Many Protestant churches have regular altar calls for believers to come forward and receive Jesus again and again and again.  It foils a Christian, keeping you from going on to maturity in the Lord.

For some, it could be a disbelief that God loves you.  There are any number of ways this is manifest, but one is when God allows suffering to invade your life.  Satan once said to God, concerning Job, “stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” (2:5).  Even if you don’t go so far as to “curse” God, too many believers have been stumbled by suffering.

Probably the thing that foils us the most is a disbelief in the power of the resurrection.  We touched upon this in our last study in the Gospel of Mark.  I know this is a problem because of the prevalence, in sermons and in books, of the promotion of the idea that there are several things I must do in order to be able to experience the power of the resurrection.

How many times have we been told, from the pulpit, that there are two things… Or three things… Or ten things, that we must do as Christians, if we want to be victorious?

Jesus promised to give us God the Holy Spirit as a gift.  What do you need to do in order to earn, or deserve, a gift?

Sadly, we sometimes promote the idea that gifts must be earned or deserved.  I remember a story in one of the Little House on the Prairie books in which an older child told his younger sibling that there was no Santa Claus.

His parents punished him by giving his younger sibling Christmas gifts, while giving him nothing.

We use gifts to manipulate people.  When God talks of gifts, we unfortunately project our own attitudes upon Him.

Jesus promised to give, and to send, God the Holy Spirit, to every believer.  There are no steps to receiving Him; it is all of grace, through faith.

That means I should believe that I can do all things through Jesus Christ.  Right now – without taking any steps.  I simply believe Jesus, and appropriate His overcoming power in my life.

True, I can quench the Holy Spirit.  I can grieve Him.  He is, after all, a Person.

When I do, I can repent, and immediately receive His empowering.

The eleven had the Word of God that He would rise.  They saw the empty tomb.  They heard eyewitness testimony from credible individuals whom they personally knew.

We have the Word of God that He has risen.  We see the empty tomb.  We have credible testimony from millions throughout the Church Age that Jesus transforms lives as we are born-again.

Don’t be foiled into disbelief – not for any reason.

#2    Is There Something Following Your Belief?

These last verses are tricky.  As a Bible teacher, you find yourself on the defensive.  Instead of explaining what they do mean, we spend a lot of time on what they don’t mean.

Mar 16:15  And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

This commission may have started with the eleven, and the few other followers of Jesus; but it is binding on every disciple after them.

We are to tell the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, everywhere we go, to everyone we can.

It is a brilliant strategy.  Mathematically, if you lead one person to Jesus Christ each year, then disciple the new believer and train him how to do the same with someone else, you will multiply yourself.

After one year, there are 2 disciples.  At the end of the second year, there are 4.  Third year, there are 8 followers of Jesus.  Fourth year, 16.  It doesn’t sound like much.

However, by year 33, you will have more than 8.5 billion Christians.

Mar 16:16  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

This is where it gets tough, and we start explaining what this doesn’t mean.  “Believes and is baptized.”  It sounds like you need both to be saved – belief and baptism.

Do you need baptism to be saved?

The answer is, “Yes!”  But hear me out before you think I’ve lost my mind.

Whenever we read the word “baptism,” we assume it means the ritual of water baptism.  It does not.  There are other biblical uses of the word “baptism.”

Jesus told His followers they would be “baptized” by drinking the cup of His suffering (Matthew 20:23).  That isn’t ritual water baptism.

The apostle Paul said that the Israelites were “baptized” into Moses (First Corinthians 10:2).  That isn’t ritual water baptism.

Most importantly, John the Baptist said of Jesus,

Luk 3:16  … “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

John the Baptist, who was baptizing folks as a ritual, in water, was obviously speaking of a different type of baptism altogether.  He was talking about a spiritual baptism.

Now we can take a fresh and informed look at the words of our verse:

Mar 16:16  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

The “baptism” in this verse is not water baptism.  It is Spirit baptism, an operation of the Spirit, and it is necessary for salvation.

G. Campbell Morgan stated it this way: “He who believes is the human condition; and is baptized is the divine [inward] miracle” that takes place.

In simplified terms, when a person’s will is freed by grace to believe the Gospel, that person is born-again of the Spirit.  Jesus baptizes that person into salvation.

In his Systematic Theology, Lewis Sherry Chafer writes, “every believer the moment he believes in Christ is regenerated, baptized, indwelt, and sealed [by the Spirit] for all eternity, and has the duty and privilege of continually being filled for life and service.”

After real Spirit-baptism, we practice ritual water baptism, to signify and give an outward testimony as to what has occurred in the heart.

In the letter James wrote, he says “even the demons believe” (2:19).  They do not believe to salvation; they are not “baptized” by the Lord.

You can believe but not be saved.  You must be born-again, born of the Spirit – baptized by Jesus with the Spirit.

“Yes,” baptism is necessary for salvation, but Spirit-baptism, not water baptism.

“He who does not believe will be condemned.”  Eternal conscious punishment in the Lake of Fire is part of the Good News.
It cannot be overlooked or understated.  People who refuse to believe, and are therefore not Spirit-baptized, will be consigned there.

How is that Good News?

For one thing, no one needs to be condemned.  Jesus was lifted up on the Cross to draw all men to Himself.  He conquered sin and death and the devil.  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to eternal life.  He is the Savior of all men – especially those who believe.  His grace frees the will to enable anyone to believe and be baptized.

For another thing, it is Good News that one day, in the future, believers will inherit an eternity characterized by purity and righteousness.  Sin will be no more; death will be no more; there will be no more tears.  After every opportunity has been given to people to receive Jesus Christ, those who willfully refuse must be absent from the perfections of Heaven.

Just when you thought all the tough commentary was over, here come verses seventeen and eighteen:

Mar 16:17  And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;
Mar 16:18  they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Dr. J. Vernon McGee commented on these “signs,” saying,

The infant Church needed them, the adult Church is not without them.  They disappeared even in the early church, but they do manifest themselves on some primitive mission frontiers even today.

I think that’s fair; I can live with that as a solid, biblical analysis.  Only I would change it slightly.  Instead of “they do manifest themselves on some primitive mission frontiers even today,” I’d say, “they do manifest themselves anywhere according to the will and working of God.”

“In My Name they will cast out demons.”  If you read the New Testament, you’ll see incredible demonic activity when Jesus was ministering the Gospel.  Demonic possession, and the casting-out of demons, continued in the Book of Acts, but not to the extent that it had been.  Throughout church history there have been exorcisms, right up to the present day; and not only or always on primitive mission frontiers.

When Jesus was ministering on earth, one of Satan’s primary strategies was to have his demons possess as many people as possible.  He unleashed a veritable army of demons against Jesus.

Whenever and wherever Jesus encountered demons, He defeated them by casting them out.  He could do it if there were one demon possessing a person; or seven demons, as in Mary; or a legion of demons, as He had encountered in Gadera.

I think Satan has adapted his strategy over the intervening centuries.

Instead of having his demons possess vast numbers of people, he has them busy on other assignments; like inventing the internet.  (I’m only half kidding).

It struck me this week that nonbelievers read the accounts of demonic possession in the Bible and say it was all undiagnosed mental illness, while believers want to say that all modern cases of mental illness are really demonic possessions.

It’s obvious there are fewer instances of demonic possession today than there were when Jesus was battling the devil.  But if you ever encounter a real case, you will have the power to cast-out the demon.

“They will speak with new tongues.”  The Bible distinguishes between “tongues” and the “gift of tongues.”

“Tongues” refers to known human languages.

The “gift of tongues” refers to a personal prayer and praise language that is unknown.

We see a fulfillment of “tongues” on the Day of Pentecost when the 120 disciples gathered in the Upper Room had the Holy Spirit suddenly and powerfully come upon them.  They spoke in other “tongues,” defined for us in the passage as all of the known native languages of the Jews gathered in the Temple from all over the world.

This promise in Mark sixteen has nothing to do with the gift of tongues that is defined and described by the apostle Paul in First Corinthians.  He says,

1Co 14:2  For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.

I can’t say how often it happens, but don’t you think that if God needed you to speak in a language you never learned in order to share the Gospel, that He could still do it?

“They will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them…”  If you wrangle snakes, and try to poison yourself, in order to fulfill this promise, you are tempting God.  It is similar to Satan’s temptation of Jesus to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the Temple, because God promised to care for Him.

This was, and is, a promise that God can keep you safe from things like poisonous snakes.  The one example we have is Paul, shipwrecked on Malta, being bitten by a viper, but showing no signs of its deadly venom.

At the same time, Paul had just been shipwrecked.  It’s therefore not a blanket promise that no harm will ever come to you.

“They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  Even among the eleven, and on into the Book of Acts, the believers could not go around healing everyone.  There were times of remarkable healing ministries; there were individuals who were healed; and there were those who grew sick and died – like some in Thessalonica.

The bottom line is this: Preach the Gospel and whatever God wills, it will follow the preaching.

Know this: We live in an era where God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.  We might prefer a more aggressive strategy of healings and exorcisms, while poisonous snakes are hanging from our extremities, and we’re drinking poison… But the Lord has deemed our weakness to be a more powerful testimony in the church age.

Mar 16:19  So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.
Mar 16:20  And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

Every morning, with its new mercies, this is our situation.  Jesus, poised to return; disciples, tasked with proclaiming His death and resurrection while we patiently endure.

Any of these signs can follow you.  That’s up to the Lord.  I trust Him to know when, for example, a healing is a greater testimony than the patient endurance of suffering by the grace of God.

I think we can ask ourselves, the question, “Is there something following our belief?”

Let’s put it this way: “What do you leave behind?”

Are people encouraged about the Lord when you’re done talking with them?

Are their burdens lifted?

Are they ministered to by your compassion?

Can they see the difference Jesus has made in your life?

The answer to all those questions can be an effortless “Yes” as you appropriate the gift of the Holy Spirit to live out the life of Jesus Christ.

Victory Is The Spice Of Eternal Life (Mark 16:1-8)

If I say, “The Lord is risen,” what do you say?

“He has risen indeed!”

We don’t use it too much (if at all) in the West, but Eastern Christians have greeted one another with those words since very early in the history of the church.

There is no Christianity, and therefore no salvation, without the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus.  As the apostle Paul declares, “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (First Corinthians 15:14).

We believe in the resurrection.  The question we want to explore today is this: Do we believe in the power of the resurrection of Jesus?

In other words, Does the resurrection make a difference in my daily life?

It made a difference on the very first ‘third day.’  The believers first to the tomb were initially apprehensive.  By the time they left the tomb, they were amazed.

Which word best describes you each day – apprehensive, or amazed?

I’ll organize my thoughts around two questions: #1 Do You Daily Approach The Empty Tomb With A Sense Of Apprehension?, or #2 Do You Daily Approach The Empty Tomb With A Sense Of Amazement?

#1    Do You Daily Approach The Empty Tomb
    With A Sense Of Apprehension?

Jesus made loud and clear His plans to be crucified and to rise from the dead on the third day.

Especially during the last six months of His earthly life, Jesus emphasized the importance and the necessity of His upcoming crucifixion as well as the triumph of His resurrection.

Mat 16:21  From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.

He “began” to talk about this, meaning it became a constant topic in His teaching to His followers.  You might say it was the main theme of His last six-months of instruction to them.

The followers of Jesus had seen Him raise the dead.  Jesus also made the amazing claim that He had the authority to accomplish the resurrection Himself:

Joh 10:17  “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.
Joh 10:18  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

Jesus was not misunderstood.  Even nonbelievers knew what He predicted:

Mat 27:62  On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate,
Mat 27:63  saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’
Mat 27:64  Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”

The point I’m trying to make is that the followers of Jesus had ample teaching regarding His resurrection on the third day.

Keep that in mind as we see the first three to approach the tomb.

Mar 16:1  Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.

We met these fine ladies in our last study, when they were at the Cross on Calvary as Jesus was crucified.  They were last at the Cross, and first to the tomb.  That, in itself, speaks of their great devotion to Jesus.

They “bought spices,” to “anoint” the body of Jesus.  Jesus’ body had already been spiced by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  He had been washed, anointed with myrrh and aloes, then wrapped in a new linen shroud, according to the burial customs of the time.

There was no need for further spices or anointing.  Wrapped as He was, it wouldn’t be possible to anoint Jesus in any customary way.

Again we see the great devotion of these ladies.  They were coming with more spices, and would waste them anointing the exterior surface of the shroud, to show their love for the Lord.

Jews were restricted to walking only what was called “a Sabbath Day’s Journey.”  Forced to wait, these ladies set out just as soon as it was lawful to do so.

What’s funny is that there was no real agreement on how far that was.  The rabbi’s kept lengthening it through the years.

That’s one of the problems with those who insist you ‘keep’ the Sabbath.  No one agrees on what it means.  As soon as a rule is made, someone finds a way to change it, for their benefit.

Since we know what they are going to discover at the tomb, we can understand the reference to the Sabbath a little differently.

“When the Sabbath was past” is full of insight for us.  It’s a powerful statement letting us know that the old Jewish system, what we sometimes summarize by calling it “the Law,” has been fulfilled.  The keeping of Sabbaths, and the rest of the Law; the bringing of sacrifices; all of that ended at the Cross, and has been replaced by the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

The apostle Paul would say,

Col 2:16  So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,
Col 2:17  which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

Things like the Sabbath pointed to Jesus.  Now that He has risen from the dead, we find our rest in Him, moment-by-moment and day-by-day.

“The Sabbath was past.”  Don’t return to it, thinking you can somehow ‘keep’ a set of rules and rituals that are required for you to either attain, or to maintain, your salvation.

You are saved by grace, through faith in the risen Lord.  It is not by works.  The only work required is to believe in Jesus.

Mar 16:2  Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

Today we would say “as soon as they could.”  I doubt they even slept the night before.  Without clocks to tell them the exact time, they’d be gauging the exact moment “very early in the morning” that they could honestly say the Sabbath was over.

Mar 16:3  And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?”

They had a major obstacle to overcome.  A two-ton tombstone stood between them and Jesus.  It would take several strong men to open it for them.

The moment they could, they set out to perform a service that didn’t need to be done, against all odds that they could enter the tomb.

Have we seen devotion similar to this before in the Gospel of Mark?  In chapter fourteen a woman broke an alabaster jar filled with costly spikenard so that she could anoint Jesus for His burial.  It was, practically speaking, a total waste of resources.

But the Lord received it as an act of worship and, therefore, of infinite worth.

Was the devotion of these three ladies like that?  Was it an act of worship and, therefore, of infinite worth?

Not really.  The woman in chapter fourteen heard Jesus as He described His upcoming death.  She believed His words, and acted accordingly.  She anointed Him as if He was already dead, because she believed He would die just as He said.

The two Mary’s and Salome were coming to anoint Jesus as if He were dead, when He had repeatedly made it clear that on the third day He would be alive.

These ladies had lots of instruction from Jesus about His death, burial, and resurrection.  You might say it’s all Jesus talked about towards the end.

They obviously had incredible love for Jesus.

They had faith to believe that somehow the stone would be rolled away.

But they were fully convinced that Jesus was dead and gone.  They were coming to anoint what they believed was a corpse.

Let’s be real.  They should have brought lawn chairs, to sit outside the tomb to await Jesus’ resurrection.

The Lord’s teaching about His resurrection had no immediate effect on these ladies.  They approached life as if He were dead.

I want to make a comparison to us.

It seems it is possible to be a Christian, and to believe Jesus rose on the third day, but to not understand the power of His resurrection in your daily life, thereby approaching life as if He were dead.

I get that from something Paul said in Colossians 3:1-2.  Let me read it to you in a paraphrased version of the Bible called The Message:

Col 3:1  So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides.
Col 3:2  Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ – that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

Paul saw some believers as if they were “shuffling along” in their walk with the Lord.  They were not acting as if there was a power available to them by which to live-out the Christian life.

Paul in another place expressed his own constant desire, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection…” (Philippians 3:10).  It seems by his wording that I can “know” Jesus, believing He is risen, but not walk in the “power of His resurrection.”

What is “the power of His resurrection?”  Pastor Greg Laurie puts it this way:

… the resurrection of Christ gives us power to live the Christian life (see Romans 8:11).  Certainly the Bible does not teach that we will be sinless in this physical body we now live in.  On the other hand, we can sin less, not by our own abilities, but by the power of the Spirit.

Christ can make us altogether different kinds of people.  We must believe that. “Old things have passed away… all things have become new” (Second Corinthians 5:17).

Another author wrote:

The resurrection is more than just an event that happened once in history.  It’s the source of the power you can experience in your own life, every day.  The same resurrection power that brought Jesus from death to life is available to you, and if you tap into it, you’ll see amazing transformation in your own life, too.

How do we appropriate all this power?  The risen Lord lives in us by His Holy Spirit.  As Billy Graham says, “His divinity inhabits my humanity.”

You can live the Christian life not in your own strength, but in the strength of a risen Savior.  You can plug into power every day, by faith.

Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Like the two Mary’s and Salome, you can be wonderfully devoted to Jesus, bringing Him costly gifts as a token of your worship.  But you can be shuffling along, defeated rather than victorious, because you are not appropriating by faith the power of His resurrection that is always immediately available to you.

Are you apprehensive most of the time, wondering how some giant stone that stands in your way is going to be overcome?  Then receive the power of the resurrection that is yours by faith.

There are no steps.  There cannot be any steps to appropriating the power of the resurrection because you need it to take any step with the Lord in the first place.

If I say, for example, “You must deny yourself, and then this resurrection power can be yours,” the truth is that you need to tap into the power of the resurrection in order to deny yourself.

One reason we shuffle along is because we put the cart before the horse; or, in this case, we put the deed before the power to accomplish the deed.  We establish rules to live by that we think are prerequisites to receiving the power of the resurrection, but those rules are really obstacles that keep us mired in self-effort.

There is nothing for you to do, except receive it by faith.

#2    Do You Daily Approach The Empty Tomb
    With A Sense Of Amazement?

Looking for something to do in Los Angeles?  Why not take a tour of Forrest Lawn Cemetery.

From their website:

Ride in climate-controlled comfort on the Forest Lawn Trolley as you hear about our historic and beautifully landscaped grounds on this two-hour tour led by one of our trained docents.

New for 2016 is the “Hail to the Chief Tour.”  First Lady Abigail Fillmore has agreed to come up from the “other side” and take you on a fascinating trolley tour of Forest Lawn that will highlight the people that had ties to the White House or have held high political positions locally.  

Our tomb-visiting ladies are about to get a private tour of Jesus’ tomb with a very talkative supernatural docent of their own.

Mar 16:4  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very large.

First item on the third-day tomb-tour was the tombstone.  It had been “rolled away.”

First thoughts about it were, “How?,” since it was described as being “very large.”

Matthew’s Gospel tells us an angel had rolled it away; but the ladies missed that.

The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out.  In His many post-resurrection appearances, its clear that Jesus can appear and disappear places at will.  We like to say He can walk through walls, but we’re not sure how He does it.

The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out, but to let us see in.

Mar 16:5  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

He’s an angel.  Mark is telling us how he appeared to the ladies.

If you recall, in a previous study we said that Mark called this angel a “young man” so that we’d connect him with another ‘young man’ in an incident at the arrest of Jesus.  I’d encourage you to review that study.

Under any circumstances, it would be alarming to enter a tomb and find someone hanging out in there.  It was eerie.

Remember – they still fully expected to find the body of Jesus.

Mar 16:6  But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.

Like a good docent in a tomb-tour, the angel gives the ladies all the pertinent data.

This was, in fact, the very tomb in which Jesus had been laid.

The angel calls the Lord “Jesus of Nazareth” because that is how the ladies were thinking about Him.  They were seeking the Jesus who was from Nazareth, as if He were a mere man.

Had they received His teaching on the resurrection, they’d have come, without spices, to worship the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The angel reiterates that Jesus “was crucified.”  He gives his own verbal death certificate.  Jesus was really, really dead when He was laid in the tomb.

But here it comes: “He is risen!”  I wonder if the angel practiced how he would say it.  Where would he put the emphasis?  How loudly would he say it?

After all, these are arguably the most glorious words spoken in the history of the human race.  Neil Armstrong’s historic “one small step” comment pales in comparison.

“He is not here.”  Well, duh.  Why state the obvious?

I don’t know why, but it smacks of, “You just missed Him!”  In fact, Mary would see Him in just a few minutes (but not in this Gospel record).

They were encouraged to “see the place where they laid Him.”  We know – again from other accounts – His shroud was still there, as was the garment that covered His face.

The angel was encouraging them to see for themselves; to look at the evidence.

The resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact.  The Bible encourages you to see for yourself; to look at the evidence.  There is no theory of man’s that has ever been sufficient to counter the facts as they are presented in God’s Word.

As Josh McDowell says, there is evidence for the resurrection that demands a verdict.

Mar 16:7  But go, tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

They immediately received a mission.  It smacks of the grace of God.

For one thing, they had completely missed the truth of the resurrection.  They came seeking dead Jesus, not risen Jesus.  That kind of dullness usually goes unrewarded by men.  But it’s just the thing God is looking for, to bring Him glory.

For another thing, they were women, and in that culture the testimony of women meant very little.  Yet God chose as His first witnesses, women.

The Lord had promised His followers they’d meet-up after His resurrection in Galilee.  He wanted them to know that meeting was still on His calendar.

A lot had happened, but the Lord was in charge of it all.  His plan was unfolding exactly as it was, well, planned.

The two words, “and Peter,” are incredible.  The Lord was reaching-out to Peter, to let him know he was restored.  Peter, who had denied the Lord three times, was still part of the plan.

It establishes that the resurrection guarantees us forgiveness and insures our fellowship with Jesus.

I can envision Peter asking, “Did he really say that?  Are you sure?  He actually used my name – Peter?”  It would have washed over him as waves of joy.

I love that song, “He Knows My Name.”  Benny Hester, an early Christian rock performer, had a song in which he sang to Jesus, “though some know me well, still nobody knows me like You.”

Jesus knows you and yet loves you.  If that isn’t at once terrifying and awesome, then you think too highly of yourself.

Mar 16:8  So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

They launch-out on their mission to tell the disciples, saying “nothing” to anyone else, with a reverential fear.

They “trembled and were amazed.”  We always downplay feelings as Christians.  For example how many times have you heard that agape love is a choice, not a feeling?

If you’ve attended church, or listened to Bible studies, you’ve heard that a lot.

I understand that, and it’s true; but it doesn’t somehow cancel-out feelings.

God has feelings.  He is a personal God with a mind, emotions, and a will of His own. To deny God’s feelings is to deny that He possesses personality.

We could cite passages where the feelings of love, laughter, compassion, jealousy, anger, hate, and joy are attributed to God.

This isn’t to say that our feelings and God’s are the same.  All of God’s feelings are rooted in His holy nature and are always expressed sinlessly.

Since it is alright to have feelings, let me ask you this: Do you tremble before God?

“Wait a minute,” you say; “I thought Jesus was my Friend, yet you say I must tremble in fear before Him?”

That isn’t the kind of trembling I had in mind.  More like the trembling you have when you’re in love.

For tremble, substitute the word twitterpated.

(That’s not something that happens to you on social media)

It means to be overcome by romantic feelings.  It means to be smitten.

It was first used in the 1942 animated classic, Bambi.

Thumper: Why are they acting that way?

Friend Owl: Why, don’t you know?  They’re twitterpated.

Flower, Bambi, Thumper: Twitterpated?

Friend Owl: Yes.  Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the springtime.  For example: You’re walking along, minding your own business.  You’re looking neither to the left, nor to the right, when all of a sudden you run smack into a pretty face.  Woo-woo! You begin to get weak in the knees.  Your head’s in a whirl. And then you feel light as a feather, and before you know it, you’re walking on air.  And then you know what?  You’re knocked for a loop, and you completely lose your head!

Thumper: Gosh, that’s awful.

You’re to be twitterpated AND you’re to be “amazed.”  That word means ecstatic.

Its understandable that you may have left your first love for Jesus.  It happened to the Christians in Ephesus, who were attending a really great, Bible-teaching church, whose corporate and individual works were commendable.

It’s understandable that you may have left your first love, but it’s not OK.  It’s inexcusable.  You and I should, spiritually speaking, still tremble with amazement at our resurrected Lord – Who is our heavenly Bridegroom.  We should be ecstatic about salvation.

After all, the Lord is coming for us in the clouds.  He’ll be walking on air when He comes.

Shouldn’t we be ‘walking on air’ waiting for Him?

The Persuasion Of The Body Snatcher (Mark 15:40-47)

The last lines in books and movies should capture the meaning of the entire story.

Can you identify this famous last line: “Well, I’m back.”

Those are the last words spoken by Samwise Gamgee to end J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.

Sam is an everyman character.  He’s the guy we are supposed to relate to in the story.  He’s a guy quietly going about his daily routine who is suddenly pressed upon to do something remarkable.

He returns from the journey changed, never to be quite as quiet or as timid, but valuing more than ever getting back to his routine life.

“Well, I’m back” captures perfectly the fact that his extraordinary exploits had preserved ordinary life in the Shire.

My thoughts went to Sam because of something we see in the verses we are about to read.  Mark introduces us to Joseph of Arimathea.  He steps forward out of nowhere to claim the body of Jesus, to assure He is prepared for a proper Jewish burial.

Joseph is a closet-disciple who is suddenly pressed into service to do something remarkable.

Mark also calls our attention to the group of women who had been following Jesus around as He ministered to others for three-and-one-half years.  They served Him, performing routine, you might even say, mundane tasks.

I mostly identify with the group of women.  My service to the Lord is generally pretty routine.

I’d like to identify more with Joseph, and do something remarkable.

The routine and the remarkable will be our theme.  I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Don’t Think That Your Routine Service For The Lord Is Insignificant, and #2 Don’t Think That You’re Remarkable Service For The Lord Is Inconceivable.

#1    Don’t Think That Your Routine Service
    For The Lord Is Insignificant

Mr. Miagi’s training regimens in The Karate Kid are the classic example of a person coming to realize the significance of the mundane.

He had Daniel sanding his floors, waxing his cars, and painting his fence and his house.

When Daniel complained he wasn’t learning karate, Mr. Miagi asked him to demonstrate the repetitive movements:

“Show me sand the floor.”
“Show me wax on, wax off.”
“Show me paint the fence.”
“Show me paint the house.”

Each movement turned out to be a defensive response.  What seemed repetitive and routine to Daniel was really quite significant in preparing him for his tournament.

Most of your daily activities as you walk with the Lord are pretty mundane, pretty routine.  “Wax on; wax off.”

Never think they are insignificant.  Doing everything as unto the Lord is honorable in itself, and it prepares you for whatever may be coming your way.

Mark introduces us to a group of ladies whose routine daily life was to minister to the mundane needs of Jesus.

Mar 15:40  There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome,

Mary of Magdala is how it should read.  Since there were so many Mary’s following Jesus, this one was distinguished from the others by reference to her Galilean hometown of Magdala.

This is the first mention of her in Mark’s Gospel.  The earliest reference to her is in Luke 8:2, where it is recorded that Jesus cast out of her seven demons.

She is mentioned twelve times in the New Testament, making her the second most mentioned woman, after Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Except in John 19:25, Mary is always named first in these lists of women.  We can therefore deduce that she held an unofficial position of leadership among the women.

Mary of Magdala has been the victim of slander by church officials.  Specifically, that she was a prostitute.

The Roman Catholic Church was guilty of fastening this slander upon Mary when at Naples, in 1324, it established its first “Magdalen House” for the rescue and maintenance of fallen women.

There is zero biblical evidence that Mary was a prostitute or a notorious sinner.

Nor was she the girlfriend or the wife of Jesus, as is sometimes portrayed in extra biblical literature.  For one thing, the fact that she assumed a leading role among the women argues for her being a much older woman.  We may imagine her in her twenties or thirties, but she was just as likely above fifty or sixty years of age.

Most of the references to her are found in the crucifixion and empty tomb accounts, where she is portrayed as a loyal disciple at the foot of the cross, and as one of the first witnesses to the resurrection.

The next Mary is distinguished by her sons.  “James the less and Joses” must have been well known in the early church.  The nickname “less” apparently served to distinguish this James from other men of that common name by a reference to his stature.  He was either a little guy, or one of those big guys that you call “tiny.”

Salome’s name appears only in Mark’s Gospel (15:40; 16:1).  A comparison with Matthew 20:20 and 27:56 indicates that she was “the mother of Zebedee’s children,” the apostles James and John.  From a comparison with John 19:25, it is commonly held that she was also the sister of Jesus’ mother.

Mar 15:41  who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.

Numerous other women followed Jesus to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

Mary, Mary, and Salome ministered to Jesus when He was in Galilee; and they “followed Him” when He was outside of Galilee.  They were constantly serving Him.

Think, for just a moment, about Jesus and the Twelve, and sometimes many more, traveling from place to place, as Jesus preached the Gospel.  There was grocery shopping to be done; there were meals to be prepared; clothes needed laundering and mending.

Everyday… Day-by-day… For three-and-one-half years.

They did it, quite literally, as unto the Lord.

So ought we to do our mundane and routine activities as unto the Lord.

Col 3:17  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

For some of us, it’s going to be “wax on, wax off,” for the better part of our lives.  It is not insignificant if we are where the Lord wants us, doing what He wants us to do, in His Name, and for His sake.

At the same time, we don’t want to settle for the routine if and when the remarkable presents itself.

#2    Don’t Think That Your Remarkable Service
    For The Lord Is Inconceivable

In the Old Testament, Amos was a herdsman, and a grower of figs.  About 755BC, God called him to leave his farm in the southern kingdom of Judah to go and prophesy judgment against the northern kingdom of Israel.

It was altogether remarkable:

He had no formal training as a graduate of the School of the Prophets.

He had no informal training.

He had no experience.

As far as we can tell, his remarkable ministry as a prophet lasted just a few months.  Afterward he returned to his hometown of Tekoa and, presumably, lived-out the rest of his life as a rancher and farmer.

No formal training… No informal training… No experience.  Sounds like us!

There’s an ‘Amos’ in all of us, and we see that in Joseph of Arimathea.

Mar 15:42  Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath,

“The Preparation Day” was a technical term that described the daylight hours on Friday leading up to sundown Friday, when the Sabbath began.  Because no work was to be done on the weekly Sabbath, you must make preparation for it ahead of time – doing whatever needed to be done to avoid work.

The regular, weekly Sabbath was sundown Friday through sundown Saturday.  It was never, and it is not, Sunday.  Sunday is not somehow the ‘new’ Christian Sabbath.

Because we know Jesus was the fulfillment of Passover, and therefore was crucified at the same time the Passover lambs were being slain in the Temple, we know the date was the 15th of the month Nisan on the Jewish calendar.

We’re not sure of the year, although it was most likely 33AD.  That date is based on the classic and scholarly work of James Usher in the 1600’s.  In 33AD the 15th of Nisan fell on a Friday.

The Hobbits had “second breakfast.”  Jews had a first and second evening in their reckoning of each day.

Jesus died shortly after 3:00pm.  “Evening” here means the first evening, from mid-afternoon to sunset, and not the second evening, from sunset to dark, since Jesus was buried before sundown.

It was probably about 4:00pm.  Since no work could be done after sundown, time was at a premium if Jesus were to be prepared for burial.  There were only about three hours remaining til sunset.

But, wait a minute.  In all His talking to His disciples, about His crucifixion and resurrection, no instructions had been given about His burial.  It seemed to be a major flaw in His plan.

God is always able to provide for His plan.  That’s essentially what providence is – God providing for His plan, without violating human free will.

In this case, God prompted a man to step forward.  He was compelled, obviously, by the Holy Spirit, Who gave him boldness.  But it’s clear he was acting freely, and could have refused.

Mar 15:43  Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

Joseph comes out of nowhere.  We meet him for the first time.  So Mark provides some basic background information.

Joseph was yet another common name in Israel.  This was the Joseph from “Arimathea.”  We don’t really know where that was.  It may have been the town we know as Ramah.  Wherever it was, Joseph now resided in Jerusalem.

“Prominent” stands alone as a descriptor.  It means he was socially connected, held in esteem, and wealthy.

The “council” he was a “member” of was the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin.  It consisted of seventy-one men.  Think of it as a kind of Supreme Court.

Interesting but totally unimportant factoid: Several aspects of the U.S. Senate, including the semi-circle seating of the senators, were derived from the Jewish Sanhedrin by the Founding Fathers.

“Waiting for the kingdom of God” indicates Joseph was a spiritually-minded man.  He was a devout Jew, in the best possible sense of their religion.

But, wait a minute.  Wasn’t it the Sanhedrin that had condemned Jesus of blasphemy, and had turned Him over to Rome as an accused traitor to Caesar?

John’s Gospel reveals that Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus but that fear kept him from making any public confession of his hope (19:38).

Luke notes that “[Joseph] had not consented to their decision and deed” (Luke 23:51).

Today we might label Joseph a closet Christian.

Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night, shared a closet with him.  I can only imagine them at the meetings, looking at each other, probably each hoping the other would be courageous enough to speak up.

Neither one did speak-up.

Before we criticize either or both of them, consider if there has ever been a time you or I held our tongue out of fear of sharing Jesus.

Closet Joseph suddenly gave way to courageous Joseph, coming forward asking Pilate for the body of Jesus.

Mark doesn’t mention him, but Nicodemus also stepped-up.  He bought the spices that were needed to prepare Jesus for burial, and he helped Joseph get Jesus down from the Cross.

Courageous doesn’t begin to describe Joseph’s actions.

Pilate must have been in a foul mood.  The Jewish ruling council that Joseph was a member of, had cornered him into releasing a notorious terrorist, BarAbbas, and executing an innocent man, Jesus, against his better judgment.  They had made a fool of him, pressuring him into a terrible decision.

I can’t imagine Pilate would be happy to see a member of the council, or hear any more talk about Jesus.

Besides risking possible repercussions from Pilate, the Sanhedrin would be very unhappy to see one of their members showing compassion for Jesus, even in His death.

Political pressure, and peer pressure, were against Joseph.  Pressure had kept him quiet before, but not any more.

We would attribute his boldness to the Holy Spirit coming upon him.  Still, he had the choice to obey or disobey.

If Joseph had balked, God would have raised-up someone else.

It’s reminiscent of Elijah in the Old Testament.  On the run, being hunted by evil Queen Jezebel, Elijah complained to God that he was alone is his devotion.  God responded by telling Elijah He had seven thousand people who were loyal to Him.

It seems they were in the closet, but any one of them could be tapped to step-up.

God is never without resources.  He has made ample provision to see His plan for history, to redeem the human race, to its successful completion.

It’s our privilege to be a part of God fulfilling His plan. He’s chosen to use believers as His agents, rather than, for example, angels.  It seems inefficient, but in reality it’s brilliant, because God’s strength and glory are revealed in our weakness.

Mar 15:44  Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time.

Death by crucifixion could take days.  The Romans liked to prolong death as a deterrent to crime.  Cruel and unusual punishment was the goal.

The centurion in charge of the crucifixion doubled as the coroner.  A seasoned soldier who had undoubtedly killed men on the battlefield; and a skilled executioner who crucified men for a living; he knew when a person was really, really dead, and not just ‘mostly’ dead.

You could say that the centurion issued a verbal death certificate.

Mark goes to great lengths to establish Jesus’ death on the Cross.  It’s a good thing he did, because one of the false theories about Jesus is that He wasn’t dead; that He revived after being taken off the Cross.  Not true; He was officially pronounced dead.

Mar 15:45  So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.

The word used for “body” is carcass.  It’s a strong word, again intended to communicate that no life was in Jesus’ physical body.

Mar 15:46  Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

I found this quote regarding Jewish burial customs in the first century:

As soon as a person was dead… his body was to be washed.  In this washing, the body was anointed with perfumes.  Nard was the most usual of these, but myrrh and aloes were also used.

By the time of Christ, the custom was that the body was elaborately wrapped in a shroud and the face was covered with a special cloth called a sudarium.  The hands and feet were tied with strips of cloth.

All of this happened in very short order; burial usually followed within eight hours of death.  In such a hot climate, burial could not be delayed.

John’s Gospel tells us that the tomb was near the place of crucifixion (19:42).  It had been cut out horizontally into the side of a rock cliff.  Such carefully hewn tombs were common around Jerusalem and generally belonged to well-to-do families.

It was Joseph’s own tomb (Matthew 27:60) and had never yet been used (Luke 23:53).  Jesus’ burial in a rich man’s tomb was a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9, “And they made His grave with the wicked – But with the rich at His death…”

They “rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.”  The stone was not a rough boulder but a large, circular, flat stone, fitted in a groove, which could be rolled back to open the tomb when necessary.  It was heavy, and would require several men to roll it open.  The stone was rolled over the rectangular entrance to keep out grave robbers and animals.

Mar 15:47  And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.

If, in fact, Salome was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, we may speculate that she went to comfort her.

Mark includes their observation of the tomb to counter-act another of the false theories about the resurrection of Jesus.  They say that the disciples went to the wrong tomb on Sunday and, finding it empty, only thought that Jesus had risen from the dead.

People will believe almost any lie about Jesus rather than admit they are sinners who need to be saved.

Like Amos, Joseph of Arimathea burst onto the scene at the behest of God’s providence to perform a remarkable service.

I said earlier that there was an ‘Amos’ in all of us.  Allow me to clarify.

I think we’d agree that the Holy Spirit came upon Amos, and Joseph, giving them the boldness to serve the Lord in these remarkable ways.  For their part, they chose to not quench the Holy Spirit, but rather to yield to Him.

So when I say there’s an ‘Amos’ in all of us, I’m really talking about God the Holy Spirit’s effect upon us.

If Amos and Joseph could be given boldness, how much more can we have boldness, since we have the Holy Spirit permanently residing within us?

We’ve further been promised His coming upon us, to empower us, as a gift to be received by faith.

I’ve made a comparison between us and the women and Joseph:

Like the women who followed Jesus, most of our serving is routine, but it is never to be considered insignificant, since it can be done as unto the Lord.

Like Joseph, we should not think it inconceivable that we be empowered to do something, or some things, that are remarkable.

Joseph is especially encouraging because we’re told he was afraid in John’s Gospel.  We see him hiding his faith in Jesus.

How is that encouraging?  The Lord nevertheless chose him to serve.

Jesus looks for the unlikely.  If you’re here today, cowering in fear of men, hiding your Christian faith, barricaded in the closet, know this.  You are not disqualified from being called upon to step forward and be used by the Lord.

You may, in fact, be the perfect candidate.  It goes against our thinking, but God delights in using frail, broken vessels, in order that the glory might be His and not ours.

Joseph was empowered to do this one thing, and afterwards nothing more is known about him.  I think we’re on safe ground to say he went on to walk with the Lord, but as far as the biblical record is concerned, he pinch-hit this one time.

I don’t want to give the impression that we therefore can only perform one remarkable deed in our lifetime as we walk with Jesus.

The way to think about it is this: We should do everything as unto the Lord, expecting at any minute to do something out of our routine that is remarkable.

It could happen once in your lifetime… Or once a day… Or once an hour.

Leave it up to the Lord.  He is the one providing for His plan.

For your part, believe you have received the empowering of God the Holy Spirit, then walk by faith, not quenching Him.

Sinful Simon Met The God-Man Going To The Cross (Mark 15:16-22)

When Sean Connery, in The Untouchables, derides his attacker for bringing a knife to a gun fight, he doesn’t realize it’s an ambush.  Moments later he’s sprayed with machine gun fire.

Superior weaponry isn’t always obvious.  That’s no where more true than in what we refer to as spiritual warfare.

I would go so far as to say we almost always wonder, if not worry, if our spiritual weapons are up to the task.

Part of our confusion has to do with our understanding of what constitutes victory.  In spiritual warfare, victory can look an awful lot like defeat.

If a believer is persecuted for his or her faith, then martyred, praising Jesus with their final breath… Is that a defeat, or is it a victory?

It’s a substantial victory in terms of spiritual warfare, even though it appears, to the nonbelieving onlooker, like a defeat.

Mark is moving closer to the Cross upon which Jesus will die.  First he recalls the Roman soldiers mocking the Lord, and beating Him, and spitting upon Him.

It was part of the spiritual warfare Jesus was waging against His enemies.  Despite appearances that He was being defeated, Jesus was victorious over an entire garrison of soldiers.

Spiritual warfare and its weapons and its warriors will be our theme as we work through these verses.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Jesus Demonstrates The Weapons Available To You In Spiritual Warfare, and #2 Jesus Identifies The Warriors Available To Him In Spiritual Warfare.

#1    Jesus Demonstrates The Weapons
    Available To You In Spiritual Warfare

In The Avengers, Thor’s brother, Loki, is captured by Captain America and Iron Man.  It turns out that he let himself be captured so that he would be taken to the hovercraft to be on board to aid in its destruction, and the downfall of the super heroes.

Jesus was captured by the Roman soldiers and the Jewish Temple guards.  He let Himself be captured because He was on His way to the Cross, to destroy the works of the devil, and to conquer sin and death.

Jesus had a single objective His entire life: To die on the Cross as God’s final sacrifice for the sins of the world.  In the Gospel of John, talking to His Heavenly Father about the Cross, He said, “for this purpose I came to this hour” (12:27).

It seems, in regular warfare, there is always a heavily defended hill to be conquered.  Heartbreak Ridge comes to mind, for you who can remember the Korean War.   Hamburger Hill in Vietnam is another example.

Jesus’ objective involved conquering a hill.  As we will see, the hill was called Calvary.  To get there, Jesus would have to go through the Roman soldiers holding Him.  He’d have to survive, first their scourging (which He had done); and second, their mocking (which we see here).

Mar 15:16  Then the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison.

One of the commentators I consulted, who seemed familiar with Roman customs of the day, insists that this treatment of Jesus was unprecedented.  It wasn’t how Romans normally treated a prisoner in their custody who was on his way to be crucified.

Mark says, “the whole garrison” was involved.  The overkill is a clue that something sinister was going on.

It’s not a stretch to say that Satan was inspiring them to mock and mistreat the Lord.  The Bible says that nonbelievers are taken captive by Satan to do his will.

What was the devil’s objective?

He may have been coming at Jesus hard in order to convince the Lord to say “No!” to the Cross.

Three-and-one-half years earlier, after Jesus stepped forward to begin His public ministry, Satan had tempted Him in the Judean wilderness.  One of his temptations was to offer Jesus all the kingdoms of the world without having to go to the Cross.

It seems likely the devil would again attempt to derail Jesus from going to the Cross.  He may have thought Jesus was at His most temptable on account of the things Jesus had recently said aloud:

The devil had heard Jesus plead with His Father, in Gethsemane, three times asking Him to “take this cup” of suffering from Him.

The devil had heard Jesus tell Peter as He was being arrested that He had at His disposal twelve legions of angels, who could at any moment be called upon to put an end to His suffering.

This is my conjecture, but perhaps the devil thought that Jesus could yet be coerced into abandoning His life’s mission.  That He could break Him, as it were, through psychological and physical torture.

Action movies always have a torture scene, where the villain tries to ‘break’ the hero.  After beating the good guy mercilessly, they pull-out some psychological torture, e.g., threatening to kill innocent family members.

Mar 15:17  And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head,

Mocking Jesus as King of the Jews was a physical torture, for sure.  But it was psychological, too.

After all, Jesus WAS King of the Jews, and more.  He was, and is, King over everyone, and everything.

It was a genuine temptation for Him to end His suffering by acting as King, perhaps by calling on those twelve legions of angels for an air strike to deliver Him.

Mar 15:18  and began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

The verb tenses that are used indicate this went on for quite some time.  They “began” to torture Jesus, and they kept at it.

Mar 15:19  Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him; and bowing the knee, they worshiped Him.

Mark is very matter-of-fact in his presentation of the torture.  He’s methodical.  It almost lacks emotion.

Sometimes the facts themselves evoke more emotional reaction than a visual representation.

I was watching In the Heart of the Sea, the recent Ron Howard directed film that purports to tell the true story that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  They got to the point where it was time to reveal that the open-ocean survivors had to resort to cannibalism.  Instead of showing anything, one of the characters dispassionately described the proper procedures for cannibalizing a human being.

It was so much more effective than showing it would have been.  It left me sick to my stomach.

Make no mistake.  Jesus was being tortured.

Mar 15:20  And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him.

They had dressed Jesus as the King of the Jews, and now they put His clothes back on.  It was symbolic of His victory over the soldiers.

Instead of taking-up His deity to save Himself, represented by the kingly clothing they had dressed Him in, Jesus went forward clothed as a man, onward up the hill, to the Cross.

Let me ask you a question: Do you think Satan is stupid?

Clearly he is not stupid.  Twisted, hateful, vicious, yes; malevolent, for sure; but not stupid.

God had revealed His plan to come into the world as a man and defeat Satan all the way back in the Garden of Eden.  From that moment forward, the devil tried to keep Jesus from ever being born:

He incited Cain to murder his brother, Abel, in an attempt to cut-off the godly line.

He incited demons to somehow pollute human genetics by having them marry and mate with human woman, producing weird offspring.

The devil tried to have baby Moses killed, so that Israel would have no deliverer.

When the birth of Jesus was announced, Satan incited King Herod to have all the young children murdered in an attempt to keep Jesus from accomplishing His mission.

I don’t think Satan believed he would win if Jesus died on the Cross.  I think the devil did everything he could to stop the Lord from ever getting to the Cross – and that included this torture by the Roman garrison.

Jesus was victorious because His objective wasn’t to escape custody, or to kill the soldiers, or to overthrow the Roman Empire. His objective was to go to the Cross, to go to Calvary, to take the hill… And after the mocking He was still on mission.

We agreed earlier that martyrdom was a spiritual victory.  All you have to do is read the story of Stephen in the Book of Acts to see that the death of a Christian, for his or her faith, defeats our enemies.

It’s the nuclear option and Satan has no counter strategy against it.

You and I are probably not going to be martyred.  Christians certainly are being martyred, at an ever-growing rate.  But I don’t really expect it in my life, in America, anytime soon.

We can be, and we are, being mocked and mistreated.  I’d go so far as to say we are being psychologically abused by the devil using nonbelievers – his ‘garrison’ – out in the world.

It’s spiritual warfare; yet our first impulse is usually something carnal like demanding our rights.  We attempt to fight the battle with weapons that are similar to those being used against us.

The early Christians were impressed with how Jesus handled His mistreatment.  Peter wrote,

1Pe 2:23  … when [Jesus] was reviled, [He] did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;

Let me give you a disclaimer: We live in a free society, and we do have civil rights.  I’m not advocating always abandoning them, or saying that we can never invoke them.

I am saying that our witness, and the Gospel, are more important than our rights, and that means sometimes we should act and react the way Jesus demonstrated for us when He was tortured by the garrison.

Will it appear as though you are being defeated?  Yes, it will; but you will be victorious on the spiritual level, where things really matter.

The apostle Paul, in discussing spiritual warfare, said, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12).  When your boss is mistreating you… Or your friends or family are mocking you… There is something deeper going on behind the scenes, something spiritual below the surface.  They are being taken captive by the devil to do his will.

Draw from your arsenal.  God the Holy Spirit lives in you and can give you peace and patience and perspective as you pray and stand upon the Word of God.  He can tell you what to say, what not to say, and when to say or not say it!

Jesus defeated the garrison as a Spirit-filled man.  So can you defeat your enemies.

Maybe this will help.  Real spiritual victory is me being Christlike in the midst of my sufferings.  Me being worldly is always a defeat.

#2    Jesus Identifies The Warriors
    Available To Him In Spiritual Warfare

The Huns, led by the ruthless Shan Yu, invade China, breaching the Great Wall via grappling hooks.  This prompts a panicked soldier to light the sentry fires.  As a result of the invasion, each family is given a conscription notice.  Mulan’s father, Fa Zhou, has to serve in the army, but due to his age and previous war injuries, it’s doubtful that he will survive.  Mulan secretly disguises herself as a man, then takes her father’s conscription notice, armor, and weapons so that he will not have to go.

Especially in times of war, those in authority have broad powers to conscript people and property.

On His way from the Praetorium to Calvary, Jesus falls under the weight of the Cross He is carrying.  A passerby is conscripted into carrying the Cross for the Lord.

Mar 15:21  Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross.

A condemned man would typically be guarded by four soldiers and preceded by another soldier who would bear a placard stating the crime of which the prisoner had been found guilty.  There’s some evidence that the soldier with the placard would also shout out the crime as the procession proceeded.  The lead soldier might be riding a horse, but not always.
They would purposely take a long route to the place of crucifixion, winding through the streets.  The Romans wanted to instill fear, as a deterrent to crime.

The man being taken to his place of execution would be carrying either the whole cross, or the cross beam, or the upright.

The Bible doesn’t specify what part of His Cross Jesus was carrying.

We are not directly told, but it is safe to assume that Jesus fell under the weight of the Cross as He made His way towards the place of His crucifixion.

He had already suffered tremendously, and was weakened:

He had been awake all night.

He had sweat great drops of blood while praying in Gethsemane, indicating great physical stress.

He had been handled roughly at His arrest.

He was struck at the house of Annas.

He was struck repeatedly in His trial before Caiphas.

Pilate had Him scourged, a vicious whipping that often left men dead, but certainly meant massive blood loss and shock.
The garrison had beaten Him for an extended period of time, hitting the thorny crown on His head repeatedly with a solid rod.

It’s amazing Jesus was still alive, let alone that He could carry the Cross any distance at all.

Let alone that He would go on to grapple with dark forces for several hours on the Cross.

At that moment, Jesus had no human strength.  He could go no further.

Have you ever felt crushed by the weight of your suffering?  I’ve never been in a physical place like that.  There have been a few times in my life when the trial that I was in, that Pam and I were in, was so crippling psychologically that I didn’t see how we could possibly get up from it, and go on.

The apostle Paul was all too familiar with crushing suffering:

2Co 1:8  For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.
2Co 1:9  Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,

In your walk with Jesus, you will sometimes have more than you can handle; but it will never be more than the Lord can help you carry.

Just when it seemed Jesus would not make it to Calvary, the Roman soldiers leading Jesus to His crucifixion conscripted a passerby to carry the Cross.  He’s identified as “Simon, a Cyrenian.”

Cyrene was in Northern Africa.  Think modern Libya.  There was a large community of Jews in that region of Africa.  The historian, Josephus, tells us that the Pharaoh sent a number of Jews from Egypt to Cyrene around 300BC in order to strengthen Egypt’s claim to the region.

Simon may have been on a pilgrimage from Cyrene, some 800 miles away.  If so, he’d have been walking for about 60 days in order to arrive at Passover.

Alternatively, he may have been a local who was distinguished from other “Simon’s” by giving his place of origin.

One of the soldiers saw him, went over to him, and laid his sword on Simon’s shoulder to signify he was being conscripted to help.

Way to ruin Passover.  Carrying a criminals bloody cross to the place of execution for the oppressing Roman army was on no Jewish person’s bucket list.

The Roman soldier who tapped Simon with his sword certainly seemed in command, but I think, with spiritual hindsight, we’d say it was God acting providentially.

Providence is God providing for His eternal plan by acting in history, but without violating human free will.

Simon’s being conscripted provided that Jesus would get to Calvary and fulfill His mission.

If we pause for a moment, we might recall there were two additional things that Jesus had recently conscripted for His use:

On Palm Sunday, to make His entry into Jerusalem, Jesus rode a donkey.  The disciples were told to go into town where they’d find the donkey tied-up outside.  If asked why they were taking the donkey, they were to answer, “The Master has need of it.”  Jesus conscripted the donkey.

To celebrate Passover with His disciples, Jesus told Peter and John to go into town and find a man carrying a pitcher of water.  They were to follow him to a house, then tell the owner that the Lord was going to have Passover in the upper room of his house.  Jesus conscripted the room.

Those two conscriptions lend credibility to our argument that this was indeed spiritual warfare, with the objective that Jesus take the hill.

The encounter changed Simon’s life for eternity.  We conclude that his life was transformed by Jesus because of the mention of his two sons, “Alexander and Rufus.”  Their names, with no further explanation, tell us that they were well-known to the believers reading Mark’s Gospel.

It means they were well-known believers.

Some time before the Gospel of Mark was written, Simon received Jesus as his Savior.  So did his boys.  It was all put in motion by a seemingly random encounter of Simon with a condemned man on His way to be crucified.

Had he been five minutes earlier, or later, he would have missed this divine appointment.  It lends credibility to the statement, “There are no coincidences.”

Before we leave Simon and Alexander and Rufus, let me share a few facts about them:

Though we can’t say with 100% accuracy it’s the same guy, “Rufus” is mentioned by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, where he says, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine” (16:13).  If it is the same Rufus, then we see that his mom, Simon’s wife, was also a believer, and especially dear to Paul.

A burial cave in the Kidron Valley discovered in 1941 by E. L. Sukenik, belonging to Cyrenian Jews and dating before 70AD, was found to have an ossuary inscribed twice in Greek “Alexander Son of Simon.”  An ossuary is a container in which the bones of the dead are kept; it is sometimes called a “bone box.”  We cannot be certain that this refers to the same person; but it’s likely that it does.

Jesus was pressing forward to the Cross, and His Father was giving Him aid along the way.  What looked like defeat when Jesus fell was really an incredible victory.  Every step He took was hard-fought ground that He was conquering on His way to Calvary.

Mar 15:22  And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.

In first century Israel, Aramaic was spoken as well as Hebrew and Greek.  “Golgatha” is the Aramaic form of the Hebrew word meaning “skull.”

I keep saying that the hill was called Calvary.  “Calvary” is derived from the Latin calvaria, “a skull.”  We are Skull Chapel of Hanford.

The name cannot mean that skulls were lying there; unburied skulls would not be tolerated by the Jews, and the singular number is against it.

Most probably, the name was derived from the shape of the place.  It bore the resemblance of a human skull.

In 1842 a German theologian and biblical scholar from Dresden named Otto Thenius was the first to publish a proposal that the rocky knoll north of the Damascus Gate, which, as Thenius noticed, resembled a skull, was the biblical Golgotha.  The site he suggested is today known as Skull Hill or Gordon’s Calvary.

While this is the site most accepted by Protestants, we cannot be certain, and there are other suggestions.

The biblical wording does suggest Calvary is a hill.  “To the place Golgotha” literally means, “upon the Golgotha place.”  The preposition upon denotes not direction but rather attainment of a position upon.  It is consistent with the view that Golgotha was a knoll – a hill – that could be seen from afar.

Jesus fought His way through the enemy to take the hill.  We’ll see Him successfully complete His mission in the subsequent verses of chapter fifteen.

Simon of Cyrene was conscripted to be a warrior.  It didn’t look that way, but it was that way in the spiritual warfare being waged.

It establishes that God has, at His disposal, any number of warriors.  Simon was a nonbeliever at the time, but God could use Him.

Obviously, believers are God’s primary warriors.

Can you think of a time you were conscripted into serving the Lord?  In one sense, your whole life ought to be lived as if you’ve been conscripted to bear the Cross, dying to yourself in order to serve the Lord.

I came across this quote:

We followers of Christ are born conscripted into a spiritual army.  Drafted by re-birth.  A duty mandatory and necessary but still voluntary.  

Psalm 144:1 reads,

Psa 144:1  Blessed be the LORD my Rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my fingers for battle.

You are a warrior, surrounded by spiritual warfare.

Spiritual victory can look an awful lot like defeat when, in fact, you’re winning hard-fought ground.

It’s never a defeat to be like Christ.

Pilate Error (Mark 15:1-15)

“Pilot error” is a term used to describe a decision, action or inaction by a pilot or crew of an aircraft determined to be a cause or contributing factor in an accident or incident.

Pardon the bad pun, but I want to ‘hijack’ the term, and apply it to Pontius Pilate.  He is forever associated with his grave error.

Knowing that Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing, Pilate caved to the crowd and condemned the sinless Son of God first to a vicious scourging, and then to death by crucifixion.

Mark’s account of Pilate emphasizes a title given to Jesus –  “King of the Jews.”

It occurs here for the first time in his Gospel, but it does so three times in our passage, and a total of six times in this chapter.

Pilate marveled at the dignity of the King, but he caved to the din of the crowd.  It causes us to ask these two questions of ourselves: #1 Do You Marvel At The Dignity Of Your King?, and #2 Do You Cave At The Din Of The Crowd?

#1    Do You Marvel
    At The Dignity Of Your King?

Jesus certainly did not look like much of a king, standing before Pilate.  After the early morning arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus was assaulted by one of the officers of Annas, the former high priest.  Then, being tried by Caiphas, the son-in-law of Annas and the current high priest, Jesus had been blindfolded and struck repeatedly by members of the Sanhedrin and their officers.

He must have been bruised and bloodied.

We should also take into consideration that Jesus was rather common looking.  The Bible never gives any physical description of Him.  The closest thing we get to a description is in Isaiah 53:2, where we read, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”  Isaiah adds that Jesus would grow up like a plant out of dry ground with no form of kingly majesty.

Several times in His ministry He was able to slip away into a crowd without being noticed.  He didn’t stand-out in any way.

Jesus’ appearance was just like that of any other Jewish man.

His appearance was about to change.  After Pilate was through with Jesus, He would barely look human.

Isaiah predicted this, too, saying, “His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Isaiah 52:14).

He may not look like the King of the Jews, but after observing Jesus through His ordeals, Pilate would be described as “marveling” at Him.

Pilate would be struck with a sense of wonder at the dignity of Jesus.

Mar 15:1  Immediately, in the morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council; and they bound Jesus, led Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate.

Mark is very concise.  He omits many details.  Since his words were God-breathed, we want to be careful to follow Mark’s train of thought without getting distracted by historical details from the other Gospels that he doesn’t include.

It’s important we know the whole story; and that we realize what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us is absolutely true, historically.  Nevertheless each of them edits the details so that God the Holy Spirit can apply the text to our hearts.

Each Gospel tells the story in a way that is designed to do what only the Bible can do: discern between your soul and your spirit, to bring you spiritual life and insight for living it.

The chapter starts with the word “immediately.”  The Jewish authorities couldn’t wait to be rid of Jesus.  They were first in line at Pilate’s place.

It seems as though our political leaders can’t wait to be rid of Jesus.  No prayer in schools… No posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings… No Nativities on public  land… Drop the word “God” from the pledge, and the words “In God we trust” from our money… No invocations at City Council meetings.

They think they have Jesus “bound” by political correctness.  He remains King no matter the efforts of the ungodly to dethrone Him.

Pilate governed the areas of Judea, Samaria, and the area south as far as the Dead Sea to Gaza.  As prefect he had absolute authority over the non-Roman citizens of the province.  He was responsible to the Roman governor who lived in Syria to the north.

The Sanhedrin must involve Pilate because, as a subjected people, they no longer had the power of capital punishment.  If Jesus was to be executed, it had to be by Rome.

As Christians in America, we sometimes feel like a subjected people, having what we deem our “rights” taken away.  I suggest true power, spiritual power, rests with us.

I believe we should do all we can, participating in the political arena, to stand for righteousness.  Vote; sign the petitions; call your elected officials.  It makes a difference in a free society.

But do not ever depend upon those things.  They are no substitute for the power of the Gospel to transform lives, and through those lives, to transform society.

We are losing on many fronts, legally.  The long-term solution remains the Gospel, and getting people saved.

Evangelism is not an afterthought.  More saved individuals means more political impact.

Mar 15:2  Then Pilate asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” He answered and said to him, “It is as you say.”

The Sanhedrin had pronounced Jesus “Guilty!” of blasphemy for claiming to be their Messiah, and for claiming to be equal with God.

Pilate, representing Rome, couldn’t care less about a charge of religious blasphemy.  So what did they tell him about Jesus?

Pilate calls Jesus “King of the Jews” because the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of trying to lead a political rebellion against Rome.

That’s something that would get Pilate’s attention.

When Pilate sees Jesus, I think it’s with something like sarcasm that he asks the Lord, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  It was almost comical to Pilate to think that this seemingly powerless, nondescript, bruised and bloodied Jew, was capable of leading a revolution.

Jesus didn’t look, or act, like any king Pilate had ever dealt with.

Jesus answered, “It is as you say.”  In other words, “Yes.”

We know Jesus was the rightful King, the promised Messiah.  He had come offering the Kingdom of God on earth.

The Jews in authority rejected Him, and thereby rejected the Kingdom from being inaugurated at that time.

There is a lot of confusion about the “the Kingdom of God.”  For example, some say we are in it now, but give no further explanation.

There is always a spiritual Kingdom, which is God’s rule, in the heart of believers.  It is an invisible, spiritual Kingdom.  In this way, we are currently in the Kingdom.

It’s also true that God remains in charge of history.  He is always King  above all the earthly kingdoms of men, and the current rule of Satan, who is called the Prince, and Ruler, of this world.  It’s biblical to refer to God’s over-rule of history as the Kingdom of God.

There will also be the literal Kingdom, that will commence after Jesus’ Second Coming when He will be physically present to rule from Jerusalem in Israel for one thousand years.

Mar 15:3  And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing.

Jesus did not need to “answer” accusations because He had already given His testimony:

The works He had performed for the last three-and-one-half years spoke volumes.

So did His teaching, described as having a heavenly authority no one else on earth had ever demonstrated.

His sinless private life prior to His public ministry was solid testimony, too.

Jesus doesn’t need to “answer” accusations that are marshaled against Him any more today than He did then.  While it’s good and right for us to be ready to give an answer to those who have sincere questions, the answer is to surrender your heart to Jesus.

Mar 15:4  Then Pilate asked Him again, saying, “Do You answer nothing? See how many things they testify against You!”

We might be sensing frustration in Pilate.  Jesus’ silence was making it hard on him to release the Lord.

I suggest that Jesus’ silence was an answer.  Jesus’ dignity was His answer, communicated by His keeping silent in the face of false accusations.

Mar 15:5  But Jesus still answered nothing, so that Pilate marveled.

He “marveled,” or it could be translated, “he was full of wonder,” or “he was amazed.”

Pilate had never interrogated a prisoner like Jesus.  I can’t help but think that Pilate had the sense that Jesus was the One in charge – not him.

There was a dignity about Jesus, as well as a mystery, and – I dare say – a veiled power.

At one point during His arrest in Gethsemane Jesus told Peter, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).

Not only that, when they came to arrest Him, Jesus spoke, and all the soldiers and Temple guards fell backward.

That kind of power, just below the surface, can be sensed.

Mark’s writing leads us to ask of ourselves, “Do you and I marvel at His dignity?”

Of course we do!  Maybe not as much as we could, or should; but, as believers, He is our King, and we bow before Him.

Since that is true, let me suggest a devotional thought.  In your sufferings; in your struggles; in the midst of your trials; Have you ever had the sense that Jesus was silent?  Have you felt as if He was not answering your questions, or responding to your cries for help?  Felt that He wasn’t explaining the lesson you were supposed to be learning?

Those things describe every suffering or struggle or trial I’ve ever had, or am having!

First, Jesus only seems silent.  In fact, He has already spoken, well ahead of time, so you need not fret or fear.

You know, probably by heart, at least a few of the things He has prerecorded for you:

1Pe 4:12  Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
1Pe 4:13  but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

Jas 1:2  My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,
Jas 1:3  knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
Jas 1:4  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

2Co 4:17  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,

Rom 8:28  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Php 1:6  being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

2Pe 1:11  for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We should have all those on a continual loop, so that we never think, even for a moment, that Jesus is silent.

Second, Jesus owes us no current, updated, personal explanation.  He doesn’t need to dignify us with an answer, beyond what He’s already said.

Instead, we need to treat Him with the dignity He deserves by receiving His Word by faith.

His silence is itself proof that He has given us all we need for life and for godliness.  He loves us too much to withhold anything we might need; therefore His silence establishes we already have everything we need.

We thus see Jesus in His dignity, in unveiled power, yet with a sense of mystery, in our adverse circumstances.

Let Jesus be King and know that you are His beloved subject.  Walk by faith in His promises, and you will exhume a dignity like His.

#2    Do You Cave
    At The Din Of The Crowd?

Pilate’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day was going to get a lot worse.  He was going to get manipulated by the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, into making the mother of all political errors.

Mar 15:6  Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested.

Pilate’s headquarters were not in Jerusalem.  He was in town because it was expected of him, as prefect, during Passover, when tens of thousands of Jews made pilgrimage to the Temple.

When and how this custom of releasing a prisoner developed is unknown.  Mark’s wording might indicate it was something Pilate had initiated during his tenure.  If he didn’t initiate it, he was careful to observe it.

Pilate’s Passover pardon was going to become the most infamous ever.

Mar 15:7  And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion.

“Bar” means son of.  “Bar Abbas” means son of Abbas.

“Abba” is intimate for father.  So BarAbbas is son of the father.
Hold that information for a moment.

BarAbbas had been involved in some notable uprising against Rome, in which he and his men had committed murder.

It seems that BarAbbas was scheduled to be crucified, along with his colleagues, that very day.  His colleagues were probably the notorious two thieves whom Jesus would be crucified between.

They were most likely members of the Zealots.  The Zealots were a movement in first century Israel which sought to incite the people of Judaea to rebel against the Roman Empire and expel it from Israel by force of arms.

One particularly extreme group, perhaps a subgroup of the Zealots, was known in Latin as Sicarii, meaning “dagger men.”  Their policy was to kill Jews who opposed their call for war against Rome.

They would come up behind you in a crowded place, and repeatedly stab you, then be gone before anyone could react.

They would identify themselves as patriots, but in fact, were terrorists, by today’s understanding.

Most Jewish citizens were opposed to the Zealots, and they especially opposed the Dagger Men, who might kill them for their lack of zeal against Rome.

Pilate had brought out the worst criminal, apparently thinking that no one in their right mind would call for his release.
Except that no one in the crowd had a “right mind.”  They were unrighteous, far from God, thinking only of the here-and-now, and not eternal life.

Mar 15:9  But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”
Mar 15:10  For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy.

Pilate used the title to needle the chief priests.  Little did he know how accurate he was.

On paper, it seemed foolproof.  For one thing, BarAbbas was just as likely to kill the chief priests as he was any Roman.  It was pretty clear Jesus posed no lethal threat to them.

For another thing, it was absurd that a crowd accusing Jesus of leading a rebellion would demand to be released to them someone who was actually guilty of leading a rebellion.

Mar 15:11  But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them.

Clearly Pilate underestimated both the influence and the envy of the chief priests.  Incredibly, illogically, irrationally, the crowd called for BarAbbas.

Mar 15:12  Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?”

Pilate was in a pretty pickle.  BarAbbas must be released, but that didn’t solve the Jesus problem.

Mar 15:13  So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!”

You’ve probably heard it said that the same crowd which shouted “Hosanna!” to Jesus a few days earlier now called for His death.

It was not the same crowd.  I mean, think about it.  There were literally tens of thousands of pilgrims in town.  What are the odds the exact, same Jews were there?

It’s likely that this crowd was especially interested in the Passover prisoner release.  They were of a different mindset than those who had been following Jesus, supposing He was going to announce His Kingdom.

Besides, the chief priests were orchestrating all this, and probably had seeded the crowd with those sympathetic to their cause.

Mar 15:14  Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, “Crucify Him!”

Those are words of exasperation, and desperation.  He had lost control.

Pilate never really had control of this situation; Jesus did.  But any thoughts he might have entertained about getting his way were gone.

He was serving God’s providence.  Though making free decisions he was responsible for, God was providing for His plan in history, for Jesus to be crucified at the hands of Rome.

Mar 15:15  So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.

There is some evidence in literature that the Roman scourging was called pre-death.  Many individuals did not survive it.

The subject was whipped with leather thongs embedded with pieces of bone or shards of metal.  There was no limit placed on the number of lashes.

It was not uncommon for inner organs, e.g., the kidneys, to be exposed.  Blood loss alone could be fatal.  Shock was certain.

Remember earlier I pointed out that BarAbbas meant son of the father?  You might recall an exchange Jesus once had with the religious authorities.  They accused Him of being born from fornication, not believing in the miracle of the virgin birth.

Jesus responded by saying, “you are of your father, the devil” (John 8:44).  The choice of the crowd nicely demonstrates the Jews were of their father, the devil:

BarAbbas was a rebellious, thieving murderer.

Satan is a rebellious, thieving murderer.

They identified with a rebellious, thieving murderer, rather than with the Son of the Heavenly Father, Who was full of grace and truth.

Pilate had to “gratify the crowd” for his own political position to remain intact.  Though in power, and powerful, he was pressured by the din of the crowd to deliver an innocent man to death.

The question, “Do you cave at the din of the crowd?,” might be a rebuke, if you know that you’re compromising your testimony.

It’s more likely a reminder to you that we are under a lot of pressure as believers.

If a powerful Roman prefect could be pressured and manipulated into delivering Jesus Christ to be crucified, then little ‘ole you and me can certainly be pressured to deny Him.

We’re pressured at home, by family… At work… In school… Out in public.

Some of it is political pressure, as the ungodly continue to pass laws against religious freedom.  But mostly it is personal pressure from the ungodly all around us.

One way we set ourselves up to succumb to pressure is by hesitation.  Pilate hesitated to act, taking time to calculate the political consequences.

In the Book of Acts, the Lord wanted Peter to take the Gospel to a Gentile household.  Peter, in a vision, was told to accompany the men from Cornelius’ house “without hesitation” (Acts 10:20 ESV).

If something is right, why hesitate?  Thinking about it’s consequences can only weaken you.  If there are consequences, then you must suffer the consequences, and stand strong upon the promises Jesus has given you in His Word.

Pilate next tried to reduce Jesus to someone less than He was.  He tried to show that Jesus was no real threat, because He had no real power.

We can do that, too – reduce Jesus.  We can do it, for example, by being careless in our walk and witness.  If my family, or my colleagues, see nothing different about me, then I’ve reduced God’s power to transform lives to something impotent.

Pilate succumbed to fear.  He was afraid of losing his job.  It may come to that for you and I.  Sooner or later the ungodly draw a line in the sand that we simply cannot step across.

Captured and made slaves to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Daniel’s three companions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, settled-in to life in Babylon:

They received new, Babylonian names.  Their original names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.  Daniel’s Babylonian name was Belteshazzar.

They went to Babylonian schools, where they were exposed to a lot of weird, ungodly information.

It seems likely, from clues and direct references in the Bible, that all of them were made eunuchs.

But they also knew when a line had been drawn that they could not cross:

They refused to eat the foods offered to them, insisting on keeping the dietary laws Jews were subject to under the Law of Moses.  They risked death for doing so.

They refused to bow to the idol of King Nebuchadnezzar, for which they were taken prisoners, and thrown alive into a burning fiery furnace – and from which they were delivered by Jesus unharmed.

Later, held captive in the Persian Empire, Daniel continued to pray, openly, after a decree was issued making it illegal to do so.  He ended up thrown into the lion’s den, but survived.

I can’t say where your line or lines will be drawn; nor mine.  I can only hope that Jesus’ love for me casts out the fear associated with it, so that we can take our stand, and give our testimony.

Naked Run 14:52 (Mark 14:43-52)

I think what I like best about the Marvel superhero movies is the cameo appearances by comic book icon Stan Lee.

It’s a cinematic tradition that stretches back to the 1980s.

One cameo you might not be aware of was his very first, and it happened on the small-screen.  Stan Lee appeared on TV in 1989 as the jury foreman in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk.

Another little-known cameo was in the 2014 animated film, Big Hero 6.  It’s  based on a Marvel comic of the same name.  Stan Lee makes his cameo in the post credits scene, as an animation.

The 93 year-old has also appeared in a few small screen and off-screen cameos over the years:

He is part of the Amazing SpiderMan ride at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

In Netflix’s Daredevil, his picture hangs on the wall of the local police station, where he appears to be a cop.

In Marvel’s Agent Carter, he’s glimpsed receiving a shoe shine next to Howard Stark.

He also appeared in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a passenger on a train

(BTW: There are over a dozen modern-era Marvel movies that do not feature Stan Lee, as well as many older projects).

I got to thinking about cameos because, since at least the thirteenth century, many competent Bible teachers and scholars have argued that Mark makes a cameo appearance in his Gospel.

They say that Mark is the “young man” following Jesus who runs away naked when the authorities try to grab him.

Is it Mark in a cameo?  Maybe, but it’s doubtful.  Which leaves us to ponder why Mark includes this odd incident.

I hope to show you it is incredibly significant, rich with a simple symbolism used elsewhere in God’s Word to describe the work of Jesus, in an illustration we can immediately relate to.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 With Your Clothes On, You Are Naked Before Jesus, and #2 With His Clothes On, You Are Covered By Jesus.

#1    With Your Clothes On,
    You Are Naked Before Jesus

Justin Timberlake first used the term “wardrobe malfunction” referring to the Super Bowl Thirty-eight halftime show snafu.  The phrase has since entered pop culture to describe all sorts of clothing problems.

Long before Janet Jackson, an unnamed young man had an epic wardrobe malfunction, recorded in the Bible.

Before we get to him, we pick-up the story where we left-off – in Gethsemane.  Jesus had just finished praying, and had announced to His disciples that His enemies were arriving.

Mar 14:43  And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.

From the other accounts we gather that the “multitude” may have been an entire cohort of soldiers, numbering 600 or more, not counting the Jewish Temple policemen.  If it seems like overkill, it was; but they wanted no trouble from crowds sympathetic to Jesus.

“Swords” were the weapons of the Roman soldiers who were dispatched to arrest Jesus.

“Clubs” were the weapons that the Temple police were allowed, by Rome, to carry.

If there was ever trouble between the ruling Roman soldiers, and the subjected Jewish Temple police, they would always be bringing clubs to a sword fight.

“The chief priests and the scribes and the elders” meant this was an officially sanctioned action by the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin.  Think of them as issuing the arrest warrant that was being served.

Mar 14:44  Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely.”

We’ve all seen depictions of undercover operatives.  There’s always some kind of signal – a key word or phrase, or some gesture.

It was customary for a disciple to greet his teacher with a kiss.  It could be on the cheek, or the forehead, or on the hand.  It would be natural for Judas, who left during dinner and had been gone for several hours, to return and greet Jesus with a kiss.

Jesus was not all that recognizable.  He needed to be positively identified to the arresting authorities by someone familiar with Him.

Judas didn’t say, “He’ll be the one with the halo”; or, “He’ll be the one glowing in the dark”; or, “He’ll be the tall, European-looking guy, with blond hair and blue eyes, speaking with a British accent.”

Jesus was an average-looking Jew.  The Contemporary English Version of Isaiah 53:2 reads, “He wasn’t some handsome king. Nothing about the way he looked made him attractive to us.”

I’ve explained to you before, based on skeletal evidence, that the average height for Roman soldiers in the first century was 5′ 5″.

Jesus may have been much shorter.  One researcher (a Christian BTW) writes, “From an analysis of skeletal remains, archeologists have firmly established that the average build of a [Jewish] male at the time of Jesus was 5′ 1″, with an average weight of about 110 pounds.”

You’ve heard of the Shroud of Turin.  It is purported to be the actual burial robe of Jesus, with His image inexplicably burned on the cloth.  Scientists, both Christian and nonChristian,remain divided about its authenticity.  There are a lot of unanswered questions. Something to ponder is that the man depicted in the shroud would be close to 6′ tall.  It’s possible Jesus was 6′ tall, but then He’d have stood out from most everyone else, making it hard to see how Isaiah’s description would fit.

“Seize Him and lead Him away safely.”  They needed Jesus alive, to stand accused in a series of rigged trials in order to pull-off their illegal and immoral scheme to murder Him.

Mar 14:45  As soon as he had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him, “Rabbi, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.

“Rabbi” means teacher.  For three-and-one-half years, Judas had followed Jesus, and sat under His teaching.  He had even performed signs and wonders in Jesus’ Name.  But he never believed; he never was saved.

Mar 14:46  Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him.

Jesus was placed under arrest.  So far, Judas’ plan had gone-off without a hiccup.  That was all about to change.

Mar 14:47  And one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.
Among the disciples, there were a couple of swords.  Two of them, at least, had CCW permits.

It was not uncommon for travelers to arm themselves, for self defense against robbers.  As far as the record in the Bible, this was the only time a disciple exercised his right to bear arms, and defend himself; and it didn’t really go too well.

It was Peter who wielded the sword in Gethsemane.  Mark doesn’t tell us, but John rats him out in his Gospel.

John and Peter must have had some kind of competition.  In addition to telling us that it was Peter who cut-off the ear, John let’s us know that he outran Peter to the empty tomb on the first Easter morning.

It must have been a friendly competition, because they were often ministering together.

The arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane isn’t the best context to mention this, but it’s OK to have fun as Christians, serving the Lord together.  Loosen up a little.

With perhaps 600 Roman soldiers, and numerous Temple policeman, to strike, Peter went after an unarmed man.  He was “servant of the high priest,” there to observe – not a combatant.

It might have ended very badly for Peter and the other ten disciples had it not been for Jesus.  Mark omits it, but we know from the other accounts that Jesus reached out and healed the ear of the servant.

Let’s stop there and point out something about the Bible.

I’ve already mentioned two or three things that happened in Gethsemane which Mark does not report.  When we get to the naked young man, we’ll see that story is something reported only by Mark.

Why are the various Gospel accounts different and selective?  I ran across a fascinating illustration in a scholarly journal article I was reading.  It’s a little long, but I think it’s worth our effort as listeners.

While the events behind the text may be revelatory, they are not inspired and thus not expressly “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (Second Timothy 3:16–17).

That, of course, is not to claim that the events so described in the biblical text did not happen, but simply that it is the Holy Spirit’s accounts of the events that are to be attended to for life transformation, not the re-creation… of those behind-the-text events themselves.

All this to say that the text is not merely a plain glass window that the reader can look through (to discern some event behind it).  Rather, the narrative is a stained glass window that the reader must look at.  A stained glass window is carefully designed by the craftsman in accordance with a particular theme, style, location in the building, size and structure of window, nature and availability of glass, demands of patron, expertise of artist, etc.  The glass, the stains, the lead, the copper, and everything else that goes into its production are meticulously planned for the appropriate effect, to tell a particular story.

So, too, with narratives [in the Bible].  The interpreter must, therefore, pay close attention to the text, not just to what is being said, but also how it is being said and why, in order that the agenda of the author may be discerned.

Mark has something to say beyond the reporting of the events themselves.  He includes, or excludes, information on purpose, according to the spiritual message he is wanting to convey – a message that is different from the ones the other Gospel’s convey.

Mar 14:48  Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?

Jesus was not resisting arrest.  He let them seize Him.  If He wasn’t resisting, then why the comment about robbers, swords, and clubs?

There are probably lots of reasons we could suggest; I’ll highlight one.  Jesus was not a revolutionary leading a political party.  He was not attempting to force the Kingdom of God upon nonbelievers.  He wasn’t pushing reform, but rather offering regeneration.

That adds another wrinkle to Peter’s misguided swordplay.  Peter’s actions were the exact opposite of what Jesus was about in His first coming.

There will be a Second Coming; and it will be totally different.  Jesus Himself is described as wielding a unique sword in His Second Coming.  Maybe it would be better if I just read it to you.

Rev 19:11  Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.
Rev 19:12  His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.
Rev 19:13  He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.
Rev 19:14  And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.
Rev 19:15  Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
Rev 19:16  And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

The Cross must precede His Second Coming, crowned; so Jesus submitted Himself for arrest.

Mar 14:49  I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”

All the prior week, Jesus had been available for arrest.  He was highlighting the sinister nature of their actions – using the cover of night to keep their illegal acts out of the public eye.

What “Scriptures must be fulfilled?”  All of the ones about the suffering and death and resurrection of the Savior.

Most of you have heard some breakdown of this before; but that doesn’t make it any less fantastic.  A guy by the name of Peter Stoner calculated the mathematical probability of Jesus fulfilling just eight of the Messianic prophecies.
(Stoner was chairman of the mathematics and astronomy departments at Pasadena City College until 1953 when he moved to Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.  There he served as chairman of the science division).

The probability of Jesus fulfilling just eight of the prophecies is 1 in 10 to the 17th power; or 1 with seventeen zeros after it.  That’s one in one hundred quadrillion.

Jesus fulfilled at least 108 prophecies.  I’m not sure it’s a probability that can even be calculated.

One particular prophecy that was being fulfilled right then is Zechariah 13:7.  Jesus had quoted it earlier that evening; it’s in verse forty-seven, where Jesus said, “for it is written: ‘I WILL STRIKE THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP WILL BE SCATTERED.’ ”

Mar 14:50  Then they all forsook Him and fled.

Check that one off the list of 108.  They scattered, as prophesied.

Jesus had also told them they’d be stumbled.  Expecting the Lord to set-up the Kingdom of God, when He surrendered Himself to the authorities, and would not allow any resistance, their Messianic hopes were dashed.  This amazing Person, Who commanded diseases to leave, and demons to flee, was definitely not going to set up the Kingdom; and they were stumbled by it.

Have your hopes been dashed on some rocky shore of trouble?  Sure they have.  I’ve been stumbled by what I thought Jesus would do in my situation, when it seemed as though He let me down.  His perceived inaction can stumble us.

O, how faithful He is, to love me when I feel He has failed me, when I am the one constantly falling short.

#2    With His Clothes On,
    You Are Covered By Jesus

I haven’t talked about “clothes” yet, but I will now that we have arrived at verses fifty-one and fifty-two.  Let’s read them:

Mar 14:51  Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him,
Mar 14:52  and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.

The place to start talking about this is the only thing everyone agrees upon: We are nowhere told who this “young man” is.  Any suggestion is unsupported speculation.

There are quite a number of theories, including that he is the apostle John, or Jesus’ friend Lazarus, or the man who would later prep Jesus’ body for burial, Joseph of Arimathea.

By far the most widely held guess is that it was none other than Mark himself, making his cameo.

It is speculated that Jesus and the disciples celebrated Passover in the upper room at the house Mark’s family owned.  In that scenario, Judas first led the arrest party to the house.  Not finding Jesus still there, they headed off to Gethsemane.

Mark, aroused from his sleep, threw on a robe, and ran to warn Jesus.  Alas, he was too late; Jesus had already been taken.

Mark then decided to follow Jesus.  When the authorities saw him, they tried to grab him, but they only got a handful of his robe, and he fled naked.

Maybe; but probably not, and it is all conjecture.

If we quit looking through the glass asking “Who?” and instead ask “Why?,” we just might see the stained glass.

We don’t need to be Greek scholars to read what Greek scholars have discovered about these verses in the larger context of the Gospel of Mark.

We don’t even need to rely on Greek scholars, because we can find what they’ve discovered for ourselves.  It has to do with the repetition of certain unique words.

The Greek word for “linen” (σινδών) occurs twice in Mark 14:51-52.  There is only one other place in the Gospel of Mark where the word is found, and it occurs twice there, too.  It is when Mark describes the burial shroud of Jesus.

Mar 15:46  Then [Joseph of Arimathea] bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

If you are reading Mark carefully, especially in the original language, you will make a connection between the double use of “linen” with regards to the young man’s discarded robe, and with regards to Jesus’ burial robe.

While the “linen” robe left behind by the fleeing young man was certainly not the same “linen” robe that shrouded Jesus in the tomb, Mark intends for us to make a spiritual connection between the two.

Mark intends for us to see that Jesus, in His death, took upon Himself our robe.

If you think that’s a stretch, it’s not.  There are other passages in the Bible that illustrate what Jesus did on the Cross in terms of clothing.  He takes upon Himself our filthy rags of sin and self-righteousness in order to die in our place, for our sins.

But that’s not all.  In taking upon Himself our clothing, the Lord doesn’t leave us naked.  He exchanges our filthy rags for His own robe of righteousness.

One of the passages that highlights this exchange is found in the Old Testament, in Zechariah 3:1-5.

Zec 3:1  Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD…
Zec 3:3  … Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel.
Zec 3:4  Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.”
Zec 3:5  And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the LORD stood by.

Mark calls our attention to Jesus wearing our robe – our “filthy garments” – by his use of the word “linen.”
Mark further calls attention to the exchange of our filthy garments for a robe of righteousness by his use of two additional unique words.

The single Greek word for “young man (γυμνός) occurs twice in Mark 14:51–52.  The only other time it appears in Mark is at the empty tomb of Jesus:

Mar 16:5  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

We know from the other Gospels that this “young man” was none other than an angel.  By calling the angel a “young man,” Mark  goes way out of his way to try to connect these two “young men” spiritually, in our minds.

What is Mark trying to show us?  What is the connection between the naked “young man” and the clothed “young man” in the tomb?

The “young man” at the tomb is described as wearing a “white robe.”  The adjective, “white,” is another unique word, found in only one other passage in Mark’s Gospel.  It described Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration:

Mar 9:2  Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them.
Mar 9:3  His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.

The disciples saw Jesus glorified, the way He’d look after He rose from the dead.

We can apply Mark’s literary clues this way:

Before Jesus died on the Cross, a “young man” was naked.

After Jesus rose from the dead, a “young man” was clothed in a glorious white robe.

Jesus went to the Cross and took our robe – our filthy rags – upon Himself.  But we are not left naked.  He rose from the dead, emerging from the Tomb, glorified.  When you believe in Him, Jesus clothes you with a robe of righteousness.

This interpretation is consistent with what we read elsewhere in God’s Word about our nakedness, and the Lord clothing us.  In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Lord says to the Laodiceans,

Rev 3:17  Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked –
Rev 3:18  I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.

A moment ago I quoted the verses that describe Jesus’ Second Coming.  If you were listening carefully, you heard the church described as “clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (19:14).

Have you ever gone somewhere and been inappropriately dressed?  Or better yet, have you ever been turned-away from an establishment because you failed to meet their dress code?

There are still a handful of restaurants in the US, mostly in New York or Chicago, that require men wear a sport coat.  No coat, no meal.

To accommodate you, the restaurant has coats they can provide you.

The entire human race is invited to Heaven.  But to get in, you need the appropriate spiritual clothing.  Your best efforts – your good works – amount to a robe of filthy rags.  On your own, you are dressed inappropriately for Heaven, and entrance there will be refused

God must provide you a robe of righteousness.  It is given to you as a gift, by grace, when you have faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

With your clothes on, you are naked before Jesus.  You need to be clothed with His righteousness.

With His clothes on, you are covered by Jesus.  He gives you His glorious robe of righteousness.

Who was the young man who ran away naked?  It was you, spiritually speaking.

If you’ve received the Lord as your Savior, then you’re like Joshua the high priest, having been outfitted for Heaven.

If you have not received the Lord… Don’t run away naked in the shame of your sin.

Simon Says ‘Sleep’ (Mark 14:32-42)

One morning, 85-year-old Winnie Withers of Indiana got up to pour herself coffee and found to her surprise that she had an 8-foot-wide hole in her kitchen wall.

Somehow she had slept through a vehicle smashing through her house and then fleeing the scene.

Her bed, by the way, was only about 20 feet away from the crash.

Sadly, the pie she had set on the windowsill to cool was never recovered.

Do you think you could have slept through the sinking of the Titanic?  Six-year-old Robert Douglas Spedden did.  His story was immortalized in 1994 in a book titled, Polar the Titanic Bear.
Written by his mother soon after they survived, then discovered and published by a relative decades later, it is the account of that night as seen through the eyes of sleeping-Robert’s stuffed bear.

What about you?  Is there something you once slept through, much to your own surprise or dismay?

At this point in my life, I think I could sleep through just about anything.

One of the worst, if not THE worst, sleep-throughs of all time has to be the account of Peter, James, and John nodding off while Jesus was praying in Gethsemane.  Not once, but three times.  It prompted Jesus to ask, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour?” (v37).

The other eight disciples didn’t fare much better.  We’re not told that they slept, but it’s clear from the various accounts that they were completely passive in the situation.  They might as well have been sleeping.

We’re going to look first at the eight, and then at the three.  I’ll organize my thoughts around two questions: #1 Are You Passive In Obeying Jesus?, and #2 Are You Powerless To Obey Jesus?

#1    Are You Passive
In Obeying Jesus?

We tend to concentrate on Peter, James, and John, overlooking the other eight disciples.  Not so fast!  They were there, too, and we can glean a few things from them.

Mar 14:32  Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”

Jesus had shared one final Passover meal with His disciples.  It was also, for all practical purposes, the last Passover, because the Lord was about to be sacrificed on the Cross as the final (Passover) “Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.”

By the way, there will be a Passover celebration in the future, during the Kingdom of God on earth, after Jesus’ Second Coming.  It is discussed in Ezekiel 45:21-25.  The Passover held at that time in the Millennial Kingdom is not a memorial to the Exodus; it is a memorial to the Cross, and to the true Lamb.  Jesus will officiate at that celebration as He did with His disciples and it will look at His death as the final, perfect Passover Lamb.

The group, minus Judas the traitor, was on its way to spend the night outdoors, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives.  Specifically, they were going to Gethsemane, a favorite and well-known spot for Jesus to repose.

After being quite stealthy about planning the Passover meal, Jesus returned to His normal habits.  He hadn’t wanted Judas to betray Him at the meal; now the time had come for the Lord to endure His agony leading up to, and on, the Cross.  He went to exactly the spot He knew Judas would lead His captors.

“Gethsemane” is a compound word that means olive press.  It was a working olive grove, with a press to crush the olives into olive oil.

Multitudes of Bible studies have been delivered regarding the comparison between the crushing of olives and the spiritual crushing of Jesus.
I can’t add anything to them; I just make passing note of it as an incredibly symbolic stage for the drama that unfolds.

Jesus is going to take Peter, James, and John further with Him into Gethsemane.  First He instructed eight of them to “sit here while I pray.”

Let’s call them the Waitful Eight.

I understand why very little is written or said about the Waitful Eight; but that doesn’t mean they are insignificant in this account.

I’m going to suggest that they could have gotten more involved with the action, but instead remained overly passive in their obedience to Jesus.

Let’s first set the scene.  The Jews followed, and still follow, a lunar calendar.  Passover always falls on the night of a full moon.

Why is that important to our discussion?  Full moon over the Mount of Olives means lots of light.  It means the eight, even though left further behind, would have been able to see Peter, James, and John, as well as Jesus.

Are you familiar with the term, “blocking,” when used in the theater?  Lines are what an actor says on stage; blocking is where and how an actor moves onstage.  Blocking is largely determined by the director.

I see Jesus “blocking” this scene.  It’s an unfolding drama, on the stage of Gethsemane, and He put His ‘actors,’ all eleven of them, exactly where He wanted, and needed, them.

The eight who were blocked further out must have been there by God’s design.  The events of this night were too important for Jesus to overlook any detail.

We’re not told what that design was, so I want to be careful, and not make-up anything.  However, if we’re careful, I think we can say a few instructive things about the Waitful Eight.

I sometimes wonder about one of them in particular.  Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist, then obediently left to follow Jesus.  He was used by God to introduce his brother, Peter, to Jesus.

Scholars always list him as being fourth in importance, after Peter, James, and John.  James and John, by the way, were also brothers.

(It’s possible that the other James in the group was Matthew’s brother; Alphaeus is listed as father of each.  We can’t be certain because Alphaeus was a common name).

Peter and the brothers, James and John, got to attend some amazing events: They were in the room for the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead; they accompanied Jesus up the Mount of Transfiguration; and, now, they were closest to His agony in Gethsemane.

Why draw the line at three?  Why one set of brothers, and not Andrew and Peter as well?

It is a bedrock principle that God is not a respecter of persons.  He loves, and forgives, and showers His grace upon, all of His followers with equal passion.
We know, therefore, that it wasn’t because of some flaw, or failing, in Andrew, or the others, that Jesus somehow chose Peter, James, and John.

The three in the inner circle didn’t earn their spot.  In fact, I think we could make a pretty good case that Peter was often a liability.  It wasn’t that he was more, or the most, spiritual of the bunch.

Your assignment is no indicator of God’s pleasure, or displeasure, with you.  It is simply the place where the Lord can most effectively conform you into the image of Jesus.

At least we are familiar with Andrew.  Most of us are hard-pressed to name all eight of those who were told to “sit here while I pray.”

Let’s discuss their assignment.  “Sit here while I pray.”  Does that command mean they were prohibited from doing anything else?

For example, they could see – in the light of the full moon – Peter, James, and John, nodding off to sleep.  They probably had heard Jesus’ instructions to the three, and Jesus’ comments every time He came to them and found them sleeping.

Do you think it might have been a good thing if, say, Andrew, upon realizing his brother and the others were sleeping, went over to them to awaken them?  Or at least threw stones at them?

Again, we can’t say any of this for sure… But it is true, of us, that we can obey Jesus so passively that we fail to serve when an opportunity is right in front of us.

Jesus had given His disciples plenty of experience in this area.  On His way to heal Jairus’ daughter, the Lord had been stealthily touched by a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years.  Knowing the urgency of His mission to get to Jairus’ house, Jesus nevertheless stopped to minister to the woman.

Jesus was always seeing some way of serving His Father.  There was nothing passive about His approach.

Told to “sit and pray,” the eight could have done more; but they apparently did not.

Do you think, later on, Peter got on his little brother, saying, “Andy, why didn’t you wake me up?  Don’t you know how embarrassing it is to fall asleep on watch with Jesus?  I could have used some help, bro.”

We all have our individual assignments.  We all have our gifts.  Beyond them, we need to develop greater spiritual situational awareness, to overcome our naturally passive obedience to Jesus, and do more than the minimum.

We all know what a ‘comfort zone’ refers to.  I’m saying we can also have a spiritual ‘passive zone’ that keeps us from serving.

Look around, with spiritual sight and insight, and serve the Lord.

#2    Are You Powerless
To Obey Jesus?

Did your parents ever talk about the Sandman?

Not Spiderman’s nefarious foe, but the mythical character in folklore who puts people to sleep and brings good dreams by sprinkling magical sand onto the eyes of people while they sleep at night.
He’d be justifiably shot as an intruder here in Kings County.

Peter, James, and John wanted to stay awake, but their eyelids grew heavier and heavier as the early morning hours progressed, and they missed-out on Jesus’ incredible talk with His Father in Heaven.

Mar 14:33  And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed.

I struggle to expound upon the agony of Jesus.  He was fully God and fully man, about to be nailed to the Cross where the Bible says He would be “made sin for us” (Second Corinthians 5:21).  It’s all beyond my comprehension; or at least beyond my ability to articulate.

I simply cannot fathom Jesus’ trouble and distress.  It is too deep, too intense, for any of my words.

Mar 14:34  Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.”

I find it interesting that even though what He must suffer, He must suffer alone, Jesus wanted company.

There is what is called “the ministry of presence,” and we can all practice it.  You will need the help of God the Holy Spirit to know what to say, and what not to say.

In Jesus’ case, He didn’t need advice, or to be told cliches, like, “It’s all going to work out,” or, “God is in control,” or, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

He wanted them to be present, at a distance.  Their presence would be enough to strengthen Him.

Mar 14:35  He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.
Mar 14:36  And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

God is omnipotent, but there are things even He cannot do, e.g.,

God cannot lie.
God cannot sin.
God cannot learn anything new.
God cannot be wrong.

The “hour” Jesus spoke of was probably the entire suffering that lie ahead of Him.  Anyone facing what He was facing would want to escape it.

He called it “this cup.”  The cup is a familiar Old Testament symbol for God’s judgment being poured-out upon sin.

Jesus knew His suffering and death couldn’t be avoided, so why pray that way?  For one thing, it highlights that His death on the Cross is the only way for mankind to be saved, and for creation to be restored.  If there were any other way, then Jesus need not die.

There is no religion, or philosophy, that can conquer sin and death and Satan.  No other name can save a lost human being besides the name of Jesus.  No one can come to the Father, except by Him.

It takes great faith to say, “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”  It means you trust God to do what is best in your situation.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for things like a healing, or a miracle.  It simply means that you trust God to act in love, working all things together for the good.

Mar 14:37  Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour?

The reference to “one hour” probably doesn’t mean sixty-minutes, but to however long Jesus had been praying.

In sympathy for the boys, Luke’s Gospel says they were groggy on account of their exceeding sorrow.  They were physically and psychologically spent from everything Jesus had said up to this point.

You’re going to have times in your life, maybe long seasons, even, when it seems as though what Jesus is telling you is hard to bear, nearly impossible to endure.  You will be physically and psychologically spent – even with the Lord walking with you through it.

You can still have joy – a joy unspeakable and full of glory.  But there will be times when you depend upon the Holy Spirit to interpret your deep groanings to God, because words fail to capture your pain and sorrow.

All three were asleep, but Jesus addressed Peter.  Hey, if you want to lead, and if you’re going to brag about being the one in the group who stands apart, then you’d better be ready to produce.
Jesus had changed Simon’s name to “Peter,” meaning Rock. (John 1:42).  Why did Jesus occasionally call Peter “Simon” after He had changed His name to “Peter”?

Probably because Simon sometimes acted like his old self instead of the rock God called him to be.

In this case, Peter had claimed he was able to resist any attack.  But he wasn’t even capable of fending off the Sandman.

Mar 14:38  Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Jesus knew Peter would fail; yet He encouraged him to victory, knowing that the resources are found in watching and praying.

Jesus knows I will fail; He knows you will fail.  Our resources are in watching and praying.  If we practice them, we will be prepared when the testing comes; we will be ready for the traps that are set.

The “spirit” which was willing refers to their human spirit, which we might call our mind, will, and emotions.  They definitely wanted to do what the Lord asked.

“The flesh” refers to our unredeemed humanity.  We are born with a sin nature and even after we are saved, the tendency to disobey God and to sin remains within us.

If the flesh wins out, how is it “weak?”  Isn’t it strong?

The flesh is strong.  To paraphrase Darth Vader, we could say of just about any human being, “the flesh is strong with this one.”

What Jesus meant is that if you try to accomplish something spiritual in the energy of the flesh, it will fail; you will fall.  In that sense, it is weak.  It is weak to produce anything spiritual.

Mar 14:39  Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words.

It doesn’t mean Jesus recited the exact same prayer.  It means He spoke in the same manner, along the same lines.

Jesus addressed God as “Abba, Father.”  It was an intimate, informal way of addressing God.  He certainly wasn’t reciting some formal prayer; or using vain repetitions, thinking He would be heard.  He was talking to His Dad; to His Papa.

Mar 14:40  And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.

Round two was another loss for Peter, James, and John.  “Heavy eyes” sounds like it was tough rousing them.  I understand that all too well.  Often Pam can’t get me to wake-up so she must leave me in the living room to wake-up on my own.  When I awaken, I try to keep my eyelids as closed as possible while I stumble off to bed.

“They did not know what to answer Him.”  Today we’d say they were busted.  The Lord had already identified the flesh as the problem.  No use offering-up any excuse.

Mar 14:41  Then He came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.
The commentators have very different opinions regarding the tone of Jesus’ voice throughout this encounter with Peter, James, and John.  For example, was He now chiding them, as some suggest?
Or was this a tender comment, as He came upon them enjoying the last peaceful sleep they’d have for quite some time?

Kenneth Wuest, a renowned Greek scholar, translates it, “Keep on sleeping now and taking your rest.”

I like that.  I can hear Jesus saying that.

How do you receive the Lord’s speaking to you, through the Word of God?  Do you immediately assume He is chiding you?  Or that He is being tender with you?

It makes a big difference, because that is also how you will share the Lord with others.

“It is enough!,” exclaimed Jesus.  He meant something like, “It is time!”

Whenever I had to wake-up the kids, I’d always say something like, “Wake up!  It’s time to go to school.”  That’s what Jesus was doing for His guys.

“The hour” had come for Him to be the Lamb led to the slaughter as the substitute for all mankind, as the sacrifice for our sins.  It wasn’t a moment Jesus had been preparing for just thirty-plus years.  He’d been preparing for it from eternity past.

Before the foundations of the earth were laid, God knew His creation would be plummeted into sin by the disobedience of the man and woman He would create with free will to choose.

Why not create mankind without free will?  It’s another thing that is impossible for God.

We maintain that it would be impossible for God to create a being in His image, with the capacity to love, if they had no free will to choose.

Mar 14:42  Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.”

Physically, Jesus was much more exhausted than His disciples.  Yet He had managed to stay up well into the next day in order to seek His Father in prayer.

Luke, who was a physician, in his account wrote, “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly.  Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (22:44).

Jesus didn’t act exhausted.  He continued to ‘block’ the scene, as its director.  He got into position to meet the captors so He could surrender to them, while simultaneously putting His men in a safe place.

His praying had prepared Jesus for what was to come.  His great agony in Gethsemane gave Him the spiritual strength to endure the hours of suffering that lie ahead.

The difference between Jesus and the eleven wasn’t that He was God, and that they were men.  While He was on the earth, Jesus voluntarily set aside the prerogatives of His deity and acted as a man.

The difference between Jesus and the eleven was the power of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life.

These same guys, after Jesus rose from the dead, would be told to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from Heaven.
On the Day of Pentecost, that promised power came upon them in the Person of the permanently in dwelling Holy Spirit.

This same Peter had no Simon-like weakness in preaching the Gospel.  The eleven plus a twelfth they chose, Matthias, went on the turn the world upside-down with the Gospel.  Their boldness is still reverberating through the centuries, right up to here and now.

I don’t want to completely excuse the eleven for their lack of power.  While it is true that the Holy Spirit was not indwelling them, nor had He yet come upon them in a Pentecost-sense, they could have known His empowering.

They were arguably better off than any of their Old Testament heroes, having been companions of Jesus.  Heroes like Joshua and Caleb and David, who each experienced the Holy Spirit coming upon them to accomplish mighty deeds.

The eleven could have watched… Could have prayed… In the power of the Holy Spirit.  Instead they were powerless when they needed Him the most.

How much more do we have power.  If you’ve been born-again, God the Holy Spirit indwells you, permanently.  He doesn’t come and go.

In addition, like the original disciples on the Day of Pentecost, the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon you is your promise, too.

In fact Jesus specifically tells us to ask for the Holy Spirit’s power to come upon us:

Luk 11:13  “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Jesus was addressing believers, encouraging them, and us, to “ask” for the Holy Spirit.

In our quiet closing time, talk to Jesus about any passive obedience there may be in your life…

Ask Him for the Holy Spirit to be poured-out upon you, for boldness to obey Him…

If you are not yet a believer in Jesus Christ, you can receive the forgiveness of your sins.  Jesus is your Lamb; He took your place, dying for your sins, to save you.

The Third Time’s The Harm (Mark 14:26-31)

“I before E, except after C.”

Armed with that foundational rule of English grammar, you’re ready to tackle the most difficult spelling tests.

Of course, there are exceptions.  The rule doesn’t apply when the two letters makes a long ‘A’ sound, as in neighbor and weigh.

There are other exceptions to the rule.  Lots of them.  Of the 14,189 IE and EI words in the English dictionary, 3,994 of them are exceptions to the rule.  That’s over 28%.

It’s even worse than that.  Of the 5,000 most frequently used IE and EI words, 47% are exceptions to the rule.

Maybe things are more stable in the realm of mathematics.  “All prime numbers are odd” – except for the exception, the number 2.

I’m highlighting “exceptions to the rule” because of something I see in the Bible this morning.

Jesus tells His eleven disciples what is about to happen to them, even quoting Scripture to enhance His own words.  Jesus says, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I WILL STRIKE THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP WILL BE SCATTERED'” (v27).

Peter immediately, vehemently, disagrees.  He puts himself in a different category than the other ten, saying, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be” (v29).

Peter heard Jesus say “All of you will be made to stumble,” but he thought himself to be the exception in the group.

Let me put it this way: Peter thought himself the exception to God’s rule over his life.

God’s rule over our lives is our point of contact with this episode.  Do we expect His rule over our lives?  Do we think there are exceptions?

I’ll organize my thoughts around two questions: #1 Are You Expectant Of God’s Rule Over Your Life?, and #2 Are There Exceptions To God’s Rule Over Your Life?

#1    Are You Expectant
    Of God’s Rule Over Your Life?

It was once common, or at least not all that unusual, for pastors to release a record album.

Or maybe it was just Jimmy Swaggart.  I knew he had an album, because someone gave it to me as a gift.  I didn’t know that his discography includes at least 50 albums, spanning 1978 to 2015.

They are produced by Jim Records.

Our own Pastor Chuck Smith released three albums.

“This is pertinent how?,” you ask.  Because our text begins with Jesus singing.

Mar 14:26  And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus and His disciples met in an upper room in Jerusalem, to share what would be their last Passover meal together.  We talked, at length, about how Jesus was the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world; about how He was the final sacrifice for sin that every previous lamb anticipated.

At one point, Judas left the table, going off into the night to betray Jesus to the religious authorities.  After Judas was gone, Jesus spoke of His impending death on the Cross, and He gave His followers a memorial to observe until He returns for us.

We call it the Lord’s Supper, or Communion… And we talked at length about it, too.
All that being done, Jesus led the eleven in singing.

If we are going to be like Jesus, we need to sing; and we need to sing with others, lifting praises to God.

Whenever the subject of worship comes up, someone is quick to point out that singing is not the only way we worship the Lord.  It might not even be the primary way.  We should have a lifestyle of worship – praising the Lord by our conduct at home, at work, in school, at church.

While I say “Amen!” to that, it does not follow that I don’t need to sing to worship God.  I do need to sing, because Jesus did.

Doesn’t matter if you can’t carry a tune.  Even Pavorotti falls short of the perfection in Heaven.  God doesn’t care what you sound like.

I’d like to address you who don’t sing very much in church.  You say you don’t like to sing, especially in a group?  I bet you join in the National Anthem at a ball game, and probably even Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch.

Ever sing along to the radio?  In the shower?  It’s starting to seem as though it’s only in church you won’t sing.

We’re talking about expectancy, so let me put it this way: You should expect to sing when you’re in a meeting of the church; and Jesus expects you to sing.

We are to be “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

Mark says “they sung a hymn.”  During Passover, the feasts of Tabernacles and Weeks, and on Hanukkah, a certain set of hymns was customarily sung.  They were Psalms 113 through 118, and were called by the Jews, the Hallel (praise) psalms.

I picked-out a few verses from them.  Think of Jesus singing them, knowing that He was on His way to betrayal and death.

Psa 116:3-4  The pains of death surrounded me, and the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me; I found trouble and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I implore You, deliver my soul!”

Psa 116:8-9  For You have delivered my soul from death, My eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.

Psa 116:13-15  I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD now in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.

Psa 118:13-14  You pushed me violently, that I might fall, but the LORD helped me. The LORD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation.

Psa 118:17-19  I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD. The LORD has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, and I will praise the LORD.

Psa 118:22-23  The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.

This singing was the original musical starring Jesus; call it Jesus Christ, Super Savior.

It must have greatly encouraged the Lord to sing these hymns to His Father, with His followers.  As He sung, He knew that God’s Word could not fail, and that God’s work through these men would be established.

Mar 14:27  Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I WILL STRIKE THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP WILL BE SCATTERED.’

Earlier that evening, at dinner, the Lord had dropped the betrayal bombshell, telling them that one of them would hand Him over to the authorities to be murdered.  Now He uttered another seemingly dark statement.

“Made to stumble” conveys the idea of being caught in a trap.  They would be caught and overwhelmed by what would happen to Jesus that very night.  It would stagger their faith and shake their confidence in Him as the Messiah.  It would challenge their loyalty to Him.

But note that Jesus was telling them in advance so that they could overcome it by faith.  They could expect it.

We’re told to expect traps to be set for us as we walk with the Lord.  We’re told to expect the trying of our faith:

1Pe 4:12  Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;

Joh 16:33  “… In the world you will have tribulation…”

The eleven were given specifics.  They would be made to stumble  in just a few hours, as Jesus was betrayed, and killed.
The fact that our trials are generic until they manifest themselves doesn’t mean God is any less aware of them.

And we, too, are promised the empowering we need to be overcomers through faith in Jesus Christ.  The entire verse in John reads,

Joh 16:33  These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

To enhance what He had predicted regarding the eleven, Jesus quoted Zechariah 13:7, applying it to Himself as the Shepherd, and the eleven as His sheep.

Kinda cool to realize they were in the Old Testament.  When Zechariah wrote those words, he didn’t know it, but the “sheep” he was talking about were Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Thaddeus, Bartholomew, Thomas, James the less, Matthew, and Simon.

They didn’t need to see their names there; they knew it was them.

We are likewise to be found in the New Testament; we don’t need to see our names there.  Every place the church is mentioned, the Lord is talking about us, His beloved.

Every now and then, when you’re reading the Bible, insert your name.  This is what Romans 8:31-32 sounds like in the GV – the Gene Version:

Rom 8:31  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for [Gene], who can be against [him]?
Rom 8:32  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for [Gene], how shall He not with Him also freely give [Gene] all things?

If the eleven were listening with ears to hear what the Spirit was saying, they’d have concentrated more on what Jesus said next:

Mar 14:28  “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Jesus was resigned to His death.  He expected death – death by crucifixion, just as the Scriptures predicted.

But Jesus expected He would be raised from the dead.  “I shall not die, but live,” they had sung; and, “You shall deliver My soul from death.”

We do not serve a dead Savior.  Our God has conquered death, and with it, Satan and Hell.

I’ve explained before that what we call Christianity is not a late-entry into the world’s religions.  What we believe didn’t originate in the first century with the teachings of Jesus.  It originated before the centuries, in eternity past, and was introduced in the beginning, at creation, in the Garden of Eden.

No religion or philosophy pre-dates the promise of God to visit the human race to solve the problem of sin and offer us eternal life.

Perhaps most precious in this saying of Jesus was the promise that they could see Him again in Galilee.  They should expect to see Him.

Even though they’d stumble, they could be restored, and be with their risen Lord in the not-to-distant future.

Have you stumbled?  Maybe you’re face down right now.  You should expect the Lord to speak a word to strengthen you, and to bring you back into fellowship with Him.

He’s not here to condemn you, but to convict you, then convince you that you can be restored.

I like what my friend, Pastor Mike Morris, told the men at our final Meat on Monday.  He said that if he told you to leave New York and come to California, you’d immediately understand what was meant, and what to do.

It is like that when you are told to repent.  People act confused, like it’s somehow hard to figure out; but it isn’t.  You must agree with God about your sin, then leave your sin, turning away from it, and return to walking with the Lord.

I think it is easily proven that Jesus submitted Himself to His Father, then expected His Father to rule over His life moment-by-moment.  In the only incident we can be certain of from His childhood, when Jesus was twelve and got left behind at the Temple, when He was found He said, “I must be about My Father’s business” (Luke 2:49).

His life, by the way, was for three decades extremely plain and ordinary, as Jesus grew-up in tiny, rural Nazareth, then worked in His earthly father’s carpenter shop.

I mention those early years of Jesus, those dull years, to emphasize that you and I need not be some kind of Christian superstars in order to expect God’s rule over our lives.  It is our Father’s joy to lead us and to guide us along our way.

Your life may seem boring, spiritually, but God is into it.  He is not a respect or of persons.  He is just as excited about you as He is about everyone else.

We like to say that God has a plan for our lives; and I believe it to be true.  That being the case, I should live with the expectancy that He will reveal it to me as I submit myself to His rule.

#2    Are There Exceptions
    To God’s Rule Over Your Life?

Peter thought so:

Mar 14:29  Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.”

Not a very flattering assessment of the other ten.  Peter could have spoken for all of them, and argued that none of them would stumble.  His assessment was that the lot of them were capable of stumbling, while he was not.

Obviously there is a study here about taking heed when you think you’re strong that you not fall.  You’re always better off admitting your weakness, and relying upon God’s strength to get you through.

Jesus had spoken His word – what is now part of the Word, the Bible – and He enhanced it by quoting the Jewish Scriptures.
“All” of the Shepherd’s sheep would be made to stumble, and to scatter.  Not some; or a few.  “All” of them; that was the clear, amplified Word of God.

Peter heard the word and immediately excepted himself from it.  “Not me, Lord; You just said “all” of us would be made to stumble, but I’m the exception to your rule over my life.”

Mar 14:30  Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.”

I’m going to recommend a book to you.  The title is misleading, and not referring to what you might think.  The book is The Life of Christ in Stereo.

It’s what scholars call a harmony of the Gospels.  You might have seen books like that.  Typically they have four columns, one for each Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  Usually categorized by subject, it shows what each of the writers had to say about the same events.

The Life of Christ in Stereo is quite different.  It is a compilation of the actual words of all four Gospels arranged chronologically, with none left out or added.

On the book jacket it says, “This is the life-time work by Johnston Cheney, whose final moment on earth followed by just a few days the completion of this book.”

I mention it because Cheney shows, by compiling all the accounts, that Jesus warned Peter twice about his coming denials, and that Peter actually denied Christ three times on two separate occasions that night and morning.

It’s not our purpose this morning to prove that there were two warnings and two sets of denials.  I mention it to stress that Peter most definitely heard the words of Jesus, and had time to mull over them, but still chose to except himself from them.

We live in a time in which the authority of the Bible is being challenged, by both the world and those who profess faith in Jesus.  It reminds me of that discussion about the Pirate’s Code in Pirates of the Caribbean.  Captain Barbosa explains, “the code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.”

The Bible is rapidly deteriorating into a set of guidelines.

The challengers may not put it in this language, but they are saying, “We hear what God said in the Bible, but we are the exceptions to His rule over our lives.”

Maybe an example would help.  Some of the most controversial and divisive issues of our day have to do with what is abbreviated LGBTQ.  The initials in LGBTQ refer to the global community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.  The Q stands for Questioning.

By the way, if the reports in the news are true, officials in California have decided that second graders ought to be ‘Questioning’ their sex and gender.  The article I read, at, said, “California is the first state to adopt the LGBTQ rights agenda formally into its public schools, as part of a new history and social studies curriculum that will reach children as young as the second grade.”

Let’s discuss transgender for a moment.  I want to give you a fair, unbiased definition:
Transgender is a term used to describe people who may act, feel, think, or look different from their biological (or birth) sex.  The word transgender is used to include many groups of people who… feel that their sex assigned at birth does not accurately describe them as a person.

In the LGBTQ community, they differentiate between sex and gender this way:

A person’s sex refers to his or her biological status as either male or female.

Gender, they emphasize, is the state of being male or female used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones.

Thus a person might be a man, biologically, but identify with society as a woman.  You hear transgender’s say things like, “I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body.”

It’s no longer even as simple as a man identifying as a woman, or a woman identifying as a man.  Your friendly internet giant, FaceBook, has added more than 50 custom gender options for users who don’t identify simply as “male” or “female.”

I’m not going to list any of them; that’s not the point.

What is the point?  God has plainly said, in His Word,

Gen 1:27  So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Gen 5:2  He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.

Jesus further validated these words when He said,

Mar 10:6  But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE.’

Male and female.  It encompasses sex and gender.  Those are the only two categories.

God does not create generic persons, who are free to decide their own sex and/or gender, but “male and female,” in His own image.”

God’s Word speaks with authority.  God created us male and female, to enjoy intimacy in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship, between consenting adults, to last as long as we live on this earth.

We cannot claim to be the exception to His rule.  People with what I’d call ‘genuine’ gender issues are not exceptions to God’s rule over their life.

But that is just the starting point.  If, for example, someone tells you that he has felt all of his growing-up life like a woman trapped in a man’s body, he is probably telling you the truth.

What will you tell him?

I’d like to think we are prepared to minister to folks in the LGBTQ community.  That if, say, you’re a visitor today, and identify with that community, you see that we are speaking the truth in love.

You need both truth and love in a harmony that can only be produced by being filled with God the Holy Spirit.

It was Jesus Who validated His Father’s male and female categories; that’s truth, and it cannot be altered.

It was Jesus Who went to the Cross, to die for everyone, so that you could be saved from sin; that’s love, and should not be diminished.

We don’t make-up the truth in God’s Word, and neither can we alter it, or treat it as mere guidelines.  It is up to us to apply it in love.

Mar 14:31  But he spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all said likewise.

In verse thirty, Jesus got pretty specific with Peter, talking about the crowing of the rooster.  He gave Peter a time table, to indicate how serious He was that this was going to happen.

It should have shook Peter to his core.  His response ought to have been, “Lord, what can I do?,” or “Lord, please strengthen me.”

Instead, he further excepted himself.  He was ready, he said, to die, rather than deny.

Peter exerted a bad influence on the other ten to also consider themselves exceptions.  He tipped the scales, as it were, for those who might have humbled themselves had it not been for Peter’s boasting.

Our peers, even in the church, aren’t always the best influence.  It’s best to not compare yourself to others.  Look further, to Jesus, and walk with Him.

To make the point about excepting one’s self from God’s rule, we used a big example.  Truth is, it is in the smaller things that the greater danger lies.

Anytime we are lax in our walk, we are acting as though we are the exception to God’s rule over our lives.

We talk a lot about the End Times.  One thing we are told will be a characteristic of the End Times is that believers would become lax in fellowshipping with one another in meetings of the church.

Heb 10:25  not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

I can’t tell anyone how often they must attend church; I don’t want to, either.  But I will say that far too many professing believers take their church attendance lightly.  Some almost never attend.

The word in Hebrews is clear; therefore these who draw back are excepting themselves from God’s rule over their lives.

I’ve used transgender and church attendance as examples.  I’m guessing not too many here today have transgender issues; and you are here today, so church attendance is not an issue, either.

Until we are with the Lord, all of us will have some issue or issues where we are excepting ourselves from God’s rule.

Talk to the Lord about your issues, and then leave New York for California.

Because You’re Mine, I Wait For Wine (Mark 14:12-25)

When the article is titled, America’s 14 Strangest Mascots in High School Sports, you’ve got to read it.

In the interest of time, I’ll give you the top five:

#5    Webb HS in Tennessee – the (Webb) Feet
#4    Aniak HS in Arkansas – the Halfbreeds
#3    Frankfort HS in Indiana – the Hot Dogs
#2    Watersmeet HS in Michigan – the Nimrods
#1    Poca HS in West Virginia – the (Poca) Dots

Don’t shout it out; just think about it.  What would you choose as the mascot for Christians?

With reverence, you should choose, as our mascot, the Lamb.

“Lamb” is the favorite title given to Jesus in the most triumphant book of the Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ.  He is called “the Lamb” about twenty-eight times.

When He first appears in Heaven, the apostle John says,

Rev 5:6  And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain…

Not just a Lamb; one that appeared to have been sacrificed.

Thinking back to His coming to earth, Jesus was born with lambs, and He was first attested to by shepherds out in their fields, tending their flocks.

When He was introduced to begin His ministry, John the Baptist declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

This imagery would mean a great deal more to us if we were first century Jews; and if it were Passover season.  It was then, annually, at the Temple, when tens of thousands of lambs were sacrificed one-by-one by the priests on the altar.  Their meat would then be taken by the offerer to be the main course for a very special celebration – the Passover meal.

In our verses, Jesus and His twelve disciples were celebrating their third Passover together.  It would also be their last, because Jesus was about to go to His death on the Cross.

Jesus took advantage of the Passover to reveal two incredible truths to His disciples:

He revealed that He was the Lamb being slain for their sins; and,

He revealed that He was the Lamb Who would come again for their salvation.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 God Prepared Himself The Lamb To Take Away Your Sin, and #2 God Prevailed Himself The Lamb To Come Again For Your Salvation.

#1    God Prepared Himself The Lamb
    To Take Away Your Sin

In the Garden of Eden, in the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s willful disobedience, God explained that He would Himself come into the world of men in order to atone for sin.  To show them what it would entail, God killed animals on their behalf, in their place, as substitutes; then He clothed Adam and Eve with their skins.

It’s a good bet the animals God killed were lambs.

Fast forward to Abraham.  In the twenty-second chapter of Genesis, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah.  At one point Isaac questions his dad, asking him, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (v7).

Abraham answers, “My son, God will provide Himself the lamb” (v8).

Modern translations read, “God will provide for Himself the lamb.”  But that takes away the prophetic aspect of what Abraham said.

Abraham, prophetically, says, “God will provide Himself the Lamb.”  In other words, God would come in human flesh and offer Himself in our place, as our substitute, as the Lamb.

(Some centuries later, it would be on that very spot that God the Father sacrificed His only begotten Son, Jesus, as He died on the Cross).

Fast forward from Abraham to Moses.  Tasked with delivering the Israelites from Egypt, through him God brought a series of ten plagues to convince Pharaoh to let them go.  The final plague was the death of the firstborn throughout the land.  A death angel was coming, and the only way to be saved was to sacrifice a lamb for each household, then put its blood on the doorposts.

The homes that were covered by the blood of the lamb were passed-over by the death angel.  To commemorate their deliverance, God instituted the Feast of Passover.

Hundreds of thousands of lambs had been sacrificed from Genesis up to the third Passover Jesus celebrated with His disciples.  All that was about to change.

Mar 14:12  Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?”

Passover was celebrated on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan (March-April), the first month of the Jewish religious year.

The Passover observance was immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in commemoration of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, from the fifteenth to the twenty-first of the month.

The Jews commonly referred to the entire period of time as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, rather than insisting that Passover was its own, separate feast.  In verse twelve, it was the 14th of Nisan, Passover, the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

His disciples asked Jesus where they’d be eating their lamb.  Normally this was a family meal, or family and friends.  The twelve, eating Passover with Jesus, indicated a deep, intimate fellowship between them.

By the way: In the first century, the Passover feast could only be eaten in Jerusalem, and venues to do it, for travelers, were at a premium.

Mar 14:13  And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him.
Mar 14:14  Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?” ‘
Mar 14:15  Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us.”

The word that comes to mind, reading these instructions, is clandestine.  Why all the secrecy?

We know from the previous verses in this chapter that the religious leaders were seeking to arrest and murder Jesus.  Judas had agreed to betray the Lord to them.  A Passover dinner while the multitudes were all indoors might be a good place to seize the Lord, so Jesus went full secret agent.

Judas handled the finances for the ministry.  I’d venture that he normally made the Passover arrangements.  Not this time.  The Lord didn’t want Judas to know where the meeting would take place.  The other Gospels tell us that Jesus sent Peter and John on this strange mission.

It would be odd to see a male servant carrying a pitcher of water.  He was their initial signal.  Everything else would fall into place.

Jesus knew these things supernaturally.  He hadn’t made any arrangements beforehand, but God the Holy Spirit had gone ahead of Him.  The master of this house either knew, by some revelation, that Jesus would need the room; or, for some reason he couldn’t fathom, no one had approached him to rent out the space.

God is always working behind the scenes to provide for His will to be done.  If we remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit (like Jesus was), and obedient (like Peter and John were), and perform our regular work (like the servant did), and wait on the Lord (like the master of the house did), we will be part of this great adventure of spreading the Gospel.

Mar 14:16  So His disciples went out, and came into the city, and found it just as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover.

I don’t want to get super-technical, but I should mention that there is debate among good Bible scholars as to whether or not this meal really was a Passover meal, or just a regular meal on the day before Passover.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in their Gospels, present it as taking place on Passover, on Nisan 14.

John, however, insists that Jesus was being crucified just at the time the Passover lambs were being slain in the Temple, putting it a day before the dinner.

There are several ways to reconcile this.  The most credible way is explained by this quote I came across:

Thursday night is the Passover celebration for all of the Galilean Jews.  In the Galilee, they celebrated their Passover on Thursday because they mark the Passover day from sunrise to sunrise.  The Judean Jews in the south celebrated their Passover on Friday because they marked the Passover day from sunset to sunset.  This difference we know from the writings of the Jewish Mishnah…

I would also suggest that there is a practical argument.  Josephus, the often quoted Jewish historian who was alive at the time, suggests that as many as a quarter of a million lambs were sacrificed at Passover.  That’s probably exaggerated.  The most conservative guess I ran across was twenty-thousand lambs.

A LOT of lambs needed to be slaughtered in a very compressed period of time.  It may have been a practical necessity to extend Passover to more than one day.

Mar 14:17  In the evening He came with the twelve.

What was the Passover like?  How was it celebrated?  Many of us have been to the presentation of what is called a Passover Seder.  The word “Seder” means order.  A Passover Seder follows a certain order as you work through the meal.

Many of the rituals in the modern Passover Seder were definitely not part of the first century observance.

The Bible gives very little instruction about the order of service. Most of what is in a modern Seder is extra-biblical tradition.

For example, after the conclusion of the modern Seder’s prayers, it is a custom to pour a cup of wine for Elijah, and open the front door of the home to see if he has come.

That custom was added much, much later in history, and was not something Jesus did with His disciples.

As far as the meal itself, the only elements we can be certain of in the first century are the lamb, the bitter herbs as a dipping sauce, unleavened bread, and diluted wine.

One Jewish historical source described the Passover Jesus would have celebrated this way:

[After the meal] Jesus says the Motzi [the blessing over the bread]; He says Kiddush [the blessing over the wine] and then they sing Psalms (Hallel).  In other words, the entire order is Shulchan Aruch [the meal itself], Motzi, Kiddush, Hallel… and it’s over!

I’m not trying to take anything away from the importance of the meal.  I just think we need to be careful when it comes to the many things that have been added to Passover.

I hate being a downer by telling you all this.  But you know what was a real downer?  What Jesus told His disciples.

Mar 14:18  Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me.”

That’s no light dinner conversation.  That’s awful.  Can you even fathom the weight of it?  One minute you’re enjoying Passover and the next you are outed as a potential traitor.

Jesus knew it was Judas, so why trouble the other eleven?

Jesus’ comment is a good example of how to “hear what the Spirit is saying.”  It was only meant for one, but all contemplated it.

There is always something just for you as the Word is taught; but you must take it all in to discover what is uniquely yours.  Sift through it to find your particular treasure.

Mar 14:19  And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, “Is it I?” And another said, “Is it I?”

“Sorrowful” was not the usual feel of Passover.  It was intended to be joyful.  This one was different entirely than any they’d ever celebrated in their lives.

Kudos to them for asking, “Is it I?”  Even though the true translation is more like, “It’s not me, is it?”, at least they were entertaining the possibility that in a moment of weakness any one of them might betray the Lord.

It was a “but for the grace of God, there go I” moment of clarity.

Mar 14:20  He answered and said to them, “It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish.

Jesus’ answer only added to their misery.  He wasn’t giving them a clue.  He meant to emphasize the heinous nature of the betrayal.

It was one of them, a person who even at that moment, while eating dinner with Him, was lying in wait to hand Him over to death.

In his Gospel, John lets us know that he asked Jesus directly, and that he found out it was Judas.  The others did not suspect.

Mar 14:21  The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him…

Stop there for a moment.  The entire Old Testament pointed to the coming Son of Man Who would be God’s final lamb.  God promised it, and He provided Himself for it.

But, simultaneously, Judas could have repented:

Mar 14:21  … but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born.”

This is a “woe” of sorrow, indicating “that man” might have chosen otherwise.  As I explained at some length last week, God’s providence does not necessitate pre-determining Judas’ fate as the betrayer who would be damned to Hell.

Judas was not predestined for Hell.  God doesn’t do that.  He’s big enough to provide for His plan without that kind of cruelty.

“Never been born” isn’t the kind of thing you’d say if someone was predetermined from eternity past to do this terrible deed.  You’d say he “needed to be born.”  But, as I said, God provides for His plan without entrapment.

Jesus was about to be betrayed.  He would be killed.  It would unfold just the way the prophet Isaiah said when he wrote,

Isa 53:7  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.

At that moment, in that upper room, Jesus was fulfilling God’s promise to provide Himself the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, “led as [THE] lamb to the slaughter.”

Did the twelve realize all this?  Probably not; but everything they needed to put it together was right there, in that room.

#2    God Prevailed Himself The Lamb
    To Come Again For Your Salvation

The Passover meal was over, but Jesus was just getting started.  He did something wonderful with some bread and a cup of wine – something we still do today.

Mar 14:22  And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
Mar 14:23  Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
Mar 14:24  And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.

Question: Did Judas partake of this bread, and this wine?

Most competent Bible scholars say, “No, Judas certainly did not partake of this part of their supper.”

The Passover meal must have been over when Jesus spoke to the eleven about the bread and the wine.  Jesus didn’t change Passover; He fulfilled it, and then He established something brand new.

The writer to the Hebrew Christians described the change saying,

Heb 10:5  Therefore, when [Jesus] came into the world, He said: “SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU DID NOT DESIRE, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME.

The “sacrifice and offering” of the lambs through the centuries were a temporary measure until Jesus came.  He was God in human flesh; that’s the “body… prepared for” Him.  In that incarnation body, He was God’s final Lamb.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have debated the exact meaning of the body and blood of Christ.  The eleven guys sitting around that table would have understood that Jesus was using figurative language.  The bread represented His body; the wine represented His blood.

Instead of getting lost in theological arguments, I like the simplicity of what William MacDonald said:

He “took” – humanity upon Himself; He “broke” – He was about to be broken on the cross; He “gave” – He gave Himself for us.

We can’t get so caught up in discovering what the bread and the cup mean that we forget to do what Jesus said to do with them. We must “take” and “eat.”

How are we supposed to “take” and “eat?”  Obviously the exhortation is, first and foremost, spiritual.  We are to appropriate Jesus’ death on the Cross by believing He is our Savior.

As to how, practically, we observe this, the apostle Paul gives us valuable instruction on just what Jesus meant by “take” and “eat.”

1Co 11:23  For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;
1Co 11:24  and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
1Co 11:25  In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
1Co 11:26  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

In Corinth, at least, the church gathered weekly, on Sunday night, for a pot-luck.  After eating, they would take bread and wine together.  Simple; but powerful.

We have a lot of freedom regarding the bread and the wine.  Paul said “as often as you eat… and drink.”  There’s no instruction on how often, so it’s up to us.

There’s no instruction on how to serve the elements, so it’s up to us.

There’s no instruction on whether or not children may partake, so it’s up to us.

There’s no instruction on where to serve the elements, e.g., only in a church service, or in your own home, so it’s up to us.

There’s no instruction on the type of bread, or the potency of the wine, so it’s up to us.

We’ve chosen, for now, to share the elements as we gather on the last Wednesday night of every month.  We like to have you come forward and get the elements for yourself – to receive them for yourself.

We also have the elements upstairs, in the Prayer Room, every Sunday morning.

We encourage you to share bread and the cup at home as often as you like.

We can get lost in the details, e.g. demanding the bread be unleavened, or that we use wine and not grape juice.

It’s not a ritual that must be performed in a prescribed manner, with just the right elements.  It’s a memorial, and the Lord has graciously given us a great deal of freedom to enjoy it.

In verse twenty-four of Mark fourteen, Jesus mentioned a “new covenant.”  It implies an old covenant; and that old covenant was the Law of Moses.

Passover is a good example of the old covenant.  You sacrificed a lamb, in your place, and God could receive you into His presence.  But your sins were only temporarily covered; and you needed to keep on sacrificing lamb after lamb.

Under the new covenant, God sacrificed Himself the Lamb for you, and when you believe, He receives you into His presence justified, having been forgiven your sins.

In the new covenant He gives you His Holy Spirit, to indwell you, and to empower you.

Jesus said His blood “was shed for many.”  It doesn’t mean it is restricted to a certain group.  It’s a comparison.  What one man did by dying affects the entire larger group – the “many.”

Jesus is the Savior of all mankind – especially those who believe.

Mar 14:25  Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

This statement is Jesus’ promise He prevails as the Lamb.  About to be betrayed, then murdered, He spoke of His ultimate victory over Satan, sin, Hell, and death as something already accomplished.

He was specifically envisioning His future return to the earth to establish the promised Kingdom of God.

We see this in the Revelation.  He steps forward, as the Lamb Who was slain.  He opens the seals on a seven-sealed scroll.  As He does, the seven-year Tribulation unfolds upon the earth, until finally He comes back in triumph.

When He does – come back, that is – there will be a great feast upon the earth.  Jesus said He would fast from drinking “the fruit of the vine” until He can drink it with us in that glorious celebration.

It’s a token of His love for us; it’s romantic, for lack of a better word.

Is there something you really, really want to do, as a couple?  Let’s say the opportunity came for one of you to do it.  Would you take the opportunity?

Now I’m sure your spouse would graciously say, “Go ahead; I don’t mind.”  But I’d recommend you pass, because it’s not the doing of it that is important.  It’s the doing of it together.

Jesus is saying, “I can’t wait until we’re together, on the Millennial earth, feasting, and fellowshipping.”

Mean time, Paul said “we proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”  We should therefore emphasize His coming whenever we share the elements – remembering His excitement to see us in person at that table.

If the disciples were paying attention, they could have gone from despair to delight.

They despaired at the announcement of Jesus’ betrayal by one of them at the table.

They could delight at the pronouncement of the future feast involving eleven of them, and multitudes of others.

Are you desperate today?  Has some illness, or injury, or injustice, assailed you?

God prevailed Himself the Lamb to come for your salvation.  He has begun in you a good work, and will perform it until the day you are with Him.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have a seat reserved at the table, and a glass of wine waiting for you to drink with Jesus.

I Love The Smell Of Spikenard In The Meeting (Mark 14:1-11)

They’re called Air Smell-it-zers.  They were named after howitzers, only they emit smells, not shells.

They can be found all over Disney parks, emitting smells in certain areas to match the surroundings.

You’ll notice the scent of baking cookies and vanilla on Main Street USA, salty sea air in line for Pirates of the Caribbean, fresh citrus on Soarin’, and the scent of honey on Pooh’s Adventure.

The smell-it-zer operates like an air cannon, aiming the scent up to 200 feet across a room toward an exhaust system.  Guests traveling on the moving vehicles pass through the scene as the appropriate scent drifts across their path.  Regulated by computer, the scent can be triggered for a fresh aroma just prior to each vehicle’s arrival.
A powerful fragrance is at the center of our Bible study.  It is spikenard, a rare an expensive oil from India.  Mary pours it over Jesus’ head and feet in order to anoint Him.  She didn’t need a smell-it-zer for the aroma to fill the room.

As powerful as the smell may have been, the significance was in its symbolism.  Jesus said of the anointing, “She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial” (v8).

The disciples of Jesus had a different response to the fragrance of spikenard; especially Judas.  He despised it, and planned how he might betray Jesus.

These two contrary responses remind us of another place in the Bible that uses fragrance as a divisive symbol.  In Second Corinthians 2:15 & 16 we read,

2Co 2:15  For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
2Co 2:16  To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life…

In that room some two thousand years ago, Mary was the aroma of death to one; and the aroma of life to others.

Today, in whatever rooms we are in, whether we know it or not, we give-off the aroma of eternal life, or eternal death.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Doing What You Can For Jesus Is The Fragrance Of Eternal Death Among Those Who Are Perishing, and #2 Doing What You Can For Jesus Is The Fragrance Of Eternal Life Among Those Who Are Saved.

#1    Doing What You Can For Jesus Is The Fragrance
    Of Eternal Death Among Those Who Are Perishing
    (v1-2 & 10-11)

The history of body odor is fascinating.  The ancient Romans, for example, were fanatic about overcoming body odor.  Not only did they bath all the time, they bathed in perfume, and even perfumed their pets, and their horses.

The Middle Ages were ripe with body odor.  The church frowned upon nakedness, even in a bath; so folks quit bathing.  Only the wealthy could afford perfumes and ointments to mask their stank.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Mum’s the word?”  In 1888, Mum was the name of the first trademarked antiperspirant.

Everdry came next.  It should have been called Neverdry, because of how long is stayed wet after application.  It also stained your clothing.  Use too much of it and it ate through your clothing.

Who knew it was so hard to smell good?

The action surrounding the aroma of Jesus’ anointing stinks.

Mar 14:1  After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death.

Passover was the annual observance in commemoration of “the passing over” of the houses of the Israelites by the death angel in the killing of the firstborn in Egypt.

It was celebrated on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan (March-April), the first month of the Jewish religious year, and it continued into the early hours of the fifteenth day.

The Passover lamb would be chosen four days prior, then slain on the afternoon of the fourteenth and eaten after sundown, which according to Jewish reckoning started the next day.

The Passover observance was immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in commemoration of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, from the fifteenth to the twenty-first of the month.

Thus it was either Tuesday or Wednesday of the final week of Jesus on earth.  In “two days,” He would be crucified just as the lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple, in fulfillment of the prophecies that He was the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

Talk about corrupt leaders.  The top religious leaders in Israel were seeking some “trickery” by which they could apprehend and murder Jesus, who they knew to be innocent of any crime.

Do schools still use the program, Character Counts?  It does; count, that is, in all of us, but especially in our leaders.  Character is a better predictor of what a person will actually do than their promises.

Mar 14:2  But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people.”

There were tens of thousands of pilgrims in Jerusalem.  Maybe hundreds of thousands, if you trust the math of the Jewish historian, Josephus.

“Not during the feast” doesn’t mean they were against acting while it was Passover, because they did act during Passover when the right opportunity presented itself.

It meant that they had to be cautious and stealthy.  The crowds favored Jesus and the religious leaders could not risk a riot were they to take Him openly to kill Him.

They got just the opportunity they needed, from a most unlikely source – one of Jesus’ own followers.

Drop down to verse ten.

Mar 14:10  Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them.

Never ascribe to Judas any positive motives.  Some do.  They say, for example, that he was trying to force Jesus to act as Messiah by engineering a conflict between He and the religious leaders that would force the Lord to establish the Kingdom.

That is a motive made-up by extra-biblical writers.  The one motive ascribed to him in the Bible is greed:

In his Gospel, John records that Judas was the disciple who held the money bag for the ministry, and that he regularly stole from it.

John also reveals that Judas led the criticism of Mary anointing Jesus with the costly ointment because it could have fetched a pretty penny, giving Judas more to steal.

When Judas goes to betray Jesus, he wants money for it.  The infamous thirty pieces of silver he received may have been a down payment, with more to come after the deed was done.

Judas may have had other motives, but he was greedy, for sure.

We don’t glorify greed; we believe it to be a bad quality.  But do we understand how very bad it is?  It is no minor sin.

Mar 14:11  And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him.

They had a man inside, deep under cover.  Except that Jesus knew about it.  The disciples didn’t know; but Jesus did.

Don’t think, however, that Judas was predestined to betray the Lord from eternity past.  Don’t think that he was predestined for Hell.  As the story unfolds, the Gospels show that Jesus gave Judas space to repent.

If Judas had repented, God would have fulfilled the prophecies about his betrayal another way.  We call the other way God’s providence.

How can I say that with confidence?  I say it on account of the glimpse we get of God’s providence in the Old Testament book of Esther.

Esther was the queen in Persia just when a wicked anti-Semite named Haman convinced the king to issue a decree that the Jews be exterminated throughout the kingdom.  Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, wanted Esther to go before the king, in order to beg for the lives of the Jews.

But there was a problem; two problems, actually:

The king didn’t know Esther is a Jew; she had kept it hidden from him.

To add to her dilemma, if you went before the king without an invite, he might execute you; and it had been quite some time since Esther had been invited.

Mordecai was unmoved by Esther’s dilemma.  He said to his niece, “Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

It seemed to be Esther’s destiny.  In the context of what we are illustrating, you might say she was predestined to go before the king and save her people.

But if you read the story carefully, you’ll see that she had a real, free will decision to make.  She could have refused.

What would have happened if Esther refused?  Mordecai tells us:

Est 4:14  “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place…”

God seemed to have provided Esther an opportune moment.  But, if she chose otherwise, God would have provided deliverance for His people some other way.

Judas could have repented.  He did not, and, instead, is infamous for betraying Jesus just as Jesus was about to die for Judas’ sins.

The aroma in that room was, for Judas, death.

You and I are the smell of death to those who are perishing.  That can be a good thing.  Here’s what I mean.

Sometimes a bad smell can be a good thing.  Natural gas is odorless, but they add a substance called mercaptan so you can detect potentially fatal gas leaks.  It’s the smell of death that leads you to life.

If you are a Christian, you smell like Jesus.  Too much time out in the world will interfere with the aroma of Jesus, causing you to stink.  That’s why Jesus will wash the feet of His disciples – to symbolize the daily defilement of being in the world.

Sin has a stink of its own.  It certainly overpowers the aroma of Christ coming from your life.  But you can be washed again-and-again by the blood of Jesus, shed on the Cross to forgive your sins.

Day-in and day-out, know that your aroma of Christ can fill a room, leading those nonbelievers in proximity to have to confront their own mortality and eternity.  Give them a whiff!

#2    Doing What You Can For Jesus Is The Fragrance
    Of Eternal Life Among Those Who Are Saved

In most walks of life, we admire and applaud a person who is totally dedicated to their pursuit.  In fact, we expect them to go far beyond what would be considered average or normal.

But when a believer in Jesus Christ expresses wholehearted devotion, even Christians tend to scoff.  We label that Christian a fanatic, and urge them to dial it back a few notches.

Mary went full-fanatic, and we see the reactions of her peers.

Mar 14:3  And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.

First of all, you couldn’t dine with lepers.  Jewish law forbade it.

Second of all, Jesus never met a leper that He didn’t heal.

This guy must be Simon the former leper.  I think he kept the designation “the leper” to emphasize the healing Jesus had performed upon him.  It was his testimony.

Plus, it was something he could have fun with.  Imagine meeting him, and having him introduce himself as Simon the leper.  Freaky.

Some of us could have a designation, could we not?  Gene the drunkard; Pam the pothead.  You get the idea.

The “woman” was Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.  We know that from the other Gospels.

We see her always as Mary the worshipper, as opposed to her sister, Martha the worker, because of a dinner recorded in the Gospels when Martha complained her sister wasn’t helping her.

Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better part, by sitting under His teaching.

It doesn’t mean worship always trumps work.  In the Thessalonians letters, the apostle Paul has to rebuke believers who have quit working to wait for Jesus to return.  He says, at one point, if they won’t work, don’t feed them.

There’s a time for work, and there’s a time for worship.

“Oil of spikenard” came from India.  It was “costly,” “three hundred denarii” (v5).  It was worth a workingman’s wages for an entire year.

This wasn’t something Mary went out and bought that afternoon.  It was probably a family heirloom, probably her wedding dowry.

It was costly beyond money.  It was precious to her on many levels – financially, emotionally, psychologically, socially.

She “poured it on” Jesus’ head, all of it.

I’d be the first disciple to say, “Weird!”  But that’s because I’m not always sensitive to something more spiritual going on, below the surface.

Mar 14:4  But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted?
Mar 14:5  For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply.

As mentioned, Judas led the criticism, because he was a thief.  But it’s clear the other eleven disciples shared his indignation.

Their criticism was logical, and you might even say it was spiritual in that they were thinking about the poor.  But, as we will see, they were wrong on every level.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean logic must be set aside, except that sometimes, logic must be set aside!

If everything you do as a believer, while serving God, makes perfect sense, and is arrived at by careful planning, then you’re probably not hearing from God.

God told Abram to leave his home.  He didn’t tell him where he was going.  He walked by faith, and though we now admire him, had we encountered Abram in his early days, we would have thought him to be a fanatic.

At one point God renamed him Abraham, which means father of many, or multitude.

Can you imagine Abraham meeting new people?  “So, you’re the father of many; how many kids do you have, anyway?”

For a long time, the answer was, “None.”  Then it was “One.”

There are moments when logic must be set aside in favor of the obedience of faith.  I can’t tell you when those moments happen in your life.  But they must, if you’re following Jesus.

Mar 14:6  But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me.

The disciples must have had a lot of “that moment,” moments.  This one was, “that moment when you misinterpret someone’s worship for waste.”

Rocky Balboa was big on reputation.  “They don’t remember you,” he counseled a troubled teen; “they remember the rep.”

Mary had a rep for worship.  The boys shouldn’t have been surprised by her extravagance.  In fact, they ought to have been wondering what she was going to do.
What is your spiritual rep?  If you don’t have one; or if it’s not a good one; there’s still time.

We should make it a goal to not “trouble” other believers.  There are times for teaching and admonishing, for correcting and rebuking.  What I’m talking about here is something different, where through your insensitivity you say things that trouble someone for no good reason.

Mar 14:7  For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.

I don’t want to get too far off topic, but I find this conclusion about “the poor with [us] always” very insightful.  It establishes that believers are not going to create a utopia on earth.  The entire time Jesus is absent from the earth will be marked by hardship and suffering.

Back to the dinner Jesus was enjoying… It seems Jesus was emphasizing priorities.  At that moment, during His last days on earth, ministering to Him was a higher priority than feeding the poor.

Ask a Christian what his or her priorities are and you’ll likely get this list, in this order: God… Spouse… Family… Job… Church.

We need, however, to quit understanding these as a list of descending importance and realize they are all, simultaneously, our top priority.

For example over the years I’ve had people tell me that they are making their family more of a priority, and the result will be that they won’t be serving in the church anymore; or even attending very much.

(I’ve never had someone tell me that they are making their family more of a priority, and the result will be that they won’t be going in to their job very much).

But you don’t push one priority to the side in order to emphasize another.  I remember part of a Bible study from Pastor Don McClure.  He quoted the verse in Ephesians that tells us, as believers, to “walk circumspectly.”  He explained that “circumspectly” can mean, in every direction at once.

How can a person walk in every direction at once?  You can’t, at least physically.  But you can, spiritually, as you are indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We have to stop thinking we can only have one priority at a time and walk circumspectly in all of them.  In the Spirit, you can fire on all these cylinders at once; and you should.

“Me you do not always have” has to be understood in the context of Jesus’ promise after His resurrection that, by the Spirit, He will be with us always.

So what did He mean here?  I think the answer to what He meant is in the next verse, where He tells us why Mary anointed Him with the spikenard.

Mar 14:8  She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.

Jesus meant that He would only be with them, in His current incarnation, for a few more hours.

All of Jesus’ followers had heard Him speak of His impending death.  Only Mary really heard Him, and only Mary acted upon it.

How much she knew is questionable, but she must have figured that, if Jesus was crucified, there would be no time to properly anoint Him for burial.  So, do it now.

It is a frequent complaint, and an emotional pain, that we wish we had said something, or done something, before a loved one’s death.  Mary did not want to have those regrets.

Mar 14:9  Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

Here we are, more than two thousand years removed from this dinner, in Hanford, remembering Mary’s act of worship.

Every now and then, someone astonished Jesus.  In the Gospel of Matthew, a centurion comes to Jesus, asking Him to heal his sick servant.  The centurion believes Jesus can do it by a word, without even seeing the sick servant.  Jesus is said to have “marveled.”

Here in our verses Jesus is obviously excited about what Mary has done.

You and I can make Jesus marvel.  He can be excited about us.  It doesn’t have to be a great thing; just something genuine, from a heart of worship and adoration and belief.

One day, when we see Jesus face-to-face at His Reward Seat, He wants to marvel.  He wants to excitedly say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

There is a phrase I want to return to, in verse eight, that forms the basis of our two points regarding this story.  It is, “she did what she could.”

How do you read that?  Because there is a wrong way to read it, I think.

If we read it, “Well, she didn’t do very much, but she did what she could,” then I think that is wrong.

Mary did everything she could in light of the Lord’s prediction that He was about to die.  She was in a unique position to minister to Him; and she went the distance.

I’d venture to say that no one else in Jesus’ immediate party had anything of any value with which to anoint Him for His burial.

Mary did.  And she gladly, generously, did all she could.  She didn’t measure out a few drops, as a symbolic gesture.  She broke the flask, giving it all in one act of extravagant worship.

If Mary had been like the other disciples, she might have turned to them, and complained.  “Why am I the only one who needs to sacrifice?  Why am I the only one stepping-up?  Why don’t you dip into the money bag and buy some anointing oil of your own?”

That way of thinking is a good way to ruin an act of worship, by the way.

It fell to Mary, who had the oil, the heirloom, the dowry; and she did what she could.

Each of us can do many similar things in service to the Lord.  I’m suggesting there will be a time, or times, in your life when there is something only you can do.

Don’t think that makes you indispensable; it doesn’t.  Remember Esther – If she refused to act, God would not be held hostage.

But it gave her the opportunity to do what she could.  And we will have that opportunity; those opportunities.  God is not a respecter of persons.

Jesus had told His disciples He was going to die.  Mary did what she could about it.

Jesus has told us He is coming back for us, to resurrect the dead and to rapture the church, at any moment.

Talk to the Lord and discover what it is that you can do for Him in the light of His imminent return.

Then do it.