Monday, November 19, 2018

The Anointing...Mark 14:3-9

“She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

     “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  It is true.  Something or someone may be beautiful to you but unappealing to me.  The evaluation of beauty is a judgment of taste or even value.  You cannot measure it, and you cannot argue with the one who declares the existence of beauty.
     Jesus enters Bethany and eats at the home of a leper named Simon.  A woman comes to Him with a jar of perfume made of “pure nard.”  This was an aromatic oil extracted from an Asian root, and it was a key part of expensive perfume.  She breaks the flask to release the aroma and anoints Jesus in anticipation of His death.
     Her action does not go over well.  Matthew says the disciples are critical of her, and John identifies Judas as the main complainer.  This was indeed an expensive anointing.  Three hundred denarii was the equivalent of about a year’s wages.  Why not sell the perfume and help the poor?
     But Jesus rebukes the critics and praises the woman.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Jesus beholds beauty in this woman’s act.  He likely suspects the purity of the critics’ motives because He chides them by saying that they can always help the poor.  Yet Jesus will not always be with them, and He is about to do something so amazing that it is worth the price of the anointing and will be remembered throughout “the whole world.”
     Why does Jesus see such beauty in what this woman has done?  Perhaps because He knows she sees the beauty in what He is about to do.  She sees a man who is far more than any other man.  His words and deeds have revealed Him to be the Son of God.  He will soon give His life as a ransom for the sins of His people.  His sacrifice will secure the deliverance God the Father has promised for countless generations.  Through His death, people will gain life as the good news of the gospel is “proclaimed in the whole world.”  She may not have a perfect understanding of all the details of Jesus’ plans, but she beholds beauty in Jesus.  
     Do you?  This act is beautiful because Jesus is beautiful.  As the hymn proclaims,

Beautiful Savior!  Lord of the nations!  Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration, now and forever more be thine.    

     We worship Jesus because He is the Beautiful Savior.  Men battered His body and nailed Him to an ugly wooden cross, but the beauty of His heart and life will never fade.  Best of all, His death is the most beautiful and beneficial act of all time.  Jesus is worth every drop of this perfume, and He is worthy of all your worship and living.  See the beauty in Jesus, and He will rejoice in your joy over the beauty you see in Him.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Plot...Mark 14:1-2

“And the chief priests and scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth
and kill him, for they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.’”

     Everything is political, or so it seems today.  Politics are obviously political, but this word “political” also refers to how people maneuver themselves and manipulate each other for their personal advantage.  Workplaces are political.  Extended families can be political.  Neighborhood associations are often political.  Schools may be political.  Churches are too frequently political.
     As Mark nears the end of his gospel, he begins to describe the events leading up to the death of Jesus.  His first comments reveal the political nature of the actors in this drama.  The religious leaders want to arrest Jesus, but they fear an uproar from the people.  They will try to avoid performing this deed during the upcoming festival.  This is the Passover, or the Feast of Unleavened Bread, where Israel will commemorate God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt.  The population of Jerusalem will swell, and huge crowds could lead to real trouble for these religious leaders as they try to avoid the wrath of their brutal Roman rulers.
     What do we learn from this brief description of the situation?
     Life is political.  Ever since humankind’s fall into sin, we have sought to exercise power over each other.  When I play politics with you, I want to get my way instead of you.  Perhaps I truly believe my desires are best for all concerned.  But more often, my political ploys are for personal gain, and I will say and do whatever is necessary to get what I want.
     When the Son of God entered this world, He joined a world of politics.  But Jesus’ kingdom is radically different.  Jesus came to serve, not to be served.  He arrived for the good of others, not Himself.  His coming kingdom is one where politics will be no more as people love one another without maneuvering or manipulation.  We can hardly imagine this!
     Jesus overcomes politics.  As we will see, the religious leaders are successful in their plans to kill Jesus.  But God the Father has higher purposes in mind.  Jesus will serve as the atoning sacrifice for sins.  He is the “ransom for many” He mentioned earlier in Mark’s gospel.  While people will plot against Jesus and evidently succeed, He will turn the tables on them by securing a far greater result than any political movement can achieve.
     This should be a great comfort to you.  In a world of politics, you may lose.  Evil sometimes prevails, and you can do nothing about it.  But God is powerful over all the powers of this world, and He promises a measure of justice today and the fullness of justice when Jesus returns.
     Take heart in this political world.  Through the merits and mercy of the Son, the Father is on your side.  You have the greatest ally of all, now and forever.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Stay Awake...Mark 13:32-36

“And what I say to you I say to all: ‘Stay awake.’”

     I was recently encouraging a person who was about to receive anesthesia for the first time and was rather skittish about the prospect.  I said, “It’s not like falling asleep.  One second you are awake, and the next second you are completely out.  You will be aware of nothing until you are awake again.”  If you have ever had anesthesia, you know this is true.  Sleep is different.  Unless you are thoroughly exhausted, sleep comes gradually.  
     Jesus concludes His response to the disciples’ question with the image of sleep.  He has been discussing the fall of Jerusalem and His return.  Now He seems to return to His return because He declares that “only the Father” knows “that day or that hour.”  Then Jesus describes a man who leaves his home for a journey and entrusts his property to his servants.  One key person is the doorkeeper, who must be prepared to admit the master when he comes back.  Whenever the time comes, this servant must be ready.  He cannot fall asleep on the job.  In the same way, Jesus’ disciples must stay awake as they anticipate His return.
     What might such wakefulness look like in our lives?
     We are preparing our hearts.  Just as you must prepare your body to stay awake, we should prepare our hearts for Jesus’ return.  We must cultivate the godly heart habits that will enable us to welcome His coming.  This includes the positive pursuit of the disciplines of grace, like reading the Bible, praying, and participating in worship and fellowship.  But it also includes avoiding whatever will hinder our preparation.  Much in our hearts and culture conspires to draw us away from faithful service to Jesus.  Are we tending well to our hearts so that we may be prepared?
     We are stewarding our lives.  Because we do not know when the Master will come, we must strive to spend every day doing what God has called us to do.  Where has He placed you to serve Him?  What responsibilities do you possess?  If the Master should return unexpectedly, would He find you doing what He has asked you to do?  Or would He discover you avoiding your responsibilities as you presume you have more time to do what He desires?
     Think again of the contrast between anesthesia and sleep.  Anesthesia’s effects are sudden, while sleep’s onset is usually gradual.  If you want to avoid falling asleep, you cannot wait until you are on the edge of it.  You must actively do whatever it takes to avoid the gradual slide into slumber.  In the same way, preparation and stewardship are slow, steady, step-by-step processes.  With countless small choices each day, you are either sliding toward sleep or keeping yourself alert and awake.
     Preparation and stewardship require wisdom and diligence.  Ask God for strength to seek the wakefulness He desires.  May Jesus find you faithful when He comes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

My Words...Mark 13:28-31

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

     I have often said to others that for all my failures as a parent, I tried to keep my first and best rule of parenting: Say what you mean and mean what you say.  If you say it, you had better follow through with it.  If you do not mean what you intend to say, do not say it.  This habit builds trust in your children because they know they can rely on your words.
     As the Son of Man who is the Son of God, Jesus always says what He means and means what He says.  This is the heart of this section of Jesus’ words to His disciples.  As we have seen, He has responded to their questions by describing both the fall of Jerusalem and His second coming.  His words are occasionally unclear to us, but now He establishes their truth.
     Jesus first reminds the disciples of the “lesson” of the fig tree.  When you look at one, you can discern the time of year.  When the branch becomes tender and puts out leaves, “summer is near.”  In the same way, Jesus’ disciples should look for the events that will portend the cataclysm He has been describing.
     But what event does Jesus have in mind here — the fall of Jerusalem or His return?  When we read that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” we have an indication that Jesus is thinking of the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem.  Some have said that “generation” could refer to the entire age between Jesus’ first and second comings, but it seems more natural and plausible to take Jesus’ words literally and connect them to the pending disaster for Jerusalem.
     Yet Jesus’ final words in this section are far all people, places, and periods.  Jesus’ words are all true, and this will never change.  We should both believe His prophecies and submit to His instructions.  Both can be difficult.  
     Think of Jesus’ prophecies.  Thousands of years have passed since Jesus uttered these words, and we wonder why He delays His return.  We must trust in God’s sovereign wisdom and will.  We wish God would simply end suffering and death, but His kingdom purposes await final fulfillment and full realization, and the culmination will come when He ordains it.
     Think also of Jesus’ instructions.  As we have seen, each section of this discourse contains a word of guidance for God’s people.  We may struggle to believe Jesus’ ways are good for us.    We prefer to follow our desires.  But a disciple of Jesus submits to what Jesus says, even when it seems difficult.  We must trust that Jesus’ word is right, true, and best.
     Jesus says what He means and means what He says.  He calls us to believe all of His words, confident in the veracity of every syllable He ever uttered.  Is this what He sees in you?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

They Will See...Mark 13:24-27

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

     Have you ever attended a parade honoring a victorious team or heroic person?  The gathering usually begins with a long line of bands, civic organizations, and public officials.  This may be nice, but this is not why you came to the parade.  You look down the parade route, straining your neck and eyes in the hope of seeing the guest or guests of honor.  Before you see, you hear.  The roar of the crowd indicates the coming of the star attraction.  When their part of the parade arrives, you will be sure they are there.
     Now Jesus’ words seem to focus on His second coming.  The images in these verses resemble some of the descriptions in the book of Revelation.  After a series of events that affect the sun, the moon, the stars, and even “the powers in the heavens,” the Son of Man will come in the clouds with great power and glory.  He will “send out the angels and gather his elect” from every part of His creation.
     No one will be able to miss this coming.  Throughout church history, some have said, “Jesus has already come.”  But the Bible provides no hint of a secret return of Jesus.  When He arrives on the scene again, everyone will know it — believer and unbeliever alike.  Everyone will see the glory of His majesty, and all will see the effects of His activity.
     This event is a central feature of the Christian faith.  It should encourage…
     Our testimony.  In every generation, people live in fear.  What is happening to the world?  In our day, issues like climate change and nuclear destruction dominate the discussion.  While we do not know all the details of the future, we can testify to our faith that history will culminate in the return of the Messiah.  Because Jesus is coming, glory awaits those who trust in Him.  This should be part of our profession of our faith in our Savior.
     Our hope.  Like the rest of the world, we observe events with alarm.  We also wonder where human history is headed.  We must recall our hope of the return of Jesus.  While everything may seem to be out of control, God is still in control.  Jesus’ words in this discourse reveal the reality of hard days in this age, but the end will eventually come, and Jesus’ reunion with His people will be glorious.  Set your heart on this hope.
     When you watch a parade, you often wonder aloud, “When will the honored guest or guests arrive?”  Just as you cannot be sure about the timing of the parade, you do not know the timing of Jesus’ arrival.  But you can be confident that He is coming, and this reality should be crucial to the way you speak about Him and integral to your hope in Him.  Rejoice that you will see Him come.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Be On Guard...Mark 13:14-23

“But be on guard; I have told you everything beforehand.”

     Would you like to know the future?  You may believe so.  Life is filled with uncertainty, and you may think you would profit from knowing what is coming in your life and world.  But what if the future is not good?  Would you benefit from anticipating the trouble?  Or would this knowledge threaten your peace and even your sanity?
     Here Jesus provides specific details about a future event.  What event is Jesus describing?  It seems to be either the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or Jesus’ second coming.  We could fill many pages with discussion and speculation, but a majority of the evidence suggests Jesus is thinking of 70 A.D.  Yet features of this description likely apply to the days before Jesus’ return.
     This scene begins with “the abomination of desolation.”  This is a phrase from the prophecy of Daniel.  A king will set up this abomination and corrupt those who have broken God’s covenant, but God’s faithful followers will resist his scheme.  A great conflict will ensue, and there will be “such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation the God created until now, and never will be.”  Yet the Lord in His mercy will shorten these days.
     The details here are obscure to us, but they reveal a terrible cataclysm that characterized the days before the fall of Jerusalem and may be part of the final hours before the return of Jesus.  Throughout all of this, false Messiahs will arise, and they will try to lead everyone astray, including the elect.  But God’s people should be on guard.  How do we do this?  
     First, we must acknowledge the threat.  This insight into the future could drive us to fear or insanity.  Instead, it should remind us of the spiritual forces that stand against God’s people.  Our spiritual conflicts may not be as spectacular as the scene Jesus describes here, but they are still real.  We must remember that in mysterious ways, evil spiritual beings want to draw our hearts away from faithfulness to the true Messiah.  We fool ourselves if we ignore this reality.
     Second, we must anticipate the threat.  If we know trouble is coming, we will prepare to stand strong against it.  God’s people must daily fortify themselves against the assaults of evil.  This preparation requires daily devotion to the means of grace, such as the Bible, prayer, worship, and fellowship.  When all is well, it is easy to become spiritually lackadaisical.  But every day of preparation now provides power for whatever trials may come.  Are you ready?
     By God’s mercy, we do not know everything about the future.  Some of the details of Jesus’ words here will remain mysterious until His return in glory.  But Jesus’ warning should compel us to guard our hearts and lives against whenever troubles may come.  Acknowledge the realities described here.  Anticipate such turmoil with wise preparation.

Friday, November 9, 2018

He Who Endures...Mark 13:9-13

“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

     Do you ever wonder what it would be like to face severe persecution?  Fantasy might lead to fear as you imagine what would happen and how you would respond.  This is understandable.  As we have all been taught, good preparation leads to excellent performance.  If you may encounter suffering for Jesus, you want to be as ready as possible.
     Yet you cannot predict the future, and you are not privy to the details of what God has in mind for you.  As Jesus continues His instructions to His disciples and us, He warns, “Be on your guard.”  The disciples would face hatred and persecution before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and God’s people of all generations have suffered in similar ways.  Yet even if you are on your guard, you cannot fully prepare for everything.  Jesus promises that in the hour of trial, God’s people will have the Holy Spirit to guide them in speaking in ways that honor God.  The persecution may even involve close relatives, but even in those situations, God will give grace and wisdom to speak in Jesus’ name and for Jesus’ glory.
     These are great words of comfort.  You may not face the kind of persecution Jesus anticipates here.  God’s providence is different for all of us.  Many of us live in lands where we are free to pursue our faith without hindrance.  We suffer only mild disdain from those who dislike our faith.  Yet we do not know the future.  While we can plan, we cannot prepare for every situation God may present to us.  But we need not worry.  God is in control of our circumstances, and if He ordains trouble, He will provide what we need to endure in our faith and faithfulness.  We do not know the time of the end — whether end refers to the end of our lives or the end of this age.  But until that day, we can be sure that despite the hatred of people, God’s love will prevail in our hearts and lives.
     What is the purpose of this enduring?  “The gospel must be first proclaimed to the nations.”  If Jesus calls you to suffer, it will somehow advance the declaration of the gospel to all peoples.  You may not see the direct link between your struggle and God’s designs.  Events may seem senseless to you.  Yet because God is in control of human history and your life, you can trust that in His mysterious ways, He will advance His kingdom through everything He brings.
     Rest and rejoice in this.  You may not understand the present, and you cannot anticipate the future.  But you can trust in a God who loves His children and remains forever committed to His gospel purposes.  Be confident that He will enable you to faithfully endure for Him.